Sūsana and I left Tonga in early November to return temporarily to the United States. After a month in the Kingdom, we had fallen in love with Tonga and were sad to walk out on the tarmac at Fua‘amotu International Airport to board the waiting jet to Auckland.
Seeing the “Welcome to the Kingdom of Tonga!” sign that greets arriving passengers only served to heighten our awareness of leaving this beautiful place. I got a lump in my throat as I read, “Mālō e Lelei” in big letters, “Hello,” in Tongan.
“I’m going to miss Tonga,” I told Sūsana as we approached the roll-away stairs. “It feels like home and I wish that we didn’t have to leave.” I vowed silently to myself that we would be back.
In the States, we visited family and friends; applied for Tongan employment visas; house-sat for six weeks in Wellington, Florida; concluded our fall/winter/holiday butterfly season; then sold our car, picked up two more suitcases from storage and filled each with clothes and supplies. Soon enough we were on our way back to Tonga, content to have tied up so many loose ends and very thrilled to be going to our new home.
I worked for American Airlines to have flight benefits upon retirement. This is the only reason that Sūsana and I can afford to travel as much as we do. The downside is that we fly standby and can only board when there are empty seats. We’ve learned to be flexible, resilient and to have multiple back-up plans.
Leaving Florida, we flew from Gainesville to Raleigh, North Carolina, via Charlotte. From there we flew to Salt Lake City, Utah, via Philadelphia. From Salt Lake we flew to Honolulu, Hawai‘i, via Los Angeles. All six flights were on American and we got on all six without having to wait for the next available flight: a minor miracle, to say the least.
From Honolulu to Auckland, we were scheduled to fly on Hawaiian Airlines and we almost did not get on. In fact, we were the last two passengers boarded. The nine-hour flight across the Pacific was uneventful. We were grateful to arrive in New Zealand to stretch our legs as we explored favorite stores and restaurants in a now-familiar place, this being our third Auckland layover since October.
We arrived in Auckland late on Tuesday, 19 January. Our flight to Tonga did not leave until 9:35 the next morning. Air New Zealand opened their ticket counter at 4:00 am and we got in line to report in and weigh our bags. Graham, tagged our bags and delivered the discouraging news that the flight was oversold by 14 passengers. He told us to return at 8:30 am to see if anything had changed.
Shortly after 8:00 am, we were back in Graham’s line. When it was our turn, we tentatively asked him how it was looking for the flight to Tonga. His response sent us soaring, “It’s looking better and better by the minute.” He then printed our boarding passes and sent us to bag drop and on to the gate.
During the past week and a half that we have been in Tonga, whenever a serendipitous moment strikes such as discovering a jar of Mexican salsa in a local store or the rental car agency giving a weekend discount (three days for the price of one) or the landlady lowering the rent without us having asked, we look at each other and quote Graham with a smile, “It’s looking better and better by the minute.”
Mālō e lelei and welcome home! School starts Monday.