Thursday, October 3, 2013


Today was the big day, the aho sivi (test day). My five class six students (which is the equivalent of 5th grade in the U.S.), arrived at 7:30. They were squeaky clean and their uniforms were pressed and starched. They all had new shoes on their feet, and flower necklaces around their necks.

We stood at our door and called out our shouts of encouragement.

Gosh, they looked so young, my four boys who so often have driven me mad. My Tom Sawyers and Huckleberry Finns- my boys boys-naughty, wild, silly, playful, charming little things. They haven't let me baby them once, not the tiniest of bits (and I am such a mother hen...those four and I had a huge learning curve when school first started). But today, with their little white shirts tucked into their khaki shorts....I was reminded of how still childish they are.

They came up onto the porch, like they have every other morning at 7:30 for the past year, and before I knew it we were all inside.

They were nervous...clutching their pencils and rulers, much quieter than normal. We got out the cards and played a few games. We showed them pictures of my adorable nephew. They laughed about Mark's new hair style and we taught them how to make dreads.

Some of their anxiety faded.

We talked about what school they hope to test into, and where they will live when they move next year. I got sad, and told them so. I can't imagine our island without these 5 students. They are the ones who most sit at our table and share meals, who so patiently try and understand (and truth be told, mock and correct) my Tongan, who are the most curious about our life before Peace Corps, who know about our friends and family back home. These are the few who play scrabble and kickball and cards with us. Who are literally on our porch when I emerge from my room every morning, and more often than not, still there when I close the door to go to sleep. They tell me the gossip and I tell them my gossip. They answer my questions about who is who and try their best to explain Tonga to me.

I hate that the island kids have to move if they want to attend secondary school. It's so hard on the kid, the family, on the town, which almost halves in size during the week when all the 12-18 year olds leave.

But it has been incredibly neat and heart-warming to see the community response to this important day, this rite of passage. As I speak our neighbors, along with half of the town, are preparing a feast for the students. There were kisses of good luck, and a special breakfast this morning. Literally, the whole town is waiting to see how these five do on the test- so much pressure for these kids, but also so wonderfully unique to be so utterly known.

I want the best for these five. I hope they dream big.


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