To try to better capture what it is like here, I will write a little about a few experiences we had in the first couple of days.
On Sunday, we attended a Catholic church service at a small church on the outskirts of the first village. Different from the Samoan service, where everyone dressed in white, here the men wore dark lava lavas with aprons made of woven pandanus leaves or, in many cases, woven plastic. One older gentleman appeared to be wearing a piece of shiny black plastic tarp as an apron. Women mostly wore black dresses or long skirts with sleeved blouses and pandanus aprons, some simple and others with fringes interwoven with shells and seeds. In contrast to the Samoan ladies the Tongan congregation were hatless. The men and women were interspersed as were the singing leaders, who would start each song item throughout the service. Most of the service was sung - and powerfully sung - in harmony. The entire congregation sang every song and knew all the words. It is a cliche, but at times the singing sent a shiver down my spine and Rani had tears in her eyes. It felt like we were in a bell tower, surrounded by the raw throbbing of a dozen bells.
We were invited after church to a lunch of traditional Tongan food. Sia and Niko have a small house in the first village that was built for them by the Catholic church after the tsunami. They have refused to move up the hill to the new village site, claiming that the new site has no well water. I suspect they want to stay where they are because it is much better situated to the water, the wharf, and the fishing grounds - and I don't blame them! The bugs will also be much worse back in the bush. But because they will not move, they do not qualify for government aid.
The lunch consisted of fish, which had been caught by a combined effort of villagers and cruisers, baked in taro leaves, two varieties of taro, and papaya, all cooked in coconut milk. There is a distinct lack of spices and herbs in Tongan cuisine just like in the other Pacific islands we have visited so far. Niko was squeezing fresh mango juice when we arrived and we were a little worried when it was diluted with local water but it tasted delicious and we suffered no ill consequences. The cruisers brought deserts and we contributed some onions and canned meats. Sia has also invited us to celebrate her son's 17th birthday later today.