Spending the Night at the Police Station

I woke up last Tuesday morning in a Tonga Police station.   In fact, I ended up spending 15 hours with the Police at the Police Station and it was NOT my decision to be there.   There were no handcuffs, no Miranda rights (those don’t exist here) and no free phone call to an attorney or even the Peace Corps.

It all worked out fine but the story of how I got there and why will take a little explaining.

Last Monday, I began a visit to many of the outer island villages here in Vava’u.  I was joined on the trip by two Tongans, a loan officer and a boat driver.   These two make the trip every month to see clients on the outer islands, but I came along because we were planning a workshop on Hunga, which is one of the outer islands.

We left the old harbor of Neiafu and soon arrived at Olo’ua..   This village is pretty close to the main island but is a world apart.   As we made our way from the dock up to the village, there were no sounds, no people, not even the chirps of any birds.

The dock at Olo'ua We found our client and then headed back to the boat and on to Taunga.  This was my second trip to this village and it is a really pretty spot with a beautiful sandy beach and friendly villagers.

Our next stop was Ovaka.   This island is one of the furthest from the main island and it is also home to my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Scott.  We found him helping the woman of the village.

Scott and Oholei with the woman of Ovaka In Ovaka, we started inviting people to the workshop we had planned for two days later.   Since this was my first visit to Ovaka, I went to check out Scott’s house.

Scott's house in Ovaka By outer island standards, Scott has a pretty big house.  It’s two bedrooms and a large open living area.  There is no electricity or running water and the only furniture is a single twin bed.  Not even any chairs.   I didn’t know it at the time, but a comment I made here was the first step in my eventual stay with the Tongan Police.

From Ovaka, we got back in the boat and went to Hunga.  There is a huge Lagoon in the middle of Hunga that connects to the outer ocean in just two places.  The entrance closest to Ovaka can only be used at high tide.  It was low tide, so we ventured out into open ocean and around to the other side.

The first thing you notice when you arrive in Hunga is the new road.  New Zealand Aid has paid for a road to be built from the water up the hill to the village. 

The new road in Hunga

This might seem like a pretty good deal until you discover that there is just one tractor and one truck in all of Hunga.   That’s it!  Two motorized vehicles.

While making our client visits and handing out more invitations to our workshop, I saw something I’ve not seen before. 

Octupus drying in Hunga That is an octopus hanging on a pole to dry.   They do this to preserve it.  

By the time we were finished in Hunga, it was late in the afternoon and we had completed our work for the day.  At this point, Oholei, the loan officer with whom I traveling suggested we make a stop at the near-by Blue Lagoon Resort.

A number of years ago, the bank helped the owner build this resort and he seemed glad to see us, buying us both a beer and telling me to look around.  It’s a nice place. It’s powered by windmills and solar power and looks like a perfect place to spend a relaxing vacation or even a honeymoon.

So what does all this have to do with my overnight stay with Tongan Police?

When we first left the main island, both the driver and Oholei had asked me if I was planning to spend the night in the islands.  I said sure and told them I was prepared with a sleeping bag and other gear.  I told them I could sleep anywhere.  

Since I’ve been in Tonga I’ve slept on floors, in a kava hall, on sofas and I’ve camped plenty of times.   I assured both of them I could stay wherever they were staying. 

Now remember I mentioned the comment I made at Scott’s house?  I pointed out he only had one bed.   Oholei apparently took this to mean that it was not acceptable for me to stay with Scott.   There is only one other Peace Corps in the islands, and that is Amy and because she is a single woman, it would not be culturally appropriate for me to stay with her.  They were worried that I might not have an acceptable place to stay.

Finally, the two Tongans tell me that we are going to stay in Falevai.  Falevai is the only outer island village with both a medical center and a police station.  

Falevai Police Station We get there as the sun is setting and they go inside and quickly arrange for me to spend the night at the police station.  When I ask why I’m staying at the police station I’m told that it’s the only place they knew of that had a bed.   I told them again that I would be fine sleeping anywhere, but there was no arguing with them and so for the first time in my life, I spent the night at a police station with the one police officer who works in the outer islands.

My room was a small room with a single bed but it was not behind bars.  I was just a few steps away from the jail so I can say I slept AT the jail, but I did not spend the night IN jail.  There is a big difference.

Falevai Jail 

A Cool Camping Spot

The Friday before my night AT the jail, I went camping for the first time in almost two months. I joined five of my fellow volunteers for an overnight camping trip and beach bonfire.

One of the great things about Vava’u is that you can find a beautiful beach and have it all to yourself.   

Hanging out on the beach near Holonga, Vava'uThis beach is a bit of a hike, but well worth it.  It’s below the village of Holonga and its rare to see anyone there.   I camped last year at Utula'aina point which is just above this beach, but this was the first time I had camped on this beach.

Peace Corps Tonga Group 75

The Peace Corps office in Tonga is expecting 27 future volunteers to in a few months.  That’s a slight increase over the 24 who started with Group 74 and down from the 33 who started with my group, Group 73.   Of the 27 new trainees who are coming in October, the staff is expecting 1 teacher trainer volunteer, 6 primary school volunteers, 10 secondary and tertiary institute volunteers and 1 Community Development volunteer. 

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  1. Interesting police story!

    My name is Barbara Jo White (Dominican Republic'87'89) and way back, I started the World Map Project. One of the first PCVs to write me about the project was in Tonga!

    Are there any recent maps in Tonga? If so, I sure would love to have pics to put up on the World Map Project website (http://tinyurl.com/makemaps). The free map making manual is there and lots of pics from maps around the world.

    I'm getting ready to update the gridded world map pages and publish the instructions (and map pages) in other languages.

    Please email me or send pics to
    or you can follow me and the project on Twitter