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Illegal Alien in Tonga

Updated on August 31, 2016
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Ruth Kongaika was born in the Rocky Mountains and has lived most of her life in the South Pacific. She travels, gardens and writes.

One of the pristine beaches in Tonga
One of the pristine beaches in Tonga

One rainy day while sitting at my office in Tonga, a policewoman dropped in and gruffly told me to follow her. I asked her why, and she told me to just get up and come with her. It was pouring outside and I did not have an umbrella. I did not want to make her upset, so I stepped outside and became drenched in a few seconds. My mind was racing, trying to think about what might have precipitated this uncomfortable and threatening situation I was in. We had been living in Tonga for eight years. I am from the mainland USA and had married my handsome Polynesian husband and had followed him to his island home.

I worked for Teta Tours, which used to be a General Sales Agent for Hawaiian Airlines (when they flew to Tonga). I had been hired to be the executive secretary to the general manager, who just happened to be a legislator in the Tongan government. He had never asked me if I had a working permit. It had never occurred to me that I needed one since I was married to a Tongan, had four lovely children (one that was born in Tonga) and I was being paid like a local.

During my years in Tonga, I had adopted many of the ways of the locals, including dressing traditionally with a kiekie (ornamental belt around waist), learning to speak Tongan fairly well, and eating mostly Tongan food. I tried to be a upright citizen, went to church every week, tried to be a good mother, wife and neighbor. What could possibly be the cause for this police officer to demand that I follow her through a torrent on the main highway in the largest town in Tonga, Nuku'alofa?

Myself sitting at my office at Teta Tours in Nuku'alofa, Tonga
Myself sitting at my office at Teta Tours in Nuku'alofa, Tonga

As we crossed the highway, I realized she was leading me to the main police headquarters that was a couple of blocks away. My heart was racing as I tried to keep from slipping on the wet pavement while attempting to keep up with this official. What was to be my fate? Had one of my family gotten in trouble and had been taken in by the police? So many questions swimming around in my little palagi (foreigner) head.

Dripping wet, I sloshed into main police building and felt like a criminal, only I was not wearing chains (thank goodness). I asked the police again why I was there. I finally was offered a seat and was handed a letter indicating that I was an illegal alien working in Tonga without a permit. Upon further inspection, it indicated that I was to be deported immediately! I wondered why they had not just mailed me the letter rather than dragging me through town, and felt I was being treated unfairly. My emotions started spilling over as I thought of my little family, the domicile I had come to call home so far away from my parents, siblings and everything that I had grown up with. Would they really put me on a plane and separate me from my husband and children?

My daughter and I taking a walk near our home in Tonga.
My daughter and I taking a walk near our home in Tonga.

This was way before cell phones, but I knew that I needed to contact my husband and/or my boss. I asked to see the Chief of Police and see if I could convince him they had made a mistake. After what seemed like ages, the Chief himself came in to see this poor little white lady. He listened to my story, and apologized for the way I had been treated. I assumed this lady police had a racial problem with foreigners taking jobs that the locals deserved, but I truly felt like I was a local. I knew how foreigners feel when they come to the United States, trying to make a life for themselves and their families, and are threatened with deportation.

My boss introducing me at a business meeting in Tonga.
My boss introducing me at a business meeting in Tonga.

I was finally able to reach my husband who drove from his work to rescue me. He is such a happy guy, and was laughing when he saw me with mascara running down my face sitting in the police office. I wanted to punch him out (just kidding), but that is his way of dealing with difficult situations. He spoke with the Chief of Police and explained that he was not even aware that I needed to have a working permit (duh!). He figured since a member of the legislative assembly had hired me, everything was cool.

I really enjoyed working for the tour company and my husband and I had even gone out to meet several cruise ships and taken tourists on island tours. So he was a participant in crime!

Tour guides from Teta Tours - my husband and I.
Tour guides from Teta Tours - my husband and I.

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A call was made to my boss and he, the Chief and my husband agreed that I could continue working if I filled out some forms, paid a fee and was a good girl. They felt I had been sufficiently humiliated (true that), and predicted I would be an upstanding citizen of Tonga. My coworkers teased me relentlessly. I continued to work for a couple of years and really enjoyed my experience there.

Just thinking, perhaps we would have less problems with illegal aliens in the USA if they went through what I did. What do you think?

Teta Tours Brochure
Teta Tours Brochure

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