Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Part of me wishes that I was a Peace Corps Volunteer back when Captain Cook showed up to Tonga. People here didn't wear clothes then. It's too hot for clothes.

Mandy, we get it. It's hot in Tonga.
You think you know. I thought I knew. I use to complain about the humidity in Wisconsin and then I complained about the humidity in Florida. And then I just moved to Colorado to get away from the moist (least favorite word in the English language) air and stopped complaining.

Three months ago, I sat down with my PCV friend Sean and asked him "So Sean, how hot does it really get? Because I can't imagine it getting any hotter than this." (The weather then would feel like air-conditioning now).

Fast forward time. Zwip zwip zwip.
This morning I was sitting in town hall with my friend Joey and I turned to him and looked him in the eyes and said, "Joey, I will never ever ever ever take air conditioning for granted again. Or just the feeling of being cold. Can you imagine it? Cold!"

And then the arm I was leaning on slipped from underneath me (because I was sweating so much) and I nearly fell off the bench.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Minister, Culture & Teaching


It was way back in college when, during one of my required education courses, we discussed our teaching in terms of what is explicitly taught and what is implicitly taught in the classroom. In other words, when I am teaching students there is a set of objectives or standards I want them to master by the end of the day, but while I set out to teach those, I unintentionally teach them ways of acting, ways of receiving information, ways of responding, and other not-so-concrete ideas that come from my culture, what I have learned and what I deem to be effective.

Last week, when Tonga 77 had our in-service training, 'Ana Maui Taufe'ulungaki, the Minister of Education spoke to us about our task as teachers in Tongan schools. She spoke passionately about education and her connection to the Peace Corps - she is still close to a member of Peace Corps Tonga 1 (as in, the very first group of volunteers to come to Tonga back in the 1960's), but was also extremely honest. So far in Tonga, many people have talked about how I am going to help my students to learn English and that it will open doors and I will make a huge (and positive) difference. And how anything I bring to the school will be a great. Now I'm not saying that the Minister didn't say these things, however she also reminded us that the task isn't that easy. Here are some bits that I took away from her talk:

She stressed the importance of literacy education and that the current system is failing the students. Why is it failing them? Because learning a new language isn't just about learning a new language... it's a process. With this process comes cultural baggage and values ("liberal and western") that are imparted onto the students as well. This is where conflict arrises. Not only do students have to navigate a new language, but they have to come to understand a set of values and ways of thinking that are drastically different than what they know. While some could argue that liberal and western views concentrate on the "rights of individuals", so much of Tongan society is based on the importance of relationships. Wealth in Tonga isn't about the amount of money people have, but the scope and depth of the relationships they form (and not just with family members). These relationships provide mutual support for every member of Tongan culture. The Minister questioned what values Tongan schools are promoting and cautioned that these values should be balanced between Western and Tongan ideals. In order for Tongans to "take charge of their destiny" learning must first be rooted in Tongan culture. Taufe'ulungaki spoke of the Tree of Opportunity and the roots are in students' first culture. From there people grow and go in different directions, like branches. According to the Minister, Tongan culture seems to be disappearing from schools. And that it is our job (as well as the job of other Tongan educators) to make sure that this doesn't happen.

----- So what do I do with this information? ---

I came to Tonga with loads of ideas about what I think best teaching practices are. But also excited to learn from the teachers and experts that I will be working with. I know that not every class responds the same way. Each classroom and child are unique, but how do I know if I am doing this teaching thing right? How can I - Ms. Western-MiddleClass-America make sure that Tongan students are not forgetting about their own culture? What parts of Tongan culture are taught (implicitly or explicitly) in the classroom and how can I support that teaching? How do I know if I'm imparting too many of my Western values on these students? What are my Western/Liberal values? What is the balance?

I've got a lot of work to do.

I know one thing is for sure - I will continue building relationships with my students and community members, encourage them to do the same and continue to learn about what's important to them and what Tongan culture includes. You have to start somewhere.


I am a Yes Girl.

Notice: This is filed under Crunchy Granola Thoughts. You don't have to read it if you don't want to. You've been warned. This week is full of granola - so much that Nature Valley might be jealous. Lame joke alert. For the record Nature Valley makes the best granola bars ever. They don't sell them in Tonga. I may have dreamt about them the other day.

I want to talk about self-love. Because I truly don't think it's possible to survive [and thrive in the] Peace Corps unless you have a healthy dose of it. Seriously. You spend a lot of time alone with yourself and inevitably scrutinize your every move and decision. You sometimes over-think, sometimes don't think enough and question your actions. Am I good enough? Smart enough? Funny enough? Tough enough? It would be an awful long two years if you didn't like who you were hanging out with. I can tell you that I have loads left to learn in the "self love" journey. I've realized this especially over the last week. There are different ways to demonstrate self love. I think a language of love that I'm pretty fluent in is saying "yes!" [to most things, anyway]. So here are a few of the things that I have said yes to that remind me exactly how rad I am.

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Yes to bringing my french press from America so I can drink real coffee sometimes (when it arrives in packages from America).
Yes to eating an entire 1kg jar of yogurt because it tastes good.
Yes to yelling "high five self" when I am alone in my house and have just finished picking up every dead cockroach, molokau corpse and smooshed lizard body on the floor and I didn't yell or get scared.
Yes to walking/running an hour a day and not getting attacked by dogs while doing it.

Yes to setting up meetings with the Governor's Office so I can get the ball rolling on some ideas that I have.
Yes to finally practicing yoga on a regular basis (and loving it!).
Yes to having an all-Tongan conversation with an old man named Sikaleti (Interesting fact - Tongan translation: Cigarette) who taught me about the benefits of lemongrass.
Yes to wearing elastic skirts everyday.
Yes to already having read 20 books while serving in the Peace Corps.

Yes to teaching my Tongan neighbor what an omelette is and having dinner and Tongan language lessons together.
Yes to writing snail mail and it actually arriving in the USA or wherever I've sent it to.
Yes to rockin' dorky glasses when no one in Tonga wears them and when half the time they are sliding off my nose because of the humidity.
Yes to having a file on my desktop entitled "Smile" because sometimes it's just hard to. Double-click.
Yes to using a scrub brush on my feet every night because I live in flip-flops and don't want my bed to be dirty.
Yes to new things. Because they are scary and fun.

Yes to being more honest and open about my feelings.

Yes to sticking up for myself even when it's scary.


How do you show yourself love? What are you saying YES to?

Countdown to School.

It's hard to believe that I haven't had my own classroom in over 8 months.

I'm about to enter my 6th year of teaching. Where has the time gone? It seems like just yesterday I graduated from the University of Wisconsin. And now here I am living on an island. Weird. Back to the story.

The wait is finally over. Next week is Teacher Planning week here in Tonga. What does that mean? It means that every teacher on the island of Vava'u Lahi (my island) plus the outer islands will come into Neiafu (the big city - 5,000 people big) and go through a week of Professional Development in order to prepare for the new school year which will begin on February 4th. 5 days of Professional Development done all in Tongan. You can bet I will have my Tongan Dictionary at hand and ready for all the 'faka-" words they will throw my way. Here are some that I might hear, see or do:

respect - faka'apa'apa

cooperation/meeting - fakataha

constantly watch - fakasio

to cluster or crowd together - fakapupupupu (pronounced fah-kah-poo-poo-poo-poo)

to verify/certify - fakamo'oni'i

to explain or interpret - faka'uhingatonu'i

Also, I am still busy setting up my classroom. It's quite the challenge when you have limited resources. Here's what it looks like so far:


This is what you see when you walk in. That's supposed to be me peaking out from behind the "Y".


These posters were still up on the wall from the last Peace Corps Volunteer who served here. I especially liked the "M". Can you guess why?


The ceiling is made of chicken wire and something that looks like tinfoil.


Posters to practice word chunks and blends.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tongan Cooking 101: Pumpkin Soup

I know it's not October. And since the weather is either wet or dry here, every day I get to choose what season I am living in.

Today it felt like fall so I made
Pumpkin Soup.

I found a pumpkin at the market last week. Actually, I wasn't quite sure what it was so I pointed and attempted to ask "what is that?" (in Tongan of course), to which she responded "Hina!" (Which I know translates to pumpkin).

So I paid her the 4 Pa'anga ($2.50 USD) she asked for and skipped all the way home. (Ok, maybe I didn't skip, but I sure felt like it. There are so many uses for pumpkin!)


I found a recipe in our Peace Corps Cookbook so I decided to give it a go. I also saved and roasted the seeds. Perfect snack! Here's the recipe. It was amazing and something that can be totally reproduced in the comfort of your own kitchen. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Soup

Serves 4


- 2 cups of Pumpkin (cooked)

- 2 T butter

- 2 T onion, chopped

- 1/2 t ginger

- 1 T flour

- 2 cups chicken stock/broth

- 2 cups of milk


1. Saute butter, onion and ginger.


2. Stir in flour.

3. Cook until brown and then add the pumpkin.


4. Cook for 5 minutes. Then gradually add the chicken stock and milk.

5. Simmer 5 minutes more and then add salt (to taste).

6. Enjoy. :) (I put mine over rice ... I bet it would be super yummy over wild rice, too).


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mandy's Book List: Volume 1

"And we danced too wild, and we sang too long, and we hugged too hard, and kissed too sweet, and threw back our heads and howled just as loud as we wanted to howl, because by now we were all old enough to know that what looks like crazy on an ordinary day looks a lot like love if you catch it in the moonlight."

- Pearl Cleage

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I just finished my 20th book in the Peace Corps. I have never read this much. Thank you J.K. Rowling for helping to show me that reading can be fun. It doesn't matter that I figured this out as a 17-year-old while reading Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone for the very first time. Ronald Weasley, you still have my heart. Out of the 20 books I have read, here are my top 5. I think you should check them out if you haven't read them already.

Mandy's Top 5 Books (September 1, 2012 - January 24, 2013):

Wild by Cheryl Strayed: This is the true story of how Cheryl hiked the Pacific Crest Trail all by herself (and with zero experience). It's not only about the interesting people she met, but what she learned from the experience. Aside from Josephine March (in Little Women), I have never felt more connected to a character in a story. I have added seeing the Pacific Crest Trail to my list of "things Mandy needs to do before she dies".

What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage This is a story of Ava Johnson who moves back to her hometown in Michigan after being diagnosed with HIV. She is hoping to spend a quiet summer with her family, when she realizes that all of the problems that she tried to run away from are alive and well in the sleepy Michigan town. On top of this, she is beginning to fall in love.

3. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer This is the true story of an adventure into the wilderness of Alaska. If you have seen the movie, I actually recommend the book more. Krakauer is a literary genius and I love the way he writes.

4. Vagabonding: An uncommon guide to the art of long-term world travel by Rolf Potts "Vagabonding is about taking time off from your normal life- from six weeks to four months to two years - to discover and experience the world on your own terms." This book gives you the necessary information to: finance your travel, determine your destination, adjust to life on the road, work and volunteer overseas, handling traveling adversity, and re-assimilating back to ordinary life." It's just awesome and makes me want to spend every summer or break from here until I retire traveling.

5. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman One of my (many) dreams in life is to live near or on the ocean. I have a huge love of sailboats and lighthouses. This is the story of a man whose job is to tend to a lighthouse out on a rocky island off the coast of Australia. It's a lonely job, as he is not allowed to go back to the mainland and supplies are brought to him every few months by a little boat (weather permitting). He thinks he will never fall in love, but then ends up doing just that. One night a boat washes ashore and inside of it he finds a man (who is dead) and a baby (who is not)... he and his bride are then faced with a huge decision that ultimately effects the rest of their lives.

Honorable Mention:
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness This is not your typical witch/vampire book. It is also not a true story. Though I sort of wish it was. The main character is a decendent of one of the witches from the Salem witch trials. She does not want to be a witch, but cannot deny her power. She works at a university and one day when she recalls a book from the library she gets more than what she bargained for. It's also a love story. I love love love stories.

Being Present.

Notice: This is filed under Crunchy Granola Thoughts. You don't have to read it. I'm a little hippy dippy sometimes. If you don't like it then you're in the wrong corner of the internet.


I am fan of lists and planning for the future. With the arrival of every chapter in my life I continue to look forward - to the next big thing, project, move, goal, etc. I like to plan for what comes next and while this is important, it takes me away from the NOW. Here in the Peace Corps, anytime anybody brings up our COS (Close of Service), we end up rolling our eyes and laughing at each other. Inevitably somebody says, "Two years is a long time." There are moments in the Peace Corps where this planning lets me leave reality momentarily, giving me a brief escape (because sometimes it's needed), but mostly I feel that every time I think about the future here, I am wishing away my time in the Peace Corps. I want to be mindful, intentional and present in everything I do here, but the habits I have created in the past are not helping with this task (hey, that sort of rhymed). I want to be excited about what comes next in life and what I'm preparing for and how my service in Tonga is helping me get there, but I also want to make sure that I am soaking in as much of this experience as I can. So I'm asking for your help.


What do you do to stay in the present?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pieces from Peace Corps

I'm finding it increasingly harder to write about things - I don't know if it's because there is so much that happens to me each and every day, the fear of sounding negative (because sometimes things just aren't totally awesome) or because of the fear of being a bad Peace Corps Volunteer (how do I know if I'm doing all of this right?). But I'm here to speak my truth or life in the Peace Corps... as I know it.

It's also hard for me to write about the culture of Tonga. I'm afraid I'm comparing it to America in hopes of finding out which one is better (and as I said in an earlier post, I truly don't believe that either one is better or worse ... they're just different). A mere snapshot of Tongan culture doesn't give you any idea of what living here is like. Or what it is like to grow up Tongan. I will never know this either, but I'm beginning too. Slowly. I'm in the middle of a season of culture shock [the "yay I live in a different country" honeymoon period is just about over]. But we're told that emotions ebb and flow in the Peace Corps. While everyone's experiences are different, a common theme seems to be that are very high highs and very low lows.

When it rains it pores and on top of a lot of [literal] rain (which should be expected as it's cyclone season), I spent last week attending a training while being sick as a dog. Don't worry. This isn't going to be a TMI (Too Much Information) situation, but let's just say that it felt like every system in my body was fighting a great war against itself. I was a hot mess. And you can't be an effective Peace Corps Volunteer and take care of others if you aren't taking care of yourself. So after 5 different types of medicine, I'm all good. [fingers crossed]

I've learned that the cloudy and rainy parts of my life are what make the bright and sun-shiney ones that much more magical. It's some good advice, even if my PCV friend Harrison would roll his eyes and call me a hippy. So even if this last few weeks have been full of hard times, I want to share with you a list of some magic bits (moments, things, or people that have me smiling):

If you haven't figured it out yet, I love lists. Lists just make everything better.

Top 5 Peace Corps Pieces from the last week:
1. Easi-Yo Yogurt Maker - I had never heard of these marvelous things before joining Peace Corps. They come from NZ and are literally just a container inside of another container. It only takes 12 hours to make your own yogurt and if you freeze it, you get your own fro-yo. Fro Yo in Tonga! What a cool and fun treat during the summer months.
2. Other PCVs - Group FituFitu (77) rocks. We support each other and share ideas and it isn't about competing or comparing but celebrating what we're doing and that we're doing it together. I definitely thought that joining the Peace Corps was going to feel much more like an individual journey, but the more I get to know these 14 friends, the more I'm realizing the importance of sticking together and supporting each other... even if it's only by an occasional email or text message. Building and maintaining relationships are just important in community, but in the PCV community as well.
3. The Doctor at Peace Corps - I can't use his name since I didn't ask permission, but let's just say that Doctor PCV is amazing. I am healthy as a horse now because of him. He is a walking textbook of knowledge and I am sure would win any pub trivia night anywhere. I have never met anyone who is as smart as he is, except for this one farmer in TN that I know and my mom. He makes feeling sick not so bad. He's genuinely a good guy who really cares how you are feeling and is on call 24/7 for Peace Corps.
4. Eva pe-ing - (Walking Around) Last night, after I got back from the conference, I dropped off my bags (still haven't unpacked) and walked around my village. It was a beautiful night in Tonga. There was a cool-ish breeze coming off of the turquoise water and everyone was out and about. Some women were drying the leave from the tree in order to weave, men were drinking kava, and kids were playing in the street (clothing optional). It's a really special feeling when you walk down the road and hear your name being yelled from so many different people. While my Tongan language is still developing, I held my own and could actually answer questions about where I was and what I had been up to for the last week.
5. Reuniting with my host family - When I saw them last week, it had been two months. The majority of the family speaks in English aside from Una Si'i's grandmother and grandfather. So when I was dropped off in Fatumu last weekend and walked into the house, Siluaki (the grandfather) stood up, threw his arms into the air and yelled (in broken English) "Kiss-a me!" It was so much fun to attend church and feast with them last Sunday. They said that I will always be their adopted daughter and that if I ever needed anything to call. I feel the same.

I have so much to be grateful for this week, but sometimes life in the Peace Corps can be a bit overwhelming. Here's to a better attitude, a better week and to consciously looking for the good in all things.

PCV Profile: Joey

I thought you might want to get to know the other Peace Corps Volunteers in my group. This little corner of the interwebs will thus be named "PCV Profiles" and for the next two years, you will have the opportunity to get to know some of the totally rad people I get to work with on a regular basis.


This is Joey. He's spunky, opinionated and full of life. He hails from the western coast of America and will be spending the next two years living in Tonga. He likes movies, music and drinking kava (although he dislikes the taste). He's way better at Tongan than I am, is super passionate about educational policy (we have that in common) and is going to be an all-star teacher when school starts up in two weeks. Let's get to know him a little better. Shall we?

What was your favorite food as a child? Pizza. I'm boring. Just pepperoni pizza. Though, I secretly enjoyed steak. Now my favorite food is thai food. It's really good.

What sound do you love? Laughter. That sounds girly. How about raindrops? That sounds worse. Um... the sound of a bottle of beer being opened. There we go. That sounds manly.

If you could throw any kind of party, what would it be like and who would it be for? It would be for me, obviously. No. It'd be for a best friend and I think it would be like maybe a combination between a rave and really bad hip hop. Anything that is on the radio or something. Maybe even Black Eyed Peas. And then it would be really themed like a crazy circus. There would be acrobats performing, fire dancers and everyone would have really crazy costumes that had something to do with their favorite thing. But morphed to fit their favorite thing. Like you could come as a dinosaur if you wanted to.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? That's a tough one. Learning to speak Tongan would be good. I don't know if i could do anything. Maybe sing and play guitar. That seems like it's always useful. It'd have to come as the duo, though.

If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose? Probably Ron Weasley because Harry's a weinie. Plus if Hermione looks like the girl in the movies I would be down having her be my wife.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Camp GLOW: An introduction

June, July and August are going to be tough months for me this year. It will be the first time since 2007 that I am not spending my [northern hemisphere] summer in Maine and that's hard to think to wrap my mind around. So when I found out that there was an opportunity here in Tonga to get involved in a camp, I jumped at the chance.

Camp GLOW is something special. 2013 will be it's fourth year in the Kingdom and I am so excited to be directing it in Vava'u. It takes place during "spring break" in September. It's goal is to empower young women by advocating healthy lifestyles, providing vital information on sensitive topics, teaching leadership and team-building skills, encouraging critical thinking and logical decision-making, building a network of motivated girls and women, and fostering self-confidence and creative expression through a fun, safe and judgement-free environment.


A few weeks ago, Dominica (a PCV that has since returned to America!) introduced me to some Camp GLOW alumni and got me really excited about the project.


The girls I met that day were amazing. They are kind, smart, funny and eager to learn.


At one point I pulled out some of the adventure games I learned at Camp Laurel South and they loved it. Even if I didn't speak their language that well.


Although temperatures hovered around 30 degrees celsius and the air was thick with humidity, it didn't matter.


We chatted, laughed and they shared with me what they loved about GLOW and what it means to be a GLOW girl.


Here's to getting this project started and being able to offer this opportunity to more girls in Tonga!   

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sorry for the Silence!

Sorry for the silence recently. Life in Tonga has been both slow and really fast. Weird. We are all down in Tongatapu this week for a training and spend all day talking about teaching, safety, security and our roles as Peace Corps volunteers. We had the threat of a cyclone (which went away), I ran into another molokau (ew) and I've been sick. But I will be back to regular scheduled posts next week! Have a great day!