Friday, 6 May 2016

A Tokelau School Holiday Psalm

We recently finished our first school term break holidays in Tokelau. It was a shaping and revealing experience for us as a family to put it gently. Average temperatures night and day in the thirties (i.e. read: too hot to go outside), five children aged 3 – 12, living in a one room house on a small and isolated island, far from family and friends, no personal form of transport and a very limited number of family activities. And oh boy when everyone wakes at 6:30am the day can seem to drag on and on in a painful way. We found that we could kill and hour or so at the lagoon and Chrissie and the kids are super creative with creating fun out of nothing (see our other school holiday photos in previous post) but given the limits to our material resources these activities often were only enough to buy us another hour or two – lots and lots of day left to kill – and did we mention – five kids, one room house, too hot to be outside! Most of the week felt like it consisted of heated and strained discussions about which movie to watch next – given that they’ve all been watched before and typically there were five different movie preferences from each of the five children! We all found the days loonng!

Of course this type of school holidays is normal to the people here in Tokelau (except some don’t even have the movies to help pass time), and we continue to be simply amazed by how chilled out, go with the flow, and contented people here are. We’re also ever so grateful for the huge privileges and blessings of our life in NZ.

By about day five we were all starting to feel like we were hitting a wall. Chrissie and I had reached that point of praying Psalm like prayers. “God rescue me from this I can’t do it any longer”; “God help me resist strangling my children – when it was me who brought them here in the first place”; “God help us”. It’s hard to accurately express the feelings, but we were really reaching the end of our wits and tolerance.

And then we experienced another answer to our (somewhat selfish) prayers. Just when we felt like we could hardly do another day, through the generosity of others, God met our need so beautifully. So the real point of this post is to share that experience of generosity and alofa from others, through which we experienced the providence and goodness of God in our family’s time of need.

Stoked to be out of the house!
Lihe and Pale invited us to come with them on a “picnic” on Friday with their granddaughter and friend. In Tokelau, picnic means trip to the outer islets of the atoll to swim, eat traditional Tokelau cuisine, (and be eaten by ravenous mosquitoes but that’s beside the point thanks to Bushman’s Insect repellent!) This was hugely exciting to all of our kids, even just for the prospect of going across the lagoon on one of the small aluminium boats which go a lot faster than the school boat they mostly have travelled on. (I should add that Pale and Lihe had already taken us night fishing earlier in the week which was a wonderful experience too).

That's Fenua Fala our motu in the background
So we were picked up by Pale and Lihe on their boat and set off across the lagoon. Lihe had brought with her all manner of treats, including a couple of huge containers of Tokelauan donuts (Puta – a favourite that I’d been introduced to back in Cannons Creek). Pale got out the fishing lines with lure’s for the kids to troll for Trevally while we motored across.

We were shown some phenomenally beautiful spots, getting out of the boat briefly for Pale to collect some “uto” for us – a delicious foam like heart of the coconut that forms where the milk normally is as the nut begins to germinate.
The colour of the water is astounding

Looking east from the northern tip of the lagoon
The first place we stopped to get the uto
Little 'picnic' shelter that people would stay over in. Very hungry mosquitoes. We saw three small sharks swim by not more than a metre from the shoreline within the space of 15 mins - very cool.

We then carried on around the perimeter of the lagoon giving us all our first really good look around the other parts of the atoll. This peacefull cruise was interrupted gladly when first Meli and then Lihe and Ruana pulled in reasonable sized fish – pretty exciting for fishing amateurs that rarely catch anything bigger than a spotty fish under the Paremata rail bridge back home!

One of our fish

After perhaps an hour of motoring round the lagoon (which is deceptively larger than you first think), Pale began looking for an appropriate place for us all to have a swim. 

Our little islet to swim at
Dead coconut palms

Starting to cook

We settled on a very small islet with only a small amount of foliage – meaning no mosquito habitat Pale explained. Kids and adults alike had a wonderful time plunging into the cooler waters where the seabed dropped away very steeply. As we all swam and paddled, Pale set about finding some dead coconut palms to make a fire with in order to cook fish for us in the traditional Tokelau way to enjoy with the uto. Half the coconut palms were laid on the coral stone beach, on top of which large tuna fillets were placed. The remaining palms were placed on top and the whole pile lit – quickly becoming a roaring fast burning fire. While the fire was burning, Pale set about weaving a basket using a green coconut palm, something that everyone can do here with astonishing speed creating a very beautiful, not to mention versatile basket that is used in every part of life here. Believe me I’ve had several efforts at weaving them and it’s harder than they make it look. The basket is so that the cooked, but complete charcoaled fish can be placed in to it and put in the sea – washing it, and salting it lightly too. The resulting meal is so tasty – a sort of smoked flavour that is even better than the other ways we’ve eaten tuna (including raw, raw and marinated in soy and garlic, pan fried, floured and pan fried etc.) With such protein rich food, you’re full and satisfied very quickly.

The basket starting

I had to be quick with my photos because it comes together so fast

This is the bit if find tricky - plating the bottom together

The cooked Tuna

Nearly done

And in the fish goes

Washing away the charcoal and other debris

We continued to swim and play, explore the island, and make Pale and Lihe laugh as the watched me – a crazy palagi guy plunging around the shallow waters with a machete attempting to cut these long translucent blue fish that are attracted by the scent of the other fish in the water. All were entertained as each of the kids was keen on their own “pipe fish” as we call them, not their real name.

Pipe fish as we call them

Sunsets are never the same in the photo -
but we are treated to some amazing ones

Heading home
As the sun started to drop low in the sky, we packed up and headed home – literally into the setting sun – cheesy but true and idyllic! Nga, Meli and Rainy got to go home on a faster boat - 30 horsepower instead of the 15 horsepower of Pale’s boat so they were stoked and Rainy’s holiday wish of a boat ride jumping waves came true!!

We were discussing as a family the deep sense of gratitude for the day – our  best day in Tokelau so far. Gratitude for the alofa and care of Pale and Lihe and the way God uses them to bless us so much, gratitude of the phenomenal beauty of the place we are living, and gratitude to God for the revelation we had of His providing perfectly for our needs on that day when we were all so in need of it.

There was a profound sense of indwelling a Psalm like experience which, as in so many Psalms starts with the cry like the prayers above, only to be entered into by a loving father who delights in meeting our simple, frail, human needs because that’s who He is.

That day the morning prayers Psalm in the lectionary, Psalm 138, was very appropriate.

That day we could give praise to Jesus (Psalm 138:3, 8):
3On the day I called, you answered me,
you increased my strength of soul.

8The LORD will fulfil his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.


    Found this link about the many uses of Vicks Vapo Rub. I thought you may find the last one about the race horses useful :D lol

    1. Haha - you'll be bringing a full 20 litre bucket of Vicks with you next time you come then aye!! The mozzies liked you as much as they like us. We'll give it a go though. We couldn't get that link to work, but found another talking about Vicks for mozzies

  2. Matt this is a beautiful piece of writing, thank you. What a wonderful day and how good is our God for giving it to you in this way when you felt you needed it so badly. i loved reading this so much and it is all so very interesting and so beautiful- from a distance.I am so glad you all got to enjoy the beauty of these islands so much and that everyone of you had a great day. that in itself is an accomplishment. Please thank Lihe and Pale from me for giving my mokopuna such a happy day.

  3. Matt I enjoyed reading your post, not only because of the beauty of island living.... (sometimes with limited activities) but mostly your experience in discovering Gods hand in various ways no matter how small is really an appreciation of what God can do in our lives when we least expect it.

    I hope you and your family will continue to enjoy your stay there on the beautiful atoll of Fakaofo and that God will continue to protect and bless you and your family as well as those who continue to give and share freely with your family what they have that we enjoy the blessing of kindness and love that comes from Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.

  4. All teary reading this and seeing photos of my dad and family. Thank Uou and may God bless you and your family.
    a mix of baby oil and dettol can be use as a insect rebellion and also for open sores (infected sores). Im sure both this items can be found at the village store or see my mum probably got some.
    Please do send my aroha to my parent and family

    1. Passed alofa and greetings to Pale and Lihe today - they glad to hear word from you. We've also found that Vicks Vapour rub which is also easily available here works as a great repellent too!!