Tag Archives: Salt Lake City

“Better and Better.”

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.

Air New Zealand Boeing 767 parked at Tonga's Fua‘amotu International Airport. • Courtesy jokertrekker

Air New Zealand Boeing 767 loading passengers at Tonga’s Fua‘amotu International Airport on Tongatapu Island • Credit: Jokertrekker

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.

"Malo e Lelei" welcomes visitors to the Kingdom of Tonga • Courtesy Lindsey Christine

Mālō e Lelei” welcomes visitors to the Kingdom of Tonga • Credit: Lindsey Christine

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.

When Life Hands You Lemons, Bring on the Lemonade

Sūsana and I spent this spring and summer preparing for 27 months of Peace Corps service in Tonga. We shopped for luggage, clothes and supplies. It consumed our thoughts and actions most days. We tied up loose ends as we looked forward to making a difference in a beautiful part of the world.

I retired from American Airlines in March, the same day Sūsana returned from eight months of Peace Corps Response service in El Salvador. I picked her up in Miami after working my last shift and we celebrated with steak, grilled asparagus and chocolate cake at a favorite restaurant.

Susana teaching butterfly biology in El Salvador during her service with Peace Corps Response. Click on this photo to read about her experience.

Susana teaching butterfly biology in El Salvador during her service with Peace Corps Response. Click on this photo to read about her experience.

Renting a car in Salt Lake City in April, we traveled 6,000 miles through eight western states, taking two months to visit family and friends, many of whom we had not seen in decades.

In June, we sorted through personal belongings and consolidated everything into 75 square feet of climate-controlled storage.

By July, we had traveled to Spain, one of our favorite destinations, to participate in a week of Pueblo Inglés, a total-immersion English program for Spaniards with intermediate and advanced language skills.

Hotel Doña Teresa in La Alberca, Spain, our favorite Pueblo Inglés venue.

Hotel Doña Teresa in La Alberca, Spain, our favorite Pueblo Inglés venue. Click on this photo to read about volunteer opportunities at Pueblo Inglés • Credit: Diverbo

Later that month found us house-sitting in Costa Rica on a lush 26-acre estate in the Orosi Valley, taking care of four parrots, chasing blue morpho butterflies along the cascading Rio Negro and enjoying the ¡Pura vida! lifestyle.

Then our Peace Corps plans crashed and burned. Word from Washington arrived the last day of July that I was not medically cleared for Peace Corps service. I appealed and lost.

Over the next six weeks, I continued to importune Peace Corps to allow me to accompany Sūsana to Tonga. Multiple positive medical opinions from my long-time physician failed to change their minds. By mid-September, with our Peace Corps group already two weeks into pre-service training, it became clear that Peace Corps service wasn’t going to happen.

What do you do when life hands you lemons? You squeeze them, add a little sugar and make lemonade, of course. That’s just what we did.

We bought tickets to Tonga to create our own adventure. We arrived in early October and have spent the past month falling in love with this place.

Turquoise Wave at Blow Holes

A turquoise wave crashing ashore at Tonga’s Blow Holes near Houma on the main island of Tongatapu.

Tonga is tranquil. Tonga is peaceful. Tonga is the epitome of relaxation with tropical breezes and Polynesian sunsets, a different masterpiece in pastels each evening with the melodious call of wattled honeyeaters in the bush as twilight falls on the kingdom.

Tonga is its people. They’re friendly. They’re polite. They laugh heartily. They sing into the night in multi-part harmonies.

Tongan landlady and her granddaughter

Our Tongan landlady and her granddaughter dressed in Sunday best.

There’s a church across an open field from our house, perhaps a quarter-mile away. We hear the choir practicing every Saturday night as we play cards on our front porch. They sing Sunday mornings and during Sunday afternoon services. Most Wednesday evenings they are back at it, filling our world with angelic praises.

Two doors down from us, a group of Tongan visitors from New Zealand laughed and sang into the early morning hours as we fell asleep a few nights ago. Far from being disturbed by their merry-making, we were lulled once again by the rhythms of Tongan life.

Our future in Tonga is starting to take shape. Last week, Sūsana was appointed senior information and communications technology (ICT) teacher at Ocean of Light International Schools. She starts her two-year contract in January.

Ocean of Light International Schools

Ocean of Light International Schools in Nuku‘alofa, Tonga. Click on this photo to read more about the school. • Credit: Ocean of Light International Schools

Ocean of Light is the premier K-12 school in Tonga and the only one in the kingdom with an international curriculum. Plantations of coconut, papaya and breadfruit surround the peaceful campus three kilometers (1.9 miles) west of Nuku‘alofa, Tonga’s capital. I’ve signed an agreement to volunteer at the school on a regular basis. We’ve applied for employment visas in Tonga to make our residency official.

So, we’re creating our own Peace Corps-like adventure in Tonga. We will still make a difference in this beautiful part of the world. Had we come here with Peace Corps, we would have been assigned a site and told where to live. We would have been restricted in our movements and transportation options. We would have had pages of rules to follow. For us, it’s better this way.

Life’s lemons are indeed a gift. Squeeze vigorously. Sugar abundantly. Sip, savor and smile.