Wednesday, August 28, 2013


This week in PE we did Zumba! Even though I tried to get my kids pumped about Backstreet Boys and *Nsync, they begged for Mamma Mia! I didn't complain.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Thor's Stomach

A declaration: I will have a stomach like Thor’s when I’m finished with Peace Corps. Groovy. That rhymed. Well, it rhymed if you say Peace Corps like Peace Cores. FYI: This is the way Tongans say it.

I’m not talking about a six-pack (though yoga is helping me actually develop some core strength -- booyah), but an inside that will rival the strength of a certain hammer-throwing Norske cutie. I mean, it only makes sense since I have a little Norwegian ancestry.

I used to eat dirt as a kid. Don’t roll your eyes. I’m sure you did too but just can’t remember. I attribute my affinity for dirt to the fact that I don’t have seasonal allergies and prior to Peace Corps I had an immune system that was pretty rockin’ [translation: In my B.P.C. days, I very rarely got sick…even after being an elementary school teacher for 7 years. Since moving to Tonga? Meh. A different story.]

But when you move to a different part of the world, you are inevitably introduced to a bevy of foreign germs and viruses. And I encountered a beast-of-a-germ this past week. Stomach issues are the worst when you don’t have someone around to take care of you and make you soup. Sleep works well though.

Oh well, I’m better now and ready to rock the rest of this week. This motion-sickness-prone girl is going to test her stomach again when she learns all about deep-sea fishing on Saturday. Mahi-mahi beware!

FYI: Mahi-mahi also means sour underwear in Tongan. This was not the Mahi-mahi I was referring to. This is.

What fun things do you have planned for the weekend?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My Yoga Journey... [so far]

My mom got into yoga long before it became popular in the States. Back when it was cool to make your own jewelry out of beads made out of rolled up church bulletins or just rock anything with a peace sign on it. Back when Simon & Garfunkel were played on record players, no one knew what an iPhone was, a time when Nixon was president. When I was born in the early 1980’s, she continued with her practice. And when I was in elementary school she became a certified yoga instructor. I remember growing up and knowing that every day, no matter what, my mom would do her “stretching”. By the time I got into high school I had learned that it was best to not talk to Mom in the morning before her yoga practice was completed.  

Here is my point: I’ve been around yoga my entire life and it took me until the ripe ole’ age of 29 to realize its benefit and what it not only does to your body, but to your heart/soul/well-being.

About four months ago I started a pretty consistent yoga practice (I also started meditating). What kind of hippy talk is this Mandy?! Just wait… I’ve spent hours downloading videos, reading books, and attempting poses named after animals and other beautiful wildlife. I practice breathing like a lion, stretching my “side body”, and “opening my heart”. Somewhere I read that it takes 21 days to establish a habit, yet after the first few yoga sessions it felt as though there had already been a shift. Not only did I become more flexible, but also I noticed that in my daily life I was calmer, happier and worried a lot less. I felt like I was understanding myself better.

When people think about yoga, they sometimes think it’s just a hippy thing – full of all things peace and love related. And while there may be some truth to that, I’m finding that it’s a lot more. It’s also about confrontation, discomfort, finding equanimity between effort and ease, and being accountable for your own personal growth. And since I’m finding that much of Peace Corps is about personal growth, then this fits right in!

I found a little yoga community here in Tonga, too. A few times a week I get together with a small group of new friends at the local Catholic convent and practice yoga. The view of the water is breathtaking and I get to get my fakamalahisino (exercise) in with some cool people.

I love when you find something that you absolutely love and you want to do it all the time – it makes life so much more juicy – the last time I felt this kind of passion for something was art class in fourth grade. I friggin’ love me some pipe cleaners, people.

The nice women who I practice with have encouraged me to start teaching classes a couple times a week and I am loving it. For awhile I thought that my Midwestern accent was not going to create a very calm atmosphere conducive to holding the downward dog pose for awhile, but they say they enjoy my class. It’s fun helping others while you are helping yourself.

A Full and Wonderful Life.

I love this story. I imagine it taking place in a small town in Maine (something like Wiscasett. You ever been there? No? You should go.). Enjoy.

One summer, many years ago, a banker was vacationing in a small village on the coast. He saw a fisherman in a small boat by the pier with a handful of fish that he had just caught. The businessman asked him how long it took him to catch the fish, and the man said he was out on the water for only a couple of hours.

“So why didn’t you stay out there longer to catch more fish?” asked the businessman.

The fisherman said he catches just enough to feed his family every day, and then comes back.

“But it’s only 2 p.m.!” said the banker, “What do you do with the rest of your time?”

The fisherman smiled and said, “Well, I sleep late every day, then fish a little, go home, play with my children, take a nap in the afternoon, then stroll into the village each evening with my wife, relax, play the guitar with our friends, laugh and sing late into the night. I have a full and wonderful life.”

The banker scoffed at the young man, “Well, I’m a businessman from New York! Let me tell you what you should do instead of wasting your life like this! You should catch more fish to sell to others, and then buy a bigger boat with the money you make so you can catch even more fish!”

“And then what?” asked the fisherman.

The banker’s eyes got all big as he enthusiastically explained, “You can then buy a whole fleet of fishing boats, run a business, and make a ton of money!”

“And then what?” asked the fisherman again, and the banker threw his hands in the air and said, “You’d be worth a million! You can then leave this small town, move to the city, and manage your enterprise from there!”

“How long would all this take?” asked the fisherman.

“Fifteen to twenty years!” replied the banker.

“And then what?”

The banker laughed and said, “That’s the best part. You can then sell your business, move to a small village, sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take naps in the afternoon, go for an evening stroll with your wife after dinner, relax, sing, and play the guitar with your friends. You would have a full and wonderful life!”

The fisherman smiled at the banker, quietly gathered his catch, and walked away.

[Source: Timber Hawkeye, Buddhist Boot Camp]

Monday, August 19, 2013

My Tonga Soundtrack

I was skyping with a friend the other day (technology is so great) and they started laughing.

“Mandy?! Did I just hear a rooster?”

“Yeah, I guess you did.”

I’ve lived here so long that I have become completely accustomed to the sounds that surround me and forget that my ears would definitely not be graced with the same symphony if I were living in Colorado or most other places. I forget that the soundtrack that makes up my day-to-day life here is unique and special and something that I may miss next year.

If my life in Tonga could be transformed into a soundtrack I imagine it would be called something catchy like “Tonga Tunes”.  It wouldn’t include music per se (aside from track 3), but a compilation of other sounds gathered from my life here.

Here's what I imagine the album cover to look like:

And here’s what I imagine the track listing to look like:

1.     Cock-a-doodle-doo. [3:13] A wonderful mix of rooster noises. Clucking, cock-a-doodle-doo-ing and rooting around for food at all times of the day.
2.     Is that a dinosaur? No, it’s a pig being chased by a dog. [0:59] Squealing piglets or big pigs all being chased by ferocious dogs. Sounds a bit like a soundbit from Jurassic Park.
3. The louder I sing, the closer I am to Him. [5:29] Various recordings of different churches throughout Tonga singing their best on Sunday morning. 
3.     Drip drip drop. Thud. [2:22] Torrential downpour through the coconut trees.
4.     It’s a bird, it’s a plane. Nope. It’s a bat. [1:23] These guys sound somewhat like what I imagine a flying rat to sound like. They love to fly around at night.
5.     Woodblocks in my house. [0:33] The clicking of the blue-tailed skinks (lizards) in my house. 
6.     A Ring-a-ding-dong: The Bells of Tonga. [3:33] Bells in Tonga are made of various items - empty butane tanks, wooden blocks, pieces of metal. This track showcases all the different "bell" sounds found in Tonga.
7.     Moo, Moo, adflkasdflkj! [2:00] This track doesn't only include cows mooing, but the noises they make when they get each other angry or need to let others know that they are around.
8.     Giggle, Giggle, Cackle, Grin. [4:24] So much of this culture involves laughing at yourself and others. This track includes people giggling.
9.     The Sounds of Water [5:33] The waves crashing against the tide flights, the sound the water makes as it moves through the coral, sailboats clanking on the surface. A perfect ending to a perfect soundtrack. 

So, there it is. I bet it'd be a bestseller on iTunes. I just bet it would.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Dear Saturday,

 Dear Saturday,
Thank you for today. You were beautiful.
 Some of us perceived you to be a bit colder than others did, but regardless the trade winds blew and the sun shined while we picked up trash in Vava'u.
 Vava'u Lahi is such a beautiful island and we want to keep it that way and you helped us do that.
We had a lot of fun while we picked up kapa inu (cans) and other veve (rubbish).
It was a lot of work, but it was easier doing it together.
 We talked, hung out and played while we cleaned the road.
 We spread peace and love.
 After we finished we headed over to the Baha'i Center in Neiafu and cleaned the chairs.
 There were a lot, but it didn't seem like that many because we worked together.
 When we finished, we had a bbq in the front yard and played some more.
We relaxed and took in the awesome weather.
Saturday, thanks for your beauty. Thank you for reminding me how lucky we are to be part of something so big. 

Love, Mandy

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Baha'i Nights.

One of my favorite parts about moving to a different place is learning to navigate my new home and find communities of people that I really connect with. When I moved to Vava'u, I started attending a Sunday night Baha'i study group. It's so nice to come together with this group of friends. We come from all over Vava'u Lahi (and the world) for an evening of learning and laughing.

Baha'i is a faith that is, in terms of other faiths, in its infancy. It's only been around since the 1800's, but has a lot to teach. It's about the unification of everything (well not only that... it's just one of the many reasons I am drawn to it), it teaches that actions speak louder than words. One of the spiritual masters of the religion, Baha'u'llah says that "the betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct." He also says that "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens". Beautiful advice.
I don't really like talking about my faith/religion/spiritual beliefs on the world-wide-web because I believe it to be a very private thing and sometimes those conversations can drive a wedge between people. But here's this: I consider myself a spiritual person - I'm still on the fence about aligning myself with one faith. I think that sometimes when we align ourselves too rigidly with something we create a feeling of separateness. I think they all have a lot of goodness to teach the world and many times it's the same message just with different packaging.

Sunday afternoon/evening we all got together at Don and Norie's to learn some more about Baha'i and to eat and hang out. One of the many things we're currently working on is developing and implementing a service project to help keep Vava'u clean. Littering/waste management here is a huge problem. I suspect that it's due to the fact that Tongans used to use banana leaves for plates and the practice of throwing them on the ground became commonplace. But fast forward time and the "advancement" of society and do the same thing with a Styrofoam plate? NotsogoodforMamaNature.

So we began the prep for our service day by creating some pretty amazing signs.
Maybe we weren't always the most focused, but we sure did have fun.

I am so grateful to be part of such a fun group of people who are working together to make the world a better place.  

The full service project includes walking a very high-traffic area near Neiafu and picking up trash, hanging signs reminding people not to litter on the ground and coming together to keep our corner of the world a little bit cleaner.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

School was let out early today so I spent the afternoon reading in my hammock. What a beautiful day and the trade winds were a blessing too!

"So go ahead... accept a few deep breaths with your eyes closed and a smile on your face. What a joy it is to be alive!" - Timber Hawkeye, Buddhist Boot Camp

Heaps of Quotes + Randomness...

So I’ve been reading heaps of books lately. Heaps. I can use the word heaps because I’m located so close to Australia and New Zealand and they use that word in this part of the world. Plus, I think it sounds pretty cool. Maybe it’ll be one of those things that I take back to the States with me. Who knows…

I’m currently pretty happy with life … really happy actually, but I want to work on being an even happier person - hence why I am choosing to take part in a happiness project that will last an entire year! - so I’m going to learn what I can from some masters (Dalai Lama, Thich Naht Hahn, Desmond Tutu, Pema Chodron, etc.).

Well, aside from The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, I’m currently working through Buddhist Boot Camp by Timber Hawkeye and man, I’m learning heaps while digesting this little literary gem.

Here are a few passages that stuck out to me and how I’ve thought about them in terms of living and serving here in the South Pacific… (the bolded parts are direct quotes from Hawkeye’s book, Buddhist Boot Camp).

When you approach each moment with gratitude, not only will you stop experiencing life from a place of lack, you will experience abundance! THAT is luxury. THAT is being rich! Guys, I live in the South Pacific. I live next to turquoise water, under coconut trees, and the trade winds are here and making the weather beyond beautiful. I love this place so much and sometimes I get trapped so far into my head that I have a hard time stopping and really taking in the beauty around me. Very few people get to experience something like this (unless they’re on vacation) and many times I forget this, but WOW. Even though I make hardly any money, I have never felt richer, happier than I have the last few weeks.

Will this action that I am considering get me closer to the kind of life I want to live, or farther from it? I have a confession to make. Here it is: Every day in Class 5 we begin our time together the same way. We go through a series of fill-in-the-blank activities (Today is _________. Tomorrow will be ______________. One week from now will be ______________.) There is a calendar above the activity so that the students can reference it should they forget what day of the week it is. We’ve been working on this all year. And by all year I mean since February. And today I asked one of the students to get up to complete the activity. He did it correctly yesterday and the day before that, but today… nope. It was like everything he has learned just momentarily fell out of his head. I felt something tense up inside me. I was frustrated: How could he not get this? How did I fail him so badly? We’ve done this every day! EVERY DAY. Seriously?! I wanted to raise my voice, but instead I felt myself pause, take a deep breath, and calmly and lovingly ask the students if they could help the boy out. I smiled at him, (a real genuine smile) and then one of the students raised her hands and without calling him stupid (because that sometimes happens here... not by me and I’ve almost put an end to it), helped him out. And the moment was actually really sweet. They worked together to solve the puzzle and even high-fived each other at the end. I want to live a life where I spread kindness and love - one where I cultivate compassion. And recently, if given the choice (because there is always a choice) to get frustrated or to stay calm, I’ve been choosing calm and it’s making so much of a difference. Treat every living being; including yourself, with kindness, and the world will immediately be a better place.

If you really want to do something, you will find a way. If you don’t you will find an excuse. Since I was little I have struggled with my body image and weight. Overeating was a way to mask my feelings of inadequacy and because I’d always been the fat girl (or perceived myself that way), I just kept telling myself the same story: I can’t do anything about this – I’m never going to have a waist, double chins are going to be a part of my future forever and ever. I’d compare myself to my skinny and beautiful sister, my mother who can still do the splits, my brother who is a great runner or my dad who is naturally athletic and think, “I’m just never going to be like them”. But recently something has shifted – It’s okay if I’m not like my family members. I’m Mandy. I’ve started eating more mindfully, practicing more yoga, not comparing myself (because it’s kind of cool being me…most days) being more active and not obsessing about the number on the scale. I feel so much better (not to mention the number on the scale is going down – woot. woot.). The journey to loving yourself is a tough one, but it helps that I’ve stopped telling myself I can’t change.

It was interesting to understand that even an act of kindness could have a negative impact, and that sometimes we cause more damage by trying to help because we’re not looking at the big picture of what “helping” truly means. Approaching the year mark in Peace Corps makes me think a lot about what “aid” and “serving” really mean and whether or not what I’m doing is beneficial. When does help not really help at all? Sometimes aid is given and because those who receive it didn’t feel like they worked for it, it is wasted. I’m grateful that a good portion of my primary role in Peace Corps is to work on capacity building – helping the teachers of Tonga establish student-centered learning environments and encourage the creation of learning spaces that present abstract ideas and knowledge in engaging ways. School should be a place where new information connects to each child’s uniqueness so that everyone has the most dynamic school experience possible.  What I’m finding is that I can’t just give these people school supplies or find them “free stuff” (new computers, a copy machine, etc.), but what’s more meaningful and longer lasting is empowering people to take control of their situations and to adopt best practices. New stuff is nice, but knowledge lasts longer.

If you recall the happiest moments in your life, they are all from when you were doing something to help somebody else. –Desmond Tutu When I look back at the happiest moments from my life (so far) they all involve other people. Sure it felt cool to win awards, to finish running a half marathon, to climb that mountain, but the juicy moments I will forever cherish involve helping others realize their awesomeness. My heart is so full when I think about watching a little girl who spent all year learning memorizing the ABCs finally get them right, helping a little boy at summer camp finally learn how to master the art of friendship bracelet making - Don’t laugh! It can be tricky!, or teaching 60 children how to do yoga (and then spend the whole next lunch hour practicing with each other!)!  These are memories that I will have with me forever.

When you release your expectations that the world should fulfill you, your disappointments vanish. – Dan Millman Life is unpredictable and when we believe that we have it all figured out and know what is going to happen, and then it doesn’t happen that way, there is a lot of internal discord. Sometimes what happens is NO WHERE near close to what we were imagining for ourselves or our loved ones. What are we suppose to do then? Get angry? Frustrated? Nah. We just have to change our thinking. I’m letting go of my expectations for the way I think my life should be or the way things should happen. I’ve stopped expecting certain things to happen during my days in Peace Corps. Even the school schedule isn’t always consistent. I wake up every day determined to try my best to make it the best day possible never knowing whether I will have a full teaching schedule, whether I will have a high school visitor at 10:30pm at night asking for help with their homework, or whether the weather will change my plans. I just enter each day with an open mind and heart and hope for the best. Since adopting this attitude I have yet to be disappointed, but I have been continually grateful, surprised and excited.

I’ll leave you with this:

Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future, that he does not enjoy the present moment. As a result, he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never truly lived. – The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprises him the most

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Shopping at the Market.

I shop at Whole Foods the market in Neiafu for all of my fruits and veggies.
There is something so special (and fun!) about going to a market to buy your produce.
Getting the chance to explore all your options, never knowing what's going to be there, running into people from your village. It's all good.
Getting to talk to the women who helped grow the lettuce and green peppers you will eat, laughing with the women who collected the eggs that you will make your breakfast creations from. It's always a good time in Neiafu.
Here in the South Pacific we are in the midst of an orange season. But other fruits are plentiful too (coconuts, melon, papaya, bananas, sour sop).
At this point I have probably eaten my weight in baby oranges (moli are their names here). 
They are 'ifo 'aupito! (so very delicious!). 
But there are other things you can get at the market, too.
Some weeks the vegetables are plentiful.

Some weeks the melons seem to out number the people on the island.
And other weeks there isn't much of a selection.
It's always an adventure shopping at the market. And the scenery isn't too bad either. It's located just feet from the warf and overlooks the Port of Refuge (the water!).
P.S. I'm super excited this week because I scored some lettuce which means that I will be able to make salads! You have no idea how happy I am about this.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Agriculture Fair [3]

 ^^^These kids had heaps of fun at the Agriculture Show and you most likely would of had you been here. Free coconuts, pineapples soaked in vanilla syrup harvested from the South Pacific. Baby pigs, kings, shoeless children, singing. See... those are some cool things.

Seriously, guys. The Agriculture Show was so good that I had to post about it 3 times. That's a lot of talk about veggies, fish and handicrafts. But that's also a lot of what Tonga is about. Come here (points to ground) and I'll show you. Or just look at these pictures. That's cool, too.
 It was a day full of Everything-Tonga. And the people of Tonga sure do have a lot to celebrate. They live in a land that is beautiful and rich in so so much. No wonder their pride for their country is so huge! So huge that they have the white girl paint flags on their faces!
 ^^^One of the many reasons that the Agriculture Show was so spectacular is that everyone participated. Even this little guy who played the trumpet when his grandpa wasn't.
^^^One of the top 5 cutest moments of my life happened at the Agriculture Fair, too. I noticed this little guy following this Tongan man around. The guy, all tattooed up and looking tough, picked him up and snuggled him a bit before the little pig fell asleep in his arms. (Molly! I'll bring you one home!) 
 ^^^Oh yeah. And the company at the Agriculture Show was pretty rad too. It was a great time to get together with other Peace Corps Volunteers and explore. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Agriculture Fair [2]

Like I talked about in the last post, this past Saturday I ventured to the Vava'u Agriculture Fair. Each village throughout the main island (and the surrounding ones!) had a booth along with any local business or organization who wanted to make their presence known. Birds of Paradise flowers were woven around the tents, mulberry bark ta'ovalas lined the floors, giant ufi (yam) plants leaned against coconut trees and people fellow-shipped with each other.
Even the fish had time to hang out. (Side note: I love how the center fish in this picture looks like he's straight up smiling at the camera) 
There were people who dressed up... This girl is wearing a traditional puletaha (dress), ta'ovala (grass mat), kafa (braided belt), and kahoa (necklace made from live flowers).
 ...and there were others who dressed up. I gotta get me a hat like this one.
These mats were especially beautiful. The bright colors are actually individual strands of yarn that have been woven together through the mulberry bark to look like embroidery.

There was so much goodness at the Agriculture Fair!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Agriculture Fair [1]

 Saturday was a big day in Vava'u. For the first time in five years the Vava'u Agriculture Fair was put on. In many ways the fair reminded me of my childhood summer days spent at the Dane County Fair. 1997 was a good year for me at the DCF. I won an Award of Merit for an oil painting of a sunflower. Highfiveself!
Alright, back to Vava'u.
Activities, Animals, Food. Awards were presented for the most good looking root crop, the largest pumpkin, the best kava, the best vanilla. Food was plentiful. Handicrafts were too. I worked with the Vava'u Tourist Association for a few hours and painted the faces of many smiling Tongan children (and a few adults, too!).
Oh yes. And there were fish. Which makes a little bit of sense since we are surrounded by the South Pacific Ocean. This guy was especially large and especially funny-looking. 
There was a lot of sitting throughout the day. There was a lot of praying, singing, listening, and praying... and more praying. There was a special presentation for a special guest who came in on a ferry on Friday. The special guest was...
The King. 
You read that right.
King Tupou VI (Sixth).
He and his team of security guards walked around to every booth. He seemed like a really friendly guy and even smiled at me when he passed me.

I will be back soon with more from the Agriculture Fair.