Thursday, March 28, 2013

Live a Big Life

Every week when I get online my first stop is this website.

If you've never heard of Tiny Buddha before, man, it's life changing. Somehow their weekly posts always speak to my life in the Peace Corps and probably would have spoken to my non-Peace Corps life too. I wish I would have found this little piece of heaven on the internet sooner. I copy-paste all of their posts into a word document and then read them slowly throughout the week since I don't have consistent internet access here in the South Pacific. I wanted to share with you my favorite part from the article and encourage you to check out Tiny Buddha and Alexandra Hope Flood. Enjoy.



“The journey is the reward.” ~Chinese Proverb

We've probably all heard this famous piece of wisdom at one time or another. I'll be honest, there were a few years where I just plain blew it off. Like, "Yeah, yeah, journey, reward, I got it. Cool. Now, when is my ship coming in?" Not that I was greedy. Just impatient to arrive at a place called Made It. It seemed that other people were already there and I was eager to join them. I had seen the brochure for Made It and I knew then and there, it was my kind of place. The trick about getting to Made It is that there wasn't a singular map. You're supposed to make you own. In my case, my map started with, "First, take a hard right at Work Really Hard. Then, follow this for about three to five years. There won't be any signs, but if you see exits to places called Partyville and Cul-de-lack-of-Discipline, whatever you do, don't get off there. Keep your eyes on the road, stay awake and eventually, you'll arrive at your destination."

Once I'd sussed out my map, I thought it would be a short trip, relatively speaking since I had packed properly. In my duffle I had: my unique brand of fulfilling creative expression, plenty of determination (roll-on), focus (with back-up laser), integrity (large-ruled), networking ability (with stationary for thank you notes), and extra socks (tenacity can make you perspire). Oh and sunscreen, because I burn easily and it's super sunny in Made It.

Isn't her writing great? It's like a big warm chocolate chip cookie for the heart.

Do freshly baked chocolate chip cookies not sound totally amazing right about now? I don't even care that it's a bajillion and one degrees outside. Gimmecookies.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I Never Thought...

I haven't done one of these in awhile. Here it goes.


I never thought...

I'd ever eat poutine (a Canadian dish) on a tropical island in the South Pacific. I was introduced to poutine back in 2008 right outside of Moncton, New Brunswick. Canadians know the way straight to this girl's heart - take some french fries, drizzle some gravy on top and add some cheese. Ohsweetjesusisthisdishdelicious. So I was beyond excited to find out that a local restaurant (owned by two of the friendliest Canadians you will ever meet) makes poutine. New favorite place to eat? I think so.

I'd ever contract a leg infection that made it so that it hurt to walk. A couple of weeks ago I was bitten by a mosquito before I went to bed. Apparently in the middle of the night I went to town itching my leg only to wake up in the morning with a huge gash on my lower left calf. Because of the humidity, the gash turned into a huge hole and things started to swell up. Knowing that swelling and redness indicates infection, I quickly contacted the doctor who put me on a strong antibiotic. Two weeks later, I'm doing a lot better and I have a pretty rad scar. Guess my leg modeling days are over. Derp.

I'd ever switch my sheets once every four days. You already know it's hot here. I don't need to tell you that. Hot + sleeping = a sweaty mess. So I switch my sheets every four days. Maybe a little excessive, but damp sheets are zero fun and result in zero sleep so there you have it.

I'd spend 4 hours serving kava. This happened a few weeks ago. A few of the men asked if I was interested in serving kava and I guess word got out that the palangi (white person) was going to be serving because when I showed up there were not just the five men I thought were going to be there, but over 40. I think every male in the village showed up. Friday night - just me and the guys. By the end of the night I had 3 marriage proposals and many of the men thanked me and said that I was "just like a Tongan woman" - laughing and being sassy to all the men. And guess what? I spoke Tongan the whole time. I didn't even know I had bilingual sassy pants.

What's something you did this week that you never thought you would do?

Mandy's Book List: Volume 2

I seem to go through periods where I am a voracious reader. And then there are times when I just can't sit still - I can't seem to get into anything I'm reading. Do you ever have that happen? Recently, I can't seem to get enough of my Kindle. I take it wherever I go and when I am waiting for class to start, waiting for a a meeting to begin, I just keep reading...and in this culture there is a lot of time to wait so there is a lot of time to read. I pretty much took February off from reading, so here are the books that I enjoyed in March and some of my favorite quotes from each:


This is not a book I read. This is The Story of the Three Little PIgs written in Tongan.

1. Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky - I received some excellent advice from one of my best friends recently. He said, "Mandy, we accept the love we think we deserve" which is a direct quote from this book. He then told me where I could find it (not love, but the book) and I decided to take a look. I'm so glad I did - Charlie is a great main character. A lot of the time I felt like the book read a little bit like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (if you aren't familiar with this title, I highly suggest checking it out). His view of reality and the way in which to treat people is something that I think many people can learn from. I did anyway.

Favorite Quote: "...but I really think that everyone should have watercolors, magnetic poetry, and a harmonica."

2. Every Day by David Levithan - I have to be honest... When I started reading this book, I was a little thrown by the premise of the story: waking up in a different body every day? Each chapter marks a day in somebody else's body? But it sure was addicting. I constantly was wondering where he/she would end up next. I kept going back and forth thinking about how cool it would be to wake up in somebody else's body every day, but then the whole concept of tomorrow doesn't really exist like it does for people who stay in their bodies from day to day.

Favorite Quote: "I only have a day to give - so why can't it be a good one? Why can't it be a shared one? Why can't I take the music of the moment and see how long it can last? The rules are erasable. I can take this. I can give this."

3. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl - This is the next Hunger-Games-Twilight-Teen Series and I hear that they are making it into a movie as well. I love me a good story about witches and even though that's not what they're called in this book, this is a book about witches. You can't help but root for the 15-year-olds in this story who are so madly in love with each other. The story involves magic, tunnels, and the idea of embracing the light or dark that is found within each one of us.

Favorite Quote: "What is the opposite of two? A lonely me, a lonely you."

4. The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick - I've heard rumors that this book is being made into a movie as well. I'm still not sure what to make of it. The main character has just spent 4 years in a mental institution, yet he believes (at the beginning of the book) that he's only been gone for around 11 mos. The book is the story of him trying to make sense of what happened, what caused him to be sent to the institution and re-building his life after he was let out. There are some weirdo characters, but somehow the crazier the story gets, the more believable it becomes. I guess life is sort of like that.

Favorite Quote: "Maybe my movie isn't over," I say.

5. A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy - One of my (many) goals in life is to go to Ireland and that is exactly where this story takes place. The storyline surrounds a cottage that has opened up quite like a Bed and Breakfast would. Each chapter is dedicated to somebody who visits the cottage and the story that led them to that point. It's a really well-done read - makes you think about the story that you are writing and what has transpired to get you to the point you're at. It's really a neat idea to think about people crossing your path at a specific point in time and what they can teach you. How each relationship that you have had is meant to teach you something and is meant to happen exactly when it does.

Favorite Quote: "'Maybe you have a suit of armour up before they get a chance to know you,' he suggested."

6. Two Kisses for Maddy by Matt Logelin - This book started off as a blog which I began reading back in 2008. It's the true story of a really amazing guy who was faced with the death of his wife and the birth of his daughter all within a 27-hour period. It chronicles that story and what took place after, the life he has created for his daughter and how he is navigating the grieving process. His writing style is so raw and real and I found myself (even though I'm single and childless) in tears many times. I can't recommend this book enough. 

Favorite Quote: "Together during the worst of times is better than being alone at the best of times."

7. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling - I love "The Office" and Kelly Kapoor. Written by Mindy Kaling, this book is a collection of short stories/essays and had me rolling around on the floor laughing multiple times. Kaling knows how to write and I wanted to be her best friend by the end of the book. Hey Mindy. If you're reading this blog (yeah right) I'd love to get coffee with you the next time I'm in Los Angeles! Extra dry soy lates are my fav. Whether she's talking about her frenemy relationship with Rainn Wilson (Dwight Shrute), the difference between men and boys or living in New York as a struggling actress, she keeps you engaged and smiling the whole way.

Favorite Quote: "Men know what they want. Men make concrete plans. Men own alarm clocks. Men sleep on a mattress that isn't on the floor. Men tip generously. Men buy new shampoo instead of adding water to a nearly empty bottle of shampoo. Men go in for a kiss without giving you some long preamble about how they're thinking of kissing you. Men wear clothes that have never been worn by anyone else before."

I am always looking for book recommendations so if you have any please send them my way!

Email me at beneathabalconyofstars(at)gmail(dot)com or comment on this post.

To check out other books I have read, take a look here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


The bell outside has just been rung by a 6-year-old. It's almost always a little boy name Soni who puts so much arm movement into the bell that he nearly falls over letting everyone know that it's time to stop class. I look down, my old Timex reflects back: 12:30pm. I run my finger under the olive green band - ridding my wrist of the sweat that has accumulated over the last 5 minutes. It's another hot one in the Kingdom of Tonga, but I don't have time to think about that because there is a rustling at the door. I turn to look.

"Manatee? Laukonga?"

A little girl in a red dress is looking at me with pleading eyes while she plays with the red ribbon holding her braided pig tail in place. She waits quietly.

"Io. Ha'u," I respond.

She smiles and gestures to her two friends that have been hiding around the corner. They come in and immediately start scanning the shelf. Laukonga translates to "library" in Tongan and the girls will spend the next hour reading books and translating what they can into English before their afternoon classes start back up. Lunch is sometimes not an option for me because I would much rather sit and listen to them get excited about each new story. I wouldn't have it any other way.


Friday, March 22, 2013

World Water Day


Friday, March 22, 2013 was World Water Day.

Five schools, along with VEPA (Vava'u Environmental Protection Association) celebrated in Neiafu.

My students were so excited for this! They spent all week creating pictures, writing poetry and composing/learning a song that would be sung at a special presentation on Friday morning.

We met in "downtown" Neiafu to parade around town. Here are some snapshots of the day. There was a competition and we ended up winning "best poem", but my favorite part of the parade was creating a costume of a sea animal out of recycled materials.


A little boy named Mateaki wore the jellyfish we created. He would stop every few feet and dance and the people watching the parade loved it! The kid has moves.


It was another hot one in Tonga, so Fane decided to hide under the shade of one of the signs.



This little girl wasn't angry, just nervous. She was the one that read our poem.

What a great way to spend a Friday morning and even better? I think my students really understand what an impact they can make on the environment by doing simple things (like picking up rubbish!) to help our world.

Did you celebrate World Water Day? If not, sai pe ia (it's all good) because Earth Day is next month - April 22nd!


Here’s some granola* for you.

I’m going to give you a little peek into what I’ve been thinking about this week. I share this because maybe, even if you aren’t serving in the Peace Corps or living on a South Pacific Island, you’ve been feeling similarly? Maybe not. And that’s okay too. When I do a Crunchy Granola Post it doesn’t promise to be the most well-thought out or organized piece of writing I’ve ever penned, rather more of a stream of consciousness and a write-as-I-think-it type thing.


1. Making a difference. Sometimes the question “What am I even doing here?” pops into my head. It occasionally feels like I am just one Peace Corps Volunteer in a great line of many, going through the motions and “getting the job done”. But I want to make a difference and what I’m realizing is that when I go looking to see if what I’m really doing “does make a difference”, it’s difficult to gauge. I can’t tell if I am and then I start to second guess myself. The profession of teaching is a lot like Peace Corps, too. You go into school and you spend your day working with kids, and you wonder if what you’re doing is really helping. You get down on yourself and wonder if what you are doing has any effect. I want to make a difference not because I want compliments and awards. I want to make a difference because I want to help. These kids are amazing and in many ways are a lot like the kids I taught back in America - they have dreams and goals, but sometimes they’re harder to turn into reality than it is for my students back in the U.S. So I put more pressure on myself to make sure that what I'm doing is working and that I'm helping. As soon as I stop worrying about whether or not I am constantly making a difference I am shown that I am. Like this week when I was walking through the village after school and heard 4 of my students singing an English song that I had taught them. It is moments like this that remind me that even though my time here is brief (two years really isn’t that long), that I did make an impact. Even if it was little ways.

2. Forget the comparison game. I was super stressed out at the beginning of the week. On Thursday some of the Peace Corps Staff (from Tonga HQ) were scheduled to come to my village to see how I have been integrating and what work I have done so far in the Peace Corps. Almost immediately after hearing that they were coming I started comparing myself to other Peace Corps Volunteers (past and present) in Tonga and whether what I was doing was good enough. My mind went immediately to thoughts like: Well I’m not as integrated as she is. I can’t speak Tongan as good as him. I’m not ask good of a teacher as she is. I am not constantly walking around the village saying hi to people like he does. This was exhausting to think about. And even though I was crazy nervous, Thursday came anyway and so did the Peace Corps staff. And when I sat down with them to talk about what I have been doing, I realized that I am working really hard and doing a good job. And my work in this village isn’t going to look like the work that’s being done across Tonga (and the world) because it’s unique and it's mine and it’s okay. I’m doing my best and that’s what matters. I don’t know everybody’s name yet, but the relationships that I have formed with people in my village are genuine and deep and I appreciate them a lot. It will come with time.

3. Embracing my abilities. There are things that I am good and others that I may never be. I used to make mental lists of the things that I could be better at (meeting more people, being more assertive, being more creative, being a stronger leader, being more outgoing, being a better public speaker, …) but the more I concentrated on those things, the worse I felt. I’m starting to look at the things that I’m good at and concentrating on those and I’m finding that sometimes, by embracing what I’m good at, it empowers me to work on those things that I want to get better at.

4. Cultivating a healthy environment. Recently, I’ve been so worried about others in my village and staying busy helping them, that I haven’t been taking time to take care of myself. I also noticed that my obsession with root crops was doing nothing to help me stay buff - the kumala and bread fruit that I had been consuming in mass quantities had ever-so-nicely settled in my mid-section. So I’ve been changing habits and moving more (yoga, plyometrics in my tiny house, walking when there are not mean dogs around…) and I’m feeling good. My clothes are fitting better and I feel happier.

5. Let go of your past. I don’t have regrets. I truly believe that every thing that has happened in my life - every experience I’ve had - has brought me to this moment and there is a reason for that. This doesn’t mean that I don’t dwell on the past sometimes though. This last year was rewarding and tough for many reasons. I was very convinced that I had figured out where I wanted to end up and who I wanted to surround myself with. But I think that sometimes the bravest thing we can do is accept that the answers we thought we were given aren't meant to be and trust that everything is still going to work out o.k. in the end. I need to look at my past, learn from it and move on. I was blown away this last year. I was disappointed this last year. Things sometimes turn out drastically different than we plan and it's all for our benefit. I got an email recently that talked about this exact idea and how "our characters are built, our patience is grown, and are hearts are strengthened when these things ways that they could not have otherwise". And even though I am still super confused, I trust that it's all going to work out. It will.

What have you been thinking about?


P.S. This was me yesterday. I am headed back to America for my sister's wedding soon (3 months!). The bracelets on my wrist are a countdown to my time in America (each bracelet represents one week). Even though I love it in Tonga, I can't wait to see friends and family back home. CannotwaitItellyou.

*I have a few friends back home that call me Granola. I’d like to think that it’s a term of endearment to reference all the times I shift into “Hippy Mandy” mode and go deep in my brain to talk about my feelings and emotions and trying to make sense of my feelings and emotions. The crunchier the granola, the more hippy-dippy I get.

Culture 101: School in Tonga

Let's play the comparison game for a second. School in Tonga is a bit different than teaching in the States and while I'd like to compare the two for you, I can tell you what I won't do is tell you which one is better or worse. It's really like apples and oranges - just different. The following is based on how I set my classroom up in the States (so maybe the comparison could just be looking at my teaching styles in both cultures) and what Ms. Mandy's classroom looks like in Tonga. I'm going to try not to generalize too much, but this is what I've learned and what works. Alright. Let's take a look.


Respect & Names:

America: Students calls me Ms. Pederson - or Ms. P for short. This was primarily due to the fact that last-name usage was common practice in the majority of the school's I worked. I guess was looked at as being respectful to address teachers with Ms. or Mrs. and their last name. The entire time I was in the States I wished they could call me Ms. Mandy because my last name is hard to say and because Ms. P. well... it induces a lot of giggling if you are a nine-year-old boy. Ms. P? Ohhhhh Ms. Pee... I get it.

First names are used only. Just the first name. Forget the Ms. or Mrs. or Mr.. Respect is still given despite the lack of Mr., Ms. or Mrs. This is the case at the Primary Level. I have yet to explore naming practices at the secondary or post-secondary level in Tonga.

Teaching Methods:

America: Much of the research coming out of the States talks about differentiation, teaching to student's various strengths and learning styles, and making the classroom a "student-centered" environment. This works in the States. It works in many other places in the world, too. I've seen it do wonders in the classrooms I worked in throughout Florida, Wisconsin and Colorado. For example: Walking into my classroom in Colorado during a literacy block, you might see many small groups, independent work, and group work with me. The students would all be working at their level and aside from mini-lessons about grammar, comprehension skills or something else that the district or state standards deem worthy, it is the little kids in the room driving what is being focused on and learned in the classroom.

Tonga: Tonga's new national primary school curriculum (which was adopted last year) promotes "student-centered" learning as well. I'm still on the fence as to whether the definition of "student-center" is different for different countries, or with this curriculum being new that the definition that the United States uses just hasn't been realized yet. Regardless, there are a lot of really good things happening in Tongan schools. What is primarily taking place in my school at this time involves teachers spending most of their time in front of the classroom and students spend a lot of their time doing rote memorization activities. These students are bright though - they pay attention to patterns and rhythms and it appears that learning is taking place. They do arts projects and are asked to share their findings with the teacher while other students listen in. My English classroom still uses small groups to facilitate learning, but is balanced with a mixture of songs, poems, and repetition. I see it working. I spend a little more time in front of the classroom vs. what I did in the States, too. Maybe a gradual release of responsibility will come later in the year, but for right now, this system is working out quite well.

Specials (extra-curriculars, art, music, PE, etc.):
At the primary level there are no separate classes for Art and Music, yet if you look and listen carefully you will see that Art and Music are infused into the general curriculum here. Both are used to teach every subject - music especially seems to be something that Tongan students gravitate towards and when break time rolls around you can almost be sure that you will hear some sort of singing outside. The two classes that students have outside of the general curriculum are PE and Creative Technology. PE is just like it in the States (with way less equipment and zero budget). Creative Technology fuses Tongan culture with technology. One day the students could be learning how to weave and the next learning to type on the computer. The GPS that I work at was chosen to pilot a technology project a few years ago. Because of this, I have "laptops" (which remind me a lot of the computers I learned how to type on back in 1992) which occasionally work to teach the students on. Really though, I'm teaching computers without computers, which is quite the task!

I know there are many more areas in school or themes that I could touch upon, but I wanted to just cover a few this time around! If there is something you are curious about, please let me know! (By commenting on this post or emailing me at beneathabalconyofstars(at)gmail(dot)com.)

Air conditioning?

Not in Tonga!


This is what I use. One of my student's mothers made it for me. Isn't it beautiful?

(And so so powerful!)  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

{wordless week...almost}


*this week was a pretty quiet one, but everything seemed to happen in the last 24 hours. i will write more next week, but i wanted to leave you with a little something so here i am with class 6 kids. my house is on the right, my classroom on the left.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

fun in bird baths.

Screen shot 2012-02-22 at 9.06.10 PM.png

I have a secret to tell you: I may have looked a wee bit like Chris Farley as a child.

C'mon. You see the resemblance, right?

This picture was taken with my Grandma P.... circa 1985. We were playing in the bird bath together ... totally pau'u (naughty) but so much fun.

I was thinking about bird baths the other day. And looking for fun in the little things - the things we pass by without giving a second glance to. Kids are so good at finding fun in the mundane - turning brooms into swords, hanging from bread fruit trees, shimmying up the flag pole (that's a normal occurrence here). There is so much fun to be had if you look for fun in the every day things. And I'm finding out that here in Tonga, people slow down enough that the every day stuff does become fun. This pace gives them time to notice fun in the little things. Sean referenced the way Tongans think about time best in this post. Here are some places where I found fun this week:

1. Conversations with new friends.

2. Walking to the falekoloa (store).

3. Practicing the ABCs with 7-year-olds.

4. Watching a Mama chicken and her babies eat pata (mini bananas that fell from the bunch hanging from my front door).

4. Practicing for Sport Day with the entire school. There is nothing like running barefoot in a skirt.

What about you? Where do you look for fun? Where does fun find you?

Oh yes, and just in case you didn't believe when I said I looked like Chris Farley as a child, here is a point of comparison.


Told you so.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Flip floppin' in the PC.

I've been thinking a lot recently about the purpose of this blog and why I write it. Initially, it was going to be all about Tonga and the Kingdom's culture, the people and my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer. But what I've been realizing lately is that my internal journey through this - the way I navigate it, the feelings and emotions I experience, and the sense I make of it all - is just as important as all the external goodness. I love sharing with you the things I'm learning about Tonga and this tiny island where I reside, but I also want you to know that tropical life isn't always easy.

I'm sure you could have guessed this.

I knew that when I signed up for the PC that I was going to be challenged, but boyohboy it's tough sometimes. But I've realized that attempting to shut those feelings off does nothing. In fact, these emotions come back full force later and sometimes 10 times worse. So I'm learning to sit with them and experience them. Fully. Sometimes I feel like I'm oozing joy and other times I'm not sure how I am going to get out of bed. It's an intensity I've never experienced before. But these feelings change like ice cream in the tropical heat. One moment their there and the next minute they've melted into something else. It's so fast. So even in my lowest of lows, I know that it's going to pass... maybe during the next minute, maybe the next hour or maybe it will take a few days. The trigger for what causes these emotional flip flops is a funny thing, too. I never know what it's going to be. Sometimes it's making a good dinner, sometimes it's a conversation with a kid, or the way the wind feels on my face. Today it was a nice mug of Ginger-Apricot tea (see below - I have huge hands. Don't judge.). I can never be sure what will cause it, but I know that if I stay positive and trust myself that it will get better. And it does. Every time. One of the reasons I will always remember September 1, 2012 (and will look back at it as one of the most scary/exciting days of my life thus far) is because I had made a promise to myself: If I apply and accept an invitation to join the Peace Corps there is no turning back. Quitting is not an option. And I think remembering that - in the moments when life here gets a little cray-cray (crazy) - is important. Don't quit on yourself and your emotions. Don't quit on these people or this story. Period.

Photo on 2013-03-11 at 14.30.jpg

P.S. The tea came from one of my best friends back home. Thank you, Katie! I definitely recommend Good Earth's Organic Apricot & Ginger Black Tea. 'Ifo 'aupito! (So very delicious!)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

PCV Profile: Harrison


Harrison is one of my closest friends in Peace Corps. He has a love of camp (though we both admit, mine is a bit bigger). He listens to my crazy stories, keeps me sane when I feel like the sky is falling and is an all-around stellar guy. Not a teacher by trade, Harrison is a natural in the classroom. He is also helping with Camp GLOW this year and hoping to help Sean and get the male-equivalent started up in Vava'u. Here is a little info on Harrison:

What's your favorite song at the moment? "The General" by Dispatch

What's your favorite thing to do on a Sunday afternoon? In Tonga, nothing. I like doing nothing. In America, I like to watch football.

Have any hidden talents? I can wiggle my ears. (And then he showed everybody)

What would be your dream job? Head of the World Bank ... or president.

What's a book you read recently that you loved? War and Peace was pretty spectacular.

What is your favorite Tongan food? Puaka tunu (roast pig), lu or clams.  


Who else do I work with? Check out Sean, Mark, Michael and Joey.

PCV Profiles is a regular post where I introduce you to fellow Peace Corps Volunteers working in Tonga. Man, it sure looks like I work with a bunch of dudes. Don't worry, girl posts are coming soon! Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Happy Birthday Dad.

Raise your hand if you have the coolest dad!

Put your hand down because I have the raddest Dad. Sorry. But it's true.

March 9th is my Dad's Birthday.

To show him how much I love and miss him (and because I love making lists), I came up with 5 Favorite Memories with Dad. I'm sure there will be many more, but here they are in no particular order:

1. Beauty Parlor. When my siblings and I were small we had unbelievable convincing powers when it came to Dad (Mom was much harder to crack. Unless it involved shopping). We could make him do just about anything... including playing Beauty Parlor. This involved taking out an empty baby wipe box (that had instead been filled with ribbons, hair ties and barrettes... a little something to match every outfit we owned). We would sit Dad down, brush his hair (making sure to comment on how little he had) and go to town clasping, crimping, and twirling it until he became presentable. I'm sure my Dad loved this, but I think Molly and I loved it even more.

2. My First Packer Game. I attended my first Packer Game as a 25-year-old. I had mentioned to my dad that I had never been to one before (and if you are from Wisconsin, you pretty much know this is a sin). He managed to find someone who knew someone who knew someone to secure us tickets. I don't even remember who played the Packers that day, I was just thinking about how lucky I was to spend it with my dad.


3. The Bear Protector. I referenced fishing trips with my dad in this post, but really they are some of my favorite times with him. The man knows how to fish and gets into "the zone" whenever he is near open water. I'd like to think that fishing for my dad is what yoga is for my mom. It's his zen. I should mention that he is normally a "catch-and-release" type fellow, too. When I was younger (I can't remember the exact year), Dad took the entire family up to his special piece of land in Springbrook, Wisconsin. We were playing around in the woods and Mom and Dad decided that they would go on a romantic mini-fishing trip out on the pond. They got into their row boat and were off. By this time I was old enough to babysit, so the sister and brother were left in my care. The only place to use the bathroom was an outhouse. The sister decided she needed to use it. She opened the door and balancing on the toilet seat was a fake snake...orsoshethought. (Update: Molly, the sister, says it actually was a mother snake and 20 of her babies). She went to grab it, thinking that it was one of my brother's toys and the snake lunged at her. Screaming like a banshee, she came running down to the waterfront where I was skipping rocks. At this point she's crying because the snake "almost bit her". And because I am squeamish of creepy crawly or squirmy wormy things, I refuse to go up and take care of it. The brother, of course, wants to see it. Not knowing the poisonous snake situation in Wisconsin, I thought the best response was to call Mom and Dad over. At this point they are clear across the pond so I start shouting "There's a snake! There's a snake!" which when bouncing across the water obviously translates to "There's a bear! There's a bear!" (Erhm. Bear and snake don't even sound alike, Mandy. Yeah, I know.) I've never seen my dad move so fast. In one swift move, he throws down the fishing pole, grabs the oar and starts hauling @$$ to get to our side. Minutes later, he is out of breath and panting, "Bear? Where's the bear?" to which I respond "Bear? ... Dad. I said snake." I'm not sure what even happened to the snake, but I do remember laughing really really hard. Dad didn't laugh.


4. Wrapping for Mom. Dad's gifts could not be classified as artistic... in any way, shape or form. While Pops can bait a hook like nobody's business, he cannot wrap presents. When I was in the seventh grade and started to master this art form (don't pretend like it isn't one), Dad paid attention and I suddenly became the wrapper of Mom's Birthday and Christmas presents. I have maintained this job for the last 16 years and don't plan on giving it up anytime soon. Dad would hide Mom's presents around the house and on December 24th about an hour before present opening time, he and I would sneak into the guest bedroom and I would wrap all of Mom's gifts finishing in just enough time to curl my hair and put on my green velour dress.

5. Springbrook. A few years ago my Dad and I took a trip - just the two of us - to visit my grandparents in Shell Lake, Wisconsin. We spent a weekend hanging out with Grandma and Grandpa and exploring Northwestern Wisconsin. One of my favorite memories from the weekend was when he and I went to the Springbrook land (referenced in #3) and "fixed tree stands". I don't remember a lot of fixing getting done, but I do remember spending the late fall day hiking through the woods with Dad pointing out all the rut marks (I think that is the right term) the deer had made on the trees the previous year. He taught me how to tell if they were fresh or old and about different animal tracks found in the woods and we spent the afternoon chatting about life. Sometimes I think my dad is somehow related to John Muir. He knows nature.



Thanks for being a super dad! Love you Dad! Can't wait to see you in June! Maybe we could play Beauty Parlor for Molly's wedding? Whaddya think?


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Kingdom According to Friends

Friends is one of my favorite TV shows. I still can't believe it's been off the air for nearly 10 years. I feel like I can still relate to every episode. Like this week, I was working my way through Season 7. It's the season where they all turn 30 and since I'm now less than 365 days from doing so, it may or may not be on my mind a little bit. Friends can also be applied to the Peace Corps and my life in The Kingdom of Tonga. Their faces say it all. Here. I'll show you:

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Finding out I ate dog, when someone told me it was chicken.

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Finding out a pig got inside the school fence because the gate was left open and then realizing that I am the one that needs to chase it out.

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How I feel when I understand Tongan.

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How I feel when I don't understand Tongan.

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Hearing about fakalele and the different sicknesses people get (and share about openly) here.

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Waking up to another hot and so-humid-you-are-melting day in Tonga.  

Thank you for the help Chandler, Joey, Phoebe, Ross, Rachel and Monica!

[Friends: Copyright NBC]

P.S. Some of you have asked if you can send me a letter/care package. You are more than welcome to and I will surely write you some snail mail back! It's my favorite thing. My address is:

Mandy Pederson, PCV

PO Box 136



Kingdom of Tonga

South Pacific*

*Super important as letters and packages have gone to Togo (in Africa) in the past.

FYI: I love nuts, tea, dark chocolate, lotion and ground coffee.

PCV Profile: Sean

Sean didn't come to Tonga with Group 77. He's actually been here for two years already and has signed on for a third.

He loves Peace Corps and The Kingdom of Tonga THAT much.

I am grateful to have him around. He knows his stuff, laughs at my jokes and has a love of the Tongan culture that is unmatched by any palangi (white person) I have ever met. He and I are working on Camp GLOW together and he is interested in starting a camp for boys (more information on that soon). Let's get to know Sean a bit better.


What's your favorite TV show? Well, I've been gone for 2+ years so I can't say for sure, but I guess Jeopardy. Followed closely by Entourage.

What's your favorite part of Tongan culture? That's hard! Probably "Tongan Time"... Tongans always have time. Time to talk to one another, time for a stroll... Time is most definitely not money here, and I appreciate that. I mean, what could be more important than having time?

Name a song you think that everyone should know. I think everyone should know Lynyrd Skynrd's, "All I Can Do is Write About It". At this point in time, it's also the only song I can play all the way through on guitar.

If you could have a super power what would it be? That's easy: flight. Like superman type flight... None of this "I need a suit" bs. I want to fly!

Favorite school supply? I always liked my nice, simple, broken-in backpack. Cars are fun too, though.


PCV Profiles is a regular post that introduces you to the fine people I work with. Want to meet more of them? Check out Joey, Michael and Mark!

No School

The wind whistled through the luvas in my bedroom this morning. It was this natural alarm clock that woke me at 5am. Coupled with the sound of the rain hitting the corrugated tin roofing, I listened, stretched and watched as my mosquito net fluttered with the breeze. I love the wind. It's amazing what a little wind can do to a very hot day. It isn't hot here today though. School was cancelled due to heavy rain and high wind advisories across Tonga. There were moments this morning where the air was still and not a minute later a gale wind would come rushing through causing the rain to fall horizontally and the date palm trees to lose their branches. Much of the next month will be like this. The weather is finally starting to change - there are more low humidity days and I'm not having to take 2 showers a day anymore. I like it. I have been told that March is "'afa" (cyclone) month here. The majority of bad weather happens during these 30 days and in April the humidity will lower even more as we prepare for Winter (tourist season).

So I spent the today reading, watching movies, preparing lessons, getting organized, baking banana bread (using bananas found on the tree outside) and crafting (my favorite). This afternoon one of my Tongan friends, Silia, came over. She said that she wanted to clean my house. I told her she didn't have to, so we compromised and she swept the floor. She said she "liked helping the Peace Corpse" (that is not a misspelling ... that is how she says Peace Corps). She then told me that I needed to do something with my hair ("It is so flat Mandy, but I like the color.") so I let her braid it. We talked about school (she's 15) and what she wants to do after school is finished (live with her family and help them). It was a quiet, but wonderful day.

Update: School was called off on Thursday as well. The radio announced that all the GPSs (Government Primary Schools) are closed "until further notice". Oiaue (oy-yah-way - which means "oh goodness/ oh jeez!").

Monday, March 4, 2013



Last weekend the Peace Corps Volunteers that live on my island group were all invited to Mark and Alissa's fale (house). Mark and Alissa live on an outer island so we were extremely excited to receive an invitation to spend a weekend with them. On Friday we piled into a boat with our Peace Corps lifejackets, sleeping bags and backpacks and headed toward Nuapapu.


The boat ride took about an hour and a half, but felt like 10 minutes because of how beautiful it was outside. On the way we stopped at Swallow's Cave (pictured below) and drove the boat right into the cave. When we arrived at Nuapapu we hiked up to the village and were greeted by many of Mark and Alissa's neighbors. They were so welcoming! The boys created a make-shift grill and we ate hot dogs and burgers for dinner.


We woke up on Saturday morning to another hot and humid day in Tonga, but it didn't matter because we spent the day on the water. Re-applying SPFs as often as we could remember, we jumped back in the boat and headed to Vaka'eitu (a deserted island near Nuapapu). We hiked to a secret coral reef and spent the later part of the morning snorkeling. I kept having "I can't believe I live here" moments. Part of the time I thought I was a character in Finding Nemo. Socool. We ate pb&js for lunch and a special treat - Pringles!

Then we journeyed back to the boat and headed towards Mariner's Cave. We stopped back at Nuapapu to pick up two Tongans that knew how to get to the cave, giving Harrison just enough time to ride a horse.


Mariner's Cave is located on the edge of an island and can only be entered by swimming under the water and through a tunnel. At this point, we had spent enough time in the boat that I was entering the early phases of sea sickness. Everyone else made it into Mariner's Cave except for me. I was the one who was sleeping on the bottom of the boat. Everyone eventually made it back safely to the boat. We then returned to Nuapapu and had just enough time to bucket bathe and prepare for a get-together. This concert was put on by members of the village of Nuapapu in honor of Mark's 26th Birthday and the Peace Corps who visited Nuapapu last weekend. It was amazing.


Complete with banjos, guitars, ukuleles and dancing with spears!

On Sunday morning we hiked to Matamaka (where Mark teaches) and sat under the 'Ovava trees right on the water. We chatted about life and friends and America and then made our way back to Nuapapu. We then went to a neighbor's house to eat roasted pig and many root crops. It was a morning full of fellowship and fun!

It was a wonderful weekend and I can't wait to go back and visit this little village in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean.



Nuapapu [in black and white]







"live in the sunshine.

swim the sea.

drink the wild air."

- emerson


Sunday, March 3, 2013

the tale of the kuma.

I returned home yesterday after a great weekend on Nuapapu and unlocked my front door.

Excited at the prospect of an uneventful and quiet Sunday evening, I was instead met by the most awful smell these two nostrils have ever sniffed.

It was so bad. So so bad.

I initially thought "Mandy, you must have left some food out. Way to go."

But I couldn't figure out what food would cause such a stank.  

So I cleaned out the fridge and sprayed some Fall Leaves Febreze, crossed my fingers and went to bed.

That sure didn't fix it because I awoke this morning and the stench seemed to have exponentially grown over night. And then I got to thinking...

A couple weeks ago I had a visitor who liked to eat through my peanut butter jars and nibble through my tea bags (who does that?). I knew I had a rat and I knew that something needed to be done about it. So the next time I was in town I picked up some rat poison and hoped that it would do the trick. Sure enough, the very next morning all the rat poison I had left out in a bowl the night before (I felt like some creepy kid leaving poison out for Santa) was gone. Mission accomplished. But I guess this kuma's (rat) dying wish was to be a pain in my backside. Because two weeks later (which, if you do the math, is many hot, humid and sticky days later) I am now stuck with a funky smell and no more rat. So I went sniffing this morning - determined to find the exact place in my tiny house where the stench was coming from. I sniffed and I sniffed and I sniffed... somewhere in the kitchen is what I had decided but I didn't have time to do anything about it because I needed to get to teaching. During a break, I told the teachers about how my house namu peka (smiled like a bat) and they laughed. Then one of the teachers came over and was nearly blown away by the odor. Seriously. He couldn't step in the house without dry heaving. It was THAT bad. He called three students over who started pulling everything out from underneath my sink. And sure enough... there that little bugger was. This rat had to have been a foot long. I've never seen anything so disgusting. Even my molokau story wasn't this gross. So these students took a 30-minute break and cleaned Ms. Mandy's house. Extra credit points anyone? What an exciting morning it was! The odor isn't quite gone yet, but I think I'm rat-free for the time being. Fist pump.

P.S. Sorry if you were grossed out by this post.   

P.P.S. Sorry I'm not sorry... I wanted to tell you because gross things are a part of life and a part of Peace Corps.