This is Liahona High School, on Tongatapu Island, the main island of Tonga. This is where we will be working for the next two years. I know - a real hardship assignment! We will live in an apartment on the campus of the school, and vistas like the one below will greet us. I just hope they don't become ordinary.
Tonga is a nation of 170 islands and islets, but if you put the land mass all together, it's only four times the size of the District of Columbia, and one-third the size of Rio Grande County, Colorado, where we currently live. (For those of you who can't relate to either of those factoids, all of Tonga is three times the size of Salt Lake City proper.)
Tonga's population: about 106,000, but 70,000 of them are on Tongatapu, an island of about 100 square miles - that's about 20 miles long by 5 miles wide - short car trips everywhere! Temperatures average between 67 and 82 F, and yes, it gets hit by one or two typhoons a year. But look at the low-hanging roof above - the buildings are designed to withstand the rains, and resist the winds.
Tonga is the Pacific's last monarchy, but the country is establishing a democratic government. For the first time in its history, Parliament opened, just last year - and every high school marching band in the country took part in the parade to celebrate:
More hardship (haha). Our back door basically faces the LDS temple on Tongatapu. We will be close enough to walk from our door to the temple door in less than five minutes. This "benefit" was completely unexpected, and we look forward to attending the temple much more often than we ever have.
The country's king lives in a building that looks more like something from the British Empire than a long-independent island nation's palace. The aged king has chosen to retain many European-style trappings, reflecting the nation's long history of dealings with so-called "western" civilizations.
Dutch navigator Abel Tasman (yes, as in Tasmania - he's a hero in the South Pacific) was the first European to actually visit Tonga. More than a hundred years later English Captain James Cook named the islands "The Friendly Isles." And in 1789, the mutiny on the British ship Bounty took place in Tongan waters. The kingdom has always governed itself, but in 1900 and again in 1958, Great Britain took Tonga under its protection.
One sight I look forward to is sighting humpback whales offshore. The whales come north each year to calve, and let their young grow for a few months before taking them back to the krill-rich waters near Antarctica. I've never seen a living whale - and this would be thrilling to see.
Other sights to see are the natural rock formations along the shoreline. This picture shows a cascade of rocks which are filled with holes, some of them below the water line. As the ocean waves hit the rocks, the water surges up through the holes and forms waterspouts that go straight up, called blowholes. Does look like a whale spewing water vapor, doesn't it?
It's almost too much to hope for, but as a frustrated volcano scientist (I never knew such a career existed until well into my 30s), I would be absolutely ecstatic if I got the chance to see some island building in action. The picture below shows the force of an underwater eruption of a seafloor volcano in the Tongan islands. It will be many years before this part of the island rises above sea level, but just being present during an eruption would be such an event that I think I could die contented right afterward!
We have yet to receive written confirmation of our call as missionaries from Salt Lake City. But according to our telephone conversations, we will enter the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah on Monday, October 3 and then ten days later fly to Auckland, New Zealand, for a week's further training, including videoconference training with BYU-Hawaii, so we can become adjunct professors for them. We should arrive in Tonga by October 24th!