Wednesday, February 27, 2013


I remember when I first started telling people about getting accepted into the Peace Corps. The responses varied but the one I remember the most is "If anyone can do it, it's you, Mandy."

I don't bring that comment up now to pat myself on the back. That isn't my intention. But I was thinking about it the other day and what makes me fit for the Peace Corps.

Because, people, I can tell you I have felt FAR from a good Peace Corps Volunteer recently. I think it's a combination of coming off of being really sick and feeling like I haven't gotten into a good rhythm yet in terms of teaching. I'll get there. I have been thinking a lot recently - because there is just so much time to think when serving in the Peace Corps. The story in my head recently has been a mixture of the following thoughts:

What if I'm not good enough to do this?

What if I'm not strong enough to do this?

What if I'm not outgoing enough to do this?

What if I'm not smart enough to do this?  


It doesn't matter if you're in the Peace Corps or not. I know I am not the only one who has had these thought patterns before. I'm definitely not the only one who has made this story up in my head. I've heard others (as well as myself) talk about enoughness in terms of jobs, relationships, and the other roles we take on in life. I am not qualified enough to do this job. He cheated on me because I'm not skinny/pretty/nice enough. I'm not strong enough to finish a marathon. People won't want to be friends with me - I'm not outgoing or funny enough. We feel like we are lacking or don't have what it takes to do something. And when we really get to questioning ourselves, we look outside for someone to cheer us on and say "You got this!" or "You can do this!". We look for our enoughness in awards, in promotions, in compliments,...from others. But what I'm realizing, especially here, is I am enough. And you know what? In those moments of not knowing what to do or questioning myself, I was enough. Everytime. Even when life gets tough or poop hits the fan. I am enough. I don't need others to tell me this (though sometimes it feels nice). And even though I don't believe it all the time, I'm trying to. I will continue to make mistakes. I will continue to misstep. And that's perfectly alright. I don't need to look for validation anywhere else but here (points to my chest). As long as I'm doing my best that is enough. I am enough.

And guess what? You're enough, too!

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This is my afternoon snack. It's a guava. It has absolutely nothing to do with enoughness. I just wanted to show you. So there it is.   


Six Months.

On March 4, 2013 I will have officially been in the Kingdom of Tonga for 6 months.

Whattttttt. Six months? Where has the time gone?

I'm not really sure. I'm almost a quarter of the way through my entire Peace Corps Service. Depending on the day it seems like it's flown by and other days I think "that's it?".

So I thought in honor of 6 months in Peace Corps I would look back at some highlights from each month of service so far:

September 2012: Arrival in Tonga!


October 2012: Learned to Ta'olunga


November 2012: Moved to my new home (Vava'u).


December 2012: Attended the end of the year celebration at school.


January 2013: Set up my classroom and prepared for the new school year!


February 2013: My 29th Birthday Party


Here's to the next 6 months!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Musings.

The sky was a solid grey when I awoke this morning. No distinguishable clouds could be seen - no sun attempting to poke through. Just grey. The coconut trees outside my bedroom window were still. The air, cool. Cooler than what I have become accustom to living here in the South Pacific.

I put on my puletaha (matching top and skirt) and walked slowly to church.

I sat down quietly in the pew and started observing those around me.

Church in Tonga is much different than that in America.

Depending on where you are in life denotes where you sit in church. The men sit together in the back. The adult women (already married) make up the middle and the children and youth sit in the front few rows. At least this is how it is at the Wesleyan Church down the street from my house. This morning one of the grandmothers was sitting amongst a group of children. She was all business as she used her huge Tongan fan to cool off the little ones sitting around her. At one point a couple of the boys close to her quietly started talking and the fan instantly became a disciplinary tool - a swift whack on the head from Grandma put the boys back on track. At least for the next five minutes.

Discipline is everyone's responsibility here. Throughout the 90-minute service I watched as multiple people took the same misbehaving child outside.

There was no eye-rolling or huffing by the other parents. No giving a "why can't you make your kid behave?" death stare. It became everyone's problem. A child isn't doing what they're supposed to? Doesn't matter if he/she is yours or not ... put them right.

About 30 minutes into the service I took out my fan and started to cool myself off. Trying my hardest to focus on what the feifekau (pastor) was saying, I had my attention turned to the pulpit. That's when Mele, a sweet little 3-year-old decided that I needed company. She crawled up into my lap and made herself comfortable. She then took my fan out of my hands and started to attempt to cool me off while snuggling against my chest. She played with the grass parts of my kiekie that are coming undone and in rapid fire Tongan said something about being talavou (pretty).

I had an a-ha moment then. A moment of acceptance, of integration ... I'm not sure what to call it.

But whatever it was - it was good.

Mele stayed cuddled against my chest until her fan-thwacking Grandma turned and gave her the "why are you bothering the palangi?" (white person) glance. I mouthed to Grandma "Sai pe ia!" (It's okay) and she smiled. Mele stayed next to me for the next 30-minutes and then decided that she needed to go exploring.  

That's when she got taken out of church. It's pretty pau'u (naughty) to go exploring during the sermon. I could have told her that. But my Tongan isn't quite there yet.


Monday, February 18, 2013


Throw your toothbrush in the air!


and wave it like you really care!


Then stick it in your mouth and brush away


getting rid of those germs so you can play!


Keep scrubbin' from the back to the front, and both left and right,


   Keeping away cavities! Together we fight!


**Side note: The kids don't actually sing/say that poem. But they do brush their teeth on a daily basis, at lunch, as a whole school. It's part of the Malimali Program (malimali means smile) which promotes healthy teeth throughout the GPS (Goverment Primary Schools) here in Tonga. I think it's a pretty amazing idea and even though, for many students, it might be the only place they brush their teeth, at least they are forming some good habits!

the flu.

Not every day is peachy in Peace Corps.
And the last five have been less-than-stellar.
They have been brutal.
On Thursday night I got cold.

Cold?! That's awesome Mandy! It's what you've been waiting for! No. No it wasn't. Because it was still a bajillion degrees out and the humidity was still cranked all the way up.

Then I started aching, and then I vom... well you get the idea.

I got the flu.

Probably the worse case I've ever had.

(Except for that one time in third grade when I missed a whole unit on hieroglyphics because I got sick in the middle of the hallway. It was goolash day in the cafeteria. Bummer.)

But I'm a silver-lining type of girl, so here are three things that I learned about getting the flu in the South Pacific:

1. You don't really need a thermometer. When you start sweating again chances are you don't have a fever anymore.

2. Take as many sick days as you need. Someone here told me that "you can't work if you're dead" so that's pretty much been the motto I've adopted. I didn't abuse this because I missed my students too much, but I also didn't feel as bad as when I missed school when I lived in the USA.

3. The answer to everything here seems to be food. When I told my teachers that I had the stomach flu they responded by bringing over feast food (roast chicken, hopa, bananas). I'll get right on that, guys. After I finish my breakfast crackers (the closest things to saltines here) and keep them from coming up.

So after nearly a week under the weather, I'm back. So glad to be back. I sure won't forget my Vitamin D anymore.

**there is no picture with this post because well ... yuck.

pictures from the week.


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PCV Profile: Mark

You've already met Joey and Michael. And now I'm back again with the latest PCV Profile.

This is Mark.

He and I (and his wife, Alissa) lived together in the same village during homestay. We also actually lived very close to each other in the States before we moved across the world. It's a small world sometimes, isn't it? I am happy that even after our moves in November I still get to see Mark and Alissa on a semi-frequent basis living here in Tonga. Mark is a talented musician, funny guy and great friend. Let's get to know him a little better.


What's your favorite thing to cook? Hoooo .... gosh. Maybe Thai Curry.

What was your favorite childhood tv program? Hooooo.... Ninja Turtles probably. Because they're awesome. Seriously.

Which bad habits, if any, drive you crazy? Like of other people? (Yup) People who make a big noise with their throat when they swallow. Like my wife. You have no idea how ear shattering her swallowing is.
What's one thing you love about being an adult? Uhhhh... that I can do whatever I want. Maybe, being able to do what I want.
If you could have any superpower what would it be? Welllll (high pitched)... Flying. I'm all about it. Like magic flying, not having to flap your wings.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pictures from the Week.


This is Toa who pronounces my name "Manatee" ... just like the animal.


This is Una. She is three and comes to school every day with her grandmother (who is the Class 5/6 teacher).





Tongan Cooking 101: Black Bean Pumpkin Burgers

So I can’t take full credit for this amazing recipe. My friend Chiara sent this recipe up from her island and says that it is a must try! (And I agree) So I invited my friend Malia over the other night and we ate some Black Bean Pumpkin Burgers. Delicious!


Black Bean and Pumpkin Burgers


(makes two hefty patties)

1 C black beans (drained and rinsed)

1/3 C pumpkin (cooked)

1 T flour

1/2 t cumin (I didn't have this and it was still good!)

1/4 t garlic powder (or fresh garlic)

1/8 cup of minced onion (this was my addition - I love me some onions!)

1/4 t chili powder


1. Combine all ingredients and mash.

2. Once mashed, form into two patties.

3. Cook on a skillet over medium heat for a couple of minutes on each side.

4. Enjoy! Mmmm... Eat it with: avocado or ketchup or ranch dressing or with spinach (I miss spinach!)


**This is not a Tongan recipe. Just something I made while in Tonga. I may do some traditional Tongan recipes soon. So keep checking back!

Home Tour

Here are some other images of my tiny little fale (home).


I have some great friends - my friend Kate sends me photographs with inspirational words all the way from Canada. They are so much fun to look at while I eat my breakfast. Also, the colorful chain represents my time in the Peace Corps. I made it the week after I moved in. Each link represents a week completed and there is a special message or task to do for the following week (examples: write down 20 reasons you love Tonga, have a community member over for dinner, learn 10 new words, find a new cave, etc.).


Dry erase messages on my mirror give good advice in the morning.


My inspiration wall. It's growing! Thanks to you guys!


Part of my little library. (Side note: American Taboo is about Peace Corps Tonga)


Pots and pans and kitchen things.

I like it here.

What I've Learned So Far.

As I was falling asleep the other night I was thinking about this Peace Corps journey I'm on and how it's only just begun. (Actually I'm nearly a fifth of the way done - which is just crazy to think about - time moves so fast) I've met some amazing people, seen some pretty incredible things and pushed myself in ways that, at times, made me uncomfortable but ultimately led to growth in some way (and in directions I'm not even aware of yet). So I'm going to rewind time for a second and go ahead and say that finding out that I was going to be a Primary English Teacher was super exciting. Using what I went to school for. Good stuff. When I imagined joining the Peace Corps, I pictured myself lacing up my big girl shoes, high-fiving this adventure and moving to Tonga to teach kids loads about how to speak fakapalangi (English) and not looking back. And as cliche as this may sound, I was ready to not only survive but thrive living in the South Pacific. But what I've realized is that I am learning just as much or even more from my students, community members and this culture. More than the English skills I'm teaching. That's for sure. I think John Steinbeck said it best in Travels with Charley when he wrote, "We do not take a trip; a trip takes us". And this is only the beginning! It's crazy to think what is going to cross my path in during the next 20 months and how I will change because of it.


What I've Learned So Far

1. When life gets tough... laugh. Just keep laughing.
People make fun of you because you said "kaukau nifo" (wash your teeth) instead of "fufulu nifo" (brush your teeth)? Just laugh. Long meeting? Make a joke and laugh. Too hot and you just dripped sweat on a paper you're reading? Just laugh. The 10-year-old copy machine - that has a bee-hive in it - and eats your paper 5 minutes before class starts? Laugh and hurry to copy each worksheet by hand. The students didn't understand the lesson? Just laugh and try again tomorrow. Food falls on the floor? Laugh. Rats ate the top off the peanuts? Laugh (and consider looking into rat poison). Fall and hit your knee while playing soccer? Laugh. ... you get the idea.

2. Nothing is that important that you have to rush. This may be the biggest lesson I have learned... and am still learning here. Here's an example: Last Friday Sean and I had a meeting with our friend at the Governor's Office who is helping to get Camp Glow off and running. I came with an updated itemized budget on my laptop. I felt organized and ready to work. I pulled out my computer right as the meeting got started and got down to business. I felt a shift in the room and Peni (the man we were meeting with) and Sean (who's been here for two years) both looked at me with confused looks on their faces. I found out later it's because neither of them were in a big rush. This isn't the Tongan way. It's okay to hang out, chat about life, fill each other in on what's been going on in your life... the work will get done eventually. I like this approach. Nope. I love it. I think America could learn a lot from Tongans. The importance of relationships is put first here, then business. Man, I've got a lot to learn.

3. Listen. People want to hear you and want to be heard.
Everyone has a story and they want to share it. It might be as simple as telling you about all the gardening they did all day or that they went to town to buy some chicken but the Chinese shop only sold the bad parts. We like telling our stories - even the not-so-shiny ones. We thrive on validation and I'm realizing sometimes I just need to shut my mouth for a hot second and listen to others. Many times their stories are very similar to mine... even if we grew up a planet apart.

4. Language is not a barrier to having fun. After school today I found two of my lahi tamasi'i (boys) leaning against a mango tree. When I asked them what they were doing (in Tongan) they responded that they were sweeping the yard (they do that here - I'll save why for another post). As we were talking a little girl (no more than 2-years-old) came running around the fale (house). She had her hair in pigtails and was wearing a bright red dress (the kind that would have been saved for a very special occasion in the States). Initially she looked up at me like she had seen a ghost. After her brother told me she only spoke Tongan, I tried to talk to her. She was not having it. I mean, compared to Tongans I do look like a ghost - I'm practically translucent here (read: I'm pasty). So I started to act out what I was trying to say and by the end of our playtime, she was laughing and we were enjoying each other's company. That's how it is wherever I go. What I lack in language, I make up for by goofing off. Sounds real mature, Mandy. Well maybe you should just re-read #1. Laughter works. And my language skills are improving ... if only at a snail's pace.

5. I have a family here. Back in October I mentioned to one of my host moms (Una Lahi) that my birthday was February 11th and on Tuesday evening (February 12th) she called to wish me a happy belated birthday. She said that the whole family misses me a lot and that they love me very much and that they didn't forget about my birthday but didn't have phone credit (there are pay-as-you-go cell phones in Tonga) to call. They also wished me lots of love on Valentine's Day, but no moa fakapakus (moa translates to boyfriend or chicken, depending on the context but moa fakapaku means fried chicken). I assured her I would stay away from boys and nofo pe (just stay) in my house. We laughed. She's just the best. Here's a picture of my Tongan mom.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Turning 29.


I woke up this morning and talked to my mom in America. It was a great way to start the day. Then I taught my very first full day in Tonga. There were some rocky parts, but I think it was an overall success. After school I made some no-bake cookies (chocolate, oats, peanut butter, coconut) and went with my friend Malia and another Tongan family to a secret warf a few "blocks" away from my house. We swam and watched the tide come in. It was a quiet, but amazing birthday.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

29 before 30.


These are some of my best girlfriends ever. Some of us have known each other since we were 6, others met in high school. One of my goals this year is to snail mail each one of them as much as I can. I miss them!  

February 11th is my 29th birthday. Yikes. 29. Where's my cane?

Every year I make a new set of goals for myself and every year I show nobody. I'm looking for some accountability this year and I know my 29th year is going to be one about newness. Becoming a better me, changing some bad habits... you get the idea. I won't show you all 29 goals, but here are some notable ones:

- Learn to speak Tongan as fluently as I possibly can.

- Visit at least 6 of the outer islands of Vava'u.

- Learn lots more about the Tongan culture.

- Dance another ta'olunga.

- Help the teacher's at my school to develop a plan to teach English that while be sustainable after I leave.

- Read at least 10 books.

- Write at least 4 pieces of snail mail per month.

- Begin and maintain a consistent yoga practice (at least 3x/week).

- Go on a trip with my parents (New Zealand?).

- Concentrate on cultivating healthier habits.

Do you set goals for yourself every year? What are they?  


This is Zach and Jake and I just think this is a fun picture. Maybe I'll snail mail them too!

PCV: Michael

A few weeks ago you met Joey. Here's the next installment of PCV Profiles.


This is Michael. He's awesome. He comes from somewhere on the east coast of America (I know where, I just don't want to put it here). He and I have gotten a lot closer the last few weeks. I've appreciated this. He's a great person to bounce my crazy ideas off of. Let's get to know him better:

If you were a kitchen utensil what would you be? A bowl because I can hold large amount of emotion and love.

If you were on a reality tv show, which would you pick? Survivor because I would be the survivor. I can live in the wilderness.

What is your preferred form of transportation? Teleportation because it's convenient. It would also minimize your carbon footprint. It's also cost effective.

If you could wear the same outfit every day for the rest of your life what would it be? T-shirt, cargo shorts and a pair of Columbia hiking boots.

Who would play you in a movie? Vigo Mortenson because he's... oh wait. No. Orlando Bloom because he's masculine yet refined.


Tongan Class


In an effort to learn more Tongan I have been sitting in on the Class 1/2 Tongan lessons. Independent study only works for so long and I'm definitely plateauing or losing a little bit of what I learned during training. So I'm learning with a bunch of 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds. Today the teacher called me up in front of the room and I fumbled my way through a conversation in Tongan. The students laughed, I turned red (I'm really good at that) and sat back down. I'm excited to see what tomorrow will bring.

I Never Thought...


...I would ever experience a tsunami warning. Don't worry. We're all good here, people. There was an 8.0 earthquake near Vanuatu on Wednesday.When this happens I have to stay at my house and be prepared to run to higher ground (I already live at pretty high ground, but just in case there is a hill behind my house that I would have to climb quickly).

I would ever watch a rat fall from the ceiling. I was sitting drinking tea with my neighbor and as I finished the sentence "Malia, I think I have rats" there was a scuffle and one fell from the ceiling. This happened while I was sipping my first taste of some tea and I jumped, causing scalding hot water to fly into my face leaving a nice red mark on my upper lip. Malia, who is 19 and a totally fun Tongan girl, grabbed the broom and tried to find the rat. She did not find it and I barely slept that night.

...I would ever successfully read a book to a classroom of 6-year-olds who only spoke Tongan. My principal, who is also the Class 1 and 2 teacher, was late to school today so I walked into her classroom and asked that the students sit on the floor in front of me and read them a story (in Tongan). They were excited and helped me fumble through the book pointing at the pictures and describing them in short Tongan phrases so that Ms. Mandy would remember.

...I would love to hear the sound of my name said over and over and over again while i walk down the street. My village is awesome. Today after school I walked to the store to buy some milk and no less than 20 students came out running behind me. It was like in impromptu parade. I loved every second. Kids just make the world a happier place.

What is something that you never thought you would do or experience, but had happen?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

First Day of School: Pictures

What a great day it was.






Tongan Cooking 101: The Food Dehydrator

Sean (a fellow PCV) is one cool guy and smart dude. He came to me with the idea of creating Hibiscus Syrup. Yum!

His thought was that since Tonga is full of so many beautiful flowers (including hibiscus), that it wouldn't be too difficult to create Hibiscus infused syrup.


The only thing that we needed was a food dehydrator.

Since those are not common appliances in the Kingdom, I googled how to make a homemade one.

I found a nifty website and Sean and I adventured around town yesterday to find all the necessary materials (electrical wire, a socket, a lightbulb holder thingy, a 60-watt lightbulb, aluminum foil, cardboard box, and packaging tape).

Here is Sean lining the cardboard box with foil. Doesn't he looked pumped?


Next we cut
a hole the size of the lightbulb holder. I also had some chopsticks lying around so we stuck those in to hold up a shelf (that would eventually house whatever needed drying).   Then we stuck the lightbulb holder in and connected the bulb. (After that we connected the wires to the back, but I wasn't paying attention when Sean did that so I didn't take any pictures. I was too busy looking at the all the pretty flowers.).


Then we found another piece of cardboard that fit inside and covered that with foil. Then we placed it over the top of the chopsticks and put the flowers on.


Then we closed the box up, making sure that there was a small opening in the top to let all the moisture out. We tied it up... with some ribbon I had lying around. Sort of looks like a homemade Sally Bake Oven... if you were an 80's/90's kid you should understand this reference. Side note: Those mini ovens were awesome. I never had one, but my sister got gifted one one Christmas and I may have eaten the majority of the culinary masterpieces that exited out of the pink door.


After about 30-45 minutes we had dried flowers. The bottom shelf's flowers were a little too crispy.

Next we turned on a burner and dissolved 1.5 cups of sugar into 1.5 cups of water. We kept stirring until it boiled. Then we took it down to a simmer. Added the hibiscus. Doesn't that look interesting...


After awhile we shut off the heat and let the liquid turn into syrup. I have to be honest, I'm not sure what happened because something went terribly wrong and instead of syrup we ended up with a rock hard piece of sugar. It may because I didn't use refined sugar and instead used real can sugar. Whoopsies.  

It sure was fun to make. At least I know that the dehydrator works - I wonder what I will dry next = mangoes? bananas? pineapple? The sky's the limit!



Sean is showing off our new creation. This picture was taken about 30 seconds after he flipped the jar over - meaning the syrup hadn't moved and instead had turned rock hard. Who wants some rock hard hibiscus syrup? Why isn't your hand up?

We tried some on some pancakes... Sean kept saying how it was like "honey" and we just needed to keep stirring it. Meh. Nope.