Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tongan Culture 101: Showing Love

When I was little I knew my mom loved me. I knew it because she'd tell me it every day (and still does!), but I also knew it because of what she would do for me, my sister and my brother. 

She hugged and kissed us, did our laundry, she sometimes (okay, most times...) made our beds, she wiped our fingerprints off the windows, and cleaned up the tornado messes we'd leave behind wherever we went. And over time she helped us to become more responsible by giving us more to do.

How did I show my mom love in return? 

I let her do all those things, I'd hug her back, tried not to grumble when I was told to do something, and tried not to be a bad kid. I think, if you asked her, she'd say that she liked to feel needed (and I know that sometimes we took advantage of that).

The same can be said for my dad, too.

And recently I've spent a lot of time thinking about love and how it manifests itself here. 
How do you show love? 
How do you receive love? 
How do you feel loved?

It looks so different here and, in many ways, very similar.

Yesterday when church finished one of my neighbors invited me over for Sunday lu (meat/coconut/onions baked in taro leaves and put into the ground to cook). She has 3 children (with a fourth on the way). When I sat down in their house, she sat down next to me and the kids got right to work. The kids! The two oldest boys went out to the 'umu (underground oven) and brought in lunch and served it to us. The 3-year-old girl grabbed a piece of fabric to use as the table on the ground and grabbed plates for us to eat on. And mom? Mom sat and patiently waited. The kids did all the work!

I was talking recently with some friends here who relocated from America in the late 1970s. One of them mentioned that many years ago they adopted a local teenage girl into their family. During her first year living with them the girl was pretty miserable and seemed to be very angry all the time. My friends didn't understand her disposition until one night when one of their Tongan friends was visiting after dinner. The father of the family was doing dishes and the adopted daughter was trying to push him out of the way. When that didn't seem to work, she crossed her arms and stood glaring at him. The father looked to his Tongan friend and asked "Do your daughters treat you this way?" The Tongan man responded, "No. I let them respect me." And it clicked. The way the Tongan girl had been taught to love her family was through helping - she wanted to feel needed. And in feeling needed, she felt love from her new family. As soon as my friend let her have control of the dish washing, laundry, and sweeping, the situation greatly improved.

What I've noticed throughout my time here is that in order to feel loved you need to feel needed. There is a smaller emphasis on words of appreciation and more on acts of service. 

For some of us we feel love when people use their words. For others it's through gift giving, intimacy, or quality time. But what I've noticed here in Tonga is that love is almost always given and received through acts of service and it starts at a very young age.

I think there is something really powerful about paying attention to the people in our lives and the ways in which giving and receiving love change - from culture to culture and from person to person.

"Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own home. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor... Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting."
- Mother Teresa

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Snow in the South Pacific!

As the sun was setting over the South Pacific this evening I took a walk around the school grounds to see a transformation nearly completed - a school, that just two days ago had crumbling cement walls, broken windows and wires that hung all over the place. And now? Now the school looks brand new! After studying each new window, paint color, and door knob carefully, I returned to my house and found snow in a big pile next to my door! No, it did not snow. The soldiers just dumped out their cooler before leaving, but it SURE DID LOOK LIKE IT.

I called some of the neighbor boys who happened to be passing by over and told them about snow in America. And we spent the next 10 minutes making snow balls...
 ...surfing in it... 
 ...singing songs from Frozen (yep, the Disney gem has made it's way here) and challenging each other to stand in it barefoot. You'd think the girl who grew up in it would be able to out challenge three little boys... nope. Boy do they have some tough feet.
What a fun way to end a busy week. And I may have sung them this song before they ran home for dinner (and they may have called me faka'saseli - crazy).

Hehe... I like to plug my favorite movie any way I can.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Camp GLOW/GROW: An Update

This morning Harrison, Joey and I pulled together as many of our campers and counselors for Camp GROW (Guys Reshaping Our World) and GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) and continued to introduce the concept of Club GLOW and GROW.
Sharing what we love about camp!

As dynamic and engaging as camp was in 2013, we didn't want the learning to stop there. Club GLOW and GROW gives an opportunity for the campers to extend what they've learned into the rest of their schooling experience. By keeping each other accountable in their goal setting, learning more about empowerment and offering the opportunity to create a service project that gets the word out about GLOW and GROW, Club GLOW/GROW promises to be a positive addition locally.
Joey leading a brainstorming session.
Sharing why we love camp!
Today we specifically talked about recruitment for this year's camp (it's in less than two months!). Over the next few weeks we will visit local high schools and present Camp GLOW/GROW to the Form 3 (13-15-year-olds) in hopes that they will consider applying. 
Making a list of things we loved about camp and want to share with others!
We also are planning a service project for September that I will share with you soon! (We're still nailing down the specifics! Hint: It involves running!)

A Visit from the American Air Force

I already had a huge amount of respect for the service men and women of the United States of America, but it has multiplied by a lot the last few days.

I think a lot of the time I automatically connect our service men and women with guns and protecting our country. And while that is an extremely important and selfless act, the last few days I've been able to see a completely different side. 

Over the last year and a half a few Air Force soldiers visited my school a handful of times. They took tours and began looking at ways to improve the already existing structures so that they would be a safer and make it a happier place to learn.

For the last 48 hours a group of Air Force men and women have come to our school to help make it a better place. It's definitely in need of some updates and these men and women came prepared.
Pouring new cement steps.
Cutting new door frames.
They've replaced many windows and doors, painted the exterior and fixed some electrical problems that made teaching on rainy/cloudy days really tough (it's hard to teach in a dark classroom). Their generosity to the people of this community has been really amazing to see and it's been fun to share with other Americans my little corner of Tonga.
Salesi (the Class 3/4 teacher) helping out!
When I returned home from the market this morning (Saturday) a huge portion of the village met these men and women and thanked them with the nicest feast I've seen yet in Tonga. It was a great time to translate between the soldiers and community members. I was reminded multiple times throughout the day of the sacrifices these men and women make (much longer than my two year Peace Corps term) and the special set of skills it seems most every American service woman and man possess (perseverance, kindness, being brave - except they weren't quite brave enough to eat pig brain... ;-) sai pe! [it's okay!]).
They even let me help out! I love painting!
Showing the Air Force how a Tongan feast is done.
'Ofa liked potato salad too!
On behalf of the GPS (Government Primary School) I work at and the people of my village, thank you American Air Force!
Today I learned that Kalo likes potato salad a lot more than I do and I really like it!
Local puppy wanted in on the fun!
 Enjoy the little things in life
 because one day you'll look back,
 and realize they were the big things.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Life According to... 'Atu [Vol. 6]

The last five installments of the Life According to... series have concentrated on the little ones in my life that bring me joy every day.

I'm going to change it up this time.

Why? Because even though I spend the majority of my day with little ones, there are some pretty powerful and pretty amazing adults that I've come across in Tonga. They've shared stories with me that I will take wherever I go and have really made me think about the way in which I have chosen to live my life up to this point.

Take 'Atu for example.
'Atu stands at just over 5 feet tall. What she lacks in height she makes up for in creativity, kindness and grace. 

She is one of the sweetest, most wonderful people I know in Tonga.
 Her everyday commute is over 40 minutes long (that's way long in Tonga!) as she drives into town with her husband from their village on the other side of the island. She says she comes back year after year to my school because she loves working with the Peace Corps volunteers. But I think I'm the lucky one in this situation.

She's also the principal at our school. Her leadership style is unique - she's very humble about her strengths (almost too humble sometimes!), has a passion for learning from others and enjoys incorporating art into her teaching (we're kindred spirits this way!)

She has three children (ages 15-24), cares tremendously for her family and adores her husband. God comes first in her life and you can tell. When she isn't at school, she's very involved in church (her husband conducts the choir at their church and at the high school where he teaches math and Tongan language).

I love learning from 'Atu and she appreciates learning from me and the things I have learned during my time as an American elementary school teacher.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

School Break.

After our birthday celebration for the King the students and teachers of my island began a two week break. This malolo (rest) reminds me of winter break back in America and marks the half way (!!) point of the school year. It's just another reminder of how quickly time is flying and that in 3 months I will be returning to America. 

So over the last week I've worked a lot on side projects and had the chance to do a little more exploring than normal.

But my favorite part has definitely been spending time with the people in my village.

Here is a picture walk through the last couple days:
Hanging with two little cuties and talking about the new church hall that was built across the road.

eva (wandering) around.
chatting with Silia under the mango tree 
watching the sun set behind the coconut trees
Happy (almost) weekend to you!