On foreign soil

This is not the usual post about maths pedagogy or behaviour management. I am writing from Nuku’alofa, Tonga. At 4am yesterday with 3 other staff and 17 weary-eyed (read: hyperactive for some) students we touched down, 12 hours since leaving home and after three flight changes. On the ground we were immediately met with the reality of our new environment: a hot climate, the air thick with moisture.

Not much bigger than our own airport in rural Australia, Tonga international airport consists of a large shed cooled by fans. To deal with what seemed to be the night long heat, customs officers and other officials adapted their uniforms, sitting on stools behind their counters with thongs.

And in front of this counter we waited. Out of the three queues – “Tongan Nationals”, “Airline staff, the elderly and the disabled” and “Other passport holders” – ours was longest. Eventually after the other lines died away, some of our group split off to join another line.

It doesn’t take long to realise the friendliness and hospitality that exists here. Perhaps, this is due to Tonga’s small geographical size, its population or due to its relative isolation. After picking up our bags, we stepped outside to be greeted by the Principal and Deputy Principal of the school that we are working with. They assisted us with our luggage, directing us towards the bus which they explained is to be ours whilst we are here.

Since then, we have been given coconuts, watermelons and bananas for breakfast by one student’s uncle. Another’s relatives brought more coconuts carried in large woven baskets, followed by a variety of meat dishes, rice, taro, kumera and other sweet potato-esque root vegetables. Both of the students had not met these relatives prior to this. Today the generosity continued. Being a Sunday all the shops are closed and aside from going to church, the main activity for the day is eating. Our host school put on a feast for us, complete with an entire roasted pig. The meal was put together by the school’s IT department as thanks for the computers we are donating to them.

As my own school Principal said upon leaving Australia, it’s not every day you get to take students on an overseas trip. Luckily for me, this was one of those days.