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Monday, May 28, 2012


The World Keeps Shrinking…
This is one of the other senior missionaries at the landing point, being silly.
One Saturday afternoon, we took a ride with another missionary couple and ended up at Christianity Landing Point, where the Netherlands Explorer Abel Tasman first landed to visit Tonga (in 1643).  We pulled up just behind another car, and watched as two American young men got out laughing and walked to the platform to take some pictures.  We got out of our car, too, and the young men started to make way for us to take our own pictures, when I noticed that one guy’s T-shirt read “Ohio Grown.”  I asked if that was really true, and he said yes, that he was from Bowling Green.  “AYE ZIGGY ZUMBA!” Jim called out, (the nonsense college fight song’s opening phrase), and they high-fived each other in recognition, laughing that here in the middle of the Pacific, two Ohioans had found each other.  Then I asked the other guy where he was from, and he said, “Oh, D.C.”  Ha!  Shake hands with the woman born at Georgetown Hospital!  These guys had been friends back in the States, and one was working here with the Peace Corps, the other was visiting.  Nice encounter, and further evidence of global shrinking.

The higher waves make for spectacular geysers at the blowholes!
The South Pacific winter has arrived a little early this year.  Don’t worry, it’s still mild by our standards – might get down to the low 60s at night, but no cooler.  The main difference has been the wind.  (Heeeeeeyyyyy waitaminit – did the San Luis Valley winds follow me here?)  The Australian/New Zealand influence here means that the winds are classified as “fresh” – that means anywhere from 25-40 mph – and it also means heavy to rough seas (waves at least 8 feet, so no small boats go out).  Jim and I try to mimic the New Zealand accent and say “freesh” through our teeth, but we can’t quite pull it off.  Whateevah.

The only way you can tell that it's been raining is the dark appearance of the sky!  
Is it or isn’t it?
So pardon me if I get a bit confused – it’s hard to tell the difference between the sound of the rain and the sound of a 40 mph wind moving the palm trees!  And then you throw in the Tongan “mosi-mosi” (moh-see), it becomes even more confusing – I call it micro-rain.  Sometimes it rains here in such tiny droplets that you can hear it on the metal roof, but you can’t see it falling, and you go outside and you can’t even feel it on your skin.  Takes about 15 minutes to get the sidewalk wet! This usually happens during a partly-cloudy day, and the mosi-mosi is confined to one passing cloud.  Every time it happens, I keep hearing my father tell me to go run between the raindrops!  Hey, Dad, I can do that here!

Having supper with the office elders on our back porch,
thanks to 2 skinny long tables and a bunch of plastic chairs!
Meds?  Bah, humbug!
I reluctantly reported to the mission nurse that I was trying to manage some asthma symptoms (my first episode in three years).  I say reluctantly because I knew she’d worry, and so would her good husband.  And of course, the day after I told them, they came over and between them, another missionary couple, and my husband, I was “persuaded” to go see a doctor. So the nurse called and made me an appointment, and her husband came back over and gathered up all three handy priesthood holders and made sure I got a blessing.  Then we drove to the clinic. So… of course, by the time I waited my turn at the clinic and saw the doctor, I had no symptoms at all…the doctor listened to my chest, heard only clear breathing, I hadn’t coughed since I’d left our apartment.  But this doctor, even though she’s not LDS, had treated missionaries before.  She knows about priesthood blessings, and the role faith plays in healing.  She just smiled, and said, “Here, I’m going to give you some cough medicine in case you need it.”  So I paid and left.  I haven’t used the cough medicine, but – haha – my husband has.  It wasn’t asthma, it was a virus! His turn!  He now has a new pet name for me – Typhoid Bea.

Heartfelt greetings to all from the Liahona campus, in the South Pacific ocean.  Enjoy the beginnings of summer, as we settle into what passes for winter here!

Monday, May 21, 2012


I have written before about the animals of Tonga, but until recently I didn’t have my own pictures of the bird Tongans call “eki-aki” – the white tern.  (I still only have a couple - thank you Google Images for the rest.) 

I remember reading about these birds years ago in National Geographic.  I had been here in Tonga almost two months before I found out that there were white terns on this island.  Then it took me four more months to see some.  It was an experience I have wanted for years, and it did not disappoint.

These birds, with their all-white feathers, dark blue beaks and legs, also have dark blue circles around their eyes, making their eyes look even larger than they are.  This adds to their allure, as far as I’m concerned.  About a dozen were resting on some tree branches when we got out to look for some other creatures, and the surprise of their flight and the seeming translucence of their wings was delightful.  

White terns are small – smaller than pigeons.  But they fly miles off the coast of islands in their search for food – mostly small herring-style fish.  The birds notice waters being disturbed by whales or other predators chasing the small fish to the surface, and the birds dive and catch fish in their beaks, sometimes lining up two or three in a row.

White terns are talented little birds.  They are one of the few birds who can hover.  They are highly curious, and have been known to follow people who walk near their habitats, hovering just out of reach.  This behavior has contributed to these terns being called “fairy terns” in Hawaii and some of the other islands of the Pacific.  

One of the oddest behaviors of small birds is the way that adult terns lay eggs.  They build no nest.  A single egg is carefully balanced on a ledge, or in the crook of a tree, out of the reach of ground predators.  When the egg hatches, the chick’s oversized feet help it grasp the branch and literally hang on for dear life. Both parents feed the chick. When the chick is two months old, it fledges, and the parents teach it to hunt for fish, and two weeks later the chick is on its own, flying and fishing for itself and maturing to start its own family. 

Fairy or not, these magical birds have added to my spell of enchantment here in Tonga.   They have made me appreciate the wonders of creation, and helped me value more the tenacity of life on this little fishhook island.  And my wishing stars are now closer, and feathered.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Mighty Coconut

One  evening a couple of weeks ago, a humble family taught me a lesson.  Because of their willingess to teach about ten Palangi missionaries, I will never look at the coconut in the same way.

Before coming to Tonga, when someone mentioned the word “coconut”, my mind quickly connected to German chocolate cake and Mounds and Almond Joy candy bars.  Fine.  But there’s a lot more, as Fipi and her family taught us.

In this picture, one of the other senior missionaries stands beside Fipi as she explains to us.  Like most native cultures, Tongans find a use for every part of the coconut.  She took some of the dry fibers that cover the shell of a coconut, and showed us one tiny part of the process used to make coconut fibers into ropes.  This is what Tongans used to use to make their fishing nets, to make their ropes to tie up plants and animals.  Rope from coconut fiber – the first revelation of the night!

Coconuts will float on water almost indefinitely.  Scientists think that is one way that most of the islands of the South Pacific have coconut palms.  A coconut can ride the ocean current from Tonga to Hawaii and still be able to sprout, thrust roots down into the sand and begin to grow towards the sky.  Pretty impressive

Next, we got to try to crack open coconuts.  One of the younger missionaries who came with us (still wearing his Tongan “ta’ovala” and “tupeno” – the traditional mat and men’s wraparound skirt) is shown here using what has become standard equipment in modern Tonga – a welded piece of equipment that basically uses a tire rim and an angled steel tube.  You’re supposed to just push the coconut down the tube, and it will pop the coconut open.  This is one of three ways to open a coconut.  You can also use the time-honored hammer approach, or if the coconut is still green and all you want is the milk, you just nail a hammer into one of the “eyes” of a coconut, and stick in a straw.  Poof, drink and cup all in one.

Once the older, non-milky coconut is cracked open, it’s time to shave the white meat out.  In this picture you can see one of our sister missionaries sitting on a narrow bench, straddling a large bowl.  But what you can’t see is that she holds the coconut over a wide serrated blade that is welded to the frame of the bench.  As she pulls the coconut back and forth over the blade, the meat is shaved off and falls into the bowl.  Even Fipi’s kids could do this very easily – the rest of us worked up a sweat in no time!

Did you know that if a coconut is allowed to sprout, it changes the quality of the meat inside?  I remember learning about how beans grow, that the “meat” of the bean is actually food for the sprout as it grows.  Well, a coconut is a giant version of that bean.  Some families allow their coconuts to sprout, and then crack them open, for a spongy, crumbly coconut meat that has a totally different taste. The Tongans call it “coconut brain” – I like the taste, but the name sounds like a middle schooler’s nightmare!

Well, after trying the green coconut milk, and the coconut brain, it was time to actually eat some solid coconut meat.  Fipi took out a knife (one that Crocodile Dundee would have been proud of) and sliced the meat while still inside the shell, and then simply popped the meat out of the shell to serve us several pieces. Delicious.  But I stayed clear of the knife, even though Fipi’s eight-year old son later performed some of his own coconut tricks with a bush knife (Tongan for machete!). 

Oh, and the coconut husk?  Either it’s used for fuel for fires at the frequent family outdoor feasts, or it is turned into souvenirs for tourists.  I haven’t seen a coconut bra in Tonga – people here are far too modest for that, most people swim in street clothing – but my husband and I have our own coconut souvenirs – holders for large name cards from a workshop we attended in March.

Okay, okay, since the story involves a coconut, I have to tell the first story every Palangi missionary hears in Tonga.  First frame of the comic strip:  a missionary comes to visit a very isolated home.  Second frame: as he walks into the home, he doesn’t duck down far enough to get through the door, and he bumped his forehead.  “Too low,” says the missionary quietly.  The family is impressed, because in Tongan, “tulo” is a very polite way to say “pardon me.”  Third frame: the missionary visits for a while, and then the family offers to get him a green coconut to drink.  Fourth frame: the missionary accompanies the father outside, and the father promptly climbs up the very mature coconut tree.  The missionary watches, and it’s his turn to be impressed.  The father keeps climbing, nearly a hundred feet in the air.  “Oh, too high,” calls out the missionary.  BONK.  Final frame:  the missionary is flat on the ground, having been hit in the head with a coconut, because “tu-ai” is Tongan for “idiot.”  Haha.  So next time you’re under a coconut tree, watch your commentary very carefully!