Rebecca's first cousin, Nora Bachman, spent six months working
in and touring Australia and New Zealand. Before returning to the
States in March 2003, she visited Rebecca and Justin on Nomuka for
a week. Here is her report:
After my three weeks in New Zealand, I flew into
Tonga's capital Nuku'Alofa, which although a short 3 hour flight,
gets in at around 1 in the morning. Just before that I'd arranged
to stay at the only hostel I could find and get in touch with. I
emailed the owner and asked if she had any space and when she emailed
back that she did, she also asked me to do her a favor. She asked
if I could buy her two bottles of rum and two packages of cigarettes
duty-free, as they cost a lot in the "city." She said
that in exchange, her adopted Tongan son, a 190 cm, 130 kilo "boy"
would pick me up at the airport for free. I, of course, said yes.
It sounded almost like a threat. :) So I made my way to this hostel,
which turned out to be quite nice, and I got to sleep. The next
morning I woke up to go into town and find the Peace Corps office.
The owner made me breakfast and we chatted a bit and she gave me
some directions to find the office. At this point, I had heard from
my mom, through John & Lynne from Rebecca, that her friend Corey
happened to be in Nuku' Alofa at the same time as me and was going
to be traveling back by boat and would be able to help me.
When I finally found the office, the security guard at the front
told me the office was closed as it was some American holiday, not
that I knew anything of it after being away for so long, but it
was Martin Luther King day. I began to panic just a bit because
I had no idea what I was going to do, until the guard asked me if
I was Rebecca's cousin. When I said yes and he yelled to someone,
this crazed girl comes running over to me, hugging me, apparently
very happy to see me alive. I felt a bit bad for not knowing who
she was until I realized I didn't know her. She turned out to be
Corey and she'd spent the entire morning calling all the hostels
she knew of trying to find me and had Rebecca worried about my whereabouts-that's
right, Rebecca was worried. Due to our four-line communication,
there had been some confusion about where I'd be staying when I
got there and when I would go to the office, etc. but in the end
it all worked out.
Because of the undependability of the boats, the boat that I thought
I'd be taking, the Siupeli, did not go that night as scheduled because
there would have only been two passengers, so I moved to Sela's
Guest House and stayed with Corey. I ate at one of two Italian restaurants
in the capital and also found a nice American cafe with pretty good
food before we departed the following night.
The boat ride was not quite as bad as Rebecca and Justin described
in one of their first emails after having visited Nomuka. That's
not to say it was all wine and roses either. We were on the boat
for about 12 hours with no toilet except for the first 30 minutes,
because it had no flushing system so after such a long ride, it
overflows so we got our business out of the way early on. We had
a thin mattress that Corey had brought to put on the bench so that
we could lie down on the hard wood. Unfortunately, the mattress
did not cover the entire bench so from my waist down I was a bit
bruised when the boat finally made it to Nomuka. We had gotten there
about an hour early in order to assure ourselves a bench each but
the boat was so full that we ended up sharing one, so we were quite
scrunched up. We'd taken some "Sea-Legs" (sort of like
Dramamine but not as strong) in order to help us last the ride.
I witnessed Tonga firsthand during one of my first experiences in
the country, when a huge group of people brought a dying woman hooked
up to an IV onto the boat. This throng of people was crying and
surrounding her, trying to make her comfortable and set her up and
many of them were saying good-bye before they left the boat. Corey
informed me that many Tongans will go to their birthplace or childhood
home when they are dying and that those people were her children
and other relatives and that this was the last time they would see
her. I felt a bit out of a place but I had nowhere else to look-it
was very depressing and also brought me back down to reality.
Another strictly Tonga experience was when we had to move over so
another woman could lay down on our bench. Tongans don't give a
whole lot of personal space the way New Yorkers like it, and this
woman just plopped her head right on my butt and laid down. She
was nice enough to let me lay down and stretch out a bit and later
ended up moving off the bench because I was too fidgety. She also
offered me some of some strange purple object which I declined but
later learned to love (kumala-a type of sweet potato).
The ride was fairly hellish, sliding along the bench as the boat
rocked from side to side and my bladder was close to splitting when
we finally arrived. I didn't sleep too much but went in and out
of consciousness. I also was feeling a little guilty about laying
down while others were standing or sitting on the floor but as Corey
pointed out, we got there early, and there were many other Tongans
laying down though many gave us Pelongis (white people) a hard time.
But as Rebecca and Justin told us later, once they listened to them
and got up and then of course, other people just laid down in their
spots, so we tried to enjoy the space that we had.
Because Nomuka is so small and the boat we took, the Fangafa, was
a rather large cargo boat, we could not dock so small boats would
ride up to the Fangafa and we would sort of ever so carefully make
our way from the large boat to the tiny boat with all of our bags.
I was sort of in a state of misty-eyed drowsiness and cheer at seeing
other Pelongis in the distance and knowing that they were sitting
on land. (Prior to that boat ride, I'd been dreading my 13 hour
plane ride after leaving Tonga, but during my time on the Fangafa,
I couldn't wait to be on that plane with ALL that space.)
Needless to say, the first thing I did upon seeing their house was
find the bathroom, also known as a pit toilet. They have small bike
locks on their bathroom and shower because they live right in front
of Justin's school and people are always walking through their yard,
so just as a precaution to keep their washrooms as hygienic and
private as possible, they have these small locks. They'd set up
a bed for me in the front room right by the door so I could catch
some breeze and it had a mosquito net covering it fully.
It's hard to imagine such incredibly hot weather and no breeze when
it's so cold here and I returned to snow but it got quite warm after
the first few days. When I returned from my trip to the pit toilet,
which really isn't that bad, I walked into the kitchen and heard
Dave Arlington on the radio--what a surprise! We had coffee and
they had cinnamon buns waiting for us off the boat-those might have
been the best cinnamon buns even though they were half burnt and
a day old because they thought we were coming in the day before,
so they'd had to keep them in the oven.
I took a nap while Justin went to school for a little bit and Rebecca
fought with herself over whether she'd go in to work or not. I woke
up sweating like crazy and ready to see Nomuka. I'd bought a "lava-lava"
while I was in Nuku' Alofa with Corey, which is like a wrap or a
sarong that can be worn sort of like a sari, and that came in handy
as I had to cover my legs while I was walking around Nomuka. Nuku'
Alofa is much more accepting nowadays, though I wore a long dress
during my first day there, but Nomuka is still very traditional.
We could wear shorts and tank tops in the house and walked from
the shower to the house in our towels, but outside of the fence
we tried to cover ourselves as the Tongans do.
I went in with Rebecca to school most days (I was there for a total
of 9 days) and even helped teach the kids a little bit. I also acted
as a teacher's aide, helping her prepare her lessons and workbooks.
She has a workbook for each child and has to rewrite whatever she
has planned for them for each child. Rebecca is so comfortable teaching
the children and does a wonderful job of making them use their English
and thinking of creative ideas to get them interested and help them
understand. By the time these children leave her school, their classes
in Justin's school are supposed to be taught entirely in English
so Rebecca has a big job to try and help them.
The kids were so excited to see a new person, a Pelongi, and an
unmarried girl, that they would call out "Nola! Nola!"
just to have me turn and look at them. Throughout my nine days on
Nomuka, I was really given the royal treatment.
of the highlights of my trip to Nomuka was having the honor of serving
as a "to'a." I sat in a circle of men who were drinking
"kava," a drink made from the root of a tree that makes
the drinker a bit high or drunk. Only an unmarried girl who is not
related to the other members of the circle can be asked to perform
this honor, and as you may know, most people on such a small island
are related to one another, so an unmarried girl who is not related
to anyone was very exciting to the Nomukans. Pretty much the first
thing that every one of the men asked me when they say me was, "to'a?
to'a?" I was a bit reluctant at first, but when we worked out
a way for Jonathan and Justin to go with me, I was willing to accept.
The men would not let me sit next to either of my fellow Palangis,
so I sat next to one of Justin's coworkers, a teacher names Sikope
(sp?), and another to'a's brother. The men used half of a coconut
shell as a cup and would hold it up to me. I served the kava from
a kava bowl with a ladle and the men would suck the shell dry in
one gulp and then throw the shell to the floor. I got to taste a
little bit but did not really like the flavor, it made my lips a
little numb, and one sip was enough for me. There were four circles
in the room, and throughout the evening they would play music and
sing. There was one very rowdy kava circle next to me and played
guitar and sang, and competed with my own circle (I did not take
part in the music). Every time that I applauded following a song,
they would get very excited and yell, "The Palangi is clapping!
The Palangi is clapping!" It was very entertaining. At one
point, a guy who needed to be cut off stood up and danced for me--I
think we left shortly after that. It was strange to walk home in
total darkness. I, obviously, had no idea where we were or in what
direction we needed to go, what would be in my way, or anything
and it was almost absolute darkness. It's amazing how much we depend
went on many walks down to the beach and went swimming a few times--occasionally
we'd get to a more isolated beach where I could swim in just my
bathing suit but a couple times we showed up and there were already
some Nomukans there, so we had to keep our t-shirts and shorts on.
One of those times, Rebecca and Justin's neighbors were getting
a fire ready for a cookout. The father of the family came out of
the ocean with his spear gun and more than a dozen rather impressive-looking
fish. They were all probably almost two-feet long and the coolest
part was when he turned one fish over, and a smaller one came out
of its mouth. Meanwhile, the man's parents had been preparing a
fire on the beach and roasting some bread fruit. They are so resourceful--they
used giant leaves as plates, potholders, and kindling. They placed
the fish on the fire and after a few minutes, put the fish in front
of us and bade us to eat while they waited for their! food. I am
not a huge seafood fan, but I was loving this fish. You just dig
in with your fingers, no seasoning at all, you just eat in plain
and it is so tasty. The Tongans think we're crazy because we don't
like the fish head-they see the fish head as a delicacy and the
best part, so we gave Finn the fish head at home, but not in front
of Rebecca and Justin's neighbors, lest they thought we were insulting
them. It was a truly Tongan experience.
|Above: Rebecca teaching primary school.
Below: on the beach.
|Above: In their new kitchen, Justin and
Rebecca chat with Jonathan and Corey Gephart, the Peace Corps
couple they are replacing. Below: Corey and Rebecca in the living
|Above: Rebecca with neighboring children.
Below: Nora is given the honor of serving kava.
I was there, we cooked many interesting meals-when we went
to Jonathan and Corey's house, we ate a lot of their prepackaged
American foods that their relatives sent-for example, cake
mix from a box for Jonathan's birthday, they had lots of chips,
twinkies, tons of seasonings and spices, even velveeta and
cheez whiz. It's funny how much you appreciate things like
that when the alternative is more breadfruit.
Did I mention how I went to church three times while I was
there? Two occasions we went to support some Nomukans who
were performing their first service as a minister, I think.
I'm sorry, I guess I wasn't all that clear on the title but
they were preaching for the first time. They scream and cry
a lot and it is a very emotional service-the first time we
went I thought the guy was mourning the loss of a loved one,
but found out afterwards, that that is just the way they do
it. So after two of those services, they celebrated with great
feasts. As palangis, we sat at the place of honor-at the front,
right in front of the pig. You are supposed to sit Indian
style, with your legs crossed while you sit and listen to
people make speeches, thanking God, and everyone, preaching
more, and this takes several hours. I, of course, was moving
all around, unable to sit still, but they made exceptions
for the Palangi.
we sat there, people started eating, and let me tell you--there's
a reason the king of Tonga is 400 pounds or whatever, those
people can eat. Everyone from the village brings food, and
tons of it, little plates of all kinds of food, and it all
gets passed around. You eat with your fingers and there are
no napkins to clean your hands, and some of that food is greasy,
especially the pig. I was excited to have chicken because
I had not eaten meat in a while, and they brought the chicken
mostly for the Palangis. While people make their speeches,
other people sit and say "malo," sort of the way
you might see in a Southern Baptist church, the congregation
responding to the preacher, saying, "Praise Jesus"
or something like that. After everyone has said everything,
we get up to leave and all the people who have been sitting
outside waiting to get in, come in and eat all the leftovers.
Don't worry--there is more than enough food for everyone.
I only fell asleep once and it was absolutely impossible to
One day, near the end of my visit, Don (the volunteer from
another island who almost died from some sickness), just showed
up. He'd come over with some Mormons who were passing through
and hung out for the day. We went for a walk around the island,
and that's where a lot of my greener pictures are from-we
saw horses, and on the way back passed back the fishery where
we were excited to learn they had gotten some ice, so we would
have some cold drinks that night. Not that we could put the
ice cubes in the drink, but we could place them around the
A few other regular chores in Nomukan life, we had to boil
all our water, so if we ran out of cooled-down water, we'd
have to wait to drink until it wasn't hot anymore, and believe
me--it wasn't cold even when it got as cool as it was going
to get. Random cats would come in the house, eat our bread,
wake me up in the front room in the middle of the night. Dogs
would start barking and never stop, somebody came to the neighbor's
house (which is also one of the fali koa's--don't remember
the word exactly, but a small shop) and called out the neighbor's
house for 45 minutes straight until the woman came out of
her house. That's what they do-call someone's name over and
over and over again until they wake up and come outside. We
made lots of interesting meals--fish pizza, fish burritos,
fish curry, had instant coffee and listened to VOA every morning--spent
time outside in the shade, and in the evenings, hung out with
Corey and Jonathan, drank a little wine, and talked.
The boat ride back was a bit complicated because the boats
don't always come at the same time and I did not want to miss
the boat back to Tonga Tapu, as my flight left just a few
days later and there were no other direct flights for at least
three weeks, and I, of course had my brother's wedding to
get back to. So we asked everybody we saw if they had heard
about the boats, we tried listening to the radio (it was in
Tongan), and most importantly, we talked to the guy t the
phone-I think his name was Henni (sp?). We found out that
the best boat to take was probably the Otutonga and it would
come sometime late Thursday night or Friday morning--we thought.
So, I tried to get packed and get some sleep and then some
time around 4 a.m. someone came to our house to tell us the
boat was coming. The boat arriving is such a big deal that
people will go out and wait at the beach until the boat comes--they
will wait all night long. So I quickly got my things together
and we went out to wait at the beach for the boat. We had
to take a small boat out to meet the Otutonga because it was
too big of a boat to dock on Nomuka. Rebecca went on the Otutonga
with me to make sure I got settled and Sikope (one of Justin's
fellow teachers who apparently was a bit smitten with Nola)
also came with us to help. They found me a mattress and a
spot on the floor, the mat that R & J lent to me to put
over the mattress and an old sheet that I had with me, so
that I could sleep a little bit. I also took some Dramamine
to get me through the ride. Before he left to go back to the
little boat, Sikope gave me a kiss on the cheek which is a
BIG deal for Nomukans, as they are such a Christian society,
but we'll keep that between us so he doesn't get in trouble.
The boat ride to Nuku' Alofa was much much much better than
the ride from Nuku' Alofa--although I was leaving my wonderful
cousins and new friends and fans behind, it was only about
6 hours long and I got to see a beautiful sunrise.
I got to Nuku' Alofa, there was a woman onboard whom Rebecca
had asked to take care of me, and she helped me get a taxi
to the Peace Corps office. For my last few days, I stayed
with a very nice couple from R & J's group in their house
on the grounds of one of the schools. I hung out in the Peace
Corps office watching movies, writing in my journal, meeting
people, emailing when I could, and went out for meals and
even for a few beers one night.
Sunday before I left, I went to a small island about 20-30
minutes from Nuku' Alofa with Erin and Mark, the couple I
was staying with, and Tom and Judy, another amazing couple
from R & J's group. This island, I think it was Atata,
is sort of a haven for Palangis--you pay about 12 pa'anga
for the boat ride from Nuku' Alofa to hang out on the beach
and you are allowed to just wear your bathing suit, you can
buy lunch and then the boat takes you back. I met some really
amazing people, and this was one of the most amazing experiences
of my life, certainly of my trip, and I would love to go back.
My return trip home from Nuku' Alofa to Columbia, Maryland
took about 40 hours and it was one of the longest, hungriest
days of my life--when I got home with 2 pa'anga in my pocket
and about 7 pa'anga in my savings account. But it was all
worth it because I had the most memorable, incredible, cultural
experiences I may ever have. So, thanks Nomuka and especially
Rebecca and Justin. And thanks to Lorraine and David for keeping
this website up, for putting up my rambling stories, and for
keeping us updated on two of our favorite List-Freedmans.