It’s a good thing that Jim and I are here together. I think if either of us had been assigned here by ourselves, we’d have given up by now. It takes two to Tonga.
Not that living here is that difficult, but it’s just easier doing it with a spouse. We live next door to a single woman who is serving as the mission nurse, and I really don’t know how she does it – she’s out tending sick missionaries all day and all night, and in between she just kind of hides in her little apartment. She’s a brave one.
|Our little building - two offices, a "library" of|
textbooks, and a small classroom in
which to teach.
I’m grateful for a lot of things here, and some of those things are the other senior missionaries with whom we associate. The other senior missionaries have pragmatic assignments too – running the mission office, maintaining the missionary quarters all over the islands, working with the humanitarian services department. Two more senior missionary couples have assignments similar to ours, but they work at different schools, or with vocational programs.
Anyway, there’s quite a social circle for us here, and we had some fun together over the holidays. The picture above was taken after we all had our Christmas white elephant exchange. The only present not pictured was a horrendous lamp that someone decided to regift – and of course Elder Smith (back row, far left) ended up with the woman’s jacket!
We did enjoy a dinner out together at a local beachside resort. Buffet dinner and a show – inside, since it was pouring rain. Lots of families with children – these two played together with a balloon for about ten minutes, while they waited their turn to go get in line to get dinner. No one starves at a holiday dinner in this land – we were served chicken, beef, turkey, ham and fish, along with three different kinds of potatoes/yams, green salad, cold seaweed salad, carrots and pineapple – before dessert!
Then the show started. We didn’t just watch Tongan dances, the dancers performed dances from Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa, and Hawaii. And I tried my non-flash photography, so the aperture on my camera stayed open longer, and some of the pictures turned out a little wobbly. But here goes.
The women were always graceful, telling stories with their hands, and creating beautiful movements with their bodies, in perfect unison.
The men weren’t often sitting on the floor – most of the time they were jumping in the air, or doing something else very athletic. Their movements denoted strength and toughness, or just plain silliness, depending on the dance. Every culture has its clowns, eh?
The musicians played on both traditional and non-traditional instruments: guitars, ukuleles, traditional drums and hollowed-out logs, flanged metal buckets that rang with every strike, and voices that filled the performance hall (there were probably about 150 of us seated for the show). At the very end of the show, one of the musicians even went into the audience and clowned with a Maori visitor from New Zealand.
And for the audience participation number, who got chosen??? Not me! Elder Jim Szoka, that’s who! His female partner gave him a grass pom-pom of sorts to shake while he danced with her. He followed the emcee’s advice: “If you can’t shake your hips, shake your feet. If you can’t shake your feet, shake your head.” He was a good sport about it.
Then came the fire dances, inside a building with a grass ceiling! The first dance, performed by a man, involved twirling a double-ended torch, catching it in his mouth, and tossing it in the air (there was still plenty of space between the torch and the ceiling).
The women’s fire dance is done with firepots suspended on long strings. When the dancers started spinning the firepots in circles, they made great circles of light on the stage - absolutely lovely.
And the dancer who won everyone’s heart was a 9-year old who was amazingly graceful and precise. Her head movements were far beyond her years, and the combination movements of feet, hips, hands and head were a wonder to watch. And in keeping with tradition, many audience members came forward and tucked money into the back of her costume, while she continued to dance.
So the show was finished, and we went home. But as we drove the others back to campus, Jim and I quietly gathered our thoughts, and when we got home, he told me, “I’m glad I got to see that with you.” See? It takes two to Tonga.