Wednesday, October 31, 2012

To Mark and Alissa


Dear Mark and Alissa,

The last 8 weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions, adventures and newness. I am so lucky that I got to navigate it with you. I'm glad we have had the chance to get to know each other so well and I look forward to what the next two years will look like serving together. Even though we will no longer be seeing each other daily, I know we'll remain close. I admire both of you for the positive energy, full hearts and creative spirit you bring to everything you do. I'll miss our daily walks back from Lavengatonga, our "eva pe-ing" on Sunday afternoons, discussing our eating and sleeping habits, our mutual love of Franny 'Ofa, and our bus journeys together on Saturday mornings. Alissa, I'll miss reading each other's minds during TEFL training. Mark, I'll miss our looks of confusion across the Kava circle on Sunday mornings. Not being a street apart is going to be tough. I won't have anyone to yell at the neighborhood dogs with. No longer will I be able to just wait for Mark to make the purchases for all of us at the falekoloa. I'm going to miss you both a ton, but I know that your new community is so lucky to have you. Thank you for making me feel so accepted. Kulupu Fatumu Saitaha!

With love, Mandy

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Alissa's 26th Birthday - BBQ on the Beach

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Alissa turned 26 today. Her (and Mark's) homestay family through a bbq birthday party for her on the beach. We also celebrated our last night in Fatumu. We went on a mini-cave adventure, ate roasted pig, chicken kabobs and chocolate cake, spent time with friends and "family" members, and watched the coolest Harvest moon rise above the Pacific Ocean. What an amazing way to say goodbye (or see you later) to such an amazing place. Happy 26th Birthday Alissa! (Below is a picture of the sweet moon, but pictures really don't do it justice.)


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Last Weekend in Fatumu

Franny was bummed that she couldn't come to church with me today. But she and I are in a fight so I didn't really care. Girlfriend can't keep clean - I've bathed her with my lavender shampoo at least 3 times and I come home and it smells like she has been eating poop. She's not allowed in the house anymore because of her stinkiness. If I don't have her next to me all the time she cries and cries and cries. It sounds like she is being tortured. Is this what having kids is like? Because if so, I'm not sure I'm ready for that business quite yet. Now back to our regularly scheduled program...

Last week I was asked to read in church. I accepted since I knew today would be my last Sunday in Fatumu. Una Lahi was so excited that she told me she would make me a dress for the special event. Mark, Alissa and I each did a reading and then Mark made a beautiful speech about how thankful we are for the kindness we have been shown during our stay in Fatumu. Here is a shot of me before the humidity set in.


Since it was a special occasion, instead of the kiekie, I wore a taovala (a decorative mat made of different types of grasses).


After the service, we had pictures taken. Una Lahi made Sala (the 7-year-old) and I matching dresses. My language teacher Tulu is on the far right of this picture. Lepolo is holding Jeremiah.


Here are both host families.


Here is Tiani, Una Lahi, Sala and I.


This is a picture of the puleako (principal), Alissa, Mark and I. We taught at his school this past week. IMG_8858.JPG

This is a sweet little village girl who really wanted her picture taken with me. Sala came too.


Jeremiah and I. He looks pretty pumped to be seen with me. Can't you tell?


We then walked across the street for more pictures. This is in front of Una Lahi and Tiani's house. Check out Tiani's tie. He told me he wore it especially for me.


After church we ate chop suey (my favorite), ota ika (raw fish - my 2nd favorite) and lots of root crops. Then we washed everything down with some Tongan ice cream! Ifo!

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Week in Photos

Here are a few pictures from this week - a little TEFL Training, some time in the classroom and a bit of playtime with Franny. This was our last official week of Pre-Service Training. Next Wednesday I will fly to Vava'u to visit my site for the very first time and then return to Nuku'alofa at the end of the week to prepare for the Swearing-In Ceremony the following Friday (November 9th). We're almost there!

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

5 Things I Never Thought...

Here are 5 things I never thought I would say:

1. "Which is your favorite root crop?" A good portion of my diet is root crops - manioke, kumala (sweet potatoes), ufi (yams), taro and potatoes. The other day I asked Una Si'i what her favorite root crop was. We disagreed (her favorite is manioke while mine is kumala - especially the deep, dark purple ones!)
2. "There are only 50 ants in the sugar? Pick around them. I still want some." Tonga has a bit of an ant problem. At least they aren't fire ants (hives, anyone?). It's a pretty large uphill battle - one in which I will never ever ever win. And I occasionally like sugar in my coffee. Maybe they're a good source of protein? 
3. "That ice cold shower was the best thing ever!" The mercury on the thermometer is only going to go up up up from here. November and December are the hottest months here in the South Pacific and these cold showers are the only thing close to "air-conditioning" that I have. 
4. "I counted. There are 5 lizards on my ceiling. That's gotta be a record!" These little guys are cute, but boy-oh-boy are they loud. The noise they make doesn't seem natural either - the sound is similar to someone flicking a thin piece of wood or a wall.  
5. "Is it safe to pass that cow?" Yesterday, Mark, Alissa and I were walking home from visiting our friends, Ryan and Abby in Lavengatonga. There was a cow standing in the middle of the road - the road that we had to walk down to return to Fatumu. The cow was brown and white. And big. Just chilling. She kept stopping and staring us down, but all I cared about was whether or not she had horns. I have a friend back home that got into a bull accident a couple years ago, and I kept picturing myself being thrown into the air by this very large animal and ending up in the hospital. Luckily that didn't happen. We just passed each other quietly. If anything, the cow was scared. More scared than I was. And I was pretty darn scared.

What about you? What's something that you didn't imagine yourself saying but slipped out anyway this week?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mail? I love mail!


I really appreciate any of you who have already sent me mail (I just received your letter today, Ginny!). Know that I read every piece - sometimes 3, 4 or 10 times - and that I have a special place for them. I promise to respond to every piece of mail. The mail in the South Pacific is a little slow at times so don't expect anything for at least a couple of months after you sent it - it takes a month to get to me and a month for my letters to get sent. Some of you have asked for my updated address now that I am moving, so here it is:

Amanda Pederson, PCV

Peace Corps Tonga

PO Box 136



Kingdom of Tonga

South Pacific*

*This is extremely important as occasionally our letters have been sent to Togo.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Snoopy Poles in Tonga

When I was growing up, my family would spend a week every summer renting a cottage in Door County, Wisconsin. It's a mixture of New England meets the Midwest. The place my mother was born and where many of my relatives still live. Weather worn cedar shake homes line the roads and sailboats with names like "Betty Lou" and "Dorothy Mae" dot the water. I loved my summers on Lake Michigan. Life was simple there - or it was, for us kids, at least. The most difficult part of the day was deciding whether to go swimming at the beach steps away from our front door or accompany my father on one of his epic fishing expeditions. A fan of adventure, I usually chose the latter. Snoopy fishing pole in hand and SPF 75 slathered onto my shoulders (Thanks, Mom!), I would follow Dad out to the dock. We would climb into his red Lund fishing boat and take off for the morning.

Our fishing trips were very one-sided when it came to work: Dad would bait the hook and I would practice the art of being patient. Ha! This was difficult when I had my little sister and baby brother to compete with. We would usually go out in groups, so that Dad's stress level would stay low. One of us would have to sit on the floor of the boat with the scratchy carpet digging into our mosquito-bitten legs. I always voted my brother, since he was the littlest and most likely to fall out. My preferred seat was in the bow, where I could attempt to put my feet on the edge - always trying to get my hot pink and neon blue watershoes to reach (I finally found success during the summer of 1996). After securing our seats, we would spend time catching perch - sharing Snoopy and fishing only one at a time. As soon as one of us would catch a fish, Dad would let us pet the frightened creature as it attempted to escape Dad's strong, tanned hands. Next he would pass us the fish and take the obligatory "You caught a fish!" picture with his Minolta 35-mm camera. We would, for a moment, pretend like we loved holding the fish - or I would, I actually think my sister may have enjoyed this. Dad would hold the camera to his face, say "1, 2, 3...That's just great!" and press the shutter button. Then he would help us guide it into the bucket - or release it if it was a non-perch - and re-bait the hook for the next future-professional fisherman. A few hours of fishing and a couple of arguments later (My fish really was the biggest...EVERY TIME), we would return to the dock with dinner. Dad would filet each perch and grill them - careful to make sure every last bone and scale was removed from the fish and that they were covered in a yummy crispy crust. I was adamant that my fish be only white meat - no bones or weird coloring. If this was the case, I would just not eat it, pushing it onto my Dad's plate. Let's just say that I may have been a little high maintenance.

Fast forward 16 years. Last night, Una Lahi called me over to her store. Tiani was extremely excited because he had been gifted some fish - a neighbor across the way had spent the entire afternoon fishing - and Tiani was now cooking the fish on a Tongan grill - a piece of corrugated metal bent in a u-shape over a small fire. Una Lahi sat at the picnic table cutting up hopa (which is a cousin of the banana, but is cooked like a potato) and offered me some. I sprinkled some salt on it and held it like a popsicle, biting off the end.

"'Amenita! Ha'u! Kai lahi! Ifo ika!" (Amanda! Come! Eat a lot! Delicious fish!)

Tiani placed 3 whole fish (each about the size of my hand) on a piece of aluminum foil in front of me. I looked down at the makeshift plate - the fish's lifeless eyes staring up at me and its silvery scales charred black. It was at this moment that I thought about the Perch dinners with my family. I watched as Tiani ate his fish, unsure of where I should start. I finally got the nerve to just ask him how to do it. Who eats fish without a fork and a knife? Unless it's a fish stick, of course. He smiled and gave me step-by-step instructions and 10-minutes later - with bits of roasted fish scales stuck under my fingernails - I walked over to the grill, picked up my fourth fish and with a big grin ripped out it's spine, split the entire thing in half, put the meat and scales into my mouth, did the same to the other side and then dropped the head of the fish in the grass so that the dogs would have something to eat too. No fork. Just fingers. Pure deliciousness.

It's amazing how much has changed in the last 16 years - or how much has changed in the last 2 months. Slowly - one fish at a time - this experience is altering me. Change is occurring in small ways (like my eating habits) and in larger, deeper ones, too.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Christmas (Part II of Many)

The sun is high up in the sky as the bus makes it's way along the coastline of the eastern part of Tongatapu. The scenery changes and seems to be set to a rhythm: village, bush, village, bush... The faint outline of an island perched on top a turquoise sea appears between palm trees as the old bus makes its way to Fatumu. The wind is blowing my hair as I am forcing myself to keep my eyes open. The mixture of humidity and spending entirely too long in the sun has gotten the best of me and I am looking for a place - a moment, a shoulder, maybe - to rest my head. Along with trying not to fall asleep I am doing major thigh clenches because I have chosen a poor place to sit. The bench seat that Alissa and I are sharing is slowly sliding off of it's metal frame and we are gradually sinking to the floor of the bus. I'm coaching myself to stay awake because if I were to fall asleep my head would, without any doubt, flop to the left and find its home on the backside (or as my Grandma P. use to say "tushy") of a very tall Tongan man with a rat tail who happens to be wearing purple glitter flip flops. He's helping me stay awake by playing songs on his blue Nokia cell phone. He is moving and grooving to his own beat. After one very close call, I fight the urge to take a nap and we press on towards Fatumu. As we get further down the road more and more passengers exit until only Alissa, Mark and I remain. We are now listening to the driver's choice of music - a mixture of gospel, hardcore rap and hip hop. After a particularly intense rap song (there was at least one not-so-kind word) the music changed and I was introduced to my new favorite song.
I knew after the first note that this was going to be a Christmas song. I am hyper sensitive to these things. It's a gift. Well, it was a version of "Joy to the World" that I had never heard before. After the first verse I was jamming along to the melody. I'm getting so into it that my foot is tapping along to the beat and then a curve ball... instead of moving into the second verse (Joy to the Earth, The Saviour know the rest), the song transitioned into "The Macarena". The Macarena? You mean the same song you use to dance to at elementary school assemblies? The one with the special line dance that has you swivel your hips and clap? Yep. That one. So instead of "Joy to the World", the song was a mash-up of all the greatest Christmas songs ever written and "The Macarena". Mark, Alissa and I were laughing so hard there were tears. We hurried off the bus, into the blazing pupuha (sweaty) heat and walked home slowly with the song still stuck in our heads.

I must get my hands on this song and when I do, you can bet that it'll be part of my 3rd annual Christmas album. And I thought the Mariah Carey thing was awesome.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Now what?

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Friday was a big day for everyone in Group 77 - Tonga. Along with our site placements, we received a lot of information about our new jobs. So what exactly will I be doing for the next 2 years, aside from fully integrating myself into my Tongan community? Here are 4 interesting bits that will give you a clearer idea of what the plan is:

1. teaching english - My primary project in Peace Corps is to teach English to students. 10-15 hours per week I will be in a classroom working with students 7-11 years of age. At the end of their Class 6 year, they take a mandatory English exam that determines which secondary school they will be accepted into.

2. teaching technology - I have heard a rumor that the Lelei GPS is one of the first schools in Tonga to pilate a certain technology project (I'll fill you in when I have more details). I have a love of technology that I am hoping will translate into the classroom and to my students.

3. teacher Development - My professional goals (including what I plan on doing after Peace Corps) include teacher development. The Country Director and Program Manager for Peace Corps Tonga told me that the Ministry of Education is really excited to have me volunteer with the Teacher Development Unit, providing and helping to develop teacher resources for the entire country of Tonga, especially to the Vava'u Island Group.

4. promoting healthy lifestyles - A secondary project that Peace Corps wants us to focus on is creating/encouraging anything that promotes healthy lifestyles. Since root crops and red meat make up the majority of meals here in Tonga, this should be quite an interesting task. If you have any ideas, let me know.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Spaghetti and Meatballs

There are no street lights in Fatumu, except for those that dot the only paved road. This street is not one that I frequent, as my api (home) is located closer to the 'uta (bush), so traversing at night can sometimes be difficult. The unpaved roads mark an additional challenge - they are full of potholes, large rocks and puaka (pig) droppings - and my eyes have to adjust quickly when the only light provided is that of the moon and stars. Last night, I was hyper aware of the need to see because my arms were filled with food to bring to Tiani and Una Lahi.

Mark, Alissa and I made dinner for our host families at Sione and Vaiola's -the home where Mark and Alissa stay. This meant that I would need to walk across the village to bring them food. Una Lahi was putting in a late night at her falekoloa (store) since today is Sunday (and no stores are open on Sundays). As Una and I turned the corner, we saw Tiani and Una Lahi sitting behind the falekoloa at a picnic table. A single light illuminated the area and I watched as Tiani, who wore a San Diego Chargers jersey from the 1980's, sat and smiled at his wife while she told a story. They turned and noticed us immediately and in my novice Tongan I said, "Na'a ku kuki me'akai Amelika kiate kimoua." (I cooked American food for you both.) Their faces lit up and then I realized that while I had remembered to bring the food, I had forgotten to grab forks to eat with. I guess it didn't matter because Tiani and Una Lahi dug in, eating it with just their fingers. They thanked me for the food and asked how I made it. After 15 minutes, the only thing that remained on the make-shift aluminum foil plate was one lone meatball. I watched as Una Lahi tried to keep it away from Tiani, laughing, hissing like a cat (when people in Tonga don't like something this is what they do) and swatting at his hands. He was laughing too, enjoying the game that they were playing. It was somewhere in this moment that I realized how much I was going to miss my adopted family.

Tiani and Una Lahi (and Una too!) have been more than accommodating the last two months - they have accepted me, shown an interest in who I am and have made me feel so comfortable here. Their kindness is a reminder of why I am here - to serve the people of Tonga, to help them, to learn from them. Just like my adopted family has done for me.

Next week I won't be sleeping on a bed whose mattress is made from the bark of the mulberry tree, I won't have Franny nibbling at my toes begging me for food while I shovel root crops into my mouth and I won't be able to sit behind the falekoloa with these people and laugh because I accidentally switched the words for "underwear" and "sour" around again (for the record, they both translate to "mahi" in Tongan). I will miss this place. I will miss these people and I am so grateful that they were a part of this story, this journey.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pupu'a Puhi (Blow holes, not the whale kind) and More!

Today was a day full of excitement. Since the Country Director knew that very little work would get done after finding out our post assignments, we spent the rest of our Friday afternoon exploring the island of Tongatapu - we saw Captain Cook's Landing Site, the famous Blow Holes, and the place where Christianity was first brought to Tonga (the last picture with the boat). I will write more soon. Have a great weekend!






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