Wednesday, 1st June
Emily, the registered nurse for all three expeditions, and I fly in to Tonga on May 31st with a plan to catch the 6pm passenger ferry to Vava’u today. Emily is fresh from 40 hours flying back from Kenya where she attended the 2nd United Nations Environmental Assembly. I’m being sarcastic about the fresh thing because I know Emily will just laugh. I’m tear-streaked from a rushed goodbye with my blue burmese Louie which ended with him evading my arms to spray a clump of weeds in the neighbours yard. I’m frazzled from a house and life pack up, and getting ready for four months travelling at the speed of light. My last day at work was Thursday. Lesson for next time - leave more time.
My cousins Kativi and Lola and cousin-nieces Diana and Ana pick us up from the airport, already doused in frangipani scent and serenaded by a string band. It’s the first time Emily and I have been back in Tonga 9 and 8 years respectively. We are sleeping in my cousin’s house. The night is punctuated with yelps and squeaks, the animals go in shifts. Church bells ring at 4am, despite my cousin saying that was only Sunday. Dig Dong back to sleep.
The key job on Wednesday is to get Emily registered by the Tongatapu head nurse - Akesa. My cousin drives us to the hospital in the morning and Diana helps us to find Akesa in her spotless white 1950’s-esque nursing whites. We can stay with her brother-in-law Napaha who is the Hunga town officer Akesa says. She is looking for a male nurse who will live there and work in the clinic. Akesa takes a copy of Emily’s identification and registration and initiates the application for Tongan registration. It will take some time she says, but she is aware and supportive of Floating Foundation activities. Emily asks if there’s anything she can do to help while we’re in Hunga and Akesa asks her to take an inventory of the supplies in the clinic.
Tongatapu is bigger than I remember, buildings have grown up and across. The warmth is a salve to my Auckland chilled and clenched body. Remember not to rush Kativi says on the way to the ferry to get our tickets. People come to Tonga to slow down. We buy tickets for the ferry later that night, it’s a 24 hour trip. It’s a long night ahead of us.