First Day of School

September 20, 2012

One of the things that our kids miss while cruising are typical stateside milestones like the First Day of School. Where I grew up the first day of school was the day after Labor Day, which happens on the first Monday of September. Five year olds begin kindergarten, and while Miles doesn’t turn five for another couple of weeks, he would be a kindergartener now. We were lucky enough to send our kids to the General Primary School in Matamaka Village for their first day last week!

We sailed to a small Tongan island called Nua Papu and found the Matamaka village before dinner time. The village has forty-nine families, 20 children between the ages 5 and 11, and a two classroom school to support them. The principal, Pitisi, welcomed our family on the beach that evening and asked the kids to come to school at 8:30 the next morning.

Ruby carefully planned her clothes for the next day and insisted on shampooing her hair (which hadn’t been washed properly since the last country we visited). She calculated what time we would need to get up to make her breakfast and dinghy in on time. I baked a loaf of special gluten free bread for them to take sandwiches. We piled all of our extra children’s books to donate to the library. Ruby and Miles were both so excited!

They arrived on time the next morning to Pitisi’s classroom and started the day with singing and a prayer in Tongan. All of the kids leave their elementary school speaking English fluently, prepared for their secondary school work. My kids were called on to introduce themselves. “Hello, My name is Miles. I am four and a half years old. I am from America.” Pitisi asked about his school at home and he stated proudly that this was his first day of school. She asked him what he had at home and he replied, “Not very much, really.” As we walked around the village later I was grateful for his reply. These families live in houses with similar sized living spaces as we have but they do indeed have very very little. Ruby introduced herself shyly and then each of the students began their scripted introduction.

“Hello my name is Maka.  I am 8 years old. My father is a pastor. My mother is a housewife. In the future I would like to be a rugby player.”

“Hello my name is Ata. I am 9 years old. My father is a fisherman. My mother is a housewife. In the future I would like to be a nurse.”

“Hello my name is Kahi. I am 10 year old. My father is a pastor. My mother is a housewife. In the future I would like to be a nurse.”

I could only conclude that every boy child would grow up and leave to play rugby, and that there might be a nurse or two around with a short lived career.

In their separate classrooms Ruby and Miles followed along with the lessons in Tongan and English. Miles worked through both alphabets and worked hard on his penmanship. Ruby learned to count first in Tongan before she worked on the math assignment with the older kids. She came home with a notebook full of copywork with Tongan songs written out and carefully translated. She found the division assignment too difficult but tried to work through it anyway. Miles was eager to skip class and head to the library, the third room at the school. He pulled stacks of books off the shelves for me to read him throughout the day. I soon found myself sitting under a mango tree reading Franklin to many of the younger kids.

Everyone runs home for lunch and returns a bit later. We took Miles home and  Ruby stayed through the rest of the afternoon. When we returned we found that Ruby had led her classroom through two craft projects which were hanging around the classroom. She seems to get by with a few words and some sign language everywhere she goes. The students finished their day with Phys. Ed, 30 minutes of play out on the lawn.

Ruby and Miles have concluded that school is hard and they love it. For me it was an amazing day of chatting with Mosese and Pitisi and getting a really good look at day to day life for these Tongan villagers.





  1. Comment by Cidnie

    Cidnie September 20, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    What an amazing day for the kids and you! How very cool it was of Mosese and Pitisi to welcome your kids into their world for a day.

  2. Comment by behan

    behan September 20, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    What a lovely visit… and how timely that it could be a first day of school! It’s a magical spot and a welcoming village. It’s so nice to hear you using place names… drives me a little crazy how so many cruisers going to Tonga don’t bother learning local names, just the Moorings’ reference that identify “anchorage number X”. These are peoples homes, not cell blocks!

    I wonder… are there familiar faces here?

    • Comment by Victoria

      Victoria September 21, 2012 at 1:26 am

      I searched through the guest book at the school for your name hoping to find it. It doesn’t seem that many foreign kids, especially American kids, come through there. My kids loved their visit and Pitisi insisted that her students would remember that day for the rest of their lives.

  3. Comment by Anabel

    Anabel September 20, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    It looks like Ruby had a growth spurt! I’m so glad she enjoyed going to school. That must have been fabulous!

  4. Comment by Jena Lockwood

    Jena Lockwood September 21, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    What an incredible gift you have given your children!

  5. Comment by Gabriel

    Gabriel September 26, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    Hey Tucker,

    I’ve been away for a little while, but I’ve just caught up a bit on my reading. Glad to see you’re well.
    A big hello from your friends at SETI and at Rocky Valley.


  6. Comment by Eric Herndon

    Eric Herndon November 17, 2012 at 8:36 am

    Hi Vickie, Tucker, Miles, and Ruby, I don’t often read all the wonderful things you write because I can’t find on our computer (Sarah has to help me) but it just happens to be sitting right in front of me so I started reading. Your adventure just fills my heart with goodness as I see through your writing all the wonderful things you see each day. I just read my granddaughter , Honora, the story of Miles and Ruby’s first day at school. She didn’t blink an eye while I read, completely absorbed in the tale. It read like a children’s book and at the end we wanted more. Thanks. I look forward to reading other stories. The coast of Maine is sunny and cool today. We have already had a little snow. Summer is almost on the way.

    • Comment by Tucker Bradford

      Tucker Bradford November 17, 2012 at 1:43 pm

      So nice to get your comment! We think about you guys all the time. We long for the day that we sail into Round Pond Harbor and complete our adventure. Even as we sail through a tropical paradise the nostalgia and warm memories of home tug at my attention.

      It took me a second to see the joke in your Summer comment. The Austral Summer is indeed on its way and we are trying to adjust our expectations to accomodate a BBQ Christmas. Hopefully we can acclimate to life Downunder before it’s time to head North again.

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