Wednesday, October 30, 2013

[Virtual] Coffee Date

Even in the South Pacific when it's a bajillion degrees out I continue to drink my coffee.
I drink it in the morning and usually just sit with myself... and sometimes the cockroaches that scurry across the floor.
Usually I enjoy the "quiet" - listening to the birds, the crickets, the roosters. But sometimes I can't help but miss coffee dates with friends at a local coffee house. I picture us hanging out in oversized plush chairs holding onto super-sized mugs just enjoying each other's company.
And while I was thinking about this I came upon this blog.
Love the idea of Virtual Coffee Dates. 
And since I consider anyone who reads this blog a friend (even if we haven't met yet!), I thought "What the hey...? Why not share with you something that I would share if we were on a mo'oni (real) coffee date."

Here it goes...
If we were having coffee this morning I'd tell you how excited I am about the projects that currently take up my life in Peace Corps. Being busy is so much fun when you feel like you are helping others and doing things that you are passionate about. I'm especially excited about my work with the Tonga Voyaging Society.
If we were having coffee this morning I'd tell you about the poisonous centipede I almost stepped on last night when I opened my front door. It was the biggest one I have seen to date and I jumped across it and ran to get the machete. Probably moved faster than I ever have in my life. Those pincers are big. Molokau (poisonous centipedes) don't mess around.
If we were having coffee this morning I'd tell you about the yoga teacher training contest that I entered. The contest closes October 31st and the votes are all very close. I hope I am chosen for the scholarship but honestly? It seems like every single person who entered has a really great story, a great heart and is really deserving of it. I'll know on November 5th whether or not I "won". If you haven't yet voted consider clicking the heart next to the title (wait until it turns red). Thanks.
If we were having coffee this morning I'd tell you how absolutely excited I am to meet the new Peace Corps group. They have been training on a different island for the last two months and will be moving to site in the next couple of weeks. I'm so excited to make new friends and to help them adjust to life in the South Pacific.
If we were having coffee this morning I would tell you how grateful I have been feeling recently about all the interesting people I get to work with and friends I've made. I'm especially appreciating that they are all different ages and come from such different backgrounds. There is so much to learn from these people that are in my life and I'm so lucky to have them in my life.

What about you? What would you share?
Have a wonderful Halloween.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tonga Voyaging Society // An Update

I sat down with 'Aunofo today. She's the captain of the Hine Moana, the Polynesian Sailing Vessel whose current home is the Port of Refuge in Tonga.
She's from Vava'u and she and I are working together to get the word out about the Tonga Voyaging Society and the Hine Moana. We talked grants, missions and social media presence. The learning curve is a steep one, but I'm learning so much about celestial navigation, environmental education, and promoting cultural awareness. 

Part of the reason I am so excited to be working with the Tonga Voyaging Society is its mission.
Here it is:

Kalauni 'O Tonga//The Tonga Voyaging Society's Mission:
  • environmental awareness (reef restoration, shark finning, sea turtles, etc.)
  • implement solar energy programs
  • teach celestial navigation
  • investigate and promote alternatives to traditional sail manufacturing
  • create a program for the youth of Tonga using the Hine Moana
  • create a sailing school that focuses on sailing navigation (without the use of GPS!)
  • promote the heritage, history and pride of the people of the Kingdom of Tonga  
If you're interested in learning more about the Kalauni 'o Tonga check out the facebook page here. (And "Like it!" for fun updates from the South Pacific)

Kailao // Tongan War Dance

The school year is winding down and culture week (November 18) is right around the corner. My students have started practicing the kailao (Tongan War Dance). The kailao is performed using fohe kailao (the wooden spears) and each one is carved by someone in their family.
 Here is 'Atu (my principal) watching the practice.
 They have so much fun and it's such a great way to end each day.
Here are the Class 5 and 6 kids (who have performed it for the last 3 years). 

If the interwebs are behaving I may even upload a video in a few weeks.

Monday, October 28, 2013

project 365 // week 3 // #15-21

Here we are again. Another week full of wonderful moments south of the equator.
Finding magic in the mundane and being grateful for the little things.
Hope your week was lovely, too. And if it wasn't? Well maybe you learned something along the way?
 October 23 (#15): Jumping rope during morning interval (recess). They love watching me jump. There is something so funny about watching their teacher do fakamalohisino (exercise).
 October 24 (#16): Kilisimasi showed up to school today with a homemade kite. He shared it with Mate (pictured) and we spent time before school running around the yard making it fly. Creative boys.
 October 25 (#17): This little peanut and I hung out before school together. She shared her breakfast with me. Oh how I love pineapple.
October 26 (#18): Sean came over and I tried making pretzel bread bowls with pumpkin soup. I used a pumpkin I bought at the market to make it. So delicious! And what great conversation.
 October 27 (#19): A quiet Sunday. The view from my little house.
 October 28 (#20): Bubbles! Trying to blow the perfect bubble. Just hanging out in my doorway with a bunch of littles.
 October 29 (#21): Practicing the kailau (war dance) before school. Do you see the wooden war club/spear?

Hope your week was wonderful.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Love is all around.

The beginning of Love Actually has got to be one the most powerful introductions to just about any film that I have ever seen. 

Do you remember it? 
Not from Love Actually. Just a cool picture I wanted to include.
It's Hugh Grant's sultry voice placed over a montage of different folks hugging and reuniting with smiles and kisses in the Heathrow Airport. Grant's character says,

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around.”

I wish we would take the time to sit back and look around and really take a minute (or less!) to notice the love that surrounds us every second. I have a bit of a suspicion that we don't do this nearly enough. We blame it on life and its pace. The need to get stuff done; rushing to get to soccer practice, getting dinner on the table, making sure the essays are graded in time for school to start in the morning. We fail to see the little things... the moments of love that end up as little epic moments in the highlight reel of our lives. Man, if only we paid more attention.

Today I stopped and I made an effort to look for love.

And I didn't have to wait long to see it.

I noticed it when Kilisimasi ("Christmas" in Tongan and also a little boy's name) shared his homemade kite with the smallest boy in school and together they giggled and ran hand-in-hand across the school field holding on to a kite made of sticks and notebook paper.

It appeared as I watched 'Akesiu share her breakfast with a little girl who had forgotten hers.

It was sent my way as a chorus of cute Tongan children yelled "Hello Manatee!" as I exited my front door.

I felt it when Mosese brought over 14 bananas because he knows how much the palangi enjoys stuffing her face with potassium.

It surrounded me when I watched my Class 6 students practice this song for their last day of school (which is getting closer every day!). 

Where did you see love today? Did you have to look for it?

Monday, October 21, 2013

project 365 // week 2 // #8-14

 Day 8 (October 16): Now that we have entered Term 4 (the last term of the school year) a lot of class time has been devoted to Creative Technology which includes students learning about Tongan handicrafts. Here, Vai'la'a is working on traditional Tongan tapa.
Day 9 (October 17): Two sweet little Class 2 girls brought me these pua flowers to put in my hair and a Class 6 girl braided it because it looked pretty palaku (gross).
Day 10 (October 18): Camp GLOW/GROW meeting with the boys (Note: That is not my hairy arm - It belongs to Sean). Trying to get everything organized and situated for the camp.
Day 11 (October 19): It was Sushi Saturday! (Did you participate?) My friend Miwa (a Japanese volunteer) taught me and some others how to make our own sushi rolls!
Day 12 (October 20): Sour Sop (Indian Apple). So good - the perfect combination of sweet and sour!
Day 13 (October 21): A lovely dinner at Aquarium with island Peace Corps friends.
Day 14 (October 22): Playing "Telephone" with tin cans before school.

Hope your week was lovely too!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Camp GLOW/GROW: An update

We are less than two months away from Camp GLOW/GROW.
The budget is done, funding is nearly completed, camper recruitment & enrollment are underway, but there is still so much to be done! (I've been involved in camps in various roles since I was small and I had no idea until this year what it actually takes to pull a camp together! WOW! A lot of work but so rewarding and exciting!).

Here's what the leadership team has been up to recently:
Secondary School Visits (Camper recruitment!)
Over the last three weeks we have met with every high school principal in the area to discuss the camp, to field questions and to receive feedback on what we have planned for each group of students.  Not only that but we have now been to 4 schools and met with prospective campers and started the application process. There are a lot of exciting young people out there who would like to participate in the camp. We will select 3-4 girls and 2-3 boys per school based on their applications and principal/teacher recommendations.
Finalizing the schedule (What's going to happen at camp?)
Even though the camp is only a week long there is so much we want/need to include in the schedule! Special sessions devoted to building leadership skills, goal setting, future planning and the empowerment of women are all going to be included! This means finding dynamic, engaging host country nationals (Tongans) to help design and speak to these topics and how they have influenced their lives and career paths. In between the heavier topics we want to include more camp-y things - team building, free time, adventure games, and other activities that build community and trust. I cannot wait!

A huge THANK YOU to anyone who has contributed to this camp. We could not do it without you!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Life According to...

 We met Soni the last time I did "Life According to..." and while Soni continues to teach me new things every day, there are many other cutie-patooties that do too. And you all get the privilege of meeting a few.

This is To'una.  She's 3-years-old (but depending on the day she may tell you she's nimenima [55]).
And here are 7 things that she has taught me during my time in Tonga.
 1. To live in the moment. To'una doesn't think about what is going to happen in the future or what has happened in the past. She's worried about doing whatever she can to stay happy in this moment. This may mean she is: eating fistfuls of cake, running after some of the Class 1 boys, flipping a chair upside down and sitting on it the wrong way or going to the bathroom with the door open so she can look at the coconut trees (and my front door). She lives in the moment all day, every day.
 2. To be happy. To'una is a wonderful reminder that happiness comes from within. It's a choice. Not something that happens to us, a result of external factors working in our favor. We choose to smile and to stay positive. It starts with a smile.
 3. To be fearless. 95% of the time To'una doesn't wear shoes, 50% of the time she's missing her clothing. She has been known to chase chickens, dogs and even a stray horse out of the school yard.
 4. To express yourself. When To'una is happy, you know. When To'una is sad, you know. She doesn't hold her emotions in, but freely expresses them and let's you know exactly how she's feeling. We begin to hold so much in as we grow older. Why not express it when we're feeling it?
 5. To live carefree. Why worry about things going wrong? What will be or was? Stress? This kid seems to have none... or she's really good at managing (like most kids are).
 6. To use more of your imagination. Sometimes she pretends she's a doctor, sometimes it's a soldier and sometimes it's her favorite animal. It seems like To'una is constantly tapping into her imagination.
7. To love unconditionally. This is To'una and her grandmother (my counterpart, Ane). Even when Ane does something that To'una doesn't like, minutes later you'll find To'una with her arms wrapped tightly around her grandma's neck. She loves to hug and let people know she cares about them. Every morning she yells a loud "Hello Manatee!" as she hops out of the car or walks through the school gate with her sisters. She then runs up and grabs my leg and gives it a squeeze. 

What have you learned recently?

gratitude in b&w.

Today I'm feeling extra grateful that I've been given the opportunity to hang out with these kids and live where I do. They make me smile and belly laugh so much.

project 365 // week 1 // #1-7

This blog is full of the "big things" that happen in my life here in Tonga, but I'm realizing the further I get into this adventure how much I want to remember the little things - the day-to-day stuff that I very much take for granted. This sparked an idea: why not do a Project 365 (a picture a day for a year)? What better way to remember my final year here than to document by taking a picture a day.
So here is Week 1 (#1-7).
 Day 1 (October 9): Before school started I sat outside my classroom on the cement and read with some students that arrived early. Petu (the little boy on the right) had just read a word correctly and we were celebrating! Losalia (the little girl on the left) is about to read the next page.
 Day 2 (October 10): 'Epenisa practicing for the Solopani (abacus) competition that was scheduled for Friday.
 Day 3 (October 11): Waiting patiently for the Solopani competition to begin. The little boy in the center is Lepani (he is such a positive little guy!).
Day 4 (October 12): Saturday is laundry day and what a beautiful day it was! Perfect breeze, sunny... my things dried quickly on the line.
Day 5 (October 13): Enjoying a pb-banana smoothie before bed. (I'm lame and forgot to take a more interesting photo - I'm sure this will not be the only time that this happens).
Day 6 (October 14): Hanging out with my co-teachers during morning break time. This is 'Atu (my principal). We spent time discussing what happened during the weekend and the "cool" weather we've been having.
Day 7 (October 15): A newspaper reporter stopped by to take pictures of the students who did well at the Solopani competition. Our little school placed 2nd overall in all of Vava'u. Apparently we are known for being very poto (smart) when it comes to all things involving an abacus!

Questions for you: Have you ever done/completed a Project 365? What helped you keep going? Did you have a hard time remembering to take pictures?

Friday, October 11, 2013


Ms. Touna at the Solopani (Abicus) competition. She came to watch her brother compete.
 Reading: A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. It's been so interesting to me to read this because of the way it is written. It very much reminds me of Harry Potter (which would make sense since J.K. wrote both) but with adult themes. Plus, I just think it would be really neat to live in a little hamlet in England.
Eating: Passionfruit! Earlier this week I was walking through my village and a lovely lady named Lata handed me a fruit I'd never seen before. I went home and cut it up and it looked like something out of a Sci-Fi movie and a little bit like a pomegranate. I froze it and have been making some really awesome tropical smoothies when I combine it with bananas and papaya. 'Ifo 'aupito!
Thinking About:
Enjoying: The weather. There were a couple days last week where the humidity returned and I began preparing to sweat every day, but then a thunderstorm (not common) came and went, taking with it the hot hot weather. Today has been breezy and amazing. I'm also enjoying watching the stress from the Class 6 exams dissolve. It's nice to not have the pressure for a bit!
Watching:  Big Bang Theory. I am obsessed. Every night before I fall asleep I watch an episode. Sheldon is one of my favorite characters of any tv show I have ever watched and I have a mini-crush on Leonard.
Waiting for the Solopani competition to begin.

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, October 3, 2013


listening to... the weepies, james vincent mcmorrow, great big sea and frank sinatra (christmas tunes! -- hey now. this is perfectly acceptable in the southern hemisphere. they've already started playing christmas tunes on the radio so any yuletide music is fair game...yes, i'm fully aware it's not halloween yet...and nothing you say is going to stop me from embracing it THIS early)
eating... banana, peanut butter, & chia seed smoothies. mmmm....
drinking... decaf coffee from my french press. i love coffee so so so much... even at 6:07pm.
thinking about...
- how awesome last weekend was. i adventured to an outer island with some of my peace corps friends. we kayaked to four different islands and did some awesome hiking and even found a fresh water cave. 
- now that the class 6 test is over not much goes on in school. how will i fill the time now that i've compacted the entire curriculum into the first 75% of the school year? plays, music, "technology" class, and more!
- camp glow is approaching. we went to our first high school on a recruitment trip on thursday. the girls (and boys!) are so excited and we had over 40 girls apply!
- how i need to get back into my yoga routine. my stomach has been doing funny things recently, but seems to have calmed down. thank you, probiotics.
- i got a "funny" text from peace corps today. it read: "due to the US government shutdown, only emergency meds will be dispensed, and annual teeth cleaning will be only hold until further notice. malo." common government! my molars need you!
- what tunes should be added to the 4th annual christmas album that i put together for friends and family.

what about you? what are you currently up to?

vainga pe. // just playin'.

 While waiting for the Class 6 (Day 2) feast to start on Wednesday I had some time to hang out with some people in my community.
 We laughed and played.
 We had lots of fun (I think I missed the memo about not smiling in this photo).
'Emosi is so handsome!

Playing "Hide and Seek"

Kalo and I waiting for food.
It was a great afternoon and at the feast I had the chance to stand up and thank my entire community for all that they have done to support the Class 6 kids and the school this year. Oh yes. And I made the speech in Tongan. It felt so good!