Wednesday, February 13, 2013

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.


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