Thursday, February 27, 2014

Images from the Week

Hanging out at lunch time with some little sweeties.
Class 3 getting ready to leave class. I ask them a question at the end of class and see if they can answer it in English.
Class 1 being cute.
Writing down 1,000 little things I'm grateful for before Peace Corps is finished.
Brushing our teeth as a school. Vaka Si'i (the little boy on the left is loving it), but the cutie on the right? Notsomuch.
Vi - a fruit found in Tonga that has a really tough outer skin, but is really tasty. 
Cuties hangin' out at lunch again.
Ketila's pretty eyes.

Happy weekend to you!

Journal Post: The One About Songs

We all have songs that really mean something to us. Often just hearing it can take us right back to that place and we are able to re-experience the memory associated with the song. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but either way music has the ability to really draw things out of us and evoke deep emotion. Choose a song that has a particular meaning to you. Tell the story of the memory associated with the song, sharing as much detail as you can. Take us there; let us experience it with you.

Let's time travel together just like we did in this post.

Back to 1990. Back then I lived with my family in a small ranch-style home in the middle of the country outside of Madison, Wisconsin. Growing up in Wisconsin is one of those things that I will always cherish. I love being a midwestern girl. I loved that my playground was a grove of pine trees (it really made the BEST fort), that I was able to spend time picking raspberries with my father and my sister (Molly ate them all!), and spending afternoons flying rainbow painted kites in a field behind our home. 

It was special. Looking back at that time in my life - everything seemed exciting - like the grandest of adventures. Some days I pretended I lived in the old west and would go running through the saloon-style doors into our kitchen announcing the new outfit I had put on my barbie doll and other days I would play my dad's out-of-tune guitar in the basement make believing that I was Bobby Darin (even though I didn't really know who that was then)

And that's where the song memory comes in.

My memory involves spending a cloudy fall afternoon listening to Splish Splash by Bobby Darin and dancing with my mom, dad and little sister. My brother was just a baby then, but I'm sure he was probably rocking out in his bouncy chair. I loved how the song built at the beginning and it just made you want to move. My mom loved (loves) it too and I remember her singing it to us while we took our bubble baths. Man, I still love bubble baths. 

Here it is for listening pleasure.

Mosese + 'Ofa

 Today I was reminded of the special bond between brother and sister. Mosese (Moses in English) and ‘Ofa (Love in English) are brother and sister and live next door to me. Their father is the pastor of the Wesleyan church in my village. Their mother could earn awards for her lu and weaving skills.

If I’m not woken up but a rooster’s cock-a-doodle-doo, it’s most definitely by these two. I don’t mind. You can tell their bond is special.

Mosese is so protective of his little sister. He’s always got his eye on her and if she cries he is the first to run to her aid, pick her up and hug her. They are about 8 years apart in age, but they’re still best friends.

It’s a common occurrence to see Mosese walking down the dirt road holding ‘Ofa’s hand. He loves to show her new things and sing to her. The singing is my favorite part – the kid is a Polynesian Frank Sinatra. He makes his voice all low and croons at ‘Ofa until she belly laughs.
 I love that they are my neighbors. I love that Mosese gets so excited to learn English with me and that ‘Ofa went from running away whenever she saw me to yelling “Tee!” (I believe it’s short for Manatee but I can’t be sure). These two are so special.  Sometimes I feel like I’m Wilson from Home Improvement because so much of our relationship has developed over a fence (Please tell me you understood that reference… no? Home Improvement is only like the third best TV show of all time.) But it doesn’t matter how we got to know each other. They’re just the best.

Monday, February 24, 2014

swingin' with kalo.

man, i can't get enough of kalo. her enthusiasm for life is just so much fun to watch. today while i was helping class 5 learn about graphs and observing and organising (the british way of writing organizing) data i heard her squealing. i looked outside to see her sharing a swing with her older brother, vaila'a (pronounced: vy-la-ah!). i love that they are my neighbors. i love my village.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

braids + lunch time

yesterday during lunch today we were hanging out in my house and these two had the most beautiful braids in their hair (and very long red ribbons tied on each end). usually these sweeties braid my hair, but today the tables were turned. once they realized what manatee was doing to their hair a straight-up giggle fest ensued. this was the final product. falaite fiefia kimoutolu. (happy friday y'all)


:: dear 'atu, you are such a wonderful principal. i appreciate you so much. your willingness to try things that are new and very different from what you've been doing the last few years, is really really inspiring. thanks for reminding me of the importance of being open and being a life-long learner.

:: dear big moko (lizards), your woodblock click noises are really funny and the way that the little pads on the bottom of your feet make a puttering noise as you chase each other across my walls is something that i need to always remember. thanks for reminding me to pay attention to the little things.

:: dear rusty metal fan that i have 6 inches from my face, you are currently providing so much relief to this sweaty, tomato-faced girl ... youjusthavenoidea. i cannot thank you enough for being a small breeze in the still island weather. i'm so glad that you continue to work and provide me with a little reprieve.

:: dear students that arrive at the front gate at 6:20am, i love your enthusiasm, little ones. really, i do. but school doesn't start for another 2+ hours. maybe go across the street and play rugby or something, but it's just too early to be at school.

:: dear walks to town, i love that you take so long because of the number of kids that run up to the road to say hello to me and yell my name. it's one of the best feelings i've encountered during my time in the south pacific and something i will cherish for a really long time.

journal post: crossroads

Everyone has a time in their life they view as a crossroad. Sometimes you can see it as it's happening, and you're able to choose one way or another. Other times you may not realize you're there until you look back, and see what a turning point it really was. This week, write about a time you view as a marker in your life; a distinct place where things changed, for better or worse. 

July 11, 2012 started off just like any other morning at summer camp. with a cup of blueberry coffee in hand i turned the knob on the masterlock and with a forceful yank unlocked the barn door to the arts + crafts den. our administrative meetings were held just below the dining hall in the arts + crafts room. we huddled around to talk about the days events and eventually headed up to breakfast. after i'd finished my french toast i went back to my cabin, got ready for the day and walked to first period. in between first and second period i headed up to the office to check the mail and was handed a very large envelope with a return address marked: peace corps. 

i remember knowing that the envelope held my future ... for the next two years, anyway. that no matter what it said i was going to some far off land that i had never been to ... and in this case, never heard of. and i remember thinking about how this moment wasn't something i wanted to do alone - how it was equal parts scary and exciting and how i wanted to be with people when i opened the envelope revealing where i was headed in a mere two months. 

opening the door to the back of the office i weaved my way behind the dining hall to the theater where i met up with one my best friends, michael (who is also the theater director at camp). he knew that i'd been waiting for the envelope and how exciting/scary it was. i handed it over to him (unopened) and went back down to the arts + crafts room to continue teaching about friendship bracelets.

at lunch michael showed up with the envelope and ten other friends joined us around a table. he handed me the parcel and i opened it carefully. i pulled out the cover letter and read: congratulations you have been selected to serve in the kingdom of tonga. (or something like that) i yelled something like "i'm going to.... tonga!" and everyone cheered (i'm pretty sure half of us thought that tonga was located in africa). 

i still remember the love i felt in the dining hall that day - the hugs, the "way to go"s, the "i promise to write you"s and the "you're gonna do great"s. and as i sat there taking in the magnitude of the moment, knowing that i was in the process of checking off another goal in my life, i realized that i was never going to be the same. and i knew that from then on there would be "before peace corps" mandy and "post peace corps" mandy. i know this sounds goofy (and i hope it doesn't sounds selfish), but i felt then that this adventure was going to really change me. like rock my world type change. in the moment it felt like i was inching closer to jumping off a cliff into completely new territory wearing a parachute that i had designed that i wasn't sure was going to work properly. i had prepared for this for months, i had a positive attitude and i was ready.

fast forward 19 months and here i sit: sweaty tomato face, in front of a rusty metal fan. i know that this adventure has changed me - that my parachute not only worked but has made this ride extra fun. this journey has made me more confident and at the same time it has humbled me too. it's made me excited and also very scared. it's given me answers to questions i didn't know i had. it's made me mature in areas that i needed to mature in and remind me of the importance of childhood wonder. it's helped me to expand my love of service and the joy found in teaching. it's given me clarity and muddled some stuff up too. and i'm so thankful for it all. 

inching closer to the peace corps finish line each day, i'm reminded more of that moment in the dining hall in maine. how i wish i could hug the mandy that sat at that wooden table with ten of her best friends and whispered in her ear, "don't be scared. this is going to be wonderful".  because it is. it's absolutely wonderful.

The idea for this blog series comes from this wonderful blog. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

when technology fails + creativity in teaching

This picture is just a daily dose of cuteness for you. Enjoy. And for more fun pics, come follow me on Instagram.

last october i went to buy a new ink cartridge for our printer. 
"they don't make that printer anymore" i was told.

last november i went to go turn on our school's only computer and nothing happened. 
it was dead.

last december a group of bees decided to take up residence in the copy machine.
the copy machine didn't last two more weeks.

in a matter of three months, the three pieces of technology i relied heavily on to create a dynamic and exciting classroom for my students were erased. [insert power-down robot noise]

i crossed my fingers that things would get worked out before the new school year. but it's tonga and even the locals talk about taimi fakatonga (tongan time) and the quick pace (or TOTAL lack thereof) that everyone on these islands seems to follow. 

we had a pta meeting (yeah, tonga has ptas!) and the plan is to have a konisetti (concert) in march to raise money for a new copy machine. this means that i have to dance. hopefully watching the funny palangi (white person) dance will implore the villagers to contribute a little bit to the copy machine fund. i guess we'll see.

so in the meantime i've been racking my brain on how to provide an engaging english class for these 6-10 year olds. 

we sing a lot more. i'm no dolly parton.

we move a lot more. but sometimes it's really hard in the blazing heat.

we make art. which is just about my most favorite thing ever and reminds me of my days at summer camp.

and the other day i realized that this lack of technology is exactly what i expected when i joined the peace corps. there are peace corps volunteers that don't even have buildings to teach in. they meet under the mango tree and teach with sticks. this is what i had anticipated my service to be like. and if anything i've been rather spoiled the last 17 months, so maybe i should embrace this. maybe i should quit complaining about it and look at it as a blessing. maybe, together, my students and i will navigate this newness together and come out on the other end thinking more outside of the box. 

this is what i'm hoping.

Monday, February 17, 2014

week 4 in school

When 'Atu (the principal) begins morning assembly every Monday she announces the week we are on in school. Each term consists of 10 weeks with a week off of school in between. And it's hard for me to believe that yesterday morning she announced that we are starting week 4! That means there are just 6 short weeks until our first school break (which I guess would be equivalent to America's fall break). This week is filled with more english classes, a zumba class or two, and trying not to melt in the hot South Pacific heat (we hit a record last week. yipee.)

We're so excited for English class!
Gunter being cute.
Soni showing off his muscles.
Playing in the rain.
Gunter being cute version 2.0.
Happy Tuesday to you!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

my [today is going to rock even if it doesn't feel like it yet] playlist

You ever have those days where you wake up thinking "nah. i think i just wanna be a lazy bum and not do a darn thing today"? or you sit up in bed and are all like "mmmm... don't think so" but then you remember that you're an adult and have commitments? Well, i'm here to help. Here's a list of songs that i suggest listening to in order to put yourself into a "i'm gonna rock this day" mood. This is recommended by 9 out of 10 doctors (no it's not) and yours truly.

So turn up your speakers and find a dance partner (it can be non-human - like a dog, cat, or stuffed animal). 

1. Wavin' the Flag by K'naan This is the perfect song to start your day. It's one of those "I feel like I can do anything" songs that just makes you super happy.
2. In Colour by Shapeshifter This is one of those songs that just builds throughout the song and makes you want to run through fields and climb mountains and just be awesome.
3. 40 Day Dream by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros This just makes me want to sway like a tree.
4. Shake It Out by Florence and the Machine This is just another great one to start the day. I love Florence's voice.
5. Some Nights by fun. Give this video a little bit of time to start up and get going. This song has the ability to turn any bad day on it's head. Really. It's such good stuff. It makes me want to be a drummer and singer so much. 

[virtual] coffee date

hey, friend. how was your week? it's already friday here and i'm sitting at a cafe drinking a long black and just thinking. i hope yours was full of wonder, excitement, great weather and some good conversation. if you were sitting in the green patio chair across from me, here are some things that i would tell you after we wiped our faces with our sweat rags and took a few sips of coffee.
 i adore the friends i've made the last year and a half and was reminded just how special they are this last week. they made my 30th birthday so much fun. and i am so grateful for all the people in my life. even the ones that make me frustrated because that means that i'm learning something. 
every time i am gifted a tongan necklace (made from flowers, leaves, etc.) it ends up on my head. i think they look better there. plus i'm not as itchy. i have sensitive skin. 
even though they aren't always focused and forget the abcs more than i think that they should, their enthusiasm is contagious. i love being around them. and it makes me sad that even in the south pacific children are demanded to begin spending long hours studying for standardized tests that will determine their future when they are 9 and 10. sometimes school is a struggle because we spend time so focused on this one test and when i joined the peace corps i was excited to get away from it for a bit but on some days it seems even more intense here than it does in america. i just hope this intensity doesn't put a damper on their love of learning. 

what about you? what's new? are you staying warm? or are you like me and feel like you're melting away? 

also, i think you should check this out. i don't know this girl but she's got a great list of life lessons ... i agree with her 100%. 

happy friday.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

the day i turned 30 on a tropical island.

a few weeks ago i woke up in the middle of the night. as i was struggling to fall back asleep, the sticky air making it impossible to find a comfortable spot, i remembered back to a conversation i had in middle school about what it would be like to turn 30 and what i hoped my life would be like. the list back then included things like: someone to share my life with, 2 kids (little boys), maybe a dog and a nice house to fit it all in. 

fast forward to yesterday: i turned the big 3-0. 

and guess what? 
i have nothing that was on that original list. 

and you know what else? 
i don't care. 

man, that sounds kind of pessimistic. stick with me, it's actually not.

because in the place of meeting my husband, having babies, training a dog, and gaining a mortgage - i spent my twenties traveling, exploring and trying to figure who i am. 

and i wouldn't change that for anything. 

do i still want the things on that list? yes, please.

am i putting people down who already have those things? no.

because what i've realized is that we all are following our own paths. everything has a season and if the things on that list are meant to be, then they'll happen. i don't have to rush it, i don't have to go looking. 

instead i can relish in what's happening right in front of me - whether it's star-gazing in a field in maine, smelling the jacaranda trees in southern california, climbing through caves in tennessee, jumping into crimson-hued leaf piles in wisconsin, meeting alligators in florida, making snowmen in colorado or walking on a coral-strewn beach on a tiny island in the south pacific. 

this is my path. 

and while i don't always understand why things happen or the timing of it all, it's still my path. 

a path full of wonderful people, places and happies. a path that has opened my heart for even more love in the future.

and there's something special and unique and wonderful about that. 

it's been a week full of introspection and one of the things that makes my heart smile more than anything is looking back on my life (so far) to see how everything has fit together like one big awesome puzzle. 

anyway, here's a look back on my 30th birthday.

upper l to r: 1. woke up to these little ones and the cake that they baked me. we shared it at lunch. 2. kalo and 'ofa (who live next door to the school) like to call my name in the middle of english lessons. they love to interrupt my teaching and i just don't care. how cute are they? 3. sarah and katie (two pcvs) brought me heaps of lollies from america and made a funny joke about my tickin' biological clock. 4. playing with the candles on my birthday cake. 5. the sunset was awesome! 6. 30! 7. such good company - sarah, me, katie and chloe (an australian friend) 8. so many people came up to celebrate with me. it felt really special and when i think about it too much it makes me cry. 9. my friend amy made my birthday cake (a citrusy lime cake made with almond and rice flour since i'm gluten-free). it was amazingly delicious. in fact it was so awesome that i ate it for breakfast the next day, too.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

images from the first week.

It feels so good to be back.

It feels so good to see that my students didn't lose what they learned last year.

It feels so good to watch them giggle over the littlest things.

It feels so good to watch them smile when they show me that they new their ABCs.

It feels so good to sit beneath the mango tree with them and just chat.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Be still.

5 reasons to be still (or if you can't do that... at least slow down):
1. It helps you be a better listener.
2. You witness more small little wonders that take your breath away.
3. You break less stuff... you're also less likely to trip over your own feet.
4. You don't sweat as much... which is a big deal when it's 111 degrees F out. (Didn't make that number up.)
5. Has hurrying ever really helped you?

The Last First Day

yesterday was officially my last first day of school in tonga. time seems to move faster the older i get. and move faster the further i get into this experience.

and i want to soak it all up.

everything. (well maybe not the rats)

so here's to my final school year in tonga.
here's to:
- belly laughs with cute kids
- teaching barefoot
- braids decorated with ruby hued hibiscus flowers
- sharing ripe bananas
- cool breezes on hot days
- swaying coconut trees
- learning while having fun

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Tale of the Kuma [Round 2]

I have had a rat problem.

It's been a problem since I got back from New Zealand. It's different than the last few times I've dealt with these furry creatures because of the size and quantity. I've made jokes on Facebook recently about how I feel like I'm dealing with Ratigan from the Great Mouse Detective (please tell me you remember that movie. No? Go find a copy and watch it. You won't be disappointed.). These rats are huge. The biggest I've ever seen. They remind me of squirrels. Blech.

I put out rat poison like it's candy and those stinkin' rats eat it the way I eat dark chocolate. They devour it. Yet every morning since returning home I wake up to find clues that the rats have been throwing parties while I sleep. And I've been thinking for quite some time maybe they are slowly becoming immune to the poison.

Until this morning.

This morning I opened my bedroom door and there was the rat king himself. I knocked on the wall to scare him off.

He didn't move.

I took off my flip-flop and threw it at him.

He didn't move.

I put on my glasses and watched his little whiskers twitch. 

He was still alive, but seemed perfectly content just chillin' in the middle of the floor. 

(Why didn't he move? I can only suspect that the rat poison was doing it's job.)

I don't think so, buddy. Getouttamyhouse.

I didn't sign up to have roommates in the Peace Corps and I'm not going to start now.

So I ran as fast as I could into the kitchen and grabbed a glass of water. I took a big gulp and then asked myself outloud "What am I going to do?" Then made a bunch of ohmygoodnessthisissogross noises.

I set the glass back down on the counter and looked over at the empty plate of rat poison.

Only it wasn't empty.

The rat king had a friend.
He looked the same as the rat king only no twitching whiskers.
This guy was already gone.

"You've GOT to be kidding me."

I thought about my options at 7am: I could a) walk to my neighbors and look like the pathetic almost 30-year-old who can't take care of this herself or b) I could toughen up and figure this out on my own.

 I chose b.

I got a large bag and swept the rat king and his buddy into it, walked across the school yard, picked up a huge rock and threw it at the bag. Repeatedly. That might be a little graphic for you. Sorry. But I had to guarantee that they weren't going to come back. Hey. At least I didn't include pictures in this post. 

Now let's hope I'm rat-free for a little bit.