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Justin & Rebecca’s journal of life on Nomuka

FEBRUARY 2003, via letter:

From Rebecca:

Yesterday Corey and Jonathan (the couple who has been serving here and who will return to America in March) came back from the capital with our puppy! He is so cute. We named him Finnerty after our favorite New York City hangout. He is a 7-week-old all-black lab-looking dog. We love him to death although he is very "fakahela" (commonly used Tongan word meaning nuisance). We are trying very hard to train him but thus far we have just done a lot of mopping of our house. We hope he soon catches on. We are raising Finnerty as a bilingual dog.

On a sadder note, a young Nomukan, Davite, died while diving for fish this week off the coast here. He was 24 and in great shape so it is a mystery as to what caused his death. People seem to think he got a stomach cramp and was pulled out by the riptide. The ocean can get scary here due to very big waves and an extremely powerful riptide.

Tongan funerals ("putu") start almost immediately after a death and last up to 10 days. We were woken up at 4:30 am by a neighbor and told to dress in all black and meet over at the principal of Justin's school's house to go over the putu. We were given the traditional putu tavala to wear (longer than the everyday tavala—length corresponds with how closely the attendant is related to the deceased). Our friends also gave us a piece of fabric to bring to the mother of Davite.

We arrived at the house and outside of the door a tarp was set up where at least 100 had gathered and had been there all night singing and praying. When we entered the house we presented the fabric to Davite's mother and took a seat next to her. Davite's body was in the middle of the room, covered by only a blanket. As people entered they kissed his cheek and sat next to him for as long as they wished, then joined the crowd outside. The family for the next 3 or 4 days was constantly frying up dough and serving crackers and tea and people stayed there—sleeping outside the house at night and singing and praying all day. There was also a team of men drinking kava and slaughtering pigs and cooking them in the umu for a feast every day. It was a very sad few days here in Nomuka because Davite was very loved. We have all been wearing black for the week.

I began work this week also. It is teacher planning week so I have been meeting with my principal and other staff members. In the morning we listen to a 3 hour radio program in which different government officials and teachers speak about the goals and strategies for the upcoming year. The primary school system is very uniform thus every student in classes throughout the kingdom is expected to learn the same things.

I am going to be the school librarian, which I am excited about. We're launching a "reading is fun" campaign. My main goal is getting the students to also read in English and enjoy it. At the end of the year the Grade 6 students are given a national exam and if they don't pass the English portion they are not allowed to enter secondary school. Also, how well they do determines what school they enter.

We have a small school (approx. 50 students total) and a great staff so I am really looking forward to working there. Justin has also been preparing to teach at the secondary school where he will be teaching general science and computers. We will also do a lot of youth and community work—our first project being to get the movie theater started. I am going to write people in LA and NYC to see if we can get a projector and some movie reels donated.

From Justin:

We are going to start a video soon—a documentary on Tevolo (devils). Apparently they are everywhere here and often make young people "sick with the devil." Very bizarre but very real to the Tongans. We use it to our advantage—there are Tevolo beaches where they won't go, leaving us privacy.

We heard a radio story on Letio Tonga about the Ministry of Tourism's new program to curb stray, vicious dogs. Besides stating how "tourists often report and complain about being bitten, even when on bicycle," the Ministry is concerned that these people "will go home and tell their friends, who won't want to come." They concluded with, "People in America actually keep dogs as pets in their house and when they see the dogs here left out to fend for themselves and be stoned by children they will not think the friendly islands are so friendly."

APRIL 2003, via email

From Rebecca:

Justin and I are down in the capital for a week leading a school field trip. It is really nice to be on the main island. We have gone to our first restaurant, used our first flush toilet and had our first REAL shower in over 3 months. It is a much-needed break and now we both feel re-energized and ready to head back to Nomuka next week. My job is going really well. The longer I teach, the more comfortable I feel in front of the classroom. The children I work with are so wide-eyed and beautiful and interested in learning, it really makes my job here feel fulfilling and needed. I miss everyone so much but Justin and I have been really great support for each other. I think our marriage is going to be so strong—if we can live on a remote island with no luxuries at all for 2 years, we can do anything!


Above: Their new puppy Finnerty. Below: Justin is shown passing a kava bowl to Davite just weeks before the youth died.
"We have become so accustomed to our surroundings that sometimes I forget how incredibly beautiful Nomuka is."
Above: Justin gets the news from his shortwave radio and a rare copy of the New York Times. Below: Rebecca eats a raw fish during a picnic on neighboring Nomuka Iki.