During our Pre-Service Training (PST) we listened to the Peace Corps staff and seasoned volunteers tell us about the importance of integration. They then provided us with heaps of examples on ways to integrate and I remember one phrase that was repeated quite frequently. "Sit beneath the mango tree," they said.
At the time we laughed at the phrase a lot. I mean...
What mango tree were they talking about?
And where would I find it?
What were we suppose to do sitting under a tree?
Why would we sit under a tree?
But over the last 20 months this phrase "under the mango tree" has taken on a whole new meaning.
I quickly learned that besides coconuts, mango trees are found all over Tonga. Though they only bare fruit for a few months out of the year, these trees provide shade for many older village people who patiently wait to get into town, give reprieve from the scorching heat of the tropics, and a place to learn, grow and laugh. Each tree has stories to tell. Each looks old and weathered. Each has its own attitude. They're the kind that have been around for hundreds of years and I'm lucky that we have one on the school grounds.
And the space below its branches has become a very special place for me.
It's a place that has...
...provided me with amazing beauty - getting to watch the sun seep through the leaves while I spend time in my hammock on Sundays.
...given me a space where I have been able to get to know each of my students individually.
...allowed me an area to get silly with these wonderful children (besides the classroom).
...conjured up a lot of laughs. So many joyful and beautiful moments.
...become a place for hugs and smiles (and monster faces).
...turned into a barber shop on occasion because the teacher absolutely needs her hair braided.
What a wonderful place.
What a wonderful week (and it's not even half way done).
What wonderful memories.