Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

Today (Wednesday) I had the good old breakfast on the fly, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and diet coke.  It's not that I got up late but rather we needed to get missionaries to the dentist and there were several.  It kind of limits us when we can only get 2-3 at a time.  Thankfully, we got some last minute help from the Va'enuku's but we still had to make several trips back and forth before we got everyone to where they needed to be.

Elder Kau (pronounced cow) or Timote or just Kau now that he has been released as a missionary, lives in one of the nearby communities so we have seen him several times over the past week.  Now that he is no longer serving as a full time missionary he decided he wanted to test out his coconut tree climbing skill to see if he could still do it.  I'll let you judge for yourself (see video below).

Timote Kau climbing the coconut tree.

The car we have is a Hyundai Tucson and is pretty nice.  It is pretty similar to our Mazda CX5 at home as far as size and options.  It has the back-up camera built into the rearview mirror, power window and seats (not heated - thank goodness).  I did bring a simple little driving camera with us (like a GoPro but cheaper).  As we were driving some local Tongan missionaries to the clinic one of them kept asking about the car and all it's options.  When he finished he simply said, "It would take a lifetime for a Tongan to buy a car like this."

Big Mama's Yacht Club Resort - swimming pool and diving
board.  I'm not sure a sunken ship is a good way to advertise
for a yacht club but here it seems to work.
We also traveled to one of the nearby islands for 4 hours of Rest and Relaxation (Pangiamotu).  It cost os about $25. (USD) each and included lunch.  We invited one of the local families (of 4) to go with us and we split the cost with one other senior missionary couple.  We had lots of fun (and sun) but what was the most telling was that the father told us that he had never been to this island even though he grew up in Tonga on the main island.

We also hear stories from missionaries from Tonga who have never been to any other island than the one they were born on.  One of the things they really like is being assigned to an island they have never been to.  In fact, this may be the only time they ever go there.

I thought about these three things for a while and it made me realize how blessed we I am (we are) to be able to travel and see the country (or the world).  To many here, it is a dream that may go unfulfilled yet for us it is common place.

We have had a few more questions about the food in Tonga so I thought I'd share a little more about it.  There is not much Tongan food that we don't like.  I think Lepeka will eat most of it but I draw the line at raw fish.  I've included a few of the more common foods below with our best description of what they are and taste like.

Dining out is not common but there are a few local restaurants which are pretty inexpensive.  We frequently eat lunch at one of the local establishments for about $8. (USD) total for both of us.  Most of them serve fried chicken, rice, manioke, curry sipi (lamb), lu kapa pulu.  They drink mostly via (water) coconut milk (straight from the coconut) and other fruit juice drinks.  They drink very few carbonated drinks.  In fact, if they buy a carbonated drink, will shake it until it is flat and then drink it.  Most restaurants do not serve any diet drinks.


'Ota 'aka served with Manioke
'Ota 'ika (literally raw fish) is the national dish of Tonga consisting of raw fish marinated briefly in lemon or lime juice and then mixed with coconut milk and diced vegetables (most commonly cucumber, tomato, onion, green onion, and spicy peppers).

Manioke is a root crop (or tuber) similar to a potato and usually cooked in an oven or umu (earth oven).  It is served in a similar manner to what we would call a potato log in the U.S.  It is served at almost every meal in Tonga.  It is similar to a potato but more grainy and drier.  It is rarely seasoned or served with any gravy or sauce.  Most food here is eaten using the fingers (not utensils).  Perhaps with the exception of chips (what we would call french fries in the U.S.) for some reason most Tongans eat them with a light drizzle of catsup utilizing a fork.

Puaka on a spit one fire.
Puaka (pig) is one of the mainstays for feasts in Tonga especially on special occasions like weddings or funerals.  Pigs roam everywhere in all sizes.  It's not unusual to see a whole group of pigs just grazing and walking down the roads just about anywhere.  Puaka is typically cooked on a spit above an open fire (or hot coals) where it is turned manually for 3-4 hours.  It is served just as it comes off the spit with the head still attached.  The pig skin and pig ears are the most highly sought after servings.  Sometimes cooked in an umu (Earth oven) as well.

Kumala tastes like a yam but not quite as sweet and it is purple in color.  Ufi is another local root crop similar to a yam but not purple.  Both are usually cut up then boiled in water until cooked and served with no other seasoning

Look at the size of those leaves!
Talo (Taro)  just about every part of this plant is used in one way or another.  The roots are another tuber and are cooked and eaten again similar to a potato.  The leaves are also used in cooking to wrap different meat doused in coconut milk.  The leaves are called lu and if they are eaten raw they can have a toxin in them that will numb the mouth and can cause sores.  This toxin cooks out and the lu tastes almost exactly like spinach.

Lu ip being prepared for cooking
Sipi is lamb and is usually cooked with sliced onions, wrapped in taro leaf (lu), and soaked in coconut milk (see photo at the left).  Once they are wrapped up they look like a giant hershey's kiss.  It is referred to as lu sipi when cooked this way which is pretty typical.  It's hard to describe how it tastes but it is one of the better flavoured dishes for my taste ( I think it might be because of the onions).

Kapa pulu (canned corn beef)
Kapa pulu or canned corn beef is also one of the main stays along with bread (which is delicious. ) It can also be cooked in lu.  The bread is sold from bakeries (not a standard grocery store) so it's always day fresh and very delicious.

Kuli (or dog) is also eaten quite frequently and most Tongans we have talked to (and even our young missionaries) seem to like it describing it as 'sweet'.  It is prepared pretty much the same way as puaka, roasted on a spit over a fire.  This is one I am going to have to take their word on as I will not be eating fido anytime soon.

There are several restaurants around that cater to the American taste so we are able to get hamburgers and other sandwiches, pizza, pasta, tacos and even a good steak along with a few other dishes.  Lepeka misses her good lettuce (and salads in general) but never really complains about anything.

Phil Hudson - Dentist
Jan Hudson - Dental hygienist
These are two of our good friends here, Elder and Sister Hudson (Phil and Jan).  Two little Tongan girls witnessed the scene of Phil taking this photo of Jan (see photo on the right).  After the photo was taken, they just looked at each other and shrugged as they raised an eyebrow.  Actually, Phil doesn't play the ukulele and Jan is the sane one.

More photos from around the island this week.

You can see the kids climbing all over this old rusty boat.  If you look closely
you can see one of them about to enter the water.  They seemed to be having
the time of their lives.

Another computer store that I have not seen until now located on the bypass road.
I may just have to check this one out next week.

The elusive black star-fish.  This one saved by the women folk.
(Jan and Lepeka)

One of the Christmas decorations along wharf road.

Elders on their P-day.
L>R, Elder Christopherson, Elder Woods, ElderArnold and Elder Mafi

The beach at Mama's Yacht club resort

Big Mama's Yacht Club Resort

Swimming pool Tongan style

Sunset at Surfers beach

Sunset at the Houma blow holes

Monday, December 25, 2017

Kalisimasi Fiefia

Digicell on Friday ... we feel blessed!
I guess we had our own little Christmas miracle this morning in Tonga.  We have been without our internet for 3 days due to a clerical error on our account.  When they couldn't get it resolved by Friday close of business, we were pretty much resigned to the fact that we would be without it until Tuesday morning (we have had limited access through my phone but had to use what little we had there very judiciously).  Lo and behold, we had internet this morning again.  I'll post some more photos later today when we get a break but I did want to post what I had.

Kalisimasi Fiefia!! (Merry Christmas)

We had our Mission Christmas devotional in Havelu on Friday which was really fun and inspirational.  I have so many photos that I want to add to this weeks blog but our new internet provider picked the Christmas holiday weekend to interrupt our internet service and (we’re hoping to get it back on Tuesday morning).  I  have to use the limited data that is available on my phone to utilize it as a hotspot sparingly.   If I can’t find a way to get some photos uploaded I’ll have to add those later. (I have lots of photos from the devotional and will try to add them later today).

Va'enuku's and the food baskets.
We were put in charge of the senior missionary Christmas activity which was held yesterday (Saturday).  We planned an evening of Christmas carolling to a few of the needy families in Tonga wile delivering baskets of food and goodies.  We ended with root-beer float social while playing the videos from 25 Ways in 25 Days.  While we knew we’d enjoy the evening I don’t think either of us were really prepare for the emotional experience that would play out.

We have seen some of the poverty and meek conditions
that some live in here along with stories that really tug at
your heart strings but the people always seem so
genuinely happy and grateful for what they do have.
We all climbed onto the bus which would be driven by Brother Tonga for our journey to the towns of Mua’s and Hoi on the Eastern part of the island. We practiced our songs on the way over one of which we sang in Tongan (Silent Night).  We also were serenaded by the other members of the Tonga family with a few more Christmas and Island songs.  We arrived at our first home which was a very small building (maybe 200 sq ft) that had just been built by the Red Cross since she had been kicked out of her previous shack and it had been demolished so she could not come back.  She is a single mom with 5 children one of whom is a handicapped boy about 9-10 years old.  He probably has cerebral palsy (Lepekas guess).

When we started to get of the bus (Lepeka was first off) he had staggered over to the bus door grabbed on to her neck and gave her a tight hug and let out a shout of joy that could be felt as well as heard.  It took his sister and mom to help get him to let go.  I got off next then Sister Oldroyd got the same hug as Lepeka.  It was very humbling to feel the spirit of gratitude and happiness on this family's faces as we sang to them and gave the boxes of food we had for them.  I don't think there was a dry eye as we boarded the bus and move on to our next family.

After we finished our carolling, we went back to the campus for root-beer floats and to watch the Light the World videos and just socialize. It was a pretty special evening where we were humbled and our hearts were full of love and compassion.  We do love the people of Tonga.

It was a little bit of a difficult week which ended in putting a Sister missionary on a plane back to the U.S. so she could get some more extensive testing done for an intestinal illness she has had for a few months.  We have taken her to the doctor six times I think and we have not been able to get her much relief.  She wasn’t in constant pain or misery but we thought it best for her to return home and get care there.  She would have been going home at the end of the next transfer anyway so it didn’t seem right for her to have to continue when we couldn’t find anything that would help her.

She has a good attitude about it and the President and her parents agreed that this would be the best course at this time.  The good news is that she will arrive home on Christmas Eve and be with her family.  We miss all of our missionaries when they leave and will continue to pray for her health.

A few more photos of our evening out carolling.  I'll add some more photos later today.

Ofa lahi 'atu!

Even if their homes are modest, their gardens are well cared for.

Tevita and his mom ... a few neighborhood children look on as well.
Photo of landscaping at Liahona (our house is just to the right of the photo)

No monkey bread this year so Lepeka made blueberry pancakes
(with Mrs. Butterworth's of course) and bacon

Sushi for dinner at Taco Tuesday in Nuku'alofa.

Look at the size of those carrots!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Lost in Translation

Glazed Donuts ... Glazed Yeast Rings or ???
I saw these donuts at Costco and got a kick out of the tag.   I mentioned to Lepeka that they had "Glazed Yeast Rings" thinking she would find that humorous too.  She gave me the strangest look ... wandered over to the pastry shelf and burst out laughing when she realized that what I had said, "Glazed Yeast Rings", she had heard as "Glazed G-Strings".  We got such a good laugh out of that that I had to buy them just to take them home and get a photo for the blog.  I didn't dare take a photo in the store since they were pretty much front and center  (photos are not allowed in Costlow anymore since they put up their new signs).

We have so many parties and events over the next two weeks that we may have to do some work just to relax.  Friday, Ward Party, Saturday, Senior Couples BBQ, Sunday, Elder Kau's homecoming in Lakepa (a nearby town).  He is one of our very special local missionaries as we spent quite a bit of time with him when he was sick and really got to know him and his family well.  Monday Service Center Christmas Party, Friday, Combined Zone Conference, Saturday, Senior Couples Christmas activity.  Lepeka and I are singing a duet at the Combined Zone Conference.  I would rather she sang a solo but I guess I'm stuck.  At least I provide a good contrast to her beautiful voice.
A coconut crab can live to be over 50 years
of age and can weights much as 10 lbs.

As we were visiting the sister missionaries in Veitongo, we saw this little fellow scurrying across the road just in front of us.  We stopped to see what it was and it froze in its tracks.  I couldn't get it to move even when prodding it with a small stick.  This one is about the size of my hand but I think it is a coconut crab (Birgus Latro) and they can grow to about 1 meter (39") in length and their claws grow to be very large and are powerful enough to crack a coconut.

Coconut crabs are considered a delicacy and have become an endangered species almost everywhere.  They are born in the water but become land dwellers as they grow to a sufficient size to emerge from the water.  This was the first one we have seen other than some really large ones on a dinner plate.

Different pizza sizes at Marcos.
Family, large, medium, small and
personal.  They have a very nice
thin-crust pizza.  The sign is made
from Tapa cloth.
One of the places we frequent when we eat out with other senior couples is Marco's Pizza & Paste.  Most of the time they only have pizza which is ok because it's one of the better pizza's in Tonga.  We usually order a
View from the window at
Marco's Pizza and Pasta
large pizza with half Hawaiian and half BBQ chicken.  It's rare that we finish it.

Last night we also tried their pasta for the first time (fettuccini with white sauce, mushrooms, chicken, and peppers).  It was pretty good but I still prefer the pizza.

I feel so fortunate to be here with Lepeka, she treats me like a king.  She is so loving, kind and patient with me even in my times of confusion.  She is such a great nurse and is always so good with those she serves.  She never complains and always answers the missionary calls and does everything she can to make sure they feel like they are getting the treatment they need and that they feel loved.

A gaggle of Nephila Tetragnathoides
All by myself.
You may have to click on the photo to the left to open up the higher resolution version so you can zoom in and see all of the spiders between the bottom two lines.  They seem to all be lining up as if in formation just waiting for dinner time.  These spiders are pretty big with a typical body reaching 2 inches across (not including leg span).  They are also called banana spiders but I think the official name is Nephila Tetragnathoides.  The spider webs are harvested to treat burns (I am not recommending this treatment ... just passing on what I have heard from the locals).

They remodeled the old Costlow and reopened it yesterday.  It seems like it may have some different items.  We're hoping that they get more salsa in again so we can enjoy our "chips and salsa" again regularly.  We can find chips but salsa is pretty hard to come by.

Elder Kau finished up his mission last week and we were able to see him at his homecoming celebration and attend his ward today to listen to him speak.  It is one of those bitter sweet moments for us as we have really grown close to him through the last year and we will miss seeing and hearing from him as a missionary.  The good news is that his is in a nearby kolo (town) so we can still touch base with him from time to time.  He is a special young man and will do great things in this life.  He is one who can (and will) do anything he sets his mind to.

We also had another one of our beautiful Tongan sunsets this past week with some extremely vivid colors.  We took several photos of it but since we are on campus at Liahona there were lots of man-made obstacles 'obscuring' the view.  I was able to get permission from Elder and Sister Tilton who serve at camp Makeke on the coast to use their photo (thank you Elder and Sister Tilton!).  Notice that it has no buildings or wires to detract from the natural beauty (no special effects or colorization - totally unedited).

Beautiful Tongan sunset - by God (shared freely)
Photo by Elder and Sister Tilton (used with permission)
Notice this drift of pigs (and the sheep in the background)
One more shot of some pigs for those of you that just can't get enough (and some piggy trivia).  Most of you know all about the one that went to market, the one who stayed home and the one who cried wee wee wee all the way home but did you know that the name for a group of pigs depends on the animals' ages and gender?  A group of young pigs is called a drift, drove or litter.  Groups of older pigs are called a sounder of swine, a team or passel of hogs (male) or sows (female).  A drift fits this pigs perfectly as they wander around (free to roam) over the property of about 10-15 homes in Fahefa.  This is only a few of them and they pretty much ignore us humans.

Some more photos from around Tonga including some of the planted crops and fields.

Sometimes it's hard for me to tell what has been planted from the weeds.

Banana trees all in a row.

This field of lu has nice rows and is ready to harvest

Some of the cattle near Liahona.  There are not a lot of cattle here (no dairy farms).

A new grave-site near Liahona.

World map with Tonga near the center (as it should be).

This is one of the head-bangers in the new Costlow.  They just hang this piece of
metal off the end of the isle and put the tree decorations on them.  It's just about
to rip open a shoulder or bang a hear if you are bent over at all.  I had to take this
photo very sneakily, I hope they don't ban me from the store if someone sees this.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Time Marches On

Now that's one special
bottle of water!
We officially have 365 days left as of yesterday (Dec 9th on this side of the International Dateline).  This isn't our countdown but rather just a mile marker along the road.  We were set-apart as full time missionaries and entered the Mission Training Center in Provo, Utah on January 9th 2017.  Our call was to serve for 23 months (700 days).  I think they do the 23 months here to avoid the possibility of having to pay extra to extend a visa just in case something we to get delayed (like travel).  They do that with all of the young missionaries as well.

Our Tongan Visa is good for 24 months.  We applied for them as soon as we arrived in Tonga as you are not allowed to apply until you are actually here.  For some reason my Visa expires in January 2019 and Lepeka's expires in February 2019 even though they were submitted together.  I guess they figured she is more trustworthy than I am.  In any case we are scheduled to come home on (or around) December 9, 2018.  I say on or around since release dates tend to shift a day or two depending on several factors so a firm date doesn't get set until we get within about six weeks of coming home.  

Yes, they each get their own and it is
rare that there is any left-overs.
We often take missionaries to one of a few physician clinics around the island and the ones we use don't open until 5:00 p.m.  It is not unusual to wait for quite a while even if you have an appointment.  Frequently this causes the missionaries to miss their fafanga (meal) for the evening.  If their evening meal can't be adjusted, we always make sure they are fed before we take them back to their MQ's (missionary quarters).

Elder Faleao (yours truly) and Elder Noa
I joined in just so they wouldn't feel bad.
We find that most of them crave pizza.  The pizza here is not exactly Papa Murphy's but it is still pretty good pizza and they can get their own individual sized pizza (usually a large one for each of the Elders).  Of course, you always have to get the obligatory ice-cream after the pizza to calm down the tummy.  Ice cream is one of the things we get here that is just like what we are used to.  It is typically New Zealand ice-cream.  I dared Elder Faleao to go for the triple scoop but he said one-and-a-half large pizzas and 2 scoops of ice-cream was his limit.  (I still think he could have done it easily).

You may have to click on the photo
to get a size large enough to see the
We have mentioned in past blogs that when the plant a field of manioke they simply cut sticks from an existing plant and stick them in the ground and they grow.  As we were driving by one of the fields the other day Lepeka noticed that the fence-posts (not manioke) were also growing.  I'm not sure what kind of plants these are but you can clearly see they are growing if you look at the tops of the fence-posts.

Light normalized around the field so
you can see the players better.
The latest success experienced by the Tongan rugby team at the World Cup Tournament seems to have prompted an increase in the rugby activities around the island.  Maybe is has to do with school being out for the summer as well but you can see groups of young men and boys on the various fields all around Tonga.  Here are two shots taken at the same time.  One with the light source focused on the field and the other more natural lighting so you can see it was taken at dusk.

Natural lighting.  We love the sunsets here in Tonga!  The air is always so fresh and clean.

Time measurements on our mission:
  1. Hours and minutes are replaced with visits to missionaries and the time we spend with them is one of the true gems of our mission.
  2. Instead of days we have meetings and an occasional social event (Monday is Family Home Evening, Tuesday is District conferences, Wednesday is missionary P-Day, etc.)
  3. Weekends are pretty much nonexistent as Saturday is just like the Monday - Friday for us.  Sunday is the exception as it our most peaceful day.  This is one of the things we really cherish about Tonga.  All and I do mean all of the stores and business shut down and Sundays are dedicated to the family and the Lord.  We still have our missionaries to take care of but everything seems to be calmer and more peaceful.
  4. Weeks are measured now with my commitment to our blog and Family and Friends communications.  I am glad that I am documenting our mission but it is definitely more work than I thought it would be.  I do my best to find the most interesting things that happened during the week and share a few photos and stories.  Some weeks the blogs are easy and almost write themselves and others take more commitment.  Some of you may wish that I would space them out a little bit more but weekly is a commitment I made to myself before we left so I do it even when it seems like I don't have  anything very interesting to report.
  5. Months pretty much just add confusion to the mix as nothing is the same (seasons and many holidays are different).  They kind of become replace with transfers which happen every six weeks.  This is one of the reasons I think the time passes so quickly in the mission field.  There are 8 transfers in a year.
  6. Seasons don't change much here so I use the toothbrush as our quarterly measurement (we change them out every 3 months).  It is now the blue season for me and green for Lepeka.
  7. Some of the larger times get measured in terms of empty pills bottles.  We brought all of our personal meds in sufficient quantities to last throughout our mission (even vitamins and supplements).
  8. We also have the 100 day increments, our 23 month mission was shown at 700 days (we are now down to 365 left).  Christmas day will actually be our half-way mark when we will have 350 days out and 350 days left.  This may seem like a strange one but we don't actually calculate it, it is shown on the bottom left corner of our blog as a count-down.  We look at it occasionally and are amazed at how fast 100 days can go.
Photos from around the island

Amalani Fukofuka shucking a coconut.  I think this
is his job for the day.  He always walks us back to
the Sister missionaries MQ in Halaleva (to protect
us from the dogs).

Still photo of Amalani Fukofuka smiling for the camera.

These kids were watching TV and were oblivious to anything else going
on around them.  Sister Kapp forgot to smile (see car mirror).

The white-ish pipe is supposed to be a waterproof electrical
conduit.  It is broken in several places and I think it probably
collects water nicely now.

Community Center in Ha'akame.

Typical Tsunami evacuation sign.  Liahona is one of the highest points
on the island (around 200 ft above sea level - I think). 

Solar energy farm somewhere near mid island.

The rest of these photos show many of the road-side shops ... they are everywhere.  It appears that anone can sell anything at any time by setting up shop along the street.  We see this on some of the busiest streets where people will just stop without pulling off the road.  Everyone has to find their way around them.  Some have more room than others that can be within a few feet of the road.

Clothing and shoes.

More clothing rarely new).

Food and shoes.  At least the shoes are in the shade.

This is a new awning that was being used for the first time.

Baby strollers and misc baby stuff.

Even a bunch of lovely coconuts

Sometimes it's the kids that mind the store.

Hope you enjoyed some of the sights from around the island.