Tag Archives: serendipity

“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.

Tongan Stature, Perfect Timing and the Sweet Symphony of Life

Like the recurring themes of a symphony, life has a way of reprising melodies, descants and rhythms in later movements. Thirty five years ago today, Sūsana and I met and, for me, it was love-at-first-sight. For her, it took a while longer.

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra • Credit: VSO

But, stop the orchestra! I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let’s rewind this tune back 12 days.

One cold evening in late January, I saw her at the time clock of the language school where we both taught. It was easy to tell that she was on the Spanish faculty like me because her name tag sported a red background. So mesmerized by Sūsana and so delighted that we both spoke Spanish, I forgot to actually read her name. After exchanging hellos in passing, I also failed to find her timecard among the hundreds in the rack.

Her smile was intoxicating and I realized moments after she left that this was the same lady who had playfully winked at me days earlier in the corridor. She claims that she winked at all the male teachers. I’ve never believed it for a minute and maintain that her wink was just for me–that one, at least.

Thus began the most agonizing 12 days of my existence. For nearly two weeks I actively watched for this mystery co-ed on campus, at work, while shopping–anywhere and everywhere–with no success. She was driving me crazy!

It turned out that she normally taught during the day, but on that one occasion she had exchanged shifts with an evening instructor. So our paths didn’t cross again until the 12th of February.

Sweet relief came during a linguistics class, specifically devised for us total-immersion language teachers, watching Professor Taylor draw his lecture on a transparency sitting  on the illuminated glass of an overhead projector. (Google “overhead projector.” The way we measure time with technological advances, it was eons ago.) Classroom lights were dimmed during his presentation.

Overhead Projector

Overhead Projector • Credit: Wikipedia Commons

When the lights came back on, there she was, sitting just a few seats away and one row back. She wasn’t there before, so she must have arrived late to class. But, there she was now and that’s all that mattered.

I don’t recall anything that transpired in class after that moment. All my academic fervor was directed toward devising a strategy of getting to the door before she did, so that I could casually greet her after class. I didn’t want anyone in the room to buttonhole me while she escaped again, so I had to be strategically placed.

She was not going to get away that night without me discovering her name. Anything we happened to say to each other after that would be icing on the cake.

Class ended. I worked my plan and positioned myself in the hallway, then waited. She finally walked through the door. I smiled, said hello and we stood and talked for perhaps ten minutes in spite of the fact that her “boyfriend” was at her elbow and wouldn’t take her hints that he could, “Go on to class,” and that she would be along shortly.

I didn’t care! Boyfriend or no boyfriend, I had to know who this chick was so I could call her later and ask her out.

Finally, I got her name and, as I started to breathe easier with my mission accomplished, our small talk rambled into medium-sized talk, then into Tongan-sized talk.

Yes, it’s true! In that first conversation one of us brought up the naturally large stature of Tongans (you really can’t make this stuff up) and we chewed that fat for a while.

Queen Sālote of Tonga

H.M. Queen Sālote Mafile‘o Pilolevu Tupou III, who reigned as Tonga’s elegant sovereign from 1918 to 1965, stood a stately 6-feet 3-inches (1.91m) tall. Beloved of her people, Queen Sālote was also a renowned poet and song writer. Click on this photo to read more about Queen Sālote, including an example of her poetry in both English and Tongan. • Credit: State Library of Victoria

I located her listing later that evening in the student directory, called her up, asked her out and we had our first date that weekend. Only four months and two days passed from that first conversation about Tongans and such to the day on which we became Mr. and Mrs.

Our courtship was agile adagio and while we paced ourselves with mostly perfect meter toward the second movement, friends kept asking us what was taking so long.

So here we are, 35 years later, preparing to teach in Tonga, the land of our first discussion. Coincidence or serendipity? Cause or effect? Whimsey or just whatever? Or is it perhaps a recurring theme in the sweet symphony of life?

Ponder that thought and remember to hold the applause for last. Next movement’s about to start.