Published: August 8th 2009July 15th 2009
As usual, I digress... let’s see if I can keep on task to describe the day’s events. I went on a COMREL to one of the elementary schools (Pangai Primary School) with Lauren Rago and Rick Parry (the two Aussie Public Affairs types), Todd (the Chaplain), Beav (the TACRON, or air operations guy), the musicians and a few other CivMars from the ship. It was so much fun, the kids, faculty and parents all came to have a program involving all of us. We really didn’t know what to expect, but we came away rejuvenated, elated and feeling like we had just had a vacation. We danced, drank coconut milk, played frisbee with the kids and just had a great time together. What an amazing day! To begin, the group arrived at the Primary School ad was directed to a special area of honor to sit. The children then begin to bring over leis (or whatever their equivalent is) for every single person! Close your eyes and imagine the most heavenly of smells coming from a long strand of flowers, greenery and fruit pieces. The band begins to set up and the kids gather on the field to
do a FOD walkdown for the helicopter. Considering the field is full of small debris, this is no small task but the kids run around trying to see who can obtain the most bubble gum wrappers and plastic.
The ceremony begins with a prayer and the Tongans and Pacific Partnership group go back and forth on presentations. The DJ puts on some earsplitting music (I assume Tongan), not that it sounded bad, it was just ridiculously loud. A group of children come out with leaf skirts, necklaces, bracelets and anklets to dance. They are covered in oil and the little girl in the group totally steals the show. Girls here are still not as open to do things as the boys, so I guess I’m a little partial to girls with an independent streak. She was sassy and I could tell just by the way she was the boss of this act, that she would be a well respected woman one day. A very interesting custom is to put money on the dancers, it sticks to the oil they wear. Many Tongan Panga (the local currency) was glued to the children or put in their shirts. Next it was
time for the Navy band to play a song... at first only a couple of boys ran out to shake their booties, soon everyone was out there. I started dancing with the little girls, as soon as I walked out there, they grabbed my hands and followed my lead. It was loud and hot, but so much fun.
Finally, it was time for the Air Detachment to show up. The helicopter flew onto the rugby field and the kids were just blown away by seeing a helicopter (most likely for the first time). Since I’m very close to the AirDet guys, I helped the kids and families get into (and out of) the cockpit. They tried on helmets and held onto the controls, like they were in a movie themselves. The principal even put on the safety equipment (helmet and survival gear) for a great photo op. Older men and boys didn’t really know what to make out of me, being a woman and all. Many of them asked to take a photo with me in it, so I obliged. I’m the token white woman with light hair, eyes and features, something they’re not used to and find interesting
I suppose. Anyway, I helped the people go into the cockpit and hop out, there were some seriously cute kids. We went back to listen to more music, dance ridiculously and watch more customary dances from the children. We were there for about 4 hours total.
Towards the end we played for the last hour out in the field, I took a lot of pictures with the kids, families and faculty. I got swarmed by children, a few of the girls really took a liking to me and just wouldn’t leave me alone. I didn’t mind at all though, they were very sweet, giving lots of hugs and kisses. I was sad to leave, but if I had spent any more energy, I don’t know if I could have gotten back on the ship without falling in the water. I was soooo happy for the rest of the day though. I can’t explain all the good feelings I had after the visit, it was like a burst of energy and good vibes... karma at play in my book.
There are more photos below