Sunday, March 30, 2014

Badger Pride - Tonga Style

I'm so excited about this post I am having a hard time sitting in my chair as I type this. It could be the due to all the coffee I just consumed or the fact that the University of Wisconsin Badgers are in the Final Four... or maybe it's a bit of both.

I graduated from the University of Wisconsin back in 2007. My time at UW was so special. The people, the feeling walking through campus in the fall, the Union terrace in the summer, lakeshore path during the spring, the energy at any UW sports event... it was all just so so good. 

So I was a bit bummed yesterday because I had zero access to watch the Badgers play in the Elite Eight. Instead I followed the game via Twitter. And I am very happy that I did because it was so stressful reading everyone's comments about the game, but it was also really amazing to watch it all unfold via people's reactions to what was happening. When they won I jumped out of my chair and ran around inside my house trying not to be too loud. It was Sunday here, after all, which meant that I should have been at church, eating or sleeping... not watching sports. 

You should know another interesting fact about UW: Aside from being the best university ever (in my humble opinion), the UW also ranks consistently near the top for the number of graduates who end up becoming Peace Corps Volunteers. In 2012 we were ranked #3, in 2013 we were #3, and current rankings have us at #1! So when I woke up this morning I was bound and determined to convey this love of everything Bucky-related to my students and my counterparts. We're not only Final Four bound but we're doing our part to make the world a better place! 

I pretty much just needed to tell my co-teachers that my love of UW-Madison and basketball is like their love of Tonga and rugby. Once I told them that, they got it. 

But teaching my students about Sconnie nation and what the Final Four is? 

That was a bit trickier.

I really had to break out some major Tongan language skills this morning when I explained to the entire school what happened yesterday in America. First of all, basketball is not a sport that is played around these parts. Second, words and phrases like "tournament", "march madness" and "Frank the Tank" are not in my Tongan language skill set. What ended up happening was a lot of acting things out (good thing I have a minor in theater and drama) and cheering. Also, "On Wisconsin" (UW's fight song) may have been played... and I may have danced... and pretended to play the tuba.

Regardless, I got my point across and my students are so so excited. I hear them chattering about "Bucky" and "Bat-a-jers" (Badgers). There is one boy in particular who loves to go around saying "Frank the Taaaaaaank". It was pretty awesome to witness them all chant together during morning assembly. 
Frank the Tank is pretty awesome. (Source: Associated Press)
And even though today's English lessons might have been focused on my alma-mater and everything related to Wisconsin, my kau tama'iki ako (students) did learn something and I helped work towards fulfilling one of the Peace Corps goals: To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served. And I have to believe a little bit of knowledge about Buckingham U. Badger counts, right?
Here Bucky is again. He's a dancing machine!
Here's what the students in my little village think of UW-Madison and Bucky. (If you listen closely, there's a shot out to Bo Ryan and Frank the Tank!) And you can bet that this little village will be rooting for UW this week! U-rah rah Wi-scon-sin!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


reading: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. People, have you read this? If so, what did you think? If no, then you should! I cannot seem to put this book down. I've had so many "a-ha!" moments the last 24 hours because of Brene and her gifted writing. Brown is a shame researcher/story-teller and promotes whole-hearted living. Just check out this TED talk that she does on vulnerability. I think we'd be friends if we knew each other. 

listening to: Hillsong United, The Great Big Sea, John Mayer, and Dave Matthews Band (It's been at least 7-8 years since I really listened to some DMB and I'm so glad that my love for them has been reignited). 

eating: My brother and sister are pretty great and for my birthday they sent me one little bag of red quinoa which I have been eating on special occasions. Thursday is a special occasion right? 

wearing: My flowiest skirts because the mercury is rising again and I am always a sweaty mess.

thinking about:
- how great is was to see Peace Corps staff this week. They visited my school/house for our final (!) site visits and brought with them a Ministry of Education official.
- the professional development session I'm leading at the island-wide principal's meeting on Friday. Principals from all over come to take part in the Ministry of Education's monthly meeting and they have asked me and Abby (another PCV) to present best practices when it comes to English education. We did it last month and it was such a great time! Friday I'm sharing about teaching questioning. 
- getting Camp GLOW/GROW's planning into full swing. We are only 6 months away from camp!

What about you? 

Happy Thursday!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

10 Common Things [that maybe aren't that common]

Daily life in Tonga has become so comfortable and so normal that sometimes I forget that a lot of what I do every day is not so normal (by American standards or comparing my life here to my life in America). 

There are heaps and heaps of things that I do or participate in here that have never been part of my life before. It's taken some adjustment, but some have been welcomed adaptations.

So here is a list of common things in Tonga that maybe aren't so common in America:

1. Waking up to the sound of a rooster, pig, rat. This morning I rolled over at 3:30am and heard something outside. In America my thought process would have been something like "Where's my iPhone? I gotta call 911. Some creep is trying to break in." But here I immediately thought "Ok. It's either a pig, dog, rooster or rat... now to decide which one." I knocked very loudly on the wall and heard a squeal on the other side. The pig ran away, I smiled and rolled back over.
2. Watch your cuts/scrapes. It seems because of the ridiculous humidity here that the smallest cut or scrape takes 503 times as long to heal vs. in America. I had three innocent-looking mosquito bites that I accidentally itched in my sleep (hey, it's an accident when you don't realize what you're doing) and have since blown up into huge infections (one might even be a boil - T.M.I.? Sorry.). The importance of bathing yourself is heightened when you are consistently in various stages of moist. (Least favorite word in the English language - had to break it out.)  
3. "That car does not have a windshield." (said with no surprise in voice) I have yet to read up on safety standards in Tonga when it comes to driving cars but I'm pretty sure they are a little bit more lax than the States. There are no emissions tests, either. The other day I saw a half car, half truck. Literally, it looked like someone had sawed a truck and a car in half and then welded the two together. There was no windshield and the right door was off (maybe air conditioning?). And the crazy thing, I wasn't that surprised. My favorite car in Vava'u is painted all red with a giant Tongan flag on the side and devil horns poking out through the hood. It's pretty cool lookin'. 
5. A stop sign? Huh? Intersections exist here, but stop signs? This is a new addition. As I was walking to my village the other day I looked up and did a double take. "Is that a ... what the ... Huh?" (came out of my mouth) A stop sign? Really? Oh yes and written in English. I sort of wish it was written in Tongan - it only makes sense, right?. 
6. Sundays. It took about a year to get used to the pace (or lack thereof) on Sundays. No businesses are open and the options are church, eat and sleep. It's inappropriate to exercise. It's inappropriate to go to the beach. It's inappropriate to do homework, watch movies or listen to music that isn't Christian. Most Sundays I'm grateful for the excuse to do very little, but sometimes I wish I could go to the Target dollar section. Just sometimes.
7. Sleeping under a bug net. When I was five I begged my parents for a canopy bed and I guess this is a version of that [or I'd like to think that way anyway]. It's become totally normal to crawl under my bug net and tuck all of the ends in to make sure that no unwanted critters find their way into my sleeping place.
8. Shaking your clothes out. One of my PCV friends here grabbed a shirt off a pile of clothing the other day, put it on and started buttoning it up. Right above the breast pocket sat a good-sized molokau [poisonous centipede]. Trying carefully not to agitate it, he unbuttoned the shirt, took it off and threw it on the ground. This happened a few weeks ago and now, no matter what, I shake my clothes. You never know what critters could be inside. 
9. "I have no clothes to wear because I did laundry three days ago and it's rained every day since." Relying on the weather to get clean clothing is something that is relatively new to me. It becomes difficult when you live in the Tropics and there are no reliable weather forecasts. It may say it's going to be hotter than Hades and sunny and then you walk outside five minutes later to a torrential downpour. It's kinda like living in Florida, actually.
10. "Careful, you might not want to sit there. I saw a [insert gross bug/insect/rodent] there earlier." I'm a floor sitter. Not sure why, but most times I'd prefer the floor over a chair. When I teach it's the same. But too many times here I've been told that it isn't okay to sit on the floor because there are too many molokaus (poisonous centipedes), rats, giant spiders or lizards around. It's gotten to the point that when I visited America last year I couldn't sit on the floor because I was afraid some lizard, rat, etc. was going to jump out and get me. Also, molokaus move fast.

I talked about molokaus an awful lot in this post.

So here's one for you to look at:
Imagine that crawling on your shirt. [shutters]

Saturday, March 22, 2014

I promise to write more soon but here's a little look back on the last week in Peace Corps.
Soni sharpening his pencil.
hanging with the boys during morning break
good quotes.
a little present from a student
Peniteti and I practicing our English.
dancing in the sun after school
This is how Tevita (David) greeted me every day this week.
Tonga flowers are pretty.
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

It's Sunday. How has your weekend been?
Want to know what else I've been up to? follow me on Instagram.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


- there are roosters on my roof. Your guess is as good as mine as to why they are there.
- sipping a cup of coffee. Five minutes ago I ate a fly. I am not joking. It was gross. I did not know that it had perched on the lip of my mug and then I ate it. Swallowed him whole. 
- trying to find as many uses for baking soda as possible. I don't shampoo my hair anymore (I use baking soda instead). I have learned to clean my jewelry with the magic white powder. What other uses do you know about?
- re-learning how to use colored pencils. Shading is so much fun!
- thinking about how the United States has had heaps of snow since October/November and how all the posts I see online seem to be about people wishing for spring/warmer weather and I can't help but wish I could remember what it feels like to be cold. Really cold. 
- loving the rainy weather we've been getting. 
- getting a little bit nervous as the finish line to Peace Corps approaches. I know it's still over 6 months away but there is a lot of planning involved to successfully transition back and have your life in order. Lots of things to think about that I haven't had to worry about in the last two years (driving a car? rent? stores with more than one kind of product? the idea of no afternoon nap?).
- wondering what the world would be like without coffee.
- wondering why people use the phrase "waiting for the other shoe to drop". Where did it come from? 

What about you?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Happy Birthday, Dad!

March 9th is a special day in my world.
It's my dad's birthday.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Here’s a list of 10 things I have forgotten to tell you over the years:
1. Your ability to talk to anyone and everyone is one of my favorite things about you (even though as a kid I didn’t care for it much) and is probably why you were voted  Holiday Inn’s Shuttle Driver of the Year (they let me choose the award for that this year… no, they didn’t. But if they did, my pick would be you!).  
2. One of my favorite memories involving you is when we used to practice turkey calls in the basement. Mom would get so mad.
3. In high school, I used to steal your socks before I’d go to cross-country practice. This was a regular occurrence. Sorry ‘bout that. It’s just that mine were never clean and/or I could never find them.
4. I cherished our morning breakfast time together more than you know. Thanks for letting me read the local section of the newspaper first and for making me oatmeal in the Crockpot. We both know that mushy raisins are the best.
5. Now on to matters involving wardrobe choices: I hate to break it to you, but mustard is not your color. I have to agree with Mom – many times when you would leave for work you did resemble Dwight Schrute. Shoot. I wasn’t suppose to tell you that. But you really did have the brown-pants-brown-sport-coat thing down.
6. I don’t hate your obsession with Rod Stewart. I think it’s funny that you like his music so much, but I won’t tell anyone if you don’t want me to.  And if someone asks, I’ll just say that his tunes keep you forever young (See what I did there?).
7. I appreciate your affinity for plaid couches and the cozy feel of anything labeled “Northwoods”. Bring on the kitschy moose, bear and deer pillows. We definitely need another wooden loon for the fireplace mantle. And while you’re at it I think you should invest in another Terry Redlin painting. It’ll match the other 18 prints you already have hanging in the house.
8. I loved Friday nights as a kid because you would, without fail, come home from the movie store with the world’s most obscure movie. They were usually super weird, Dad. Except when you brought home Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. That was a good choice.  Kevin Costner is a cutie-pa-tootie. But really, you obviously completely ignored the blockbuster section and instead chose the movie based on how old it was (1980’s movies were some of your favorite picks), what the movie jacket said and/or whether you thought the cover art was groovy. Remember that one time when you brought home the one with the subtitles and Molly and Erik couldn’t even read yet? Or the one about the otter who was going through the irrigation ditches? 
9. Speaking of movies, I like that sometimes you prefer to watch the Hallmark Channel over sports. Just like #6, I promise not to tell anyone. I know your hunting buddies (Hey, Stu!) would give you lots of crap for that. Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me.
10. You're the greatest dad. Ever.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

bits + pieces.

while i was walking back to my little house today i couldn't help but feel like the ground was breathing. this is going to sound sort of silly, but the humidity was so dense that it actually felt like the ground was breathing hot air. the warmth was radiating from the grass and for once instead of being frustrated about my consistent back sweat (i bet you're glad i gave you that mental image), i was grateful. and then i got to thinking about other interesting and funny things i was grateful for this week. here is my list:

- we all know that i have an obsession with simply adore kalo (my 3-year-old next door neighbor). well, today she was swinging outside my classroom and while my students were diligently working on their assignments i heard her yelling outside. i peeked out to see her swinging from the mango tree in her yard and yelling "ta'e! ta'e! ta'e!" i bet you are wondering what that means, right? guys, she was yelling "sh*t! sh*t! sh*t!". i know i shouldn't have laughed (and i didn't let her see me) but wow that little girl has spunk.

- today i did a mini lesson on there, their and they're. 3 of my students wrote down "they're cooking their dog over there in their 'umu. they're going to eat it for dinner." and i told them they did a great job and then i realized that two years ago i would have been super alarmed by such a sentence, but not anymore. we eat dog here. and it tastes sort of like chicken.

- this afternoon i sat with my students in an abandoned building next to a rugby field. my students are practicing for sports day which will take place tomorrow in town against three other schools. last year we didn't practice or prepare much for the big day so this year we're taking things a bit more serious. i sat with the youngest kids and we sang songs and cheered the older ones on. instead of batons (to pass) we used sticks, instead of running shoes we were bare foot. 

- my village loves zumba and every day i am asked if we are going to "pe 'anai?" (do PE later?). my students especially love Abba so today we got down (see picture above) to a little mamma mia. good times :-)

what about you? what's new? what are you grateful for? 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Postcard Project


It's a bright and sunny Tuesday morning in the South Pacific. My students are busy singing songs, listening and telling stories and engaging in other fun activities that promote English learning!
I'm realizing how much they already know about this little island nation and how much more I want to teach them about other parts of the world. They love hearing stories about America and New Zealand. Pictures and postcards are especially awesome! It's so much fun to run over to the globe and find where the postcard journeyed from (even if our globe is as old as I am). So I'm asking for your help. Would you consider sending a postcard to the following address:

Mandy Pederson, PCV
PO Box 136
South Pacific

I know my students would love to hear from different people throughout the world. And if you include your return address we promise to send you a little Tongan love back!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Hope you're enjoying your day just as much as Touna is enjoying this piece of pani (sweet bread).