Tuesday, September 1, 2015

3 years ago... Today

Three years ago today, Mark and I said tearful goodbyes to our family and friends and left for Tonga.

We met the craziest bunch of weirdo's (G77) and speculated about our future with them.
We flew what felt like the longest and most uncomfortable flight and landed at a quaint, yet still overwhelming Tongan airport.
We were introduced to our first Tongans, our first Tongan words, our first Kava ceremony.
We wondered and worried about how one bathes, washes clothes, drinks water, and lives without electricity.
We pasted tentative smiles on our lips and tried to say yes to everything.
We awoke to roosters crying at random hours and cursed all children books everywhere that lied to us.
We did not appreciate the magic of Selahs Guesthouse (or discover the hot water heater) until much too late in the game that first stay.
We ate root crops. And ate root crops. And ate root crops. And ate root crops. And ate root crops... (and you get the point). And then we ate roasted pig and discovered it was nothing AT ALL like ham...and a little bit of our souls died that day.

And then we moved in with a family. And all the newness and uncomfortableness began again. But we were a bit braver this time.
We ate cookies. And ate cookies. And ate cookies. And ate cookies. And (occasionally cake, but only when it was served to us in bed). And ate cookies and ate cookies. (and you get the point).
Those weirdos became friends- who each responded differently to the challenges that are:
 1. Homestay 2. PST 3. Culture Shock
Even though we had so often shared our living space, we struggled to settle into a working routine with our Tongan family.
We laughed, we cried, we avoided, we dug in. Usually all of these things within every hour.
We rewired our entire brains to understand Tongan. We carried flash cards in our pockets and Mark murmured to himself everywhere he went and I remember thinking TENSE marker FIRST, VERB SECOND. Just... a constant mind battle to conquer this foreign language.

Then we transitioned again. To our little island at the edge of the world. When we were shown the map of Tonga and the available potential living sites- we both looked first for the smallest, most remote island, and we hoped and prayed and longed for that placement.

We arrived in Neiafu, Vava'u and were taken to the wharf. A small red and white boat awaited us. I thought for sure we were living in a fairy tale. I promise, you have never seen anything like the beauty of this place. Go there. Sit in an 8 foot boat in the magnificent old Blue and feel the sun and ocean spray, see the islands jut out before and alongside you... It is a spiritual thing, truly.
We settled into our classroom converted into a home.
We thought temporarily that a small cooler would allow us to eat meat.
We became vegetarians.
We bonded and came to love, lean on, admire those bunch of weirdo's from G77.

We danced, joked, ate, church hopped, taught, sang, baked, kava drank, etc, etc our way into that little community.
We made so many mistakes I cringe.
We grew so much as individuals and as a couple I sometimes can't recognize who we were before this experience marked us.

We struggled so much. We emptied ourselves so completely. We learned so many hard lessons. We loved to the deepest of our ability.

There was us and who we were and there was our life
and then there was TONGA
and now there is us and who we are now.

And TONGA will forever be a marker. a milestone. a great adventure. a crazy life altering experience.

And though time passes and memories fade, a deep and lasting fondness remains in my heart,


*te u manatui lelei hoku taimi I Nuapapu. Ofa atu Tonga.


  1. Such a wonderful post Alissa.

    But for realz, how is it that 15 smart, well-adjusted, seemingly lucid people all missed the fact that Sela's had a hot water heater?!?!?

  2. hahaha SERIOUSLY!

    Also, I was just reminiscing about tea time. Tea time should be apart of every day. I miss those plates with tim tams and chips on them....

  3. You trade nescafe for the real stuff and I am in!