"Begin today and write in it your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies. I promise you that if you will keep your journals and records, they will indeed be a source of great inspiration to you, each other, your children, your grand-children and others throughout the generations. Remember, the Savior chastised those who failed to record important events." --President Spencer W. Kimball

July 19, 2010

Back to our Roots

So all the waiting, wondering, anxiety and stress of non-rev traveling was totally and completely worth it.  I officially will never quit my job with the airlines after this wonderful trip.
A couple months ago Ova came home and told me that he wanted to go back home to Tonga in July.  I looked at him like he was crazy cause, hello we can't go to the other side of the world in a couple months.  That's something that takes like a year of planning and saving.... or at least that's what I thought.  As it got closer and closer, and as Ova was picking up more and more OT at work I began to realize that he wasn't joking.  That meant I had to get into action because we didn't even have current passports.  May passed, and June was almost over and still nothing was done.  I finally sent the passports in to get renewed half way through the month of June, just hoping that they would get back to us before we were planning on leaving in July.  We already knew that there was no way we would be able to buy confirmed tickets, cause we just don't have that kind of money lying around...so I started asking around and looking for ways to use my flight benefits to non-rev over there.  The hard part is that there are only 3 airlines that fly into Tonga:  Air New Zealand, Air Pacific, and Pacific Blue.  Delta doesn't have agreements with any of them except Air New Zealand, and our agreement wasn't that great.  I'd heard tons and tons of horror stories from other non-rev travelers about the service from the people that work at Air New Zealand and was very very nervous.  The most popular way to travel is from LAX to Fiji and then to Tonga, but that would have been like $600 per person - standby.  What I decided to do was take the Delta flight from LAX to Sydney Australia (since it was Delta, we'd be getting all the way over there for free) then just buy a confirmed ticket from SYD to Tonga and back.  Well the fares were extremely more expensive than I was planning because it's high peak season, but still that was the best thing I could think of.  I put off paying for the confirmed seats from SYD to Tonga because I needed to know for sure we were getting to SYD.  I checked the flights every day and was getting more and more nervous because the flight from LAX to SYD was getting fuller and fuller and more non-rev's with higher seniority were listing.  We were planning on leaving on Saturday July 10th and coming back on Monday July 19th.  Ova wanted to stay a little longer, but I was already having a hard time with the idea of leaving all my kids for that long.  We decided a week in Tonga would be long enough, and since it takes 2 days to get there...we'd get there on the 12th and be there for exactly a week.  Well, as it got closer and closer, my original plan was not panning out.  On Monday the 5th, I checked the flight and it was oversold by 22 people.  I had a bad feeling.  I started looking for other ways to get there and found out that we could go on Quantas all the was to Auckland New Zealand for only $130 per person.  I called to see how their flights looked and they told me they were all booked full (standard thing to say) but as I got talking with the agent, he told me it was full all week, but Wednesday the 7th looked the best.  I looked online for confirmed seats from AKL to Tonga and they were outrageously expensive (like $1000 per person round trip) I decided to look into the Air New Zealand agreement we had to get from AKL to Tonga standby.... $212.40 round trip per person.  That sounded a lot better!  They of course said their flights were all completely full, but for some reason I had a good feeling about it so I'd made up my mind that that's what we had to do.  Ova came home from work on Monday night and I told him that we had to leave on Wednesday.  I explained to him everything that I researched and we decided that's what we were going to do.  Luckily, our passports came that day, just in time!  Tuesday night I went to the airport and bought our standby tickets.  Wednesday morning, we ran around making sure all the bills were paid and things were taken care of before we left, and then we came home and packed really quick and headed to the airport at 3pm.  The LAX flight we were going to try was overbooked because the earlier one cancelled, so we opted to go to Long Beach and take a shuttle to the LAX airport. (Best decision becasue the LGB flight was wide-open and the shuttle was only $30)  We got to the LAX airport at like 5pm and were so happy that they let us check in that early because the flight didn't leave until midnight.  Lucky too because since we were flying standby they clear people by first come first serve, and we were the first ones on the list...so if there were any seats available, we would be the first ones to get them.  They told us the flight was full, but there was a chance we'd get on.  They were very very nice to us and I was happy for that.  In the 7 hours that we were there waiting, we ate, and I was able to make a baptism announcement for my sis-in-law's friend.  The flight ended up getting delayed but they called us up and gave us our seats.... we were sitting together!  Yay!  We boarded the plane at almost 1 in the morning and were off on our 14 hour flight to New Zealand.  Can I just say that I Love Quantas!  Their service is excellent, and they take very good care of you during the flight.  They even have little bassinets on the wall for those that are traveling with babies.  (I totally cried when I saw it telling Ova we could have brought Lautala...it was finally hitting me that we weren't going to see them for a week....)  We both slept most of the flight, except for we woke up for the two meals they served and to watch some of the movie,  and before we knew it we were upon approach into Auckaland New Zealand.  I looked out the window, and this was the awesome view we saw....the sunrise in New Zealand.....
We arrived at like 9am and our flight to Tonga didn't leave until 9:40pm so we had the whole day to spend in New Zealand.  It was perfect because some of Ova's 1st cousin's that he grew up with and hasn't seen in like 20 years live there, near the airport so we called them to come pick us up.  It was an awesome reunion for Ova to see them and meet their husbands and kids... and for me to meet the people that Ova has told me so many stories about.  First thing we did was go and get some Steak and Cheese meat pies for breakfast.  Yummy!  We went back to their house and just like the rest of the Fangupos, those girls can cook!  They made us the biggest and most delicious meal...
After we ate, we showered and got ready to go back to the airport to see if we were going to be able to make the flight to Tonga.  The Air New Zealand agent I talked to when I called to list us was giving me a hard time about even listing us because he said we wouldn't make it cause the flight was full.  I told him we just wanted to try.  When we got to the airport, it was the same thing.  They wouldn't even help us.  They told us that it was a full flight and that we had to wait and check back with them a half hour before the flight was supposed to leave and if someone didn't show up to check in, we might make it.  That hour that we sat there and waited was extremely nerve-racking.  We went back up to the counter at the time they told us to, to check in and got a really nice lady who got us on the flight.  Thankfully again, we were sitting together.  I didn't realize how big the New Zealand airport was, but was totally freaking out that we were going to miss the flight because even though we already had our seat assignments, the board said final boarding and we still had to wait in line to go through customs and security.  We RAN (no exaggeration) to the gate and were one of the last people onboard.  So excited, that in 3 more hours, we would be in Tonga. 

We arrived in Tonga at about 1am.  I can't really explain the feeling I had to be getting off the plane in Tonga.....but I was emotionally happy to finally be there.  I went to Tonga twice with my parents when I was a little girl, but the last time I was there I think I was like 10 or something, so I don't really remember anything.  I was so excited. 
It took us forever to go through customs because we were one of the last ones off the plane, but once we were through it, we walked out and Ova's dad was there waiting for us.  (He flew out there the week earlier to go to a funeral)  Ova's mom has family that own a house out there, and they were currently in New Zealand.... they let us stay at their house and use their car while we were there, which was really nice.  Ova and I were so excited that we were finally there..... there was so many things we wanted to do, places to visit and people to see..... since it was like 2am, we went to the house we were staying at, unpacked and got a few hours of sleep.

Bright and early the next morning, we headed to town to exchange our money at the bank.  Ova was in the bank and I heard this loud music playing behind me.  I jumped out of the car and this is what I saw
The 1973 Ikale Tahi (Rugby team) was having a reunion and they started it by parading down the streets of Nuku'alofa.  Traffic was stopped for this parade.  It was awesome!  I guess this kind of thing is common in Tonga, everybody stopped what they were doing to clap and wave as they passed by.  It was my first few hours of my first day in Tonga and I was already loving it! 

We were really glad that Ova's dad was there with us because he pretty much became our tour guide.  Ova moved to Tonga when he was a baby and was raised there, but left when he was almost 11 years old.  He remembered a lot from when he was there but it had been 20 years since he'd been back so it was nice to have someone who knew where everything was to take us around!   The funeral that his dad went there for was still going on, so we made time every day to stop by and take drinks or bread or something just to pay our respects.  It was Ova's grandpa's sister that passed away so a lot of Ova's family was there.  We spend a good chunck of time there at the funeral visiting with his family members.  The funeral was in Vaini, the village where Ova grew up.... so every day after spending a little time at the funeral, we would walk around Vaini and Ova would show me where he grew up and reminiss about his childhood.  It was very emotional for him to go back and see how much things have changed since he left.

One of the main reasons he wanted to go back was to see his house out there.   When he was only 1 year old, his grandpa passed away so it was just him, Ma and Tea that stayed in that house.  Their house back then was beautiful.  It was clean and well kept, fenced off from all the animals that roam around.  There were tons of different kinds of trees growing all over the yard, it was beautiful.  He'd received word from an uncle that lives out there that the house had been trashed.  We went out there to see it for ourselves so we can see what we need to do to fix it up.  This is what his beautiful house looks like now.

Front of house
Back of house
The people who lived there before ruined it.  All the windows were smashed out, the main water line that runs into the house was broken, the majority of the trees were chopped down.  The fale koloa they had in their front yard was torn down, the fence that used to be around their yard was gone and there was animal crap everywhere.  It was a disaster.  I could see Ova's heart break as we walked up to the house.  How could someone treat so badly this place that he loved?  It was a very emotional couple hours that we spent at that house as Ova was reminissing about things he'd done there.  My heart hurt to see him so sad.  He combed the whole yard telling me little details about where trees used to be... things him and Ma and Tea used to do, things he did as a child.  He walked around the outside of the house and he was showing me where the kitchen was and which rooms were who's.  We would have loved to go inside, but all the windows and doors were gone, so the house was boarded up and nailed shut.  He was amazed that the few trees that were still standing were so huge since he'd last seen them.  I was even emotional as he was explaining to me what a wonderful childhood he had there.  After he explained everything to me.... I knew he just needed a minute to himself to take it all in, so I went and sat on the back porch and watched him cry over his childhood home.
It was one of those moments where you wish you could rewind time, and go back to those happy and fun childhood times... when all the change that has happened is almost too hard to bare. 

There's a lot of damage done, but nothing that can't be fixed.  We were talking about fixing it up so that we have our own place to stay when we go back.

This cement thing is where the water collects.... every house in Tonga has it...it's connected to the house and when it rains, the water fills it up.  Right after Grandpa Timote passed away, this little cement slab was put on as a tribute to him. 
In the bird it says: Koe sima fakamanatu o Timote Fangupo (This cement is dedicated to Timote Fangupo) and under the bird are all the grandkids names that were born at the time he passed away.
We walked around Vaini a lot.  It was so nice.  Everyday we'd come by and see the house and Ova'd reminiss a little more.  As we were walking around we stopped at almost all the houses and we'd knock on the door to see if they were home. Some people would recognize him, and others wouldn't until he told them who he was.  We took pictures with every single person we met with.  Ova was in heaven.  I was so happy to see him happy with the people from his childhood.  Everyone had aged so much, and a lot of people had moved or passed away, but it was nice for him to see his Vaini people after 20 years. 

We went to Grandpa Timote's grave site.  The graveyards are all over in all the villages and they're above the ground.  It wasn't hard to spot Pa's grave painted green....just like here people go there often to visit their loved ones to be close to them, and they leave blankets or flowers or lei's on the grave.  The flowers on Pa's grave were left there by Ova's cousins that were here the week before for the funeral.
Everytime we'd walk or drive by the grave, Ova would say "Hi Pa, Ofa Atu"  it was sweet!

My Dad's sister Nesi married a man from Vaini and so she lives there too.  I don't really know her that well partly because she lives in Tonga, and partly because I don't speak Tongan fluently so I have a really hard time communicating with her, but it was so nice to see her!  She looks and moves just like my Uncle Daniel, it was crazy!  I was so happy to meet her husband and her kids, I'd never met them before.  My 1st cousin Cindy Leka that lives with my mom and dad here, has 4 sisters that live with Nesi.  After their mom passed away, Nesi took them in.  They are absolutely gorgeous.  They spoke some english too so I was able to talk with them.   This trip made me really want to learn to speak Tongan.... I mean really speak it.  I can communicate with Ma somehow, but the rest of the Tongan community can't seem to understand me.  I would love to be able to go there and say what I want instead of keeping quiet and smiling.  Someday that will happen! 

Ma comes from a family of 9 kids, there are only 4 of them left.  Ma is the only girl.  We went to two of her brother's houses.  The other brother lives in New Zealand. 

Ova and his dad with Ma's brother Sione Sevaki
Ma's brother Palaiti and his wife Simoa
 I loved meeting them, they look so much like Ma and have her same sweet, loving, and giving spirit.  That's one thing that amazed me about Tonga and the people there.  They have very little to nothing, yet they are more than willing to give of what they have without even thinking about it.  I was amazed to see how big the hearts were of the Tongan people, and now understand more why my Dad and Tea are like that.  Ma's brother Palaiti, I love him.  I don't know why, but I got teary-eyed when I met him.  Maybe because he reminded me so much of Ma, maybe because of the way they lived.  They had a tiny little shack for a house, their kitchen was a little shed he had built in his back yard.  Their bathroom was an outhouse, and the animals roamed freely.  Their living conditions were so poor, but they were so happy.  It didn't matter that they didn't have much, they were happy.  The first day we went there to visit them, they made us some ufi.  It was delicious!  I felt bad eating their food cause I know they didn't have much, but they were so happy to be able to feed us.  The next day was Sunday and after church he came and got us and told us to come back to his house that he had made us some manioke tama.... that was so delicious too!  We sat there for a minute talking with him, he was telling us how much he misses his sister, he was crying as he was talking about her.  I pray that we'll be able to take Ma back to Tonga one last time while she's still with us, so she'll be able to see and spend time with her brothers that she hasn't seen for so long. 

The next day we were planning on site seeing.... Palaiti asked us to stop by his house before we headed out.  We did, and he had a puaka tunu for us.  It was a little baby pig roasted to perfection with some siaine to go with it.  We got there and they were still cooking it.  I cried when I saw what he was doing for us, so selfless and giving.  I knew this was food that could have lasted them a while.  He gave us the food with the biggest smile on his face and then he told us to take it with us as we went site seeing.  I love him!

Site seeing was AMAZING!  Tonga is such a beautiful place!  I kept saying that to Ova as we were driving around.... the greens of all the plants and trees, mixed with the blues of the skies and the ocean.  It was breath-taking!  We went to this place called Hufangalupe.  The English translation is 'where the Doves come out' the actual place is a cliff by the ocean.  There is a cliff on both sides, and the middle is the Hufangalupe.....the natural hole in the cliff that connects the two cliffs together, making it a bridge.  It's hard to explain, but you can see in my pictures how breath-taking it was.  I wanted to stay there for a long time just taking in all the beauty of the place.

Right side of Hufangalupe
Left side of Hufangalupe
Hole in the center is the Hufangalupe

We got to see Ova's uncle Kauasi, his mom's brother.  He was deported to Tonga about 6 years ago.  He is doing really well out there.  He's the mayor of his little town Fo'ui and he has three kids.  His kids are gorgeous!  It's funny because their 2nd child, Lolo who is about 5 years old, is trying to learn English.  They just made a rule that their kids can only speak English in the home, so they can learn it.  When we were visiting them, Ova grabbed him to sit on his lap... he looked at Ova and in very broken English he said "You are fat!"  We all started laughing and he kept his serious face and looked and me and said "You are white!"... hahaha  we all couldn't stop laughing!   Kauasi is a very soft-spoken man, and he loves his family very much.  He started crying right when he saw Ova and was asking about how all the rest of the family is doing back here in the states.  It was good to see him and spend a little time with his family!

Of course we went and saw the Nuku'alofa Temple and Liahona High School.  The church owns tons and tons of land around Liahona and there are thousands of cows, and coconut trees... fields of manioke and other types of food.  It's the church's food storage in Tonga, and it was all so nice, neat and clean.

We went to the market in downtown Nuku'alofa to get some souviners for the kids.... everything there was so nice!  The things that are hand-made from nature are so beautiful...I just love how pretty much everything they make is from scratch, from leaves or shells or some type of plant, or tree.   It's a LONG process.... Ova was explaining to me how much work goes into making the fa into the stuff they weave for the baskets and for the ngatu.  Things there are really expensive....but after Ova explained how long it takes to make the stuff, I understood why! 

Speaking of the time and work that goes into making these beautiful Tongan peices of art, one of the days we were walking around Vaini, we saw some ladies sitting on the floor in a building making this beautiful tapa, and you know from my other posts that I LOVE tapa.  The one these ladies were making was 55 feet long and they made it themselves from the leaves and bark of a tree,  and they were just finishing painting it.  It was absolutely beautiful!  We walked in and asked them if we could take a picture of it and them...they were so happy and proud of their work!  It was awesome too because one of the ladies that was painting the ngatu actually knew and remembered Ova, so it was another special reminnisant moment. 

We had such a wonderful, meaningful, emotional, special & busy trip to Tonga.  We cried a lot, we laughed a lot, we met a lot of people, ate some delicious home-grown food, Ova got to reminiss about his childhood and all the memories he had back in Tonga, and I got to see the place that my husband grew up.  I loved it there, I loved being there with my husband to share that amazing experience!  It's a laid back place where people don't have much, but are willing to give, give, give!  Our summer here is their winter, so we went in the middle of their winter.  It was still SOOOO  hot, but humid hot where our skin felt sticky.  The house we stayed at didn't have hot water, so every day we would have to take a cold shower.  I was a little nervous about that, but with how hot it was...the cold shower actually felt really good!  The mosquitos were out and biting....but Ova got it a lot worse than I did.  We had to make sure we had enough of these little coil things that you burn and it's supposed to keep the mosquitos away.... I don't know if it really worked or not, but we used them faithfully! 

I am definately going back, but next time I would like to take my kids.  I think it's important for them to know their culture and heritage and to appreciate what they have here in America!  I want them to LOVE Tonga as much as their Dad and I do. 

The next time we go to Tonga, I want to go when there is nothing going on.  This time we were too busy... we went for the funeral and right after was the Hufangalupe/Vaini Reunion so all our days were planned for us.  I would love to go there and not have an plans, just the ability to walk around and visit people and swim in the beach, relax and do whatever we want.  This post is just a few of the things we did in Tonga in the first couple days we were there, there is so much more to tell and 1000+ pictures to show of the reunion.... Those will have to wait for another post.  I'm sure as the days go on I'll remember things that I've left out of this post.... but I wanted to at least blog about how much I loved Tonga and how much fun I had there!  Even though everything happened so last minute, I think it was meant to be... everything went so smoothly.... we made it on every flight we tried and we always sat together.  It was a wonderful, wonderful trip!  I can't wait to go back!



What great pictures!!! Just looking at your pictures brought back memories of our trip to Tonga last year!!! Thank you for sharing all those beautiful pictures!!! V-Town for life lol good for you guys Mon!!!

Siu said...

Tonga looks so beautiful! Lucky you guys got go!! Loved this post.

Melissa said...

I had no idea that you went to Tonga! No wonder you have been away. I just talked to you too and you never mentioned that.
What an amazing trip for you guys! I was teary eyed just reading about your experiences. I am so glad that you got to go back and see the place where Ova grew up. What a special thing to experience for you guys. I loved the pictures. Looks like a very beautiful place. Glad you made it back safely.
Sorry we didnt' get together while I was in Utah. Next time for sure we will. Love ya!

NIVA said...

AWESOME! Monica I loved your post about Tonga. I'm so glad you guys had such a great time. I hope one day I get to take my husband there. I miss Tonga. It's beautiful there. Thanks for sharing your experience with us all. Love you!

Mua Lomu said...

That post was amazing:) I hope Kauasi and I go to Tonga one day! It's so beautiful there, reminds me of Samoa!

Tina Tuakoi said...

How awesome! I love all the pictures, it looks like such a beautiful place!

Kiki Fangupo said...

Beautiful photos! What a great experience!

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