Monday, September 30, 2013

The Class 6 Test - Day 1

Today was an important day in Tonga.
It represents what we (and our students) have been working towards all year.

Today my oldest students took the Class 6 Test. 

Like I've talked about in other posts this test is even more intense than standardized testing in America. It determines what secondary schools students will earn admission into. The secondary school many times determines whether or not you will go abroad for university/college or any sort of post-secondary. And this is all decided when you are 11-years-old. Talk about intense.

But my students did awesome. I reminded them last week to make sure that they were drinking plenty of water, getting a good night's sleep and eating lots of fruits and vegetables (not root crop... but green veggies!). 
So today dawned and at about 8am the first Class 6 students arrived at school. The rest of the students in the school were told to stay home for the next couple days. This will give the Class 6 students plenty of quiet time to concentrate on doing their best on the exams. 

The proctors of the exams are principals and veteran teachers from other schools across the island. The thought is that this will cut down on cheating. The Ministry of Education stopped by this morning and dropped off the examinations. Today's tests? English and Science.

When the test started I asked one of my fellow teachers what I should be doing while they were taking the test (since I'm not allowed in the room). They motioned to my classroom and said "go and sit in there". I walked to my classroom door to find that all of the tables were taken out and that I was being recruited (unbeknownst to me) to serve kava to all of the men who had a child currently taking the test. Sweet deal. So I did some leg stretches, said a big malo e lelei (hello) to the men and sat down. The town officer handed me a giant cake with frosting and sprinkles and told me that that was my payment for serving kava. Thank you, Alavini. Then I spent the next 3 hours serving kava to the ministers, the town officer, a fellow teacher, the dads and the grandpas of the children taking the test. 
Discussing the tests and what's been going on in the village.
Chatting away.
My view from the kava bowl - the cups are made from coconut shells and the bowl is carved from wood

The conversation was interesting - topics ranged from talking about the tests, to rugby, even to my marital status. At one point an older gentlemen (who had a grandson taking the test) inquired about my age. I replied with "29" and he said, "Really? I'm only 28. We should get married. You like younger men, right?" All the men started laughing, throwing their heads back in the air. Not only was this man probably close to 70 years old, but he also has a wife. The men then encouraged me to up my efforts and find someone to marry right here in my village because it would make me less homesick (I'm not), a better Tongan speaker (ok, maybe) and cause me and to gain weight (Just what I've always wanted).
When men want kava they will clap. You continue stirring the kava until everybody has been served.
The town officer - Alavini - is in the center of the picture.
So after 3 hours of kava and va'e ma'mate (dead legs), I excused myself and went and sat with Ane (my counterpart) and talked with her about the test. We went over the English portion and found that what I had been teaching all year was right on par with what appeared on the exam. Fist pump. It was such a good feeling. When lunchtime rolled around Kalo (Caroline) a little 2-year-old cutie patootie in the village found me and wouldn't let me put her down. We split a nesi (cross between a pear and an apple) and just hung out. Every time I  walked across the school yard to talk to somebody else she would come running at me with her arms spread wide and jump into my arms. I love little kids and their enthusiasm. Hugs are nice too!

Tonight my village will feast to celebrate the end of Day 1. Tomorrow the students will take their Maths (they add the "s" here) and Tongan Language tests.

My Happiness Project: September/October

So another month in Peace Corps has come and gone and with it another month of the Happiness Project. Man. Learning to love yourself and be happy is such a ride. Some days you feel like you are at the top of a beautiful look out and just loving everything and other times you feel like you're out of control and not sure where you're going... trusting that your path will lead to something.

Here are the themes I've determined for my Happiness Project for the next year:

August: Vitality.
September: Love.
October: Work.
November: Lighten Up.
December: Play.
January: Friendship.
February: Self Love.
March: Money Matters.
April: Contemplate the Heavens.
May: Grow.
June: Attitude.
July: Happiness.

Here's a review of September
My resolutions:
Exercise better: I have continued my yoga practice and training for a multi-sport race that is on October 5th in the "big city" on my island. Aside from a couple bouts of sickness, I kept true to this one.
Proofs of Love: I found myself looking for ways to tell others that I appreciate them - whether through compliments, baked goods, facebook messages, etc. it felt good to let others know how much I appreciate them.
Quit complaining: This was the hardest. I used to think I was just sharing statements of fact when I'd say things like "It's so hot" or "That's so expensive!" but I'm not really adding anything positive to the world when I talk like that so I'm starting to catch myself and stop it, but it's way harder than I thought!
Thank people: This one was fun! I went about my day and sometimes thanked people for the littlest things (and occasionally people would question why I was thanking them for such a small thing), but showing gratitude is important and something that I think I need more of in my life.

So what's up in October?
Theme: Aim Higher (Work)

Enjoy NOW. I have always been somebody who looks towards the future or dwells on the past. I don't ever seem to be content with where I am. Sad, right? But I don't think I'm alone in this. Comments like: "I will be happy when I lose 20 lbs." "I can't wait to get married." "After Peace Corps I will..." but all they do is take you away from here. And HERE and NOW is all you have. You aren't promised the next minute, next hour, next day. Here is where I need to be. I'm finding that through meditation, yoga, and reading so many self-help books that I could open up my own library, I'm getting there. I find myself enjoying the small things, not worrying about what will be (because I know it's going to be awesome and I'm creating my own path). I've let go of the past and what remains are lessons and memories that I will take with me.
Learn more about yoga. I want to learn a new pose each week and learn more about the other 7 limbs of yoga besides asana (poses). Yoga is exciting and so addicting.
Enjoy the fun of failure. I want to let go of fears I still have when working through Peace Corps. I am finding the more I "put myself out there" the more rewarding this experience is. And this hasn't been easy. There are times though that my projects, ideas, meetings don't go as hoped but I can find joy in that too!
Do only one thing at a time. This will be the hardest resolution by far. I am a multi-tasker. I constantly have 3 or 4 things going on at once, but I want to see what will happen when I concentrate on doing one thing at a time. Will I be more focused? Will I notice things that I may have missed by working on too many projects? Will I do more fulfilling work? Who knows!

Happy October, friends!
Thanks for letting me share about this. It helps me feel accountable.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Story of Mt. Talau

This might be my most favorite Tongan tale yet.
Here it goes.
There is a "mountain" (I use quotes because I don't consider it a mountain, even though Tongans do) in Neiafu called Mt. Talau (pronounced: Tah-la-ow). 
What is unique about this landmark is how flat the top is.
Mt. Talau is right above the red flowers in this picture.
See? Pretty flat right?
Anyway, apparently Mt. Talau wasn't always flat and that's the story I am here to tell you today.
(Mom, turn off Criminal Minds and devote your full attention to this... it's pretty good stuff)

Once upon a time the Tongan Gods started bragging about how they had the highest mountains in the entire South Pacific. They were proud and wanted to let everyone know about the beauty of their island nation. However, the Samoan Gods disagreed.

In fact, the Samoan Gods were mighty upset that the Tonga would claim such a title so in the middle of a moonless night a Samoan God came to Vava'u and found Mt. Talau.
He began sawing the top of Mt. Talau off, but was not quiet enough.
He woke up a Tongan God who was not very happy. But by this point the Samoan God had already lifted the top of Mt. Talau from its perch and was carrying it over the water.
One of the Tongan gods heard him and remembered a unique and important fact about Samoan Gods: they hate sunlight because it causes them to turn to stone, so they only come out at night.
So the Tongan God did the only thing he could think of... he dropped his pants and mooned the Samoan God. With the Tongan's butt high in the air, the Samoan God became so frightened (thinking that he had come into contact with the sun) that he dropped the top of Mt. Talau in the water creating a new island.

This island is still around today and is known as Lotuma (pronounced Low-two-ma).
The End. 

And now you know.

in order to be, you must do.

in order to be, you must do.
all great things start from that one adventure. that one dream. that one idea. that one step.
 to adventure is to find yourself whole.
to adventure is to have a story at the end of all of this.
 the places you see, the things you make and the people you meet will fuel you forever.
 choose to see beauty where others see none. and strive for greatness always.
 do more, be more.
 be okay getting lost...
 ...and explore always.


In celebration of a year of Peace Corps completed and as a way to get out and do something fun before the big Class 6 test this week, we went to Tapana.
Tapana is a small island located off of Vava'u Lahi and is home to Maria and Eduardo, a fun couple who moved here 20+ years ago from Spain.
Maria used to be a professional flamenco dancer and is an amazing cook and Eduardo is quite the musician. The evening was full of friendship, laughing and great paella. 
The Vava'u Group (+ Michael who was visiting from Tongatapu)
 Harrison and I.
 Great dance skills.
 Smiling faces.
 Good times.

Swimming the Whales

Thursday was something else.
I got up bright and early (during our week-long school break) and hopped on a boat with fellow PCVs Harrison, Michael, Jeff, and Joey. 
We were debriefed about how to find whales in the wild and what we might expect to find out in the open waters of the South Pacific. We spent the next few hours zipping around islands, taking in the scenery and enjoying each others' company - just me and the boys.
Then we came up on mother humpback whale and her whale baby.
I knew that whales were big, but until I actually saw one I had no idea exactly how big we were talking. It took my breath away. We jumped in the water with the mom and baby and were able to float right above them. At one point the mom looked like she was cuddling with the little one - one flipper resting gently on the back of the baby. Unbelievable. 
The whale baby was really funny and at one point started jumping out the ocean. He/she was just so playful. Smacking one of his side fins on the water almost as if to say hello. So rad. 
I feel like no words I write can do justice to what I experienced. It was a feeling I had yet to really feel and one that I have no words for. If you ever have the chance to do this - please, please, please do. 
Oh yes. And we ended the day with some snorkeling.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hiko Veve [Round 2]

Spent another wonderful Saturday morning cleaning up trash around the island with some super fun kids (who even shared some coconuts with me!).
Picking up trash and having fun!
Gorgeous day!

Getting ready to take the trash to the dump!
Look! Sean is doing some coconut yoga.
My Saturday was full of awesome - started out by walking into town and reading aloud to children at the library, then spent a few hours cleaning up trash with some Vava'u kids (and drinking fresh coconut water), adventured to a bridge and swam in the ocean (and attempted to get over my fear of sharks and starfish), then ended the day at the VEPA (Vava'u Environmental Protection Association) Fundraiser. 
Hope your weekend was juicy too!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

random bits.

sorry for the blog silence... again. 

here's what's been going on/things i've been thinking about recently:
:: i'm going to stop talking about all my stomach issues on the blog - it seems like every time i do i end up: getting another stomach bug/bout of food poisoning/weird virus/in a fight with a ridiculous microbe. the last three days were [again] spent under the weather. yuck.
::  the humidity has been back for the last few days. not a fan. i know when the humidity rises because my glasses fall down my nose and i feel like steve urkel constantly trying to push them back up into position with my pointer finger.
:: i just completed day 12 of my yoga challenge (30 days of yoga every day) and am feeling good. i still did yoga when i was sick - which was hard and probably not the smartest decision, but i did it!
:: our school garden is growing and it's awesome! yay for tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, and green peppers!
:: the new peace corps tonga group has arrived and is enjoying training.
:: the standardized test that the class 6 students will take is less than 2 weeks away!
:: i have a tutuku 'ako (school break) next week and i've filled it with work, projects and fun! [swimming with the whales -- eek!]
:: my lesi (papaya) tree is giving me awesome papaya! (i know i told you it smells like baby poop, but if you get it to be the perfect momoho (ripeness) then it's pretty 'ifo (delicious).
:: even in the South Pacific i still have an obsession with pumpkin spice and have recently been putting cinnamon/pumpkin spice in my coffee. feels like fall... even if the mercury is rising.
:: sometimes I sit outside under the mango tree and watch bats.  did this last night during a full moon. it was really neat-o.
:: i've recently been obsessed with snail mail... some of you may want to check your mail boxes in 3, 4, maybe 7 weeks time...
:: great big sea is still one of my favorite bands - there is something really funny about listening to an east-coast canadian irish band when you live on a tiny island in the south pacific.
:: my favorite moments of the day are when i get to play with my students outside of class... even though i do like teaching.
:: i got approved for my trip to new zealand in december! yay for getting to see friends and family! :-)
:: i'm officially half way done with peace corps. 50%?! areyoukiddingme?! no. no, i'm not.

happy wednesday/thursday!

and here's a quote i like (just cuz):

Heroes take journeys, confront dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves. 
-  Carol Pearson

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pizza Party

Good company.
Good times.
Tongan Heat - this is yummy stuff.

Wednesday Nights.

Thank goodness it's Wednesday.
Oooo that's catchy. I think this should be a common phrase. 
Because really... why wait for the weekend when you can get excited about hump day?!
This is my view when I teach yoga.
Wednesday nights are so refreshing.
Like a trade wind blowing across the water, napping in a hammock on a cool afternoon, or sipping on some iced tea, Wednesdays are hugs for the heart... or they should be anyway.
Our yoga room.
Recently, Wednesdays in my life mean a day of teaching, po ako (after school class), helping people out and teaching yoga.

I love ending the day with a good yoga session.

Not only do I get to get my yoga on, but I get to do it in one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen and with some of the nicest people around.

Hope your Thursday is just as juicy. <3

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

PCV Profile: Steph

It's been awhile since I've shared with you about the cool people I get to work with.

This is Steph. 
From the moment Steph and I met we had a special bond: a common love of all things related to the great state of Wisconsin (Go Bucky! Go cheese curds! Go Midwest!). Her midwestern accent isn't as thick as mine, but she still has the love of the Great Lakes in her heart.
Steph and I live on different islands here in the Kingdom, but that doesn't stop our friendship! She's super driven, funny, a vegetarian and a fitness guru. I look up to her (and not just because she's taller than me!) and admire her for so many reasons. She's rad and she's rockin' it in Peace Corps! 

So let's learn some interesting bits about Steph, shall we?
Tell me about a movie you just love. You can never go wrong with the movie Up! I love it because the story has always made me cry and it exemplifies the notion of living fully.
What's your favorite snack in Tonga? Tymos - they are chocolate covered cookies that come in a variety of flavors: coconut, peanut butter, orange, mint. 'Ifo 'aupito! (Very delicious) My favorite flavor is the chocolate filled Tymos. I could eat the whole package pretty much.
Share a PC moment that rocked your world, please. When I came to my school during attachment and my whole school had prepared a welcoming ceremony for me and a traditional dance. They gave me a kahoa (necklace) that is given to nobility. It was truly emotionally moving and I will always remember it.
If you were a character from a book, who would you be? I would be Skeeter from the Help.
What is your preferred form of transportation? Hahaha... heka pasikala for sure! (riding my bike)

New to the blog? Want to see "meet" some other sweet people I work with? 


Monday, September 9, 2013

Life According to Soni [Volume 1]

Samisoni (Samson in English) is one of my many highlights here in Tonga. He is a cross between an old man, a cutie-patootie and a little Buddha. The kid has spunk. Plus he is full of so much wisdom, lives completely in the moment (have you ever noticed that kids are really good at doing that?) and is always looking to help out. Somebody we all can learn from.

So let's see... what can we learn from Soni today?

Soni says... 

"I'm gonna work and have fun while workin'!" It's Monday morning and Soni walks right through the entrance of the school gate with his hands on his hips. The boy is determined. He sees me, gives me the cool-dude down nod, lowers his chin and in a low voice (by 5-year-old standards) says "Hello, Manatee." All business, he ducks into his classroom and appears in my doorway a few moments later. "Tafi?" (Do you want me to sweep?) "Io!" (Yes) I exclaim. Soni grabs the broom (that is roughly the same size that he is) and attempts to clean the classroom before more students arrive. He keeps his head lowered until the entire task is completed, even shoo-ing some students away as they attempt to enter.

"Just keep dancin'!" While I was getting a lesson put together, today I looked outside to see Soni by himself, dancing in the middle of the school grounds. There most definitely was a hiva lelei (good song) playing in his head, so I walked out to meet him, he smiled his partially toothless grin, grabbed my hands and we danced together.

"Play and learn!" Soni likes to point out different things to me and teach me Tongan words. This morning he made a city out of wooden blocks and taught me the different names of the blocks.

Thank you for being your awesome self, Soni. 

[Side note: One of my dreams is to become a certified yoga instructor. I hope to study yoga in Guatemala after my service in the South Pacific is completed. Help me out and vote for me to win a scholarship? Click here. The contest closes October 31st. "Heart" my post by logging in with Facebook or by creating a free account. Don't worry, doesn't SPAM you or sign you up for lame-o newsletters.]

Recent Culinary Clips

1//I've been making my coffee with cinnamon recently and it's giving me a much-needed autumnal fix. Which is super because of the cold (70 degrees - ha!) temperatures we've been having! I almost want to wear a scarf.

2//Three cheers for potassium! Here are the bananas that hang from my front door.

3//Have you ever seen a lesi (papaya) tree before? This guy wasn't here 9 months ago. Too bad I don't care for papaya all that much - it usually smells like baby farts.

4//On Saturday I tried making some hot sauce. I bought chili peppers, onions, ginger and garlic from the market. Since arriving in Tonga I have developed quite the palette for spicy foods... and this didn't disappoint. I put it on cucumber slices. Nom. Nom.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

My Sunday Morning

The congregation is listening intently as Laumanu is standing in the pulpit. Barely five and a half feet tall, she is just able to peek her head over the top of the wooden stand which cradles her bible. Even though I still only understand a small portion of what she is saying, what draws me to listen is the manner in which she speaks - passionately, directly. The trade winds rustle the leaves of the coconut trees and within the pauses of Laumanu's reading of the first lesson, I can hear the birds outside as they greet the day.  
I look down at my hymnal. I know I should be following along, but I have no idea where to even begin to look. Instead I carefully trace the faded gold lettering on top of the small blue book sitting in my lap. It's then that I feel someone's gaze directed my way. 3-year-old Mele is smiling at me from across the aisle. She and I don't have to say anything; with a quick arch of my eyebrows (a movement that translates to "yes"), she scurries across the walkway and jumps into my lap. She grabs the hymnal, opens it and starts pointing to words - grazing her finger from one song to the next attempting to whisper read though it's still so confusing to the both of us. She grabs my hand and I squeeze her a little tighter. Resting her head on my shoulder, she smiles as she plays with the bracelets on my wrist. Her two-year-old cousin waddles down the pew and starts to play with my hair - delicately touching the plumeria blossom I found on the road on the way to church this morning.  Mele and her cousin spend the rest of the hour with me. The final prayer is spoken, the congregation makes moves to exit, the girls giggle, smile and wave goodbye as they skip down the road hand in hand.

It's juicy moments like these where I realize how special it is to be here. That I am a part of this community and they are a part of me...and long after I leave this place will continue to be.

1 year in photos.

At the end of February I wrote a post celebrating 6 months in Peace Corps. I included a picture from every month of my service so far. It was a great way to look back and smile at some of the truly unique things this experience has afforded me so far, so I want to continue with the idea.

At this point I have taken so many pictures that the hard drive on my computer is nearly full and so are two external hard drives. I've started sifting through pictures and choosing my favorites (it's so hard!) in hopes that when I finish with my service I can make a book to remember my time here. I'm trying to only keep 50 photos per month (which in the end will equate to approximately 1,250 photos) and it's been really hard to narrow down because so many wonderful, crazy, exciting, juicy, and unique things happen here. 

Here are some highlights from the past 6 months:
March 2013: Sports Day. All 60 littles, my fellow teachers and myself went into town to compete in Vava'u's Sport's Day. We had a blast even if the temperature was soaring and I was sunburnt by 9am. My students aren't the most athletic bunch, but what they lacked in speed they made up for in attitude! They were cheering every school on and smiling as they sprinted barefoot around the grass track.
April 2013: IST Training in Tongatapu. Peace Corps Tonga Group 77 all came together for a week of training and fun. We shared what's working, funny stories from the field and put our heads together to try and improve our service as we look towards the future.
May 2013: Pizza Party! My students finished a unit where they learned about following directions (which included recipes). We celebrated by throwing a pizza party which was a first for many of them. They sure do love palangi food!
June 2013: Adventure to America! I adventured to the States to watch my little sister marry the love of her life. The trip was a blur, but I got to see my family, some of my dearest friends, relax and enjoy some time in the Northern Hemisphere.
July 2013: Penny! I adopted the cutest kitten on the planet. Penelope (Penny, for short) was house trained within 48 hours of her coming to live with me and loved hanging out with my students while we learn English together. Alas it was short-lived, as a dog killed Penny at the beginning of August.
August 2013: Service Project. I worked with Baha'i Youth in Vava'u to do a road clean up (and some other small projects). It was a full-day of work, laughs and good food!

Here's to the next 6 months and let them be the best ones yet!