Thursday, November 29, 2012

To go on an adventure...

I like to tell people that I love adventure because I do. I like to travel, to visit new places, to meet new people and I haven't lived anywhere for more than 9 months since I was 18. But what exactly is adventure?

In college one of my closest friends (Hey Molly B!) and I would sometimes take off after class in my 1999 Dodge Minivan - nicknamed the Silver Bullet - and drive to Whole Foods. We'd pick a new, fun and exciting treat at the store, stop at McDonalds on the way home and consider it an adventure. And it was. Maybe not everyone would find adventure in that, but Mols and I did and it was wonderful. Every time. The point was to try something new or meet someone we'd never met before.

So, in my old age (30 is just around the corner) I'm realizing that I don't think adventure needs to happen when someone goes someplace new. Adventure happens wherever you allow it to find you. Adventure isn't necessarily going to the Eiffel Tower, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or sailing the seas of the South Pacific Ocean. A lot of the time, it's an internal journey. Henry David Thoreau wrote "Explore your own higher latitudes. Be a Columbus to whole new continents within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought."

Sometimes adventures come by accident too. They can be positive or not-so-positive. They can be huge accomplishments or found in brief moments. Regardless of the type, they teach you something. Some adventures are chosen and some adventures seem to grab hold of you, shake you up and spit you out a completely different person. I think Peace Corps (as a whole) is doing this to me.

This week wasn't easy. I wasn't sure I was capable of handling such emotional highs and lows in such a short amount of time. I'm finding that from moment to moment I can go from being on top of the world to thinking that the sky is falling. It's a weird feeling and it's has me thinking hard about choosing my attitude and what this experience is changing within me. I'm learning to treasure my worst experiences "as gripping new chapters in the epic novel that is my [your] life" (Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts). I'm maintaining a positive attitude and trying to be okay not being super busy all the time - this is so hard for me. I am looking for adventure in the little things (How will I get rid of my trash without burning it? And I'm enjoying the ride.

What adventures have you taken recently?


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Images from this week.

School is winding down here. We are about to go on summer break. For all of you that live in the Northern Hemisphere, that's weird right? It feels funny to me. I'm use to getting excited for the holidays around now and getting ready for a 2-week hiatus. Not a 2-month one. Oh well. I'll enjoy it. More time to spread my yuletide cheer far and wide. Any-hoo, here are some images from the last week.


I made Dark Chocolate and Pumpkin bars. I bought the jar of pumpkin when I lived down in Tongatapu. It might have cost 2 to 3 times what I would have paid for it in America. But I needed some autumnal goodness around Thanksgiving so I gave in.


This is what was waiting for me when I entered my classroom.


Here is the chalkboard where my students introduced themselves to me.


A depiction of Ms. Man-DEE! I think they got my nose right.


This little girl will be in Class 3 (3rd grade) with me next year.


He will too.

Also, a special congratulations goes out to my friends Bud and Aly who recently got engaged. So excited for you. I can't wait to hear the story.

And Erica & Jesse, too! :)

Monday, November 26, 2012


True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence on the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be without wishing for what he has not.

- Seneca


Sunday, November 25, 2012

My Christmas Tree.

Screen shot 2012-11-25 at 6.40.41 PM.png

Today I'm thankful for this picture I found on my computer. This was my Christmas tree last year back home in Wisconsin. Makes it seem not so far away. Hurray for Christmas!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

It's That Time of Year...

It's that time of year again. Have you heard?

It's officially the Christmas Season.

[Just in case you didn't already know. No worries, that's what I'm here for.]

In lieu of sending Christmas cards out, I send a Mix-Tape CD to friends and family. I create an annual album of my favorite tunes, design the cover art, buy 100% recycled CD holders and send them right around Thanksgiving so they can be listened to throughout the Christmas season. Because really...why get a Christmas CD on Christmas? Then you have to wait 340 days until you can listen to it ... or 200, if you're me. So this year I won't be able to send them. Insert sad face. Not because I don't want to or am fakapikopiko (lazy), but because I'm poor and it costs $2.40 to send a postcard. Also, it probably wouldn't get to America until February and that just wouldn't work. Raise your hand if you enjoy Christmas music on Valentine's Day? (Oh? I'm the only one? Well, rats.)

But you know what? I still made an album this year!

So here it Christmas gift to you...
Mandy's Third Annual Christmas Album...

also known as...

Make the Season Bright

Here is some cover-art:


And now for some tunes:

1. Holidays are coming by coca-cola**
2. Christmas Time is Here by Vince Guaraldi Trio

3. it's beginning to look a lot like christmas by perry como
4. The Christmas Song by Mel Torme
5. away in a manger by willie nelson
6. wassail song by the canadian brass

7. The First Noel by Coop & Lee*
8. revenge of the sugar plum fairy by Transiberian Orchestra
9. run rudolph by chuck berry
10. the christmas waltz by frank sinatra

11. rockin' around the christmas tree by brenda lee
12. sleigh ride by kenny g
13. god rest ye merry gentlemen/we three kings by the barenaked ladies & Sarah mcclachlan

14. i'll be home for christmas by michael buble
15. let it snow by bing crosby, danny kaye, rosemary clooney and vera allen***

I've spent the last 8-9 months widdling down my favorites to these 15. Now let's take a listen.

Download it here.

Pretty magical right?

I suggest listening to it while: wrapping presents with double-sided Scotch tape and pretty gold ribbon, drinking hot apple cider made with mulling spices from William Sonoma, decorating the Christmas tree with those big 'ole fashioned bulbs and popcorn garland that you made yourself, hanging stockings above your red brick fireplace, baking Christmas sugar cookies in the shape of Santa Claus and his lovely reindeer, watching Christmas lights from the comfort of your own car, dancing in the middle of the mall on a Saturday with your iPod in (bonus points if you sing!), cuddling up with your crush cutie and a good fleece blanket while watching giant snowflakes fall silently outside, sipping a peppermint mocha at your favorite local coffee shop or sitting next to the South Pacific Ocean.

Or really wherever else you spread your Yuletide Cheer! Enjoy!

- - - - - - - - - - - 
*A special shot-out goes to a fellow PCV, Mark, who actually recorded one of the tracks with a friend back in college. Mark is a talented musician and I asked permission if I could use the track this year. I hope you like it as much as I do.

**Perhaps one of the greatest TV commercials of all time. Do you remember? The Coca-Cola trucks are driving bumper to bumper into a sleepy little town and they begin to light up in time with the music as the snow falls? Pure awesomeness. Way to go, Coca-Cola. I also thought it was fitting because here in Tonga they have something called Coca-Cola Light (Tonga's version of Diet Coke) and it's pure deliciousness.

***This is from the best movie of all time, White Christmas. White Christmas was the first movie filmed in Columbia-Tri-Star Technicolor. Danny Kaye reminds me of a 1950's version of Conan O'Brien. It's worth checking out if you have time. I promise.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Exploration #1

If you have followed my blog since the beginning (all 2 of you...haha), then you know that I wanted to find a super neat-o way to document my experience in the Peace Corps. My friend Emily who lives in NYC (hey em!) introduced me to a book called,
How to be an Explorer of the World: A Portable Life Museum by Keri Smith.
The book reminds us that everyone is an artist and that,

"at any given moment, no matter where you are, there are hundreds of things around you that are interesting and worth documenting".

Smith lays out a bunch of different ways to pay attention to your world - little things that you wouldn't have even thought of. So, really it's the perfect way to tell this story - my story in the Peace Corps in Tonga.
This is seriously a book I recommend checking out. I won't be using all of her ideas (or posting any more pictures of the inside of the book because that's how much I think you need to own it). Also, most of the explorations you will see on this blog are ideas that I came up with. But I figure we could start here and share ideas and that's why I'm posting this. I'll do an exploration here in the South Pacific at least once a month for the entire duration of my Peace Corps service and maybe you could try it wherever you are.

Stopped at an intersection waiting for a red light to turn green?

Standing on top of a mountain in Colorado?

Sitting in a library in England?

Living on a sailboat in Maine?

Organic farming in Tennessee?

Snow-shoeing in Canada?

Brunching in New York City?



Even if you don't write it down, it's a fun thing to do. A different way of looking at your world.

So let's begin.
Shall we?

(And I'd super duper love it if you left one thing you noticed in your exploration in the comments section of this post!)


I thought about this exploration when I was sitting and watching my students practice for Culture Day (which is the last week of school before summer break - just a few short weeks away!). They were performing the traditional Tongan War Dance or kailau (kai-lahw) as it's called here. So here are 10 things I hadn't noticed when I first sat down:

1. The way the sun casts shadows on the ground and the way the wind made the shadows seem to dance.

2. The smell of the trees and ocean mixed with the humidity. The air is thick.

3. The feel of the wooden spear I am holding in my hand while its owner is hanging from the mei tree behind me.

4. How every single little girl at school has perfect braids - complete with red ribbon - in for school. I forgot that this was a requirement.

5. The dirt on my toe nails. Don't worry. I have since scrubbed them. I live in flip flops now. What do you expect?

6. That I am the only one with blond hair and blue eyes in this entire crowd.

7. The rumble of a truck as it passes by with 8 people in the back. It's white paint chipped and there is no back window.

8. The way the sticks hitting the corrugated metal sound like an awesome (and quite loud) drum.

9. The little boy who is not doing the Tongan War Dance at all, but instead something Britney Spear's might have done in 1999.

10. Atu's face (the principal) light up as the Class 1 - the littlest ones - complete their dance without hitting each other with the wooden spears.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Daily Routine


These days, part of my daily routine consists of entertaining my students as they sit in my doorway before class begins. This morning they cleaned the school yard and sang "Jingle Bells" at the top of their lungs.

"Ms. Man-DEE!"

I feel so lucky.

The Wall of Inspiration, Chiara & the Project

So one of my closest friends in the Peace Corps is a girl named Chiara (pronounced: Key-are-ah). Here she is.

She's pretty fabulous. She was born in Italy, grew up in Indonesia, went to college in Maryland and now we've crossed paths here in Tonga. We're both teachers. Both camp counselors. Random side note? She worked for 4 years at a summer camp that is the sister camp to the one where I spent the last 6 summers. Man, I love camp so much. Small world, right?

Welp. Chiara and I had the unfortunate luck of not being placed near each other during our Peace Corps service. She lives on an island that is two plane rides (or ferry rides) away. This hasn't stopped our friendship though.

Nope. Nope.

Every day we send each other inspirational quotes. Because sometimes 2 years feels like a very long time. Plus, why not? We take turns sending our favorite words back and forth. I'm bringing her up now, because the words she sent me today were awesome and I wanted to share them with you. We are all on our own adventure to figure out what we want and what our goals are in life. And the quote she chose speaks to that quite nicely. In fact, it was exactly what I needed to read today. I copied the following words down immediately and they are now hanging on my wall of inspiration. Here they are:

Remember the journey changes you. The journey finds ways to turn you into what you need to be. It's the struggle that makes us strong & readies us for flight. It's how you grow through and out of it, the meaning you make of it - that you can not only share with yourself, your creative work and life, but use to inspire others as well.

- Anonymous

And because it's fun, here's my wall of inspiration (which is really just a place I hang things that make me really happy).


Sunday, November 18, 2012

My First Sunday in 'Ofa

Sundays in Tonga are full of church, eating and resting.

Nothing else. Seriously, don't even try exercising. Once in Fatumu, my host mom followed me because she knew that I was secretly trying to get a run in.

If you wish to watch TV or listen to music, it must be of the Christian variety (and guess what? Christmas music counts! Even Mariah Carey. In fact, Tongans love "All I Want for Christmas"...even with some questionable lyrics!).

So how did I spent my first Sunday in the village of 'Ofa?

I woke up, ironed my tupenu (long wrap skirt), put on a dressy shirt, tied my kiekie around my waist and walked to church.

I've discovered that it is quite fun to walk through 'Ofa. And on Sunday it seemed that I couldn't walk more than 10-15 feet without somebody yelling "Hello Man-DEE!" - They really like to accentuate the last syllable in my name. Well, I waved back and yelled "Yo!" (Hey!) or "Sai pe?" (Are you good?)

I entered church, sat down in a pew and observed for an hour and a half, attempting to learn some more Tongan. Instead, I thought about the speech that I'm going to give at my sister's wedding and about half way through the service a very round lady sitting in front of me turned and handed me her fan. Hallelujah! I don't know if it was the sweat dripping from my eyebrows or the puddle I left on top of my hymnal, but she helped me out big time. After church, I met the feifekau (minister) and he invited me over for a Sunday feast.

By far the best lu (remember, meat, coconut creme wrapped in lu and taro leaves?) I have ever eaten was made by this guy. We also ate vai lesi (papaya, onions, coconut creme, cooked together) and root crops - Can't forget those root crops, people. I sat with a table full of wonderful women who talked about the "olden days in Tonga" and how much things have changed since they were growing up. Two women, Milo and Winnie, spoke about how the youth today are very different because of technology (especially the cell phone). They are ruder to their parents, disrepectful all around and are lazy. I found it interesting that even though I was sitting at a dinner table in a developing country having this conversation, that this talk really could have taken place pretty much anywhere - America, Tonga, you name it. We all may be different and lead very different lives, but it's interesting how many of our problems are the same.

After a lovely lunch, I was excused to go back to my 'api (house) and rest. I can't sleep when it's 95 degrees out and 100% humidity so I did some yoga (inside so nobody would see), learned some Tongan and watched Friends. All in all, a wonderful first Sunday here.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

The One With the Visitor

Today started off quite normally.

I got up, opened my mosquito net, put on my slippers and strolled into the kitchen to use my filtered water to make some coffee (I have one bag of real coffee from America that I am trying to make last as long as possible... but from the looks of it, will be gone by Friday. Sad times.). I'm waiting for the water to boil, opening the windows and doors to greet the day and go back to the sink to finish the dishes from my attempt at a partially edible rice, green pepper, onion dish from last night.

And that's when I heard it.

A soft little click, click, click on the ground.

I turned around slowly. And there he was.

All gleaming white with a red beak.

Randolph the Rooster.

He and I made eye contact. Stared each other up and down. I'm pretty sure music from an Old West film started playing ... you know the music right before two cowboys pull their guns?

No guns here though, but Randolph did fluff his feathers and spread his wings slightly. You know, to make himself big and buff, but I wasn't fooled. No-sir-ee. I lunged at him and you know what? He didn't even move. That little stinker. He let me know that this was his roost (no pun intended ... oh wait. Yeah. It was.) and he was claiming it. So I did the only thing that I could think of...

I grabbed the frying pan off the wall and ran at Randolph. Full-speed. In my pjs. He wasn't expecting it and made a bunch of garbly noises and ran out the back door, squawking and letting all of his rooster friends know that the Palangi girl living in the fale (house) was crazy.

But you know what else?

He came back, and this time I stood in the doorway as he sauntered across the playground field. He strutted right up to the front door. We both continued to glare at each other. Silly rooster. I made my wings (arms) big and he cockadoodledoo-ed at me. Twice. And then turned around and went back to wherever he lives. Which may or may not be a box behind the school with his other bird friends.

Next time I'm going to make sure I have the fixins' for Chicken Noodle Soup ready. I'm not playing around, here.

Also, side note: check out these bananas. They're huge!


Friday, November 16, 2012

Not Goodbye, Just See You Later

**If you are a vegetarian or get squeamish about eating weird foods, you should just skip this post. You've been warned.**

Originally written October 29, 2012: When I returned from PST training today, Una Lahi caught me at the front door and asked if I would like to invite Mark, Alissa and Tulu (my language teacher) over for dinner. The plan, she said, was to have a papaku (bbq) in honor of our last few days in Fatumu.


Here I am grinding the coconut meat out of the coconut shell. Check out Franny sleeping in the background. Haha.


This is Sela who is collecting the outer parts of the coconut to later strain the coconut meat to make coconut creme!


The sun through my clean laundry.


Pig roastin'.

IMG_9091.jpg IMG_9095.jpg

More pig roastin' with Mark & Alissa.


Here I am roastin' the pig.


This is Siulaki, my host grandfather (kuitangata in Tongan).


I like pictures of roastin' pigs, apparently.


Una Lahi and Tiani.


Una Lahi's sister.


That's the head of the pig. And those are my fingers digging inside of the skull.


Here I am eatin' some pig brain. And it wasn't bad! It's Una Si'i's favorite part. It's a little spongy, tastes pretty smokey and if you aren't into weird textures I'd say give it a go.

The night was awesome. Full of food and great conversation, it was a great way to say "See You Later". I will miss these guys so much when I finish homestay.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Your World.

'Api Fo'o

'Api Fo'o translates to "New House". I'm officially moved onto the island of Vava'u Lahi. Wanna see where I'm staying for the next two years? I'm pretty pumped about it.


Here's my bedroom. That's it. If you turn left you run into a wall. The table behind the door is for my clothes.


Here's the outside. When this picture was taken I was standing in the middle of the school's play yard. That propane tank is the one that I cook with.


Here's my laundry and a bread fruit tree. Bread fruit is really yummy. Bread fruit chips are the saitaha (the best).


Here's looking through the front door. That's my couch (the mat on the floor) and my table. Oh yes, and more laundry.

Do you like it? I sure am lucky. There is running water, electricity and a cat.   

The Day I Took a 22 Hour Boat Ride

If you know me in real life, you know that I suffer from motion sickness.

When I was little I was called the "pukey girl" because every morning I would throw up my breakfast on the school bus.

That's a nice mental image, right?

Too much information? Nah. It's important to know because yesterday I almost re-gained that title. I said almost, people.

Now that I'm older, I know how to prevent utter embarrassment when it comes to motion sickness. I take medication, eat candied ginger and even have a pair of acupressure point bracelets to help with my sickness. In order to move to my new home, Peace Corps made me ride a boat. A big ferry boat that would take 22 hours and 3 stops to get to its final destination. We didn't sit in chairs, but on mats, outside so that we could watch the stars and feel the South Pacific Ocean breeze. I was convinced that this would better my odds on not lua-ing (vomiting). Here's the story in pictures. I slept for 19 of the 22 hours thanks to Dramamine. I think my shipmates were thankful too. No pukin' for this girl. Aren't you proud, Mom? Remember car rides when I was little? Gross.


(the pictures - 1// the ticket 2// the boat 3// the boys are excited 4// where we stayed 5// acupressure motion sickness band 6// candied ginger 7// sean making sure the radio works 8// eating on the boat 9// sunset 10// me and the sunset 11// sean taking a picture with me mid-boat ride 12// coming into vava'u 13// arriving in vava'u)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Scared & Excited

I'm scared and excited.

I am about to push myself to do things I've never done, to take risks and to continue to prove to myself that I really can do this. Here's a list of things I'm scared and excited for (I like lists):

1. Learning Tongan. I don't just want to learn Tongan, I want to be fluent. I want to be able to communicate with everyone in my village and I'm slowly getting there.

2. Being integrated into community. I hope to know many people in my community and I want them to get to know me.

3. Side projects. I'm so excited to learn about how teachers learn in Tonga and where they learned (or didn't learn) how to be teachers. I am hoping to help the Ministry of Education conduct research on teacher development and what it looks like with a brand new national curriculum.

4. Camp GLOW. I will be helping to lead Camp GLOW on Vava'u the next two years. To learn more about it, check this out. If you're interested in helping out, I should have more information in the new year.

5. Art. I want to push myself to continue to create art even when I'm far away from normal art supplies (I can't afford a $10 box of crayons).

What are you scared and excited for?


Tomorrow I will board a ferry and spend 22-hours traveling to Vava'u and to my new home.

Thoughts from the Prime Minister

Yesterday I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It was an awesome day. I wore a large taovala (grass mat) around my waist, took an oath, danced in front of the Prime Minister and the U.S. Ambassador and ate a Thanksgiving feast. My host family came. The weather was perfect. However, one of my favorite moments of the day occurred when the Prime Minister addressed us. He spoke about Peace Corps and a recent conversation he had with his grandson. It went something like this:

Grandson: "Grandpa, What is the Peace Corps?"
PM: "They are volunteers from America."
Grandson: "Are they armed with guns?"
PM: "No, but they are armed with wisdom and knowledge to help the Tongan people."

I liked that. So much of America's presence in the world deals with using force, violence, and guns, but not the Peace Corps. Not me. I hope that this next two years I am able to use my wisdom and knowledge to empower the people of Tonga. Here's to the next 2 years!