As the sun slowly falls over the tall swaying coconut trees, the long green grass, a green so green that it is the color of life itself (a grass that tries in vain to immerse our small island into uninhabitable jungle once and for all), and finally, the blues and reds and pinks and oranges of the most vibrant and lively flowers you have ever seen-something magical begins to happen.
I walk down the dirt path, shouting "Malo e lelei" and "fefe hake" as I go. I come into the clearing-a wide, circular field. The islands only "store", a small lumbering hill, the Wesleyan church, and bush, make up its' boundaries.
The male "youth" play volleyball. They have cut down two trees, stripped them of branches, and staked them into the ground. Every night someone brings the net, and they tie it up. They range in age from 16-25 ish. They are brown and muscular from all their long hours working in the unforgiving Tongan sun.
Someone's cell phone is playing music-a reggae version of an Adele song, or "Azonto" (my favorite song).
In the field next to the volleyball net there is one odd rectangular patch of cement. On this the younger boys watch the youth in awe and envy. They hold a rugby ball, and sit shirtless. Skinny, strong little bodies, accustomed to hard work. They're hoping when the youth switch to a rugby game, that maybe there will be an odd number and they can play too. Sometimes it works that way.
But usually they get bored, so they run up that lumbering hill to the Tree. A massive tree with gnarly roots growing up out of the ground. They play a loud game of marbles, with rules I have yet to figure out. They shriek with laughter , and usually in anger as so-and-so cheats and so on. They are loud and physical, tumbling all over each other like a bunch of little puppies.
Some of the women are sitting on a mat at the top of the hill. They laugh and watch. Shout warnings at naughty kids and tell the days gossip.
The younger girls are huddled, usually singing or talking. They take turns giving piggy back rides, jumping rope, and practicing Tau'olungas, which is a traditional Tongan dance performed mainly with one's hands.
The rest of the women are sitting outside the falekaloa (the store), also swapping gossip- Chatting about bad weather, food, chores, and kids.
The babies, the little ones, run to and fro. They shake their booties to whatever music is being blasted. They cry because someone's dog finally bit them after they'd teased it for 20 minutes. They throw rocks, or sing songs, they call my name, or Mark's, over and over again. They entertain themselves.
From the top of the hill you can see all of loto kolo, the center of town. You can look down and out across the ocean. The sky seems so big and puffy, yet near and touchable, you can actually tell the world is round, you can see that globe shape.
Standing there, it's easy to see how this island is a paradise. It's beauty- both natural, and in the communal ties of the people, is a blessing.
I am a part of it, if only for this short while.