Cook Island Student Exchange - Anianiku Chong Photography

Home away from home. 

     Four months ago I left behind the only home I ever knew flying off into the last hawaiian sunset I would see for the next three weeks. We were a group of about eighteen, some recent graduates or current students of Kanu O ka Aina , a few group leaders and one photographer.

     We arrived in Auckland, NZ after a nine hour flight, the air was nippy and the sun was just peaking over the horizon. A few hours later we were off to the Cook Islands for another four hour flight to Rarotonga. When we finally landed we were all exhausted but that didn't keep us from loading off our luggage and jumping in the ocean just before sunset. None of it felt real, I don't think it ever does your first time traveling to a different country. Oohhh and the New Zealand accents you only hear on TV and Youtube videos are everywhere here.  People here think we have an accent as well with our pidgin language which we hardly consider an accent. The next morning we took our last forty five minute flight to Mangaia, our final destination. Approaching the runway on Mangaia it hardly looked like a runway but more like a long white sand beach paved into a strip. I loved it. Every road on this island was grounded coral rocks patted down by the weight of mopeds and passing trucks commuting between the three towns on this island. It takes about forty five minutes to circle the entire island cruising at 35 - 45 mph. From the airport we hoped in the back of these pickup trucks loaded with our luggage to the school where we would stay for the next two and a half weeks. Once we got to the school the entire school had gathered to greet and welcome us with songs, dance and games. It was the beginning of an unforgettable experience.

     The next couple of weeks was spent just really embracing these people, their culture and their language. In the last four days we were there families from the island hosted each of us in their homes. Suddenly, their lives became mine waking up when they woke up, eating when they ate and going with them wherever work needed to be done in their island life. As the end of this trip came closer and closer I could feel my heart getting heavier and heavier knowing that all this would soon end. I wasn't sure if I was ready to let it all go leaving this island, the lifestyle and especially the people behind. When the day finally came the moment I would have to say good bye to my family I held nothing back. Holding back my emotions is something I do very well but that day it was like all my walls came down and every emotion I felt came out. From as far back as I can remember in my life I cried more in that one day than I have ever cried in my entire life. Looking back I recall several occasions when I wrote in a journal about the life down there and how it was so similar yet different from Hawaii. The Aloha and hospitality these people had for me was so humbling and amazing. To meet people from across the ocean somewhere far from my home and embrace me as one of their own will be something I will never forget. 

     Aloha Mangaia

  • Sunrise from Auckland, New Zealand airport

    Sunrise from Auckland, New Zealand airport

  • The view above Auckland.

    The view above Auckland.

  • Landed in Rarotonga leaving the Airport in the back of a pickup truck.

    Landed in Rarotonga leaving the Airport in the back of a pickup truck.

  • Sunset drives to the beach after 13 hours of flying.

    Sunset drives to the beach after 13 hours of flying.

  • Sunset from Rarontonga, Cook Islands. Amazing!!!

    Sunset from Rarontonga, Cook Islands. Amazing!!!

  • Welcome to Mangaia! :)

    Welcome to Mangaia! :)

  • The welcome party celebrating our arrival.

    The welcome party celebrating our arrival.

  • Happy dance.

    Happy dance.

  • No such thing as too much water time.

    No such thing as too much water time.

  • Preparing for the umu (imu - underground oven).

    Preparing for the umu (imu - underground oven).

  • Just a handful of the students helping with the umu we would soon be feasting from.

    Just a handful of the students helping with the umu we would soon be feasting from.

  • It's harder than it looks. Haha

    It's harder than it looks. Haha

  • No shortage of coconut trees here.

    No shortage of coconut trees here.

  • When you live on a small island like this people are constantly improvising, using a blanket to cover the umu.

    When you live on a small island like this people are constantly improvising, using a blanket to cover the umu.

  • Coconuts :)

    Coconuts :)

  • Soon to be plates for our kaikai (feast).

    Soon to be plates for our kaikai (feast).

  • The freshest coconut milk around town.

    The freshest coconut milk around town.

  • Games, games, games :)

    Games, games, games :)

  • A game similar to Pordagee horseshoe.

    A game similar to Pordagee horseshoe.

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