So yesterday at work I came back from lunch and my coworkers said that the Peace Corps office had called and said that I was invited to attend an official event with the King. This event just so happened to be where the new U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, and the region, presents his credentials to King Tupou V. Apparently he had tried to do so back in November, but there was a misunderstanding and he wasn’t able to. I guess they got all the particulars straight and he came back today for the official event.
I’m not entirely sure how I was picked from the list of people in Peace Corps, but I was, along with 6 others (unfortunately Karen was not because they wanted volunteers who work with the Tongan government). So we went to the old British Consulate, which is the King’s official meeting place these days. I thought for sure that there were going to be a whole bunch of people there, but there was not; maybe only 10 -12. We waited outside for awhile after first getting there and then went in and waited a bit. Suddenly the King and the Ambassador walked out together. Jeffery Cornish, our Country Director, was encouraged to bring us over to meet the both of them. We were told that we should speak only in English to the King because there is a special language that has to be spoken to the King and if you don’t do it correctly then you look like an idiot. This is fine because the King was educated in England and speaks amazing English with a cool British accent. I also noticed that he spoke very fast Tongan as well. So at any rate we had our “It’s a pleasure to meet your Majesty” ready, but for some reason the planning Blake, a fellow PCV, and I had done to prepare for this one sentence didn’t come out quite right. I’m not sure exactly what I did say, but I think it was a combination of these words. At any rate I remember being disappointed with whatever it was I did say. So we all stood around and the King and Ambassador exchanged pleasantries with us and the waiters brought us wine and waters. I noticed the King really enjoyed talking about history and made every opportunity to do so. I got a chance to ask the Ambassador about the increase in funding for Peace Corps not being in the new budget, but Americorps being mentioned with numerous increases in funding. He said that it was a campaign promise that President Obama was going to have to follow through with and he was sure that it was going to happen somehow. In a later conversation Director Cornish assured us that it was probably going to be in a separate Bill not included in the next fiscal budget.
So we all sat down and chatted a bit. I got to snap a few pictures and several PCV’s got to have private conversations with the King. We were told that lunch was served and the King directed us to the serving room where males and females were to go arm in arm. So I paired with with Bethany (Pepe) and the one thing the King had to say to me was, “If you would like to smoke you are welcome to at any point.” Maybe he was talk to everyone, but for some reason I felt like he was talking to Pepe and I. He told us that he had “given it up”, but that he knew that people needed to smoke occasionally. So we had an amazing meal with roasted lobster (which I had 2), steaks (also 2servings), chicken, salad and eventually this amazing dessert that was some kind of chocolate creme with kiwi.
So at the end we took several pictures, said some thanks, and then the dignitaries suddenly were seen in their cars driving away. It was probably one of the most memorable experiences of being here for me. An interesting event with kick ass food, and overall a strange experience.