Tonga, Ha'apai, Ha'afeva
Sun 19 Oct 2014 05:23
As we travelled South through Ha'apai the islands became more and more remote, and less and less developed. Unlike some, Ha'afeva has electricity. There's a generator, it runs from 7pm to 11pm every night. Just stop a moment and imagine trying to run your home like that. This season has been particularly hard for the people on the islands because there's been a drought for 8 months, so drinking water is scarce. Ha'afeva has a well that's still wet so they've been able to water crops and give water to livestock but they usually drink rain water and there's been none. We took our dinghy to the wharf on the West of the island and met a team from the New Zealand Red Cross running a portable de-salination plant - similar to the one we have aboard, to generate fresh water for the Islanders to drink. It was a slow process, with the generator using plenty of diesel. They told us that they had been using it to purify the well water, which was much quicker than de-salinating sea water as it's almost pure already, but the islanders didn't like the taste and refused to drink it! Frustrating when you're trying to help people.
There's one road, more a trail, across to the East where the village is, and it was a beautiful walk, although with HUGE spiders along the way. We could hear a lot of bird life but saw hardly any until a flash of blue revealed a white collared kingfisher flying past us. There were lots of little brown birds flitting between the trees that were far noisier than their diminutive size suggested, I found out later they are probably the wattled honeyeater, a nectar collecting bird.
Walking along the trail to the village we came across these red kneed spiders, 4 inches across.
The village was made up of simple single story houses, with the sea breeze keeping them cool and colourful gardens surrounding them.
Notice the anti-pig fence surrounding the garden. All the gardens have a removable barrier that you can step over instead of a gate to keep the pigs out.
The most dominant feature, dwarfing the other buildings, was the Mormon church, something we'd started seeing in French Polynesia. They are surrounded by a fence and usually have a basketball court and a hall alongside the huge church. There's often a satellite dish in the grounds too. I doubt this church could never have been filled, even if every single member of the village went there. The Red Cross man had told us that the Mormons had been shipping bottled water in, which sounded great, until he explained that they gave it to church members but sold it to the rest of the villagers.
The Mormon church and compound in Ha'afeva.
There were two other churches there, more in keeping with the other village buildings, well kept, simple, cool places to sit a while and contemplate in.
We stopped by the reef to watch the pigs digging for shells in the sand and a family in the house next to us came out to say hi and welcome us. The mum was the island's nurse, they'd been living and working there for a couple of years but were due to "Move to Tonga" in December (although it's all the Kingdom of Tonga the Islanders call Tongatapu Tonga). They explained that there's no prospects for the local people on the island. Most scratch a living farming, growing food for themselves and managing to sell enough to get money for staples: flour, sugar and so on. They have a few chickens, raise a few pigs, go fishing. But there's no jobs, no way to improve your lot. The child in school who could become an engineer, a computer scientist, a doctor, a pilot has no way to get further education as the family couldn't finance them. It's a simple, happy life for many, but very limited.
Grace, Ha'apai's nurse's little girl and a pig digging up the beach with a rather sandy nose!
We stopped by the shop, with mostly empty shelves and a chest freezer with just a slab of fizzy pop cans and a dozen water bottles in it, to buy a cold drink and turned back to return to our boat, attracting a small posse that followed us, smiling and calling shy hellos to us.
Ha'apai is, like so many other islands, utterly beautiful. It's wonderful for us to be able to come there and enjoy the simplicity of life here: local produce, coconuts fresh from the trees, fish from the reef. But we can come back to our boat, use power tools to fix things, put on the generator and run the water maker and although we may enjoy being away from internet for a while, we know we'll be able to get it in a week or two, that we'll be able to buy anything we could wish for to eat when we get to New Zealand (give me chocolate, chocolate that's not gone white!), that we will be able to go to the cinema, go hear a band play, take a trip up into the hills.
Here, there are no options, no choices to make. For many, the life here is a fine one. Hio on Maupihaa would hate to live anywhere else or have any other lifestyle. But having the ability to choose your path is priceless.
Palm trees and beach through the stained glass of the church window.