We do not remember days, we remember moments. (Cesare Pavese)
I recently travelled to Tonga as part of a joint group with Good Return and Xplore for Success. Twelve women, six days, a thousand memories.
I have already written about first impressions in Mālō e lelei and how I struggled to keep emotions in check during the magnificent Sunday church service. I hope many other memories from the experience will stay with me for a life time.
I know I will continue to support the work of SPBD and Good Return
I will continue to be astonished at the work of South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) and the difference they are making to places such as Tonga. I observed the commitment of the staff at SPBD, their passion. They know they are helping making a difference and it shows. I am also thankful for the tolerance of the SPBD staff when 12 career women from Australia arrive on your doorstep full of energy and questions, you were all very patient, courteous and extremely helpful.
I know I will remember the day I visited Tongatapu.
While I enjoy the luxury of my home I hope I remember the experience of arriving in the poor area of Tongatapu and the realisation that I am seeing people’s homes, lying below sea level amidst salty swamplands, their yards awash with fetid waters that seep in from the surrounding seas. Images quickly take me back the overpowering putrescent smells that hung in the air as we visited homes and listened to the women tell their stories.
As I flick on a light switch I hope I will remember the tears that rolled down her cheeks as she told us that the loans had helped her put on electricity in her home. As I jump into my new car I hope I remember the many hours of work over five years of another to save to buy a car to take her children to school. As I continue to support my own children through their university I hope I remember the 23 year old making handicrafts and baking to earn an income for her own education with the desire of a better standard of life for her children.
I hope the feeling of vulnerability in seeing, smelling, feeling the effects of Climate Change with my own senses, not just reading about it in news grabs will remain with me, as well as the small glimmer of hope at the mangrove reclamation area – one day this land will improve. I know future news items will stir the feeling of helplessness as I looked out to sea and pictured what it would be like if a tsunami was to land on these shores and its people.
I know I will always remember the people I met in the short time I spent in Tonga.
I will always…always remember the joy in a Tongan smile, how it is contagious and welcoming.
I was privileged to see and feel the pride shown by the clients when they shared with us stories about their businesses. It was heartwarming to listen the stories of how the microloans being provided by SPBD and Good Return are improving their lives, from providing food for their families, clothing, education, electricity, even a car to take children to school. I was surprised to see the small entrepreneur spirit of many who use the intermittent internet to sell their wares across the world.
Many will hold a special place in my memories.
The bakers, the mother who passes on her recipes to her daughter by showing.
The seamstress who makes traditional clothing that Tongans still wear with pride to church and other special occasions.
The weavers who will sit for days to make masterpieces from pandanus grass, from floor mats to the traditional taʻovala. Or others that will make intricate pieces to form kie kie that many people still wear daily.
The fisherman wives, who will pray each day for their husband’s safe return from the seas and who will then work long hours packing the haul for market.
The farmer’s wife and daughter who work side by side the husband and father to harvest tapioca and yams to sell at market.
When I close my eyes I can see the image of women drying and pounding the tapa from thin leaf to broad sheets to sell at market. I can hear the sound of the rhythmic whacking ringing in the village air during the midday hours.
I hope I will be able to remember…
being immersed into Tongan life. I am grateful to be invited into their homes, their church, their lives for a small glimpse of Tonga and its people. Their music mixed with the softness of the Tongan expression and laughter of its people still ring in my ears and flows through my soul.
I know I will return to Tonga
You have created a special place in my heart