Tag Archives: Tonga

‘PACIFIC TSUNAMI GALU AFI’ BY LANI WENDT YOUNG

‘Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi’ is an account of the 2009 Pacific Tsunami that hit the countries of Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga on September, 29th. It was penned by a Samoan writer, Lani Wendt Young.

GALU AFI

Summary

The morning of September 29th is like any other day in Samoa. Some people are getting ready for work, others are still asleep. They don’t know yet that their lives are soon going to change forever.

At 6.48 a.m. the earth begins to tremble; violently. Things are falling off the shelves; coconuts are falling off the trees; rocks are falling off the cliffs. A short while later, the sirens can be heard blaring out.

Most people, busy with their morning routines, don’t even notice the ocean receding. But the birds know. They know something is coming, so they take off. They take off before the first black wave starts rushing to the shore.

Review

Imagine you’re watching one of those Hollywood-made disaster drama films. You know, the films with an all-star cast, great special effects, and a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat biting your nails in fear, excitement, or both. The films you’re watching thanking God it’s only a film. Well, ‘Galu Afi’ is such a film; only on paper.

You may think that this is just a book that recounts the tragic events of September 29th, 2009, but I can already tell you that it is not. This book is so much more. It shows us what’s really important in life. It proves that people can act like brothers, not enemies; that we can count on one another when the bad times come. It is, contrary to appearances, an unbelievably uplifting read; one that will stay in your head long after the book is closed.

Lani Wendt Young was given a tough job of putting together dozens of heartbreaking stories to document the disaster for Samoa and its people. It would be all too easy to create a volume full of sorrowful narratives, but she managed to avoid excessive sentimentality. Yes, the presented accounts are moving, poignant, at times even disturbing – and you might shed a tear or two. But you will also smile, because they are often laced with subtle, appropriate humour only Lani Wendt Young can deliver.

The emotions ‘Galu Afi’ evokes give you a true roller-coaster ride, largely due to the fact that you don’t stay in one story for a very long time. It seems as if the author had wanted all the voices to be heard. You meet one family, then you meet another, and another. There are so many characters, yet somehow you remember them all. You feel for them, admire them, wonder at their strength and resilience. And when you see their faces in the photographs, their tales become even more real. Suddenly you realize that this is not some Hollywood story, and that not everyone has a happy ending.

The book is written in a simple yet elegant style. Lani Wendt Young doesn’t show off her writing skills – she remains in the shadow, but she still gets to shine. The people’s voices are neatly stitched together with her own words, creating an absorbing read full of heart and soul.

Before I started reading ‘Galu Afi’, I had already known that Lani Wendt Young is an extraordinarily talented writer. But now I will say that she is a true literary artisan. This book isn’t good; it’s not even great. It can be described in one word only – a masterpiece. ‘Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi’ is a pure masterpiece.

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GREAT SUMMER READS (2018)

‘Don’t Walk Under the Coconuts’ by Robert Borden

Fed up with bitter Montana winters, Robert and Mary Lou are determined to find a nice place in the tropics they could escape to when temperatures in their home state drop below zero. A little island in the Cooks seems to be a natural choice.

While in paradise, the couple starts to enjoy the simplest things in life. With no rush, no stress, and no schedule to keep, they can do exactly what and when they want.

This is such a perfect read for all those lazy summer days! Its slow pace and beautiful descriptions will make you want to leave everything behind and travel to your own ‘slice of heaven’. Robert Borden definitely knows how to create a summer ambience. He is a born storyteller, so if you are in need of a good tale, this is a book for you.

‘Aged In Saltwater: A Journey Through the Pacific Islands’ by R. K. “Dick” Williams

When Dick is asked if he’s interested in a sail to the South Pacific, he simply can’t say ‘no’. Sailing across the Blue Continent just must be a great adventure, right? Especially for a 22-year-old man.

On board the Blue Orpheus, Dick learns what it really means to be at sea. Enduring harsh weather conditions, going through life-or-death crises, and dealing with unexpected and often unwanted situations is a thrust into adulthood few people experience.

Adventure-lovers will love this travelogue. It’s an exciting, thrilling piece of literature that will keep any reader on the edge of their seat; a white-knuckle ride on the high seas, told with humour, wit, and a generous dose of honesty.

‘Waking Up in Eden: In Pursuit of an Impassioned Life on an Imperiled Island’ by Lucinda Fleeson

Tired of her life, Lucinda desperately needs an escape. When the opportunity arises to take a job in Hawaii, she asks herself: ‘Why not?’

Becoming a fundraiser for the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kauai seems like a dream come true. After all, who wouldn’t want to live in paradise? But as Lucinda soon finds out, Hawaii is paradise only in travel brochures.

Lucinda Fleeson’s story makes for an incredibly engaging tale. It’s a very personal memoir, enriching and uplifting on so many levels. But it’s also a fun, summer book. As a former journalist, the author knows exactly how to make certain topics both thought-provoking and enjoyable to read.

‘Faery Lands of the South Seas’ by James Norman Hall and Charles Bernard Nordhoff

Fascinated by the islands of the South Seas, James Norman Hall and Charles Nordhoff decide to set out on a journey of their dreams.

In Oceania, they get a rare chance to experience real Polynesian life. As they spend time with friendly Islanders, they discover a completely different yet thoroughly enchanting world of ancient customs, traditions, beliefs, and legends.

Sometimes we all want to go back in time. This travelogue will take you to the Pacific of the colonial era, showing you what the islands were like in the past. Both authors are phenomenal writers – their stories are not only interesting but also wonderfully told.

‘Royal Visit to Tonga: Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh’ by Kenneth Bain

When the Kingdom of Tonga receives a message that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip will visit the archipelago, the whole country immediately gets to work. Everyone pitches in with making decorations and preparing food, so all is ready when the Royal couple arrives.

After months of expectation, the joyful day finally comes. The Islanders, excited to host such honourable guests, begin the celebrations.

The account of 1953 Royal Visit to Tonga is a great book to indulge in before this autumn’s tour of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to Australia and Oceania. It’s a very interesting and even more informative read that casts insights on the South Pacific kingdom and its culture.

BEST SAILING BOOKS

‘Reach For Paradise’ by Andrew Rayner

This beautiful and immensely interesting book is a well-researched guide, which will certainly come in handy for those who plan to sail the South Seas. With lots of photographs, illustrations, and detailed maps, this memoir is a must-have on board. No, not because it is a sailing manual, but because it is an unparalleled source of inspiration.

‘Sailing To Jessica’ by Kelly Watts

Kelly Watts’s memoir is a perfect ‘sailing book’ for all the female sailors. Not only does it tell the story of Kelly and Paul’s emotional journey, but also presents readers with comprehensive and accurate descriptions of a nautical life. The author’s tips and advices, as well as her honesty in showing the good, the bad, and the ugly of cruising, makes this book an engaging and worthwhile read.

‘Sailing With Impunity’ by Mary E. Trimble

If you need a book that will encourage you to set sail for the Pacific Islands, this memoir should be your choice. Written in a lovely manner, it shows the breathtaking beauty of Polynesia, which will surely wake up your wanderlust. Do you also want to know what life on board is really like? Mary will tell you all about it.

‘Beer in the Bilges: Sailing Adventures in the South Pacific’ by Alan Boreham, Peter Jinks, Bob Rossiter

This book is about sailing, so anyone interested in reading about high seas, fierce winds, waves washing onto the deck will simply love it. ‘The Professionals’ write almost exclusively about their ocean adventures – and they do it so well that you will feel like a member of the crew every time you’ll have this title in your hands.

‘Pacific Odyssey’ by Gwenda Cornell

Gwenda Cornell’s memoir is not so much about sailing as it is about the islands of the Blue Continent, but it’s still a book you want to read if you are interested in cruising in the Pacific region. The author shares her first-hand knowledge of the island countries, giving you a chance to ‘visit’ them even before you set off on a journey of your own.

A HOLLY JOLLY CHRISTMAS

‘Christmas is a big holiday. Lots of feasts and kava drinking. Basically they do the same thing on all the holidays, eat and drink kava.’

Michael J. Blahut, Michael J. Blahut III, ‘Bula Pops! A Memoir of a Son’s Peace Corps Service in the Fiji Islands’


‘Gift giving is not a custom here. Christmas is a Holy day, but it’s nothing like what it is in the West, and there is certainly little if any commercialism associated with it at all.’

Dave Hart, ‘Solomon Boy: Adventures among the people of the Solomon Islands’


‘Living in Tonga, it is hard to believe that it is almost Christmas. It has little to do with the warm – make that hot – tropical weather, but more to do with the complete lack of Christmas commercialization here. There are no advertisements promoting last-minute Christmas sales and no obvious indication in the shops that Christmas is just about here. But make no mistake, this is a very Christian country, and Christmas will be celebrated in a big way.’

Steve Hunsicker, ‘Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps’


‘As Christmas approached, the Samoans definitely got into the spirit with decorated stores and Christmas music on the radio. Samoans don’t hesitate being blatantly Christian, and separation of church and state wasn’t practiced at that time. Local business people, government employees and bankers were expected to take time off from work to rehearse for these Christmas programs.’

Mary E. Trimble, ‘Sailing With Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific’


‘Christmas shopping in Vanuatu has many of the same frustrations as it does in America. The traffic is terrible; one day I had to wait almost five minutes before I could make a U-turn. The weather is frightful, often over 90 degrees with high humidity. You can never find a parking space – Chinese businessmen don’t believe in wasting real estate on parking lots. However, the greatest challenge in Santo is not avoiding the over commercialization of Christmas. No, our challenge is finding something to purchase in the first place.’

Bryan W. Webb, ‘Hungry Devils and Other Tales from Vanuatu’

‘NEW FLAGS FLYING: PACIFIC LEADERSHIP’ BY IAN JOHNSTONE, MICHAEL POWLES

‘New Flags Flying: Pacific Leadership’ is a book edited by Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles. It documents the political history of fourteen Pacific Island nations.

NEW FLAGS FLYING

Summary

After ruling the Pacific Islands for a hundred years, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA decide to grant independence to most of the states.

The change from being colonial subjects to self-governance turns out to be harder than anyone could have predicted. Local politicians try their best to lead their countries into this new chapter in history.

Review

Politics is not an easy subject to broach. It is often mundane and not very ‘accessible’ to an ordinary person not particularly interested in affairs of state and diplomacy. But this book deals with it in the most engaging way possible. Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles created a gripping read you, quite honestly, are not able to put down.

First and foremost, I have to praise the language, which is simple, uncomplicated, and easy to understand. The authors could have used fancy (and rather mystifying) political jargon and inundated us with professional terms and expressions, but then the book wouldn’t be intelligible to all people. It would be a title addressed exclusively to experts. I am glad that Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles chose a different path and decided to aim the volume at general audience who simply would like to familiarize themselves with the political history of the region.

‘New Flags Flying’ provides considerable insights into a time when Pacific Island states were undergoing colossal changes. Recounted by leaders who were a main force in shaping the events, the book is a scrupulously honest depiction of the countries’ journeys to independence or self-government. Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Tofilau Eti Alesana, John Webb, Sir Tom Davis, Dr Ludwig Keke, HM King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Hon. Young Vivian, Sir Michael Somare, Hon. Solomon Mamalon, Sir Peter Kenilorea, Hon. Bikenibeu Paeniu, Sir Ieremia Tabai, Fr Walter Lini, Kessai Note, John Haglelgam, Sandra Sumang Pierantozzi, Hon. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, and Dame Carol Kidu share their personal experiences of taking their people into a very uncertain, at least at that time, future. The stories they tell – very emotional and thought-provoking – disclose not only the hopes and ambitions they had but also the struggles they had to face. Because no other part of our globe is more vulnerable to challenges and difficulties than Oceania; just as no other part of our globe demonstrates more resilience and ability to cope than those little islands do.

The interviews are accompanied by comprehensive commentary, background information, chronological summaries of significant events, and old photographs, which make the book even more interesting to delve into.

Now, although the title will be a fascinating read for every person who loves the Pacific Islands, for the Islanders themselves it should be of extra special value, as it contains lessons they can and ought to draw from. Why not use the past to improve the present and shape the future? Pacific policymakers should have this book sitting on their desks.

‘New Flags Flying’ is a great piece of literature. I can only congratulate the editors on the job well done and tell you that their work is definitely worthy of your time and attention. I could not recommend it more!

GREAT SUMMER READS (2017)

‘Inside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals’ by Trish Nicholson

Working overseas has always been Trish’s dream. When she is offered a job in Papua New Guinea, she’s more than willing to take it.

Upon her arrival, Trish discovers a completely new world with hundreds of languages and a multitude of different cultures. And although she is eager to help the country and its inhabitants, she quickly realizes that it may not be as easy as she initially thought.

This is such a good book! The author’s adventures and experiences in the Land of the Unexpected throw much-needed light on the international aid, which is a very sensitive topic. But Trish Nicholson deals with it in a very light-hearted manner. Her poetic style and brilliant sense of humour makes ‘Inside the Crocodile’ a thoroughly enjoyable (but enlightening and thought-provoking!) read.

‘All Good Things: From Paris to Tahiti’ by Sarah Turnbull

When Sarah’s husband is asked to set up a new law office in Tahiti, she agrees – albeit reluctantly – to move to the end of the world (at least that’s what Tahiti looks like on the world map).

The picture-perfect country welcomes her with sounds, smells, colours, and views fit for paradise. Only her life is far from idyllic. Her overwhelming longing for a child makes each day a challenge. But as they say, all good things come to those who wait.

Sarah Turnbull wrote a very personal memoir – and did it masterfully! Her beautiful, lyrical depictions will transport you to French Polynesia, which – as you’ll have a chance to find out – has also a darker side. This is an engaging travelogue with a moving and poignant story that gives hope. You won’t be able to put it down.

‘Pacific Odyssey’ by Gwenda Cornell

Sailing the Pacific? Why not! Together with her husband, Jimmy, and two children, Gwenda decides to take a journey of a lifetime.

In the Blue Continent, they visit Samoa – much loved by Robert Louis Stevenson; meet the great-grandson of Tem Binoka in Kiribati and the descendants of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn; and take part in independence celebrations in Tuvalu. What is more, Jimmy even gets a chance to star in a movie in French Polynesia.

A boat, tropical islands, and great adventure. Isn’t that what we associate with a perfect summer? Well, that’s exactly why this memoir is a perfect summer read. It will surely satisfy your wanderlust, but it may also make you green with envy. Gwenda’s compelling stories plus her vivid descriptions will be reason enough to stay at home with this book in your hands. Ok, I’m just kidding. But be prepared that you’ll want to sail from chapter to chapter until you reach the very end.

‘Boxed Wine at Sunset: Two Americans. Two years. A small village in Vanuatu’ by Judy Beaudoin

What can one do after sending their kids off to college? Travel the world perhaps? Volunteer? Or maybe do both? Exactly! That’s the perfect plan, especially if one wants to avoid an empty nest syndrome.

After selling all their possessions and quitting their jobs, Kim and Judy travel to Vanuatu as Peace Corps volunteers. Working in the local primary school, the couple not only teach the youngest generations of ni-Vanuatu but also – or rather most importantly – learn a great deal about life in a different culture.

This is a wonderful memoir if you want to relax and get to know something interesting. Judy Beaudoin’s writing style is graceful and vivid, and the stories she shares… Well, they are impossible to describe in a few words – you have to believe me! Read this book and I can assure you that you won’t regret it!

‘Noa Noa: The Tahitian Journal’ by Paul Gauguin

Having decided to leave Europe, Paul Gauguin travels to Tahiti in the hope of finding an unspoiled paradise.

What he discovers is a unique place full of beauty. Living among the natives, he gets to know the local culture – full of ancient customs and traditions – which totally engrosses him. This fascination with Polynesian way of being inspires him to create.

Although quite controversial, Gauguin’s memoir is a terribly good read. Part autobiography, part travelogue, part study of the Tahitian society, this book is a valuable piece of literature. Magnificent illustrations, painted by the artist himself, only add to the overall charm. Definitely worthy of your attention!

‘SAILING WITH IMPUNITY’ BY MARY E. TRIMBLE

‘Sailing With Impunity’ is Mary E. Trimble’s memoir depicting the voyage through the islands of Polynesia that she set out on together with her husband, Bruce.

sailing-with-impunity

Summary

Longing for a change and following the dream of an offshore sailing, Mary and Bruce make a decision to quit their jobs, sell their house, buy a boat, and spend some time cruising the Pacific Islands. After weeks of meticulous preparations, they are finally ready to leave the marina.

They make their first landfall in French Polynesia. The country surprises them with enchanting beauty, the sweetest scents of flowers, and…an extremely nice gendarme trying (unsuccessfully) to buy their gun. Together with other yachties, Mary and Bruce tour the islands, savouring every minute in this picture-perfect paradise.

When the blissful days in the Marquesas, Tahiti, and Bora Bora come to an end, the couple continue their adventure. They agree to moor in the Pago Pago harbour to wait out the hurricane season. The capital of American Samoa turns out to be a safe yet very dirty harbour, especially after the country gets clobbered by Cyclone Ofa.

Before heading home, Mary and Bruce sail to Tonga, which definitely lives up to its friendly reputation, and then to Hawaii. The last leg of their journey isn’t as smooth as they would expect it to be.

Review

The Blue Continent is a perfect destination for…for everyone, I think, but sailors in particular. They have favoured this part of the world for a very long time. Who can blame them? Those tiny islands scattered over the Pacific Ocean are delightfully reminiscent of paradise (at least on the surface), so cruising from one little slice of heaven to another is a dream come true. And when in paradise, it’s a sin not to share all those paradise-ish experiences. Hence the almost countless amount of different memoirs and travelogues – some good, some not so much – that you may choose from to ‘travel’ (or no, in case of the bad ones) to the South Seas without leaving the comfort of your home. Will you be able to ‘visit’ the islands while reading Mary E. Trimble’s book? Oh, absolutely!

‘Sailing With Impunity’ makes for a very engaging read, mostly due to the fact that the author managed to maintain the right balance between the descriptions of their life aboard the craft and the descriptions of the places they had a chance to see. Before you go on land with the Trimbles, you will encounter fierce winds and rough waters; you will know what it’s like to cook on a rocking boat while battling a bout of seasickness; you will have to come to terms with the idea of sleeping no more than 4 hours at one time (let me tell you, you can feel exhausted just reading about it). Mrs Trimble is very truthful in recounting her and her husband’s journey. She spares no details, so those of you who have thought that sailing is an easy activity might get disillusioned. It is fun, yes; but it’s definitely not child’s play.

If you ‘survive’ the voyage, you will be rewarded with some wonderful stories about the islands and their inhabitants. The author’s vivid and surprisingly objective portrayals of the visited countries show them as they really are – ravishing, romantic, but not sugar-coated; filthy, unpleasant, but not repulsive. The memoir doesn’t present a one-sided view of Polynesia – and it’s worth remembering that all the opinions clearly reflect the author’s personal feelings and judgements – but rather the actual state of things. There is no criticizing, no comparing, no saying that something is better or worse. Mary E. Trimble made sure to stay open-minded throughout the journey and, most importantly, throughout her book. Even if she wasn’t free from cultural bias, she hid it extremely well.

The story is told in a lovely manner. Every page is written with passion only keen travellers possess. Detailed yet not overdone descriptions seize the imagination, arousing an abundance of different emotions. One minute you are green with envy, the next happy and relieved that you’re safe in your abode. And that’s exactly the way it should be.

This concise book is a very impressive piece of travel literature. But it isn’t only an engaging memoir. It is a tale about chasing your dreams and believing that everything is possible, especially if you have someone you love and can rely on by your side.

TONGA BY STEVE HUNSICKER

Tonga. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Steve Hunsicker, the author of a fantastic memoir called ‘Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps’, gives his recommendations.

Swim with humpback whales

It’s one of the few places in the world where you can get in the water and swim with the whales. Most of this is done in Vava’u, but it is also possible in Ha’apai. When you book a whale trip, book several days as there is no guarantee that you will see whales every day. But you might get lucky and get to swim with them each day.

Go to a kava circle (for men only)

It’s a great way to experience an important part of the Tonga culture. You will see kava halls in every village in the country. If you see men inside, go in. Don’t be nervous about entering.  There will be men there who speak English and as long as you make a small donation to help pay for the kava (5-10 Pa’anga which is 3-5 US dollars), you will be warmly welcomed. If they don’t ask for a donation, leave one with the man sitting closest to the kava bowl. Women are not allowed inside, so don’t ask. However, you will occasionally see an unmarried girl inside who is there to serve the kava to the men. She is the only woman allowed.

Try Ota Ika

It literally means ‘raw fish’. However, it is much more than that. It is my favorite Tonga food and is best eaten with some of the small red hot peppers that are often served with it. Not all restaurants serve Tongan dishes, as they cater to the tourists, but you can find it on all the islands.  Just ask. It is pronounced ‘OH-ta E-ca’.

A CHAT WITH… STEVE HUNSICKER

Steve Hunsicker is the South Florida recruiter for the Peace Corps. Before taking on the job, he served as a volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga. His experiences are described in a wonderful book called ‘Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps’. If you are interested in what Steve has to say about his memoir, the South Pacific country, and volunteering, read on!

steve-hunsicker

Pasifika Truthfully: You quit your job to become a Peace Corps volunteer. Have you ever regretted that decision?

Steve Hunsicker: I have not regretted the decision. Becoming a Peace Corps volunteer changed my life in a very positive way. I had a wonderful 23-year career in TV News, but it was time for me to do something else. Peace Corps was the perfect move.

PT: You were assigned to serve in the Kingdom of Tonga. A South Pacific archipelago with pristine lagoons and sandy beaches – that’s the image people conjure up in their minds when asked about Polynesia. Had you had the same picture in your head before you went there?

SH: That image is largely true. Tonga is a beautiful country, especially Vava’u, which is the island where I lived. However, there is much more to Tonga that that. Each of the island groups is different. Tongatapu, where the capital is located, is flat while the area where I was is quite hilly. I don’t remember exactly what I was expecting when I first found out I was going to Tonga, but Vava’u is certainly more beautiful than I could have imagined.

PT: Tonga from travel brochures vs. the ‘real’ country. What’s the difference?

SH: Tonga is a developing country. At first appearance, they have many of the amenities you might expect, but those are really there for the tourists. Most Tongans are subsistence farmers and fishermen who live below the poverty level. However, they are a very happy people and genuinely         friendly. You will see people talking on cell phones but they may live without running water and electricity.

PT: What surprised you most after you stepped out of the plane?

SH: Without a doubt, how friendly everyone was. Walking around the first day, people stopped and said hello and asked: ‘Where are you going?’. I later learned that’s a very common expression in the Tongan language, but hearing it in English from so many people was very welcoming.

PT: Is there anything – and I’m sure there is – you learnt during your stay?

SH: Probably that ‘People are People’ no matter where they live, no matter their culture and no matter their financial situation. I made such wonderful friends in Tonga and there is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t think of them.

PT: What can people learn from Tongans? What can we ‘take’ from their amazing culture?

SH: In Tonga, people take care of each other. They don’t have day care centers or retirement homes. If a family member has to work, another family member (or neighbor) will help.   They accept the responsibility to take care of children and of their elders. There is almost no homelessness in Tonga because everyone has a place to go.

PT: Now, focusing on your book. Why did you decide to write it?

SH: Peace Corps is a life-changing experience and I really wanted to document my experience. I challenged myself to write a blog post at least once a week for my entire 27 months in Tonga. I had spent the previous 23 years in a TV newsroom so I guess I also still had some of the journalist in me. When I first returned to the US, I decide to take those entries and expand them into a book.

PT: Your memoir is an extremely informative and entertaining read. I’m pretty sure, however, that there are quite a few stories or anecdotes that didn’t make it into the book. Could you share one of them?

SH: Tongans love to laugh and they like jokes. I became of the ‘victim’ of one of those jokes during my language training. Just like in every language, Tongan has slang. For example, the Tongan word for chicken is ‘moa’. It is commonly used to describe food, but it is also slang for your girlfriend or boyfriend. If a Tongan asks you if you have a ‘moa’, they aren’t asking if you have a chicken, but if you have a significant other. This was explained to us in our language classes.

During my language training, I was given a very simple assignment to interview someone in the Tongan language, to find out their name, where they were from and what they liked to do. We then had to present the results of our interview to not only our fellow volunteers, but also in front of the Tongans who work for Peace Corps.

I completed my interview and when it was my time to present, I stood up and said in Tongan ‘My friend’s name is Rose, she is from Nukualofa and she likes to husk coconuts’. As soon as I said this, the room erupted in laughter, I turned beet red, not knowing what I had just said.   However, it was quickly explained to me that ‘husking coconuts’ has nothing to do with ‘husking coconuts’ and instead refers to a sexual act. She was in the room and was the person laughing the hardest. She had set me up, but it was a good lesson because she wanted all of us to know the expression so that we didn’t use it in our conversations with our host family and neighbors. And everyone got a great laugh at my expense.

PT: The book is full of details regarding both the Peace Corps and volunteering in general. Did you want to create a guide of sorts for future volunteers?

SH: I’m not sure I necessarily set out to publish a guide for future volunteers. I really was trying to document my own service. Almost all of the information in the book about the application process is out of date. Last year, Peace Corps significantly over-hauled its application process and it takes less than an hour to complete the application. In addition, you can select the country where you serve, something I was not able to do. I did get really frustrated with the length of the application process at that time, so these are all very positive changes for people wanting to become a volunteer.

PT: What advice – if any – could you give to those people who’d like to become volunteers?

SH: Do it!  Not only will you make a difference in the lives of the people in the country where you volunteer, but it will change your own life.

‘STEVE’S ADVENTURE WITH THE PEACE CORPS: STORIES FROM THE KINGDOM OF TONGA AND THE UNITED STATES PEACE CORPS’ BY STEVE HUNSICKER

‘Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps: Stories from the Kingdom of Tonga and the United States Peace Corps’ is a memoir written by Steve Hunsicker, a former Executive News Director who decided to give up his successful career in order to become a Peace Corps volunteer.

steves-adventure-with-the-peace-corps

Summary

For some people even the most interesting job may not be enough to feel content and fulfilled in life. Steve has always dreamed of helping others and now, after spending 23 years in TV industry, he comes to the conclusion that it’s high time he finally realized his ambition. So he applies to the Peace Corps and soon after that is sent to the Kingdom of Tonga.

Responsible for business development, Steve helps the local communities exploit their economic potential. He is a tutor and a mentor, always ready to offer advice, give words of encouragement, and share his professional knowledge. As a reward he gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Tonga as very few visitors ever do.

Review

I-was-a-volunteer-in-an-underdeveloped-country is such a common and popular theme in non-fiction literature that it should constitute a separate genre. All these personal accounts basically tell you the same story, so there will never be any surprises here. But the author’s writing style is a whole different thing. It can be excellent, mediocre, or plain bad, and it usually determines if the book is considered any good.

Steve Hunsicker’s memoir is what I like to call a ‘simple piece of literature’. It certainly isn’t a masterpiece, but it charms you right from the very first page. You instantly get drawn into Steve’s world and quickly realize that one chapter compels you to read another.

Written in a journal-like manner, the memoir starts in the US when the author finds out about his Peace Corps nomination. From that moment we accompany him as he prepares to fly out of the country, then arrives in Tonga, and finally carries out his volunteering duties. In describing his experiences he is honest, meticulous, and awesomely funny. He is like a buddy of yours, with whom you’re having a friendly chat over a cup of coffee. Or a glass of beer. Or – even better – a bowl of kava. You choose. And you genuinely want to pay careful attention to what he is saying, because his stories are truly fascinating.

Especially worthy of note are Steve’s comments on Tonga. As an astute observer who was willing to familiarize himself with a foreign culture, he gives readers colourful details of life in the Polynesian country. You really get to know the local customs, traditions, and practices – not the ancient ones, but those observed on a daily basis. The little snippets he shares are not only very informative but most of all fun to read. If you have never been to Tonga, it’s a great way to start your journey. See the islands, meet the people, and soak up the friendly atmosphere of the South Pacific.

The author writes about the Kingdom and his Peace Corps service with a fierce passion you simply cannot fail to notice. It is obvious that volunteering in this particular place affected not only his life but also him as a person. The initial culture shock gradually gave way to understanding, acceptance, and even appreciation of the culture so different from his own.

‘Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps’ is a terrific book. I’ll venture to say it is more revealing than most guidebooks ever written on Tonga. If you decide to read it, it will not be wasted time.