It was 3 am when they had arrived in the darkness of the early morning. The simplistic life of the Kingdom was evident from the first step onto Tongan soil. No colossal airport terminal with numerous guards and staff ordering the travellers to assorted lines. Just two simple passages where passports were stamped, a quick scan for quarantine and the group shown the door to enter the Kingdom.
As local families greeted their own back to country these western ladies were corralled past Tongan musicians who, despite the early hours of morning enthusiastically welcomed visitors with the traditional sounds of Tonga harmony. Their bus awaited. Their journey had begun.
Her neck stretched above the heads in front so she could see the road ahead. As
the bus quietly passed through sleeping villages she discerned the small simple houses in the shadows, trying to picture the families that lay within. Scruffy dogs played on the roads, only moving when the lights from the bus were upon them. An occasional pig joined in the game with the dogs. She smiled thinking the scene a contrast to the kangaroo, fox or koala she would normally see on the roads to home.
She could feel her heart pumping, her eyes wide open despite her weariness as the bus took the final turn to her home for the next six days. A small part of her was hoping this wasn’t some sort of TV reality show that now took one of those surprise turns and they were about to fight for their sleeping quarters and beg for food.
“Please just show me my room with clean sheets and running water” she silently prayed as the security guard led each to their abode, where she fell into bed in the hope she could revive her energy with just a few hours of sleep – there was lots to discover tomorrow, or was it already today?
The shackles of work and home were washed away in the tranquility of the morning. The azure waters of the Pacific Ocean expanded before her, the sounds as it crashed on the reef hypnotized her, the shadows of whales enjoying a morning play not far from the edge excited her. Her immersion had begun.
As the bus glanced through villages she observed the Tongan people industriously starting the day. Children strolling along the roadside edge to school, men heading into small fields to plant banana trees or clear land for another crop to bring a small income to the household, women setting up stalls outside the village homes to sell their frugal wares and produce.
She had expected to see streets of high rise buildings indicating the capital city centre so was surprised when Rick the bus driver said they had arrived in downtown Nuku’alofa. The larger country centres of home were busier and bigger than this she thought to herself. Despite its size, the place was a buzz with industry as the bus weaved through the morning traffic.
Vehicles with people stacked in every available seat, some taking passage in the back of the truck passed them by. Others were precariously parked by the road unloading watermelons, carrots, capsicums, yams ready for a long day of selling. Women watched over the stalls as younger children, scantily dressed ran along the dusty craggy paths. Older children, in their brightly coloured school uniforms giggled and chattered as they walked to school. She smiled as she thought somethings don’t change whatever the country it seems.
Her eyes worked overtime to capture these moments, her head darting from side to side to front to take in the scene of the morning bustle. A squeal from the front of the bus made her turn to see a scruffy dog dart through the traffic, to the right western fashion collecting the dust that was swirling along with the traffic was strung along a wire for sale. A large sow tramped along with purpose as her piglets danced around her feet, a few brown chickens scratched for some morsel of breakfast as vehicles of all shapes and vintage continued to pass by.
As they arrived at their destination she sat on the bus for a short moment. She was 3600 kilometres from home, with a group of women she hardly knew in a country she knew little about. She was a voyager in a foreign country, almost anonymous with no preceding tags except those she chose to share. She could barely contain the intrepid excitement growing within her. Her feet were tingling, her eyes wide, her ears tuned, her whole self poised to embrace every second of the next six days.
A broad smile greeted her, a welcoming hand outstretched “Mālō e lelei, welcome to Tonga”.