Thursday, December 24, 2009


23 ‘o Tisema: Christmas Eve Eve

Here we are in the tropics at Christmastime. The Tongan Christmas is unlike any Christmas I’ve ever experienced. The overwrought commercialism is largely absent; while there is some gift giving it appears to be mostly small stuff. Concerts are popular; there was a big local concert last night featuring some local musicians, including the brass brand from Tupou College, our neighborhood school. Our PC neighbor went and said it was great, but we stayed home because Kathy’s been laid low by a staph infection.

It started with a boil on her leg a few weeks ago, then last week another boil appeared on her left shoulder. While she was diligent in following the prescribed treatment, it became clear by Monday evening the infection was spreading to her neck and left ear. Our medical officer took her to a real palangi doctor on Tuesday; he prescribed intensive antibiotics and put an IV port in her left forearm. (Readers who know Kathy will be cringing at this point knowing her opinion of needles, especially big ones.) So for the last two days she has been receiving injections at 8 a.m., 4 p.m., and midnight; as I write this at 11:45 p.m. we are waiting for the nurse to arrive. Tomorrow she goes back to the doctor and hopefully we can move to oral administration. The injections are painful, but they appear to be having an impact.

The other big news is that our landlord and his plumber replaced our broken instant hot water heater with a new one yesterday, and so now we are living in luxury with hot water to our shower and sinks. Kathy’s convinced (and I’m not arguing the point) that the lack of hot water for the last two months is largely responsible for her current medical issue.

When we moved in last Thursday, our next door neighbors were in the 5th day of the putu for the family patriarch who had died of renal failure sometime over the weekend. He was only in his mid-50s. Lots of people around, lots of comings and goings and feasting; several big tents had been erected on the grounds, and various activities, including prayer services and vigils going on all night. For some reason the Tongan people feel it is important to stay up all night when honoring the dead. They then sleep throughout the daylight hours, and when the sun goes down the putu festivities kick into high gear. This goes on for 10 days. All this is over now, but several relatives from abroad will be staying through the holidays, so there is still some music making going on in the late evening, and most of it is pretty good.

24 ‘o Tisema: Christmas Eve
It’s Christmas Eve and we are experiencing a Christmas Eve like none we have experienced before. For some reason the Tongans like to celebrate Christmas with fireworks, a curious choice for a Christian kingdom. So there is random fireworks being shot off around our neighborhood all evening. This might have something to do with the fact that most of the falekoloas (small shops) are owned by Chinese, and you’ll remember who invented fireworks. Also, I have never seen as much traffic and related activity as we saw today; it appears the Tongans like to wait until the very last minute to do their Christmas preparations; not a bad tradition, in my view. Which leads me to our TOP EIGHT LIST OF REASONS TO SPEND CHRISTMAS IN TONGA:

8. You don’t have to listen to the same Christmas carols being played over and over in the shopping malls; there are no shopping malls.

7. You don’t have to watch all the ads for after Christmas sales; Tongans have not commercialized Christmas and most of their holiday gift giving is inexpensive candy, clothes, etc.

6. You don’t have to worry about competing with anyone in your neighborhood with lighting displays; we have seen one house decorated with a few Christmas lights.

5. You don’t have to worry about being snowed in or inconvenienced by winter weather. Today it was sunny and 82, and right now it’s about 70 and breezy. Tomorrow promises to be the same. And the day after, and the day after that….

4. You don’t have to worry about your tree drying out and catching on fire. We have yet to see a Christmas tree anywhere.

3. You don’t have to eat figgy pudding, fruitcake or anything else that you typically find on the Christmas dinner table. It’s just not here. We’re having tuna pasta salad and banana bread made from bananas from our yard. (This item is a good thing only if you don’t like traditional Christmas goodies; I’m missing all the Christmas cookies, fudge, peanut brittle, peppermint bark, ginger bread men, and Geena’s party mix big time!)

2. You don’t have to buy any obligatory presents; the shipping costs are simply too prohibitive. On the other hand we are missing the joy of gifting our loved ones.

1. You don’t have to read anything about Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue” book tour, balloon boy, or Tiger Woods’ affairs in the papers or on the news; we have yet to find a newspaper and we don’t have a TV. (Many Tongans do have TVs, but they use them only to watch pirated DVDs).

On the health front: Kathy’s much better; the IV port in her arm is gone and she’s on oral antibiotics and generally feeling more like herself. I, on the other hand, came back from running around town and promptly felt feverish, had a sore throat and headache, so I took some ibuprofen and fell into bed. Because of this we had to cancel out of the Christmas Eve party with all our PC friends. Dang.

We are missing family and friends and pray that all of you are having a wondrous and joy filled holiday season, and that you are not cursing Jose Feliciano after hearing Feliz Navidad for the 500th time!

Friday, December 18, 2009


. . . is a very very very fine house. Check us out by clicking on the "Picasa" link and viewing the "Tongatapu" folder.


15 ‘O TISEMA (Tusite)
Our first day in Tonga featured a tsunami warning which threatened to delay our formal welcoming ceremony. Our Swearing In Ceremony, the celebration of the conclusion of our training and the conversion from “Peace Corps Trainee” to “Peace Corps Volunteer,” is now threatened by Cyclone Mick.

Mick crossed the main island of Fiji last night as a Category 2 hurricane and is now headed straight for us. The last report had Mick downgraded to a “tropical depression” so the likely result will be strong winds and buckets of rain. We’ve been having the rain for the last 24 hours; my guess is it’s rained 3 or 4 inches, and we’ll probably get at least that much more over the next 36 hours. Peace Corps staff has already changed the venue for our ceremony from a resort on the Northwest tip of the island and a nice catered lunch to a hall here in Nuku’alofa with simple refreshments. While we all appreciate the caution it is a bit of a letdown.

The other impact is a delay in moving to our sites. Kathy and I (and all the other volunteers on Tongatapu) were scheduled to move into our house tomorrow afternoon after the ceremony; that’s now been moved to Thursday. Those going to other islands will be delayed until the ferry is running again, which will likely not be until Friday. All their stuff is going on the ferry, and while they will be flying that can’t really go until they know their stuff will be arriving. So it’s all up in the air.

Today was our last official training day. We all received the results of our language exam, and nine of us (including Kathy) scored “Intermediate High” which is the best result of any training group. I was happy to score “Intermediate Low” and as a result will look forward to continuing language study with a tutor.

16 ‘O TISEMA (Wednesday morning)
After a very stormy night we have awakened to a calmer morning. It’s breezy, strong winds are in the forecast, but it appears the worst of the rain is over. Tongatapu is basically flat, it has no rivers and therefore no flooding, but there is a great deal of standing water everywhere. We had a power outage last evening for about an hour, but thankfully the power came back on and has stayed on.

Everyone is getting ready for swearing-in; we all need to look good. I’m giving the “thank you” speech as part of the ceremony and it’s ready to go. Hopefully I won’t stumble over the little bit of Tongan I’m including at the beginning and end. Here is the main (English) part of what I’m going to say:

“Today you are honoring 26 Americans by accepting us as Peace Corps Volunteers. I say “honor” because we believe that Peace Corps service is a privilege, a privilege that few Americans have the opportunity to pursue. We come from all over America, from the East Coast to the Great Lakes, from the Deep South to the Great Northwest, from the Heartland to the sun-drenched beaches of California. Most of us have lived, worked, and studied in other countries, so we bring a very wide range of life experiences with us. Our motivations to join the Peace Corps are as varied as our backgrounds, but we all come with the desire to serve. We signed up without any idea of where we would be working, but we are absolutely delighted that we were chosen to serve the Kingdom of Tonga.

For the last 10 weeks you have worked very hard to prepare us for the challenges facing us. You have taught us the basics of the Tongan language and the ulangaanga faka-fonua ‘o Tonga, and showed us how to dress and behave in a culturally appropriate manner. We’ve even had the opportunity to sing and dance faka-Tonga. Along the way these efforts have given all of us the opportunity to have some good laughs. But more importantly it has helped us begin to appreciate the Tongan Way of living. For this work and these experiences we are profoundly grateful.

We have also had the opportunity to do some teaching of Tongan children in Tongan schools, and to a more limited extent to work with Tongan teachers. This experience has helped us appreciate some of the challenges we will experience during our service; it has also showed us that Tongan children are as eager to learn as children anywhere. As the first group of volunteers to serve the Tonga Expanded Community Education Project we look forward to working with our Tongan partners and the Ministry of Education to further the goals of TECEP, especially to move toward the vision for the Tongan teacher: “Faiako ma’a Tonga,” “Teach for Tonga.”

President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps almost 50 years ago. He said that the Peace Corps “is designed to permit our people to exercise more fully their responsibilities in the great common cause of world development.” This group of 26 fortunate and grateful Americans is ready to accept that responsibility. So on behalf of the group, malo ‘aupito.” (The speech concludes with some thank yous in Tongan.)

17 ‘O TISEMA: Tuapulelulu EVENING
What a day! I’m writing from our house; we’re all moved in and have spent the day cleaning, cleaning, organizing, cleaning and a little bit of shopping. But we’re in; we celebrated with a pasta dinner cooked in our own kitchen, the first time we’ve done that since the end of September.

Swearing-in went great, although Kathy was pissed because nobody bothered to tell us some dress expectations. Most of the women wore a puletaha (a traditional two piece outfit worn on special occasions), and she didn’t have one. Most received one as a gift from their homestay family. There’s more, but it’s too complicated to explain here. I got through my speech just fine, some of our colleagues did a ma’ulu’ulu (seated dance) and Kathy and I sang with the singers. This was the same dance we did at culture day a few months ago. The Tongan Minister of Education was the guest of honor, the Japanese ambassador and the New Zealand Deputy Chief of Mission attended, and we all took the basic Federal oath to obey the constitution and defend the U.S. from all enemies domestic and foreign. (So watch out, Osama Bin Laden!)

Afterwards we did some more shopping for household stuff, and then we all went out to a celebration dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant. We had a great time; I kept looking up and down the table and realized that we’ll never be together like this again.

It has been an incredible journey these past two months; every single one of us that came in October was sworn in; that is very, very unusual. Usually a few decide this isn’t for them, often someone has a medical issue arise that prevents them from going on, and sometimes Peace Corps terminates a trainee for not following the rules. (usually too much partying). One of the rules is to not drink at all in our homestay village; during the two months we were there I had a grand total of 3 beers and 2 glasses of wine, usually on one of our forays into Pangai. We heard that the Samoa group we staged in L.A. with lost at least three during training, which is more typical). But we all made it, no one seems the worse for wear, although there are varying degrees of weight loss (mostly men; I lost 10 pounds) and gain (mostly the women, but not Kathy, who has lost weight much to her delight). We will always be Tonga Group 75 and that is now part of our identity. As I said in an earlier post, we begin a new chapter in Peace Corps Tonga’s history with new leadership (interviews for the next Country Director are taking place in D.C. as I write), a new project and focus, and, of course, a fresh batch of volunteers. This will be interesting; stay tuned.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Almost . . .

Dear Reader, please note I have added a few photo albums for your viewing pleasure. Click on the "Picasa" link to the left and enjoy!

11 ‘o Tisema:
It’s Friday evening and we are celebrating the end of training. 11 ‘o Tisema (December 11) is the date on all our calendars we’ve been anxious to get past, because it’s the day of the dreaded OPI: the Oral Proficiency Exam, the conclusion of our pre-service language training. The test involved an interview in Tongan with one of the language trainers. We were required to answer a variety of questions and to engage in a shopping dialogue; the interview took about 20 minutes and was tape recorded. It will be scored by a committee of language trainers. While we have all been assured that this is not a pass or fail test (nobody will be going home for performing poorly), how we perform will determine how much additional language tutoring we will be required to do over the next three months. But more importantly, while we do have more classes next week on Peace Corps policies, some medical training, and more on community integration strategies, pre-service training is OVER!

Our “swearing-in” ceremony is Wednesday mid-day, then we move into our house later that afternoon. We toured our house today and met our landlord; it’s small, has one bedroom, a big bath (with sink!), and a square living room/kitchen. The really good news is that it features ceramic tile floors throughout, a rarity in Tonga, and looks to be in good shape. We have a big covered front porch which will likely be a favorite hangout spot. And it comes with a few pieces of decent furniture. The bad news is it comes with no appliances (typical for Tonga).

So, of course, our next task was to start shopping. The first items were cleaning supplies (Kathy is determined to keep the cockroaches, rats, and other assorted pests at bay). The next items were appliances, including sitou (stove), ‘aisi (refrigerator), i (fan), tipoti (electric teapot for heating water for drinking), and a toaster oven. We also signed up for internet service, which is being offered now until December 15 with no hook-up charge, normally about $150. So we’ll be pretty much set with the necessary basics when we move in. We’ll hit the local Saturday flea markets tomorrow and see what we find for kitchenware, etc. Basically a good excuse to check out our bicycles (purchased from a couple who have finished their service) and start getting to know our new home town.

This evening we enjoyed a collaborative dinner with several of our Peace Corps colleagues. Using fresh ingredients from the local markets we created a variety of tasty dishes, including a Filipino dish called pinak-bet, sunomono ( a marinated cucumber salad), a Japanese appetizer made with spinach and sesame seeds, and a lovely fresh fruit salad made with the glorious Tongan faina (pineapple). By candlelight, we shared stories of our individual world travels—from Russia (with love?) to the Amazon to Africa to Cambodia to Japan to Greece to Jordan, we covered the world, well, except for Antarctica. No doubt, one of our number will trek to the frozen continent (koniteniti) before long.

Most of the young trainees are dressing up and heading out for a night at the “Billfish,” a local club. Me, I’m having a beer then heading to bed. I plan to sleep very well.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


6 'O Tisema
Our training is nearing its end. On Friday morning we said our goodbye to our host family and moved down the road to Pangai, the biggest town in Ha’apai, to spend the weekend with Kate and Brett, volunteers finishing up their first year. This phase of training is called attachment, our opportunity to experience volunteer life and to have the opportunity to learn from their experience. We are enjoying the break from the intensity of the training. We also appreciate the time with Kate and Brett to learn some useful stuff about how to set up a house, how to make things work, manage the creepie crawlies, and do some creative cooking. They post regularly to their blog ( and have helped me learn more about how to manage photos, links, etc. And we’ve done some playing; more on that later.

Our last week in Faleloa with our host family had its moments. Our host father had traveled to Nuku’alofa the week before to gather materials to improve the church facilities for Christmas, and the project began in earnest bright and early Monday morning. The church was emptied of furniture, the gaping hole in the ceiling was quickly sheet rocked, and the entire interior painted by an energetic crew of male parishioners, mostly the young men.

At the same time, the women of the family began a thorough organization and cleaning project of our house. This house of chaos was transformed over the course of two days into one of order and relative cleanliness. Even the shower room, which now features a neat little table for the soap and shampoo, received a thorough clean-up and scrubbing.

I’ve noted previously that most of the homes we and our fellow trainees are experiencing have rudimentary sanitation facilities. While we do have an indoor toilet, it rarely gets cleaned (Kathy has taken it upon herself to correct this problem). There is no sink for washing hands and brushing teeth, etc. For drinking water we must boil water from the sima vai (rain water cistern) so we don’t get puke (sick). We’ve had to develop some elaborate routines for accomplishing the most basic tasks, like tooth brushing and hand washing. It has been very troubling to us that these cleanliness issues seem lost on our family, despite our attempts to help educate them. (In October, the Peace Corps had an international hand-washing day, and volunteers around the world, including here in Tonga, provided education of school children and others on the importance of hand washing and how to do it.
There has been no visible impact of that message here. And the biggest cause of death of young children in third world countries like Tonga is diarrhea/dehydration and respiratory infection, both of which can be significantly controlled through improved hand washing and related sanitary practices.)

So we were literally flabbergasted to see our house transformed. Even the kitchen floor was thoroughly swept, washed, and the torn carpeti (a kind of flimsy vinyl laid loosely on floors) replaced. Why all this effort? It turns out the head minister of the Uesiliani churches and group of other minister’s wives were going to be touring all the homes of the island’s faifekaus starting Wednesday, so it was clear that everything possible was going to be done to give a good impression . The church paint crew moved to the house on Tuesday and painted the filthy kitchen walls (without any surface prep) and the hallways a nice sky blue, then turned their attention to painting the exterior.

The crowning touch to all this effort occurred Wednesday morning. As we often do, Kathy and I walked the mile or so to Sandy Beach starting about 6 a.m. On the way out we were passed by the minister and one of his sons in a borrowed flatbed on their way to the ngoue’anga (their garden plot in the bush). When we returned an hour later, we were amazed to see two big banana trees flanking the entrance to our yard. Another trip to the bush produced several more trees which were planted to create a pretty tree lined entrance for the house.

Later that morning after language class we returned to the house and the inspection group was being entertained in the kitchen with big plates of food. After they left, the newly planted trees were chopped down. In Tonga, this kind of effort to create a good impression is greatly appreciated; while the entire effort seems to these Western sensibilities to by hugely hypocritical, it’s apparently absolutely normal behavior here.

The other major event of the day was the papakiu (barbeque) the church organized as a farewell to the group of Peace Corps trainees the community has hosted the last two months. Food prepared by the church families started arriving around 7 p.m. and was placed on a long row of tables that had been set up in the church meeting hall. The food was arrayed on paper plates and wrapped in plastic wrap. The typical plate was mostly bread of various kinds, maybe a hunk of some root crop or another, a few plates had a piece of chicken and a hot dog or two and maybe a hard boiled egg. Lots of food, but very little protein and not a vegetable in sight. There were pitchers of sweet punch and some pots of some kind of really good sweet tea. The village elders created a space in the corner for their kava circle and prepared some kava while everyone waited until the last of the food arrived from the families. Our fa’e (host family mother) led the children in some songs, and Kathy helped with a couple songs she taught the kids during her practice teaching (which was at the school in our village). By 7:30 the food was ready, the faifekau (minister, our host father) did the obligatory prayer and everyone dug in.

Tongans have what is to us a curious way of eating. There is no silverware or napkins of any kind on the table. People unwrap a plate close to them, eat what they want from it, pass it on to a neighbor or wrap it back up and then sample from another plate. As guests of honor, various plates are passed to us. I had a couple pieces of chicken, a couple hardboiled eggs, and a little puteni (sweet bread).

Soon after the eating began, the speeches started. One of the first to speak was our host family mother, who spoke in English some of the time (her English is better than average) and gave a heartfelt and tearful appreciation for our visit. Our fellow trainee Siua (Joshua) gave the obligatory fakemalo (thank you speech) on behalf of all of us; earlier that day he had help from us and especially our language teacher on just what he should say, and he did admirably.

The speech making was over when the makaui (talking chief for the noble who owns the village) ended his speech. The retired faifekau gave a closing prayer, then (to my great surprise) asked me to end the feast with a prayer. I was grateful for the opportunity. I basically said that while we PC come from a country rich in material possessions, we have a lot to learn about the true richness of the Tongan culture that values ceremony, family, church, and respect above all else, and how grateful we are to have the opportunity to live and work among them.

After the feast I joined the kava circle with several other male trainees, and two of our female colleagues acted as toua (young unmarried woman who mix and serve the kava). I sat next to my host father, and had a good time for a few hours. Although I left around 10 p.m. the fiekava went on until about 3 a.m., and my host father, as usual, stayed the entire time.

On Thursday Kathy tried to organize a picnic with our host family at Sandy Beach. Several of the other trainees’ families were doing the same thing. We were only successful in getting our 3 youngest “sisters” to join us, and we ended up having a marvelous time. We literally opened their eyes to the undersea world in their backyard by teaching them how to snorkel, and they absolutely loved it. There are numerous coral heads just off the beach that are easily accessible that feature a nice variety of coral and reef fish, and the girls were amazed by the beauty of it all.

The day was marred somewhat by two near drownings. Tongan families tend to be very lackadaisical in the supervision of their children and the majority of parents do not know how to swim. The kids, however, love to play in the water, but because of the lack of supervision they know little about how to play safely. Several of our colleagues helped rescue children who had been held under the water by rambunctious playmates or had gotten out over their heads. The disturbing fact is that the parents, once they were aware of what had happened, only laughed.

Our day concluded with a family dinner quasi-American style. Kathy set the table with plates and silverware along with a vase of flowers for a centerpiece. We waited to start eating until everyone was present, and since the family never eats together this was no small matter. Plates of food were passed for people to serve from rather than eat directly from, and this was a bit strange as well. But each person said a little thank you speech to us, each one concluding with a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Both parents said their thank you as well, which included apologies for the behavior of the children and the poor quality of the food (other trainees reported their thank yous also had the same kind of apologies.) Kathy and I then both said our thank yous for the love and hospitality they had shown us, as well as some specific comments for each member of the family.

On Friday we left our homestay with promises to stay in touch, which we fully intend to do.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Our First Tongan Thanksgiving

29 ‘o Novema:
It’s Sunday evening and Thanksgiving weekend is almost over. In my former life this was usually a time to kick back, spend some good time with friends and/or family, maybe travel and take Friday off and have a four day weekend. It always marked the true beginning of holiday time. I remember vividly last Thanksgiving. I took Wednesday off and we traveled to Seattle for our first interview for the Peace Corps. Then on to a few days with Kathy’s sister and family on Whidbey Island, then to a visit with cousin Norma and Dale Hanberg in Edmonds. As it turns out this was our last time with Dale, who died a few months later at the age of 80. Dale and Norma were my family away from home during my college years, always welcoming, willing to lend me a car for a big date or be the place for Thanksgiving dinner if I couldn’t make it home or to watch a big football game. Dale was the very model of the guy we all wanted to live near because if anything needed fixing in our house he would be the one to hear about it and then show up on your doorstep with the tools to fix it. Everybody loved him, especially his numerous grandchildren, now mostly in their 20’s, all who were enriched because of his generous and caring nature. His favorite excuse for a road trip was to go help a grandkid with some project or another, or just to go take them out to dinner.
Well this year was totally different. I had to teach on Thanksgiving Day, which turned out to be my last day of practice teaching. As I mentioned in my last post, we had a big Thanksgiving dinner, and it was wonderful. Kathy’s pumpkin pies turned out great, we had turkey and mashed potatoes and dressing and green bean casserole and a bunch of other stuff. We ate the turkeys Tongan style, which means they weren’t carved, but rather we all served ourselves by literally tearing off chunks of what we wanted. As my mother is fond of saying, it was interesting. We all had a very nice time.
But Thanksgiving means nothing to Tongans. We tried to explain what the holiday meant; one of the trainees is from Plymouth and she told the story of the first Thanksgiving. But in a country where the culture expects a big feast for any old good reason the meaning as we know it is difficult to grasp.
We’ve been in our homestay for almost two months now, and next Friday we’ll be leaving. It’s been a decidedly mixed experience. We are most anxious now to finish up with our training and finally settle into our own place. Living in a 1200 sq. ft. house (+ outdoor facilities) with a family of 9 has been a challenge.
The family and the church are the twin hubs around which life revolves here. And because we are with a minister’s family we probably feel the church aspect more than many. However, this small village of maybe 500 people has 7, yes 7, churches (1 Siasi Uesiliana/Wesleyan, 4 varieties of the Siasi Tonga/ Church of Tonga, Mamonga/Mormon, and Aho Fitu/7th Day Adventist), all of which have multiple services on Sunday and early morning prayer services throughout the week. All of these services are preceded by bell ringing and drum beating (the Church of Tonga beats a “drum” made from a hollow tree trunk), beginning some mornings at 4:30 a.m. Why the bell ringing and drum beating you might ask? It’s absolutely necessary in a village where most homes do not have a clock. At our church on Sunday, the first set of bells rings at 5:00 a.m. for the prayer service. For the main service, the bells start at 9:00 a.m., reminding you that you have an hour to prepare for church. Then, again at 9:30 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. The final bells ring at 9:55 a.m., essentially proclaiming that you’d better get yourself to church!
“Our” church is the biggest in Tonga, Wesleyan Methodist. The curious amalgam of Tongan culture and fundamental Methodism is rooted in the theology of salvation, with constant attention to living a life of service and piety. But as is the case everywhere, humans will be humans, and we see significant problem behavior in our home stay families stemming from a parenting style emphasizing compliance and adherence to prescribed roles.
We have attended church every Sunday since we’ve been here, always the main 10 a.m. Sunday service. While we can understand little, we are usually able to have a hymnal and can sometimes sing along, although most of the songs are unfamiliar. We have been involved in a few services; Kathy has done the English Bible reading, and I have read a Tongan hymn or two. Tongans have someone read each verse, then it is sung by the congregation, then the next verse is read. This has been fun for me and has helped with my Tongan pronunciation, and I haven’t heard anybody actually laugh during my readings.

Kathy had been promoting the idea that we should sing a song in church with the girls (all four) of our host family. While all involved thought this was a great idea, getting them organized to actually do something was impossible. She finally told them that if this was going to happen it would have to be today, as this was our last Sunday here. We all decided to do “Silent Night” in English, with me providing guitar accompaniment. (I should note here that in Tongan churches there is usually no instrumental music of any kind; all singing is a capella.) We had our first “rehearsal” Friday night with three of the girls, but the oldest daughter was in a foul mood and everyone was distracted by the video game the boys were playing on a computer borrowed from a friend, so little progress was made. A subsequent rehearsal Saturday evening went a little better; we made sure there were no distractions, and we were having some success teaching the concept that some singing could be done at something less than full volume and with attention to creating a blend (not the usual Ha’apai singing style). Then our host father, the minister, decided that the boys (twin 17 year olds) had to sing, too, so at the last minute they joined our group, not very willingly (although it should be noted that they have the best voices in the family, by far). The youngest girl, Sofaia, has a sweet soprano voice, but is generally bullied around by her sisters, but Kathy wanted her to sing the first verse solo, then have everyone join in for verses 2 and 3. Having the oldest daughter keep her hands to herself instead of pulling her kid sister’s hair or otherwise punching her proved impossible. Nevertheless, we persevered. Kathy insisted on a uniform appearance for our ensemble which sent the household into a bit of a frenzy trying to find clean white shirts and black skirts for everyone. However, I must say we ended up looking pretty good, and our performance was just about as good as we could expect. Not a bad way to end our Faleloa church going experience.