Uoleva, Tonga

Smiles are the currency of Tonga.

The man with the battered boom box wore one as he swayed to a steel drum beat.  Grinning at nothing in particular, one hand held the portable machine while the other slapped out a rhythm on his thigh.

“Hey prince, hey princess,” he called out to us, “welcome to paradise!”

The shop keeper across the street thought he was crazy.  While my boyfriend and I payed for dusty supplies – bottled water and batteries from China – she smirked bemusedly.  “Every day the same…”

Still grooving, he shouted again as we stepped back into the harsh sun.  “We got the beach, we got the sea, we got everything we need.  This is the real paradise.”

Though Tonga has a high unemployment rate, basic necessities are limited, and the country doesn’t even appear on most world maps, sour faces are a rarity.  Once called ‘The Friendly Isles’, this is the only South Pacific country to escape colonization.  So while it seems under-developed on the surface, Tonga is rich in less tangible qualities: history, environment, morale.

To capture the wealth of this remote country, here are six more moments you must experience in Tonga:

 Tongan umu, 'Eua, Tonga

7.   Eat an umu.  Prepared across the South Pacific, from New Zealand to Hawaii, this Polynesian meal is cooked in the ground.  Basic ingredients – fish, chicken or pork, the starchy taro root, sweet potatoes – are laid over taro leaves (or foil, in the modern version).  Next, the raw mixture is drenched with coconut milk.  The package of food is then placed in a pit with hot coals and covered up for an hour or two.  Most Tongans prepare an umu on Sundays, so it can slowly roast while they attend church.  Ask your hostel or guesthouse if they can show you how this traditional meal is created.


8.  Try ota ika.

Trevally and the sword-nosed Marlin are prize fish caught off Tonga’s shores.  While anglers come for the chance to reel in one of these giants, the daily fish markets showcase a plethora of smaller ocean creatures.  A national dish, called ota ika – literally, “raw fish” – features diced fresh seafood, mixed with finely-chopped tomato, onion, coconut and lime juice.


9.   Ponder the Trilithon.

Little is known about the ancient stone Trithalon that towers vigilantly from a lonely square of grass on Tongatapu’s northern coast.  Though the Stonehenge-like structure has been dated to the 13th century, the facts of its existence are few and hypothetical.  Common myth holds that the three stones are too large for human movement and can only have been placed by the Polynesian demigod, Maui.

  Uoleva, Tonga

 10.   Cut down a coconut. 

The local boys make it look easy, shimmying up a narrow palm tree as if they were climbing stairs.  While the ascent requires a bit of upper-arm strength and dexterity, it’s a worthy effort for the fruit clustered at the top.  The smaller, green coconuts are young and better for milk; older, tougher nuts provide the best flesh.  To open, find something sharp, like a rock or strong stick, and poke through one of the nut’s three natural ‘eyes’.  In this conservative country, it’s one of the few things you’re allowed to drink in excess.


11.   Take the ferry. 

Don’t Google it first: news of the 2009 disaster, when the MV Princess Ashika sank and 74 persons were lost at sea, will worry even the bravest travelers.  But sailing conditions have improved with foreign investment, and the ferry remains the most authentic way to move between islands.  An airplane might be faster – the boat ride between Tonga’tapu and its outer chains can take anywhere from three days to a week – but it doesn’t involve a hundred crates of carefully stacked brown eggs, irate piglets and squabbling hens, bunches of cassava, and locals napping with their bare toes in your lap.  Besides, isn’t the journey  more important than the destination?

 Uoleva, Tonga

 12.   Find your own tropical paradise.

 With over 170 islands – less than half of them populated – strung like an unclasped pearl necklace from the northern Niuas down to ‘Eua, you don’t have to go far to find an unoccupied stretch of sand.  In most instances of accommodation, the title ‘remote resort’ has less to do with starred amenities and more to do with the utter relaxation you’ll receive.  No electricity, no running water.  Palm-thatched shacks and sea-side hammocks.  Fresh coconuts for breakfast, the sunrise as your only alarm.  Most importantly, spending time in a place where the only footprints on the beach are your own.

Ticked off all these opportunities on your To-Do Tonga list?  Check out even more Must-Experience Moments in Part 1


Uoleva, Tonga

Brass notes hit us before the heat, rushing loudly through the opened airplane door.

“Who called out the band?” I asked my boyfriend.  Polished tubas and trumpet bells glinted under the airport floodlights.  Above the instruments, locals cheered and waved frantically from a second-story deck.

Smiling graciously, I felt like a celebrity, not a tourist.

The authenticity of this gesture was distinctly Tongan.  It didn’t matter that, three weeks later, we discovered the ceremony was not a personal welcome; instead, the crowd had gathered to receive King Topou VI, who had flown first class on our flight from New Zealand.

Here, hospitality is extreme.  Big meals and good music are genuine acts of appreciation.  Rugby matches and church services are community celebrations.    Though the airport’s Tourist Information kiosk is empty and the capital of Nuku’alofa feels like a ghost town, a guidebook is unnecessary in this under-developed nation.  In Tonga, it is the simplest opportunities that bring the greatest pleasure.

To become a part of this South Pacific kingdom, these are the moments you must experience:

'Eua, Tonga

1.   Spot a green streak at sunset.

Strung along the International Dateline, Tonga claims to be the first country to witness each new sunrise.  While waking up at dawn gives you a rare feeling of survival, watching a sunset is equally special.  You are the first person to say goodbye to the moment, staring fixedly across the ocean’s flat horizon.  With the national beer, Mata Maka, in one hand and a camera in the other, watch carefully for that illusive green streak, the stuff of sailors’ tales, as the sun disappears over the Pacific.

Humpback whales, Uoleva, Tonga

2.   Swim with humpback whales.

The Dominican Republic is the only other country that allows and encourages visitors to enter the water with these giant sea creatures.  From July to October, they migrate through Tonga’s rich coastal waters to give birth and raise their young.  Most professional operations are run by expats and can cost a bit of pa’anga, the national currency.  A cheaper alternative is simply to barter a trip with one of the local fisherman.  Tongans tend to know the ocean like a brother, and many seem wary of the international outfits that are luring tourists to their shores.  Do your research before you hop into the waves; and remember, sightings are just as common from shore.  As one shopkeeper explained, “If you can see the ocean, you can see the whales.”


3.   Befriend a spider. 

It’s impossible to imagine that these bulbous, bright yellow arachnids are harmless.  Waiting ominously in webs strung between electricity wires and low tree branches, their opulent bodies and nimble legs seem to imply something dark and dastardly.  But they are, locals assured us, non-venomous.  And if one should deign to creep down upon your shoulder?  Well, that’s just plain good luck.


4.   Drink the coffee.

What began as a 1900s government demand for all landholders to grow coffee plants is now a privatized industry with some of the smallest – but most flavorful – bean harvests in the world.  Just as good in a French press or an espresso shot, the distinctive taste is said to come from the nearby salt water of the Pacific Ocean.  This coffee is so good, rumor has it that when the King visits other foreign dignitaries, the only gift he shares is a bag of roasted beans.


5.   Listen to a church choir.

No hymn books, no instruments, no visible choir director; only one softly played pitch, and the sudden eruption of an entire congregation into eight-part heavenly accord.  Decades of Christian missionary influence have created a strongly religious population.  Many families attend two or three mass services on Sundays, and refrain from drinking or swimming.  If you express an interest in the music, most will be pleased to seat you in a front row pew for a church choir performance.

 Uoleva, Tonga

6.   Go snorkeling. 

Perhaps a safer alternative to swimming with whales, snorkeling off any of Tonga’s islands is like diving into The Little Mermaid.  The country has yet to devastate a majority of its vibrant coral reefs with dynamite fishing or water pollution.  So, while environmental experts wonder how increased development will affect its natural underwater kingdoms, there are still pristine coral gardens to explore.

Ticked off all these opportunities on your To-Do Tonga list?  Check out even more Must-Experience Moments in Part 2. View all of my posts on We Said Go Travel here.

Thank you to  Amy Sommer for her article in Westside Today!

I will be on NATIONAL TELEVISION on Saturday September 29 on KTLA’s Career Day.

The article begins:

On Saturday, September 29, 2012 KTLA’s “Career Day” will invite viewers in to science teacher Lisa Niver Rajna’s classroom and see first hand how she inspires her Kindergarten through sixth grade students by integrating science concepts in an engaging way that connects with our community.

Niver Rajna’s fourth grade students had a Question and Answer session with the director of “Trouble in Paradise” a film that documents how the inhabitants of this Polynesian island nation are dealing with the rising sea waters which will force them to abandon their homes in the near future. Several students were so inspired to help they had a weekend bake sale to raise money to help the Tuvaluans relocate.

Rajna in the classroom during the shoot


Niver Rajna speeks to her worldwide classroom thanks to KTLA

Niver Rajna speeks to her worldwide classroom thanks to KTLA’s ‘Career Day’

In the 45 days before she turns 45 she is raising money to assist 45 families receive Solar Cookers from Jewish World Watch. She is already half way to her goal having raised funds to help 23 families. For more information on this project:

Being able to explain the Ho Chi Ming Trail, all about Nomads and Gers in Mongolia, as well water issues around the world with both photos and video from her personal perspective engages students of all ages. Find out how Lisa Niver Rajna does it on KTLA Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 1:00pm.

Our year journey in South East Asia started July 2, 2012. When we were gone for eleven months in 2008, one of the common questions was, “How can you spend so much time together?”

We were recently  interviewed about Traveling as a Couple by Travelinksites:

Today we have the fine pair behind the super blog We Said Go Travel.  With well over 100 countries tucked away in Lisa and George’s repetoire, these guys are experts!  Their blog is full of videos, info and tales from far flung places so make sure you check them out. But first, let’s hear how they travel successfully as a married couple…


1.  Could you briefly introduce yourselves and your site?

Hello! We are a traveling couple. I worked for seven years at sea for Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Renaissance Cruises in the youth program and as cruise staff and went scuba diving and traveling on six continents. My husband George lived in Paraguay as part of the Peace Corps Program and traveled around South America. Both of us had been to nearly 100 countries (by Traveler’s Century Club count) before we met.

2. Tell us the story!  How did you guys meet and what made you choose to write a travel blog?

George found me online—and we started traveling together almost immediately. Our first journey was to Fiji and Vanuatu. In Vanuatu, we went to a village, met a Peace Corps worker and I had my first bucket bath. When we started our first year-long journey, we wrote a newsletter every month. After we got married, we went from our “He Said, She Said” to our website: We said Go Travel.


Thank you to for choosing us as a Traveling Couple for their site! We hope to share more about how we do it while we are gone this year!

Happy Independence Day! We hope you find a way to make all your dreams come true and feel INDEPENDENT this year!


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Turbulent Tonga Part III: “Humps and Bumps, Tonga Giveth, Tonga Taketh”

The Lonely Planet describes Neiafu, the main town on the Vava’u Island group as “ramshackle.”  Although I somewhat agree, Neiafu has its charms.  In fact, I would describe it as quaint. Families of pigs cross the road, a large white church perches above the town, and children stop to say, “Hello.”  In addition, due to the expatriate yacht scene brought about by the Port of Refuge, a pretty and protected harbor, many good restaurants have sprung up including Cafe Tropicana, The Sunset Grill, and the Aquarium Cafe, all good places to sample tasty Western food.  There is even a decent Chinese option.

The “Orange Vomit,” or the nickname that locals gave the old ferry, no longer runs but the current craft, both new and old boats, are quite basic, especially if you are planning on tackling the roughly 18-hour journey from Nuku’alofa to Vava’u.  For this reason, we opted to fly and arrived in only 45 minutes.  We checked into the Puataukanave Hotel where the room choices are deluxe, luxury, economy, and backpacker; due to the costs of traveling in Tonga, we chose the backpacker room that costs about $30US per night for spartan rooms with shared bathroom and a slew of mosquitos awaiting guest arrival.

Everything in Tonga is quite pricey.  We ran into quite a few long-term travelers who mentioned, “I’m traveling for a year and I thought that Tonga would be one of the cheaper countries that we would visit,” and “The flight here from New Zealand was quite reasonable so we figured that Tonga was a budget travel destination.”  Wrong!  Everything in Tonga is expensive, from internal flights to restaurants, to food purchased in shops. Accommodation is a terrible value.  At times it does not even seem like the Tongans really want tourism in their country.  Yes, Tonga taketh, but Tonga also giveth.  When Tonga gives, tourists are quite content.  Still, expect to pay roughly three times what you would in South-East Asia and even more than Samoa for lesser quality.

Lisa and I spent our first couple of days wandering and taking in the village atmosphere. The locals appeared reserved yet friendly when approached.  The expats were all very friendly and quite a party atmosphere developed at Tongan Bob’s, a local bar also run by an expat.  On Wednesdays you can attend the “famous” fakaleiti night; what transpires here makes absolutely no sense to me.  Basically, a man who is dressed as a woman dances on the stage to a song like, “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor.  While this man dances, men and women in the crowd, both expats and locals, approach the dancer and place local paper currency in the fakaleiti’s bra strap, g-string, or anywhere money can be deposited. This is not my thing but the people there that night seemed to be having a good time.
The following day we left with Dolphin Pacific Diving to enjoy what I imagined to be the highlight of our trip to Vava’u and possibly even Tonga.  We headed off to swim with humpback whales!  Our leader for the day, Al, sat perched on the upper deck of our boat looking for whales.  He said, “The first person who spots the whale gets to swim first.  You spot them by looking for spouting water that will be exiting from the whale’s blowhole.”  I kept close watch as we motored among a variety of islets that in total form almost a jellyfish-like shape.

The hues of the water, greens and blues, are as hard to describe as they are varied.  About fifteen minutes after we left the harbor, Al dropped to the main deck area to inform us, “There are pilot whales here.  We are going to take advantage of this even though we are looking for humpbacks.”  We all nodded in agreement and prepared our gear that included wetsuits (the Tongan waters are cold, really!), snorkels and masks. We had to supply our own courage to swim with massive sea creatures.  I asked Al, “How many pilot whales are here?”  He responded, “They normally travel in groups of fifteen to twenty.”  I excitedly placed on my gear and prepared to enter the water.  To my dismay, the whales immediately dove toward the depths and disappeared. We removed our gear and mentally prepared ourselves for the next swim.

After the failed pilot whale swim, our luck did not improve.  We glided over the choppy ocean for at least an hour, seeing nothing.  I began hallucinating, thinking that every spray of water was a whale spout.  Al heard over the CB radio that another boat had pinpointed the location of two whales.  We quickly advanced toward the divine location but after we arrived we were informed that “yes there are two whales,” and that the rules state that “The other boat can swim with the whales for an hour before we have a shot since they spotted it first.”  We were advised to eat the light lunch included in the tour, a sandwich with strange potato chips that tasted like barbequed squid.  The whale watching day trip was a pricey $275US for the two of us, expensive like everything else in the island nation.

After 45 minutes, the other boat notified us that they had finished with their turn and that we could give it a go.  Since our boat held only four people we were permitted to enter the water at the same time.  We saw two whales over the bow and some spouting.  We were told to prepare our gear and head to the stern. Our legs dangled into the ocean as the boat slowed and suddenly the boat driver yelled, “Go, go, go!!!”  We swam frantically toward the whales.  I heard Lisa coughing and I looked at her and asked if she was okay.  She nodded. I continued to swim toward the whale but saw nothing.  We returned to the boat and I readied myself for our next attempt.  But there would be no more attempts.  Al informed us that the choppy waters were not to our advantage and that we were heading back to the harbor.  I was livid.  I said, “One time?  We entered the water one time and that’s it?  We paid all this money just for one chance?”  Al said, “Most people need to come on at least three boat trips to ensure that they swim with whales but even then, I mean, this is nature and you cannot guarantee anything.” My mood did not improve even though what he said made sense.

Later, as we approached the harbor, Al asked me, “Do you want to go out again tomorrow?”  I said, “We are heading to Ofu Island tomorrow and have already scheduled everything.”  Al handed me his card,“Here is my number.  Call me when you are returning from Ofu and I will get you on a boat to have another opportunity.”  I shook Al’s hand and thanked him for the kind offer. Then we went to town to get food to take with us to Ofu.  Our first attempt with the whales was a failure.  But remember: Tonga taketh, and …Tonga giveth.

First published at: 

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I love Lucy clothes! Just like the ads claim they are perfectly packable.While stuck inside for a couple of days in torrential rain while cookingupstairs at Fifita’s guesthouse in Pangai, Ha’apai, Tonga, Dwight asked me “Whois Lucy? And why is her name onall your clothes?” 

It is true nearly everything in my backpack is from the Lucy store, on our summertrip in Tonga and Samoa this summer, I had two shorts, two capris, one longpants, half a dozen t-shirts and a long sleeve shirt all from the store. My oneskirt and one zip up warmer shirt are also great Lucy products. Nothingwrinkles, the fabric is easy to clean and the colors are great. I figure why goanywhere else?
When we were away traveling for a year in SE Asia, I lost so much weightwhen we came home I needed clothes in a new size. I had already discovered Lucyclothes but now became a walking store.

As Laura Frasersays in her new book, All Over the Map “My desires—to be free and tobelong, to be independent and to be inextricably loved, to be in motion and tobe still—pull me back and forth.” Luckily I can use my Lucy clothes at my job,on my two-mile walk to work and for travel. If only everything fit my life thiswell!

One thing I am so happy about is the new Everyday Pant! Last year I wore myfour pairs (I have them in every color) every day from October to April. I hadhoped that the new version would be more slim leg and it is and they look greaton! I like the new gray asphalt color and the new band at the waist iscomfortable and flattering! I am glad they got rid of the zippers at the bottomof the pants because I never knew what those were for! Like all Lucy clothesthey never wrinkle and wash and dry perfectly. The new fabric feels great, islightweight and they are definitely my favorite pants. 

At another time Fraser states in All Over the Map, “Almost anyone whois middle-aged can give you a long list of things that have gone wrong or thatdidn’t turn out the way they expected. But at least by now we have some measureof experience and wisdom to deal with it all. Things definitely aren’t easy foranyone.” She is a consummate traveler and does describe finding her own way bythe end of this story but one thing I can tell you as a fellow traveler, somethings can be easy! Shop at Lucy and you will have great clothes to wear andpack! 
Author’s Note: We are posting on a SATURDAY instead of our usual SUNDAY so that you do not miss out on the ONE DAY SALE at LUCY.COM and in the stores! Get to or a store near you–this 25% off Birthday Sale only happens ONCE a year!! Get something for you and a gift for someone you love!!
More news and stories next Sunday! Save the date: Nov 29 for our next Los Angeles Travel event: Travel with Technology: My Favorite Travel App. Our website:

Turbulent Tonga Part II: “Toni’s Guesthouse Tour”

The Ukranian Dracula lady, had just finished assaulting Jackie when we arrived at 10:00am.  Dracula had mistook the poor Brit for my wife Lisa, who simply “wouldn’t open the damn window” of the van when we arrived last night.  The Ukrainian scowled at Lisa but didn’t dare approach her while I was in the room.  Let’s just say it would not have been pretty.

We didn’t know that when we awoke in Toni’s Guesthouse, refreshed after the previous night’s debacle in the van.  After a Cup O’ Noodles for breakfast we wandered over to the Green House.  There we met the other travelers who planned to join us for the day tour of Tongatapu, the main island of the Tongan Archipelago.

Our tour was led by Toni, an expatriate from Liverpool who had lived over twenty years in Tonga.  Other companions included Jackie, who’d quickly got over the unexpected attack, and Dallas, not an American, but a lady from New Zealand enjoying a one-week holiday in the South Pacific.  Lee, another solo female traveler from the UK, who had lived on a sailboat for the last seven years, also came along with her partner.

Taking off, again swerving to avoid a cluster of potholes, Toni switched on a microphone that was linked to a rear speaker to make his discourse more audible.  We passed the opulent mansion of the Tongan king and his sisters, heading northwest toward the local plantations.  Tony stopped to point out the only three-headed coconut tree in the entire world, a must-stop photo op; a pic of it proves that you’ve been to Tonga.  He then stopped to point out a variety of crops including coconuts: “No, nobody wants to touch that stuff. They are everywhere!  Look around you for Christ’s sake!!” We saw papaya (“Em, the Tongans would eat this but they are all exported.”), taro, kumala, mango, bananas, and pineapple.  We then halted at the most northern spot of the island’s coastline. Toni claimed it was a very good beach.  We exited the van but were disappointed.  The weather was dreary and rain began to fall as we checked a surfing beach near the Ha’atafu Beach Reserve.  Its break looked weak, compared to the big-league waves of Samoa.

At this point Toni’s voice became slightly hoarse over the microphone and he began to cough up phlegm.  In response to Dallas, who asked, “Why don’t you sell beer at the guesthouse?” Toni said, “I gave up smoking about five years ago but I still have this cough. I don’t drink any more either.  So why would I want that stuff around?  Besides, the Tongan government has harsh rules.  For example, if a tourist who stayed at my guesthouse got out of hand while inebriated, it is me who would get fined by the police, even if I was home asleep.  It’s just not worth it.”  Lisa looked at me and said, “I think that he is the only person I have ever met who should have kept smoking,” referencing his voice’s guttural quality.

We headed south and stopped at the famous Mapu’a a Vaca Blowholes. Sheets of water poured down and I exited the van only long enough to take a photo.  Toni claimed, “Today is not a good day to see the blowholes because the tide is moving at an angle and it is not hitting the rocks directly.  You see how it hits?”  We left disappointed.  However, we returned to these same blowholes at the end of our trip and they proved amazingly powerful.

We continued in the rain and stopped for a decent “Chinese-type” lunch above Keleti Beach.  Even on this depressing day, while standing in the rain under a veranda in the cold, I could appreciate the view.  Blowholes exhaled the ocean’s foam here as well but they were not as impressive as those at Mapu’a a Vaca.

After a brief lunch we continued the tour northeast to see the “famous” Ha’amonga Trilithon Reserve, South Pacific’s Stonehenge.  I agree that the the ruins are similar to those of famous English site but only one structure is constructed from coral stones, in the shape of a square gate.  This gate was supposedly used to track the change in seasons.  We decided to not to visit the Hina Cave, possibly a mistake, since it is situated right next to the Oholei Beach area, perhaps the nicest place to stay in Tongatapu,  We didn’t discover this until we returned three weeks later.  Oholei Beach is well known for its feast on Friday nights with a live band perched over a scenic beach.

At the end of the day we returned to Tofa after stopping at a lovely overlook with an eroded hole framing a lovely ocean view. The tour ended and Toni drove us into Nuku’alofa.  We wanted to see the infamous (mentioned in 1,000 Places to See Before You Won’t See Anything Ever Again) Heilala Festival.  This is a multi-week bash that involves a mix of cultural events including parades, live music, dance, art, as well as beauty and sports competitions.  Yet we could not understand the Tongans enthusiasm, or I should say, lack of enthusiasm, regarding the festival.  We stopped by the cultural center and asked where the Heilala Festival events took place.  The lackadaisical response was, “Oh yeah, it will be on the field…I think.”  “Are you going?” I asked.  “No, I’ll just stay home and watch TV.”  I was stunned.  After seeing Nuku’alofa, a depressing and gloomy town with very little action, you’d think that the locals would be thrilled to have a few weeks of special fun.  Worse for tourists, the festival begins around 7:00-8:00pm and aside from the island tour, there is not much to do here.  Because of this small detail (and the poor weather) we decided to purchase tickets to Vava’u (islands in the northern Tonga) the next day.

Still, a group of us from the guesthouse that included our fellow veterans from the van tour managed to see an evening event called, “Tonga’s Got Talent”.  Here people of all ages, mostly from six to their mid-twenties, performed a variety of acts — either singing or engaging in “hip-hop,” where Tongans dance individually or in groups to hip-hop tunes.  The event was entertaining if at times painful.  What surprised me the most was that the emcee almost spoke entirely in English.  The following night we returned to see the teen beauty contest and we were given prime seats right behind the beauty queens themselves.

We warmed up to Tongatapu as we prepared to depart; perhaps our new feelings corresponded with the improved weather.  At any rate, our next stop in Tonga was Vava’u, where we planned to swim with the humpback whales, one of Tonga’s principal attractions an an excellent reason to visit the island country.

First published at as Turbulent Tonga – Part 2

George and Lisa Rajna of We Said Go Travel continue their travel series with the second installment of their trip to Tonga. You can read part one here. 

Thank you to the sell-out crowd of over 100 who joined us on Tuesday Oct 18 for Meet Plan Go! Los Angeles! We will have photos posted next week on the blog! We appreciate everyone who read about it, emailed, tweeted, participated and showed up!! THANK YOU! Lisa and George

By Lisa Niver Rajna


Teaching your kids to love nature.

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau

Not all of us can make a commitment to nature like Henry David Thoreau to go live on Walden Pond, but we do not have to go to such lengths to inspire our children to love nature. By creating wonder and a connection to the environment we can all protect our planet.

We can even share seeds and caterpillars with our children without even going very far outside! As Janine M. Benyus states in Biomimicry:

Bringing children back into nature and nature back into childhood is a job for teachers and parents and friends willing to take a child outside for a lark. There need not be an ‘official’ park involved; finding a place where green things grow, even if it’s a crack in the sidewalk, is enough.

You can order a kit with seeds and starter material, buy plants at your local nursery, or go to the supermarket and purchase a bag of lima beans. Soak the lima beans overnight, put them in a plastic baggie with a wet paper towel inside and tape it to a window—watch your child’s face as they starts to grow! If you have an onion with green shoots, you can put the end in water (use toothpicks to keep it half out of the water) and it will grow. This is also great to do with a sweet potato.

In A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, he says that after a science education based on stupefying, boring textbooks, he was surprised to find that there is so much to be amazed about on our planet: “Did you know there are more geysers and hot springs at Yellowstone than in all the rest of the world combined?” He talks also about the wonder of our own bodies. “Your heart must pump 75 gallons of blood an hour, 1,800 gallons every day, 657,000 gallons in a year—that’s enough to fill four Olympic-sized swimming pools—to keep all those cells freshly oxygenated.” How incredible is that?

We can learn to be inspired by the marvel of our bodies and try like Thoreau to live deliberately in taking care of our planet and ourselves. Water is everywhere and needs our protection.

“A potato is 80 percent water, a cow 74 percent, and a bacterium 75 percent. A tomato, at 95 percent, is little but water. Even humans are 65 percent water, making us more liquid than solid by a margin of almost two to one!” We are more liquid than solid and more capable of amazement than we realize.

Thomas Friedman, in his book, Hot Flat and Crowded, discusses the increasing need for green energy, clever solutions and how we need to inspire students to love science and be creative.
You might start by growing a lima bean or signing a petition to save sea turtles in Tonga, or maybe you will decide to go visit the orangutan sanctuaries in Borneo.

“The palm oil that fried your French fries today may have come from a chopped-down tropical forest in Indonesia, which in turn helps to contribute to climate change that is intensifying the drought in your backyard.” If we save the orangutan, we may save ourselves. The word ‘Orangutan’ does literally means “man of the forest” in the Indonesian language.

In Dr. Seuss’ children’s book, The Lorax, we hear:

“Mister,” he said with a sawdusty sneeze,
“I am the lorax! I speak for the trees! I speak for the trees,
for the trees have no tongues,
and I’m asking you sir at the top of my lungs!” The question is who will you speak for and
what do your actions teach your children?

Tonga petition:

Lisa Niver Rajna, M.A. Ed. has over 12 years of classroom teaching experience and an additional 11 years working in camps and on cruise ships.

This article first appeared in LA MOM Magazine.

After three glorious weeks on the beautiful islands of Samoa, we boarded the two hour Air Pacific flight from Apia to Nadi in Fiji, the most convenient access point for Tonga. We noticed there that the onward flight from Nadi to Nukalofa, Tongatapu was likely delayed and could not seem to get any accurate information from anyone.  No big surprise, just another typical traveling experience.

Suddenly, we heard an announcement stating, “Air Pacific Flight FJ211 to Tonga will be boarding shortly.”  I turned to Lisa and said, “I guess we can wonder around the shops for a while.”  Literally as these words left my mouth a second announcement trumpeted, “Passengers on flight FJ211 to Tonga, please proceed to the departure gate.”  I gazed somewhat dumbfounded toward my wife who stated, “They have to announce that they will be boarding the plane before they can board it.”  Ah, that explained the heads-up advisory seconds before the actual boarding announcement.

The flight to the island of Tongatapu was scheduled to last an hour and thirty minutes.   A few massive Samoan passengers among us were also boarding and I quietly prayed that none of these giant people, who should really have two seats each, would be placed next to us.  Thankfully, a quite delicate great grandmother from Oregon but who had been living in Taveuni, Fiji sat next to me.  She was loquacious and amiable and informed us, “I have to make this same trip every four months because I cannot get residency in Fiji.  I think it is because I am too old.  I purchased a plot on Taveuni but now I’ll have to sell it and move back to Oregon.”  I listened to her story and thought that she was quite gutsy for a lady of her age. Later I tackled a Suduko puzzle and read some of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”.  

It was then that the pilot announced that we would be arriving shortly in Nukualofa and that the flight attendants should prepare the passengers for landing.  While Lisa dozed, catching flies with her mouth agape, I watched the plane descend in darkness toward the well-lit airstrip. The next thing I knew, we were ascending back into the clouds and night.  The pilot spoke over the intercom, “The conditions are such that we were unable to land the plane.  So, we are going to swing around and try again from another angle.”  

I sat in my seat and tightened the belt buckle.  I waited and hoped that our second attempt would be successful.  We again approached the runway and it seemed that we almost touched down on the tarmac and suddenly, vroom!, we zoomed up at a steep angle.  I tightened my belt even more and looked at Lisa, who was still asleep.  I thought, “No point in waking her up for this.”  After the pilot abandoned the third attempt I began to question if he had the confidence and ability to land the airplane.  He had not spoken to the passengers since the first failed attempt.  I was concerned and slightly frightened.  Finally, on the fourth attempt we landed, skidding, and slowed.  The passengers rightfully applauded the pilot and the Tongans ended their prayers.

Our next challenge was getting through Immigration.  We stood near the end of the line because we boarded an airport shuttle thinking that the baggage claim area was far. But the vehicle came to pick us up only due to the heavy rain, the same reason that the aircraft had such difficultly landing.  I later acquired this information from a Tongan lady at the airport candy shop. This line was not terribly long but with Chinese and Tongans cutting into it we were at a standstill for a good 45 minutes.  The Chinese seemed to proceed via both the foreign and Tongan lines, and even utilized the “disabled and elderly” queue, although the majority of them appeared to be in their thirties and were traveling with children.  

Finally, after an hour, we cleared Immigration.  Our bags were sitting there already and our hostel pickup service was ready to head into town.  It was already well after 8:00pm due to the delays and night had fallen.  We were greeted by Peter, who held a Toni’s Guesthouse sign and sported a massive goiter on his neck.  We entered the van with about a half dozen travelers, all who were to stay at Toni’s Guesthouse.  After roughly ten minutes, Peter stated, “Everyone will get out here and Toni will take you the rest of the way.  I am going back to the airport to get more people”.  We looked at each other somewhat shocked;  it was still raining.  But all the tourists followed his instructions. Toni arrived in another van within a minute so we did not get terribly wet.

Toni was quite a character with his strong Liverpool accent.  He advised, “Tomorrow is Sunday and everything will be closed.  So if you want, we can stop at a shop and pick up food for tomorrow.”  We all agreed that it was a good idea even though I knew the Chinese restaurants would still be open.  At the shop we purchased eggs, peanut butter, crackers, canned pineapple, bottled water, coke, cup-o-noodles, and milk for our cereal.  We re-boarded the van and a lady with a draconian accent ordered Lisa, “You will close the window.”  Lisa either did not hear her or chose to ignore the instruction. Dracula repeated loudly, “You will close the window!”  Lisa said, “No.  I need the fresh air.”  The lady growled to herself and muttered, “She won’t close the window” under her breath.  Then she began sniffling, an indication that she was falling ill.  

We subsequently discovered that this lady, a Ukrainian, verbally and almost physically attacked another girl the following morning whom she mistook for Lisa.  The victim, Jackie, was at first stunned by these unwarranted attacks and then was able to ameliorate the situation when she realized that the whole affair was a misunderstanding.   

At any rate, after Toni turned off the main road, swerving to avoid a cluster of potholes, he asked who was staying in the green house.  We were not sure what he meant but Lisa said, “We booked online but I’m not sure what color house we are staying in.”  Toni said, “Well, what’s your name?”  “Rajna?”  “No.”  “Niver?”  “No.”  “Lisa?” “Yes, Lisa, you will be in the green house.  A couple, right?”  Right.

We dropped off a Finish couple and the other solo travelers at the blue house.  We thought that we were heading to the upscale green house.  Then Toni stated as if factually, “So there are only two of you left, right?”  I did not say anything even though the Dracula lady was still with us.  He asked again, “So there are only two, right?  I can’t see back there since I’m driving.”  A Tongan girl who accompanied Toni finally said, “There are three.”  “Three!,” he shouted.  “How can there be three?  Who else is there?  Hello?  Where are you staying?”  Unfortunately for Toni, Dracula did not understand him. Toni briefly stopped the car, exasperated.  He turned to see who was left.  When he noticed the Dracula lady he yelled, “For Christ’s sake!  She’s already staying with us.  We’ll drop her off with her bags, that’s where she needs to be!”

We debarked at the green house.  The Tongan girl in the van showed us to our room.  We had requested a room with a private bathroom; the ugly brick room that we were shown had the toilet and shower outside the room and open toward the courtyard, not at all an en suite arrangement.  I must have looked disappointed because the Tongan girl said, “This room is not very nice.”  I said, “No, it’s not very nice.”  She followed with, “The yellow house is much nicer.  I think that it would be better for you two.”  I asked, “Is it available?”  She said, “It is available but it costs 40TOP and the green house is 30TOP (about $5 US more).  I requested to see the room in the yellow house.  It was much nicer, an actual home.  We took the larger room that shared the bathroom since no one else was there and being that the country shuts down on Sundays, we knew that no one would be there until Monday at the earliest.

We requested a towel, key, and matches that were not wet so we could heat water in the morning. The helpful Tongan girl brought us everything we asked for and mentioned that Toni was going to have an island tour that would depart at 10:00am.  Since everything was closed on Sunday, we deemed it a good idea and agreed to head out on the tour even though I generally detest tours.  After she left us, I poured us two rum and cokes with the duty free alcohol that I had purchased in Fiji and we toasted to our “safe” arrival and laughed that after three weeks of sleeping in beach fales (Samoan beach huts) that we had a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house to ourselves, with photos of two children placed above the television entertainment center.  

I thought, if this arrival was any indication of our upcoming Tonga experience, we were in store for quite a ride. 

Author’s Note: George and I hope that everyone is safe after Hurricane Irene. Sending our best to family and friends on the East Coast who weathered the storm.

For those in Los Angeles, hope to see you Sept 6 for a travel book reading by Rachel Friedman. Save the date, Oct 18, for our LA event which is part of the National Event for Meet Plan Go happening in 17 cities across the USA on the same night!

We started to upload our videos from this summer, more to come!! Check out our channel: