On the Road with Kids, the Extended Version

The name of this Tongan church gave us a shock: of course it is dedicated to Saint Matthew. I just don’t think we’d ever seen Matiu’s name in letters that big!

Church of Matiu

It occurred to me that I might write a little about what this has been like for Matiu and Dani (and what traveling with them has been like for us). Since I can’t get inside their heads (and since because they’re boys they never tell you how they’re feeling), I have to intuit their experience based on their behavior, which has been what I would describe as mixed.

Admittedly, we are asking quite a lot of them: get up, go here, go there, do this, eat this weird food, greet these unknown family members, visit this heap of rocks. On the whole, they’ve been great, though, naturally, not always. Over time they have developed a tactic that I find really maddening. They have become Refuseniks. When they have really had enough they simply refuse to leave the hotel room. They will sometimes do this even when they need food; in fact, the hungrier they are the more intransigent they become — low blood sugar having a well-known and deleterious effect on children’s cognitive abilities…

When it gets really bad — we leave them. Even if they’re hungry. But when we come back we bring food. Fortunately, this only happens once in a while. For the most part only one child at a time is lost in the serious sulks and it’s been quite heartening to watch each of them, at different moments, try to jolly his brother back to some reasonable frame of mind so that we can get on with whatever it is that we have to be doing.

So, in honor of their continuing efforts I want to post a few pictures that will suggest some of the other techniques they’ve used to cope with this journey…

Here, for example, is a photo of Matiu and Dani in an Auckland hotel:

Dani and Matiu in NZ

And here they are in a hotel in Tonga:

Dani at Little Italy

Matiu at Little Italy

Here they are thinking about how close they can get to the cliff edge:

Matiu and Dani

And here they are horsing around on the beach:

Matiiu and Dani with stick

And here they are horsing around some more in, wait for it, another hotel room:

Matiu and Dani in Melbourne
I have to say I have loved traveling with them—except once in a while, when, had it been possible, I might have sent them home. Fairly early on in the trip I told them the story about how one of my cousins was sent home from a trip at about this age, but it can only have had the weakest of effects on them since (a) they knew I couldn’t actually do it and (b) they knew I never would.

Tonga to Australia by way of

New Zealand (again)

In the Kingdom of Tonga: Food and Friends

I want to make sure I finish the  Tongan hospitality story, because it doesn’t end with pick up (and drop off!) at the airport or even the loan of the car! On the night before we were scheduled to leave — by which time I should note, we had sussed out quite a number of Tongan systems and were almost beginning to feel like old hands — Sateki and his wife invited us to an umu (a New Zealand hangi), which is to say food cooked in an earth over, at their house. There was enough for about 30 people, but fortunately Sateki has several children (and a cousin turned up to eat as well) so I didn’t think anything would go to waste. Foolishly, we did not think of photographing the spread before we tucked into it, but here is a photo of what it looked like after we were done.

Tongan umu

The pig was fantastic, as was the chicken, the octopus, the salads, a kind of sweet dumpling (which I noticed the children liked), and something wrapped in some kind of (banana?) leaves. There was enough food for about 30 people, but fortunately, Sateki has several children (a cousin came to help us eat as well) so I figured the extra would not go to waste. Here are a couple of photos of the family –Sateki with two of his beautiful children:

Sateki with children

His beautiful and gracious wife, Fine, who made the most moving speech of welcome to us—even Matiu, our 15-year-old, was overwhelmed by her warmth and generosity—and their three girls:

Sateki's wife and three girls

And a picture of the entire family, including the cousin in the back.

Uasike family

I had an extremely interesting conversation with their eldest daughter (in red), who is something of a scholar. We left her the first two books in the Harry Potter series, which Dani has been reading. She may still be a tad young for them (English, after all, is not her first language), but I hope she gives them a whirl. I don’t know a child who hasn’t gotten hooked and it would certainly be easy enough to send the rest  (her parents have only to say the word and we will send them an entire library!!!).

I still really can’t get over how nice — what an inadequate word! — they were to us, and with absolutely no expectation of any kind of reciprocity. It does make you want to return the favor, though, if only you could figure our what would be most useful to give or do…

On the Road with Kids, the Extended Version

A Very Quick Tour

Tonga is such a complex place: this incredible hospitality; almost no tourist infrastructure to speak of (they burned the city of Nuku’alofa down in a fit of civil unrest a couple of years ago and there are still places that have not been rebuilt); a lot of highly visible poverty; an enormous number of churches; oh, and did I mention that it’s flat?

The island is like a big coral biscuit, the windward side of which is undercut in places leaving these amazing limestone shelves with holes (and even caves) in them. Up on the western end there are a series of blowholes that are not to be missed where the surf comes roaring up and crashes into these cliffs, blasting up through holes in the surface exactly like a whale. Even sounds like a whale clearing its blowhole.

windward coast Tonga

Here are a couple of shots of what you’re walking on when you get out to the edges of the island (that is where it’s not mangroves and mud):

coral

coral

And here’s what it looks like from another angle:

Tongan coast

We also visited the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon, but which I believe is the largest megalithic structure in the Pacific outside of Easter Island. Here it is, with some people we met there for scale.

Ha'amonga Trilithon

This, actually, is what I went to Tonga to see, because until you see something with your own eyes….well, you’re pretty much just faking it.

In the Kingdom of Tonga:

Food and Friends