I write this as we sit in the departure lounge at Nuku’alofa airport, just over a year after we arrived in Tonga, full of anticipation.
I can now report there was much more that was great, than not-so, for our family of four.
Having an idea of what to expect can help smooth out the bumps of a relocation. May my insights help you 1) decide if Tonga is a good location for you, and 2) relocate and resettle with confidence and ease.
What we loved:
* intense pride in tradition, from decorating villages with balloons, woven mats and ribbons for royal inspections, to every school child being proficient in cultural dances and songs.
* weekly cultural shows, for locals and tourists alike.
* the feasts of whole fish cooked in coconut cream, raw fish (ota ika), roast suckling pig, taro, seaweed, corned beef in taro leaves, clams, root vegetables, watermelon. So good!
* Sundays being dedicated to family, religion and rest.
* the Shugyo community, a martial art similar to tae kwon do.
* the friendliness and sense of humour of many Tongans.
* swimming year round, albeit a little chilly for the three months of the ‘cold’ season.
* fresh drinking coconuts, purchased by the dozen in woven baskets, from roadside stalls.
* local bananas in something we made everyday – cake, smoothies, ‘ice cream’, pancakes and bread.
* focus on education, with school students in crisp white and red / aqua / orange / royal blue uniforms spilling from the school at 3pm, even the littlies walking home together.
* courteous drivers, with just a few exceptions.
* beautiful handicrafts from local materials, skills passed down through the generations and often within large community groups. Baskets, fans, traditional painted designs on beaten timber cloth (tapa), carved coconut shells and carved timber kava bowls.
* coconut oil from the source. And coconut cream by the litre, freshly pressed. Yum.
* whale, turtle and dolphin sightings from our house!
What we didn’t:
* very clever mice using our clothing for nests, and beating us to not-quite ripe paw paw and bananas.
* 17 different stops for fish, meat, eggs, coconuts, fruit, veg, bread, sauces, milk, cereal, toilet paper, stationery, alcohol.
* finding a tasty / good packet of biscuits / curry paste / toilet paper and never seeing it on the shelf again.
* not being able to snorkel / ride bikes / walk beyond church on a Sunday, except at resorts.
* cars and buses held together with packing tape, padlocks and rust, some with less tyres / windows / windscreen, and many more passengers, than one conditioned to licensing rules in a developed country comes to expect.
* while we had no concern with respecting their customs, being able to bare our shoulders and knees on warm days once again will be enjoyed.
* very fine line between sharing what we have, and stealing. A day off sick from school often meant no pens and pads on return.
* ants eating holes in dirty hankies, ew. And dirty undies, double ew.
* having to buy bottled drinking water. Makes us really appreciate getting it from the tap in Aus, even if we still choose to filter it.
Kingdom residents, thank you for allowing us to live in your beautiful country for 15 months. We leave with many wonderful memories – and a most amazing collection of gifts.
Ofa lahi atu. Malo aupito.
Prospective residents, expats and visitors, feel free to get in touch. Contact me here.
Current expats and visitors, what would you like to add to the lists? Comment below.