There goes the Neighborhood

My neighborhood has changed quite a bit in the past week. Actually not just my neighborhood, but all of Vava'u. King George V, arrives here today (Sunday) to celebrate his recent coronation. And Vava'u is definitely getting ready.

I live across the street from the soldier's barracks in Vava'u. There are normally just a handful of soldiers on duty and they are a pretty quiet bunch. Last week, about 300 hundred soldiers showed up, pitching tents in the field across from my house and moving in.

Every morning around 5am, they all get up and sing. So instead of being awakened each morning by the 5am Church bells I now wake up to the quite loud, but beautiful voices of 300 men.

But that's just a small part of what is happening here. Everyone is cleaning up and decorating for the King's arrival. Litter, which is always prevalent around Vava'u, has disappeared. Every yard has been swept and the debris burned or carted away.

But perhaps the most visible change are the arches that are posted across most of the major (and some of the minor) roads in Vava'u. These arches are called "Matapa" in Tongan, which literally translates as door or entrance way.

For the most part each of the arches is built the same way. Four large coconut trees are put on each side of a road, and then connected across the top. The two trees on each side are then joined together and a small walkway is made over the road.

But beyond that, each arch is a work of art and some people have spent as much as TOP$5000.00, or about US$2700.00 to build and decorate an arch. Some of the arches are pretty high tech with fancy lights and professionally painted messages while others are more simple.

Downtown Neiafu, which is the only town in the Vava'u island group, is also ready for the King. A large fence which protects a construction site has been painted just for the King's arrival and there are balloons and Tongan flags lining many of the roads.

One thing that I have learned about the Tongan people in the past 10 months is that when they want to accomplish something, they find a way to do it. There is no question the Tongans have accomplished a lot getting ready.

However the King's arrival is not without a bit of controversy. In Tonga, it is illegal to do almost anything on Sunday. The fact that the King is arriving on a Sunday when the airport is normally closed has caused some grumbling. Because of that the King cancelled plans for a lavish arrival ceremony. Tonight he is scheduled to attend a church service but there are no official celebrations.

The Queen Mother and the Princess (King's sister) are both already in Vava'u. The Princess was at the 10am Church service this morning where the soldiers who are living in my neighborhood sang the Hallelujah Chorus.

The King is scheduled to be here through Wednesday.

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