On January 10th, 2015, Amanda married Lafoga on a white sandy beach in Rarotonga with a shimmery turquoise lagoon as a backdrop. All the colours were so intense that afternoon, from the brilliant blue sky and lush green tropical vegetation to the startling emerald of the bridesmaids' dresses. The Samoan men of the wedding party stood tall, strong and proud in white shirts, grey lavalava and beads around their necks.
Amanda, looking beautiful in her traditional white dress, walked with her proud father along an 'aisle' of hot sand, the curved path of which was defined by whole coconuts, still in their husks. Waiting for her, under a white-netting gazebo, was Lafoga, the man she loves and, close at hand, their gorgeous little girl, Amara, big brown eyes taking in all the excitement and happiness.
The ceremony was short and simple with the exchange of lovely vows and, in the evening, we celebrated this bi-cultural union with a delicious meal at Tamarind House, a restored heritage colonial building with a huge expanse of lawn sweeping down to the sea.
Entertainment followed and we were treated to a variety of electrifying Samoan and Rarotongan dancing performances - fast and magnificent to the powerful beat of drums that reverberated throughout the silky warm night sky.
The women, attired in dazzling island costumes, swayed their hips with such speed and energy that they were at times but a blur of colour and exuberance.
Cossack was beckoned forth to dance by an alluring specimen of the female species wearing only a grass skirt, feathery head-decorations and a coconut-shell bra. I did try taking photos of him so he could brag later but he had so well and truly warmed up to the moves by the time I got organised that all I managed to click for posterity was yet another series of blurs, recognizable as my spouse only by the occasional glimpse of his shirt.
The bare-chested island men were impressive too - their dances filled the night-sky with energy, rhythm and fire-throwing. Somehow, the whole universe seemed lit up but of course, we were in fact just partying on one tiny dot of an island somewhere in the middle of a very big expanse of Pacific Ocean.
Into that same night sky we, the guests, were invited to light candles beneath paper-lanterns which we then liberated along with our good wishes and prayers to sail up and over the sea into the horizon.
Two days later we discovered a very different and silent world, this time beneath that turquoise lagoon that encircles Rarotonga. After my clumsy attempts at pulling flippers onto my feet and snorkel-gear over my face, it was amazingly easy to swim over to where a multitude of colourful fish flitted and darted amongst the coral.
It was as if our bodies were effortlessly suspended by the salty water and all we had to do was kick occasionally or gently use our arms to manoeuvre easily from the tiny black and white little striped fish here to the iridescent pink and green lunar wrasse over there to my favourite fish now right in front of me, slightly comical to behold with bright yellow lips and eyes and fluoro-blue headbands.
I wanted to grin at those crazy Picasso Trigger-Fish (later research got me their name) but the snorkel-tube thing in my mouth didn't allow for that. As it was, I somehow got a few gulps of salty water anyway and my mask leaked ever so slightly which meant my eyes stung now and then and I'd have to stand up and empty it out.
But any slight discomfort was so worth it to experience such magic and surely a coconut landing on my head would be way worse?
I remember our last morning on Rarotonga and a friend and I just had to snorkel one more time before getting on the plane back to reality in New Zealand.
In our underwater world, Faye would alert me to an especially pretty fish with the silent pointing of her hands and I would do the same if I thought something special may have escaped her notice.
Of such stuff memories are created.
On the flight home I was annoyed for a few minutes when my in-flight entertainment refused to operate. There was Cossack enjoying some shoot-em-up movie right next to me and my screen offered me nothing at all.
I noticed some other passengers had difficulties as well, so it came as no surprise when, well into our flight, an apology was announced for having to shut down the entertainment system.
You know, it was actually good for me to have nothing to distract me from my own happy thoughts for four hours.
Mr and Mrs Faraimo, thank you so much for inviting us to your wedding. God bless your future.
Jenny and Noel, you have a whanau you can be proud of and we are thrilled to have been able to celebrate with you all.
Aotearoa - my home.