A Dipnote reader in Australia commented on my previous blog entry and asked whether our ship and helicopters might not create some trepidation among island residents. A local woman shared the following anecdote with me: Our two MH-60 helicopters flew over Vava'u on Thursday. At one school, the children were playing outside and began to point at the sky and dance around as the helos approached. Since most of them had never seen a helicopter, and many didn't know the exact word or pronunciation, countless variations of the word “helicopter” rang out. But one small boy, clearly a literary fellow, pointed up and shouted, "Harry Potters, Harry Potters!" Of course everyone joined in, so Pacific Partnership will be known at this school for bringing the "Harry Potters" to Vava'u.
On Thursday, April 14, I attended my second opening ceremony in the Kingdom of Tonga (the first was during PP09 in Ha'apai), and it was as memorable and humbling as the first. It is not often that I can recall what people said in speeches from a day or two earlier, but I will remember many of the things said during the PP11 opening ceremony at Vava'u High School. The Governor of Vava'u, Lord Sevele ‘o Vailahi, expressed the deep gratitude of the local population that Pacific Partnership chose to visit Vava'u, when there are so many places in the Pacific region that would like to have us, and he asked us to keep returning regularly in the future. The Prime Minister, Lord Tu'ivakano, encouraged us all when he pointed out that PP11 projects align perfectly with his government's development goals, which is a primary focus of our planning.
But the man who moved all of us, a traditional “Talking Chief” (called Fotu), spoke in Tongan, but we could feel the emotion in his speech, and we could hear “America” repeated frequently. Chief Fotu was six years old when the horrors of World War II approached Tonga. He remembers the troops, many of them American, who defended Tonga. And he expressed his deep gratitude that the children and grandchildren of those soldiers have remembered Tonga over the years, and that Pacific Partnership, with so many people he has come to consider more like siblings than foreigners, would come to his small corner of the world on such a meaningful and celebratory mission. The honor, Sir, is entirely ours, and we salute you and the wonderful people of Vava'u.