Saturday, June 28, 2014

Birthday Celebration for the King: Kids' Festival

Saturday morning many of the children on Vava'u Lahi (this island) gathered by the warf to take part in the Kid's Carnival in honor of the King.

There were so many fun activities and ways for people on the island to get involved! Games, food, dancing, relay races, ball toss activities!
Kids lined up wide-eyed and excited for a chance to explore one of four bouncy castles. I'm sure many of them had never seen one of these before (they were shipped up on the ferry from the capital city).
They sat patiently and waited to get their faces painted by some good looking Peace Corps volunteers.
There was even a special guest - the crowned prince! This little guy is third in line for the crown. His grandpa is currently the king.
Can't wait to share more events soon!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Birthday Celebration for the King: Baby Competition

I'm here to provide you with your daily dose of cute.
Maybe you didn't even know that you were lacking Vitamin C (cute), but I'm here to make sure you get your daily dose. It's like nutrients for the heart.

Today I determined that heaven must be full of polynesian babies because you can't help but feel the love and leave with a huge cheesy grin on your face after spending time with these littles.
Just look.
This little peanut's mom dressed her up in tradition Tongan clothing.
These twins took turns sleeping throughout the judging.
Weighing the babies. This little one wasn't a fan. 
I yelled "Mali mali!" (Smile) and this is what I got. Every time. 
Look at his cute little tupenu (man's skirt).
All the babies and judges.
I had this little guy belly laughing and he made my heart melt.
Part of the birthday celebration for the king included a baby competition. It was held at a hotel in Neiafu and the babies were judged based on four categories. I bet you're curious as to what they were? The amount of root crop consumed? Nah. The number of baby pigs they can successfully pick up? Think again.
They were as follows:
1. Weight: Are they in their weight range for how old they are?
2. Immunizations: Do they have all needed immunizations? Are they up to date?
3. Cuteness: Self explanatory.
4. Health: Were they solely breast fed their first year of life?
I really loved what they chose to judge on and I bet my mom is super excited about #4 (She teaches people about fakahuhu - breastfeeding).
It was a great morning hanging out with moms, aunties, grannies and some of the cutest babies this Wisconsin girl has ever seen.

I'll leave you with this.
I want to take him home!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Birthday Celebration for the King: The Beginning

His Majesty, Tupou VI, King of Tonga is celebrating his 55th Birthday in Vava'u.
I've heard that this hasn't happened since 2002, so it's been a very special few weeks preparing for his arrival. Along with his birthday, Vava'u is also hosting the Wesleyan Conference for all of Tonga next week. This means that the population of Vava'u will grow from 11,000+ to 16,000+. For the next 7 days there will be two feasts a day and starting a week from today the Tu'i (King's) Vava'u Festival will commence.
There will be a week of competitions (rugby, cute baby contest, beauty contest, etc.) and pagentry (a ball, a show put on by every student on the island, a children's carnival). It promises to be a very special time here on this little island in the South Pacific.

And today it started with the King's arrival. He landed at the airport around 1pm and by that time every student on the entire island was positioned along the route from the airport to his palace in Neiafu (about 5 miles). Along with cute kids waving, each high school constructed a matapa (door) that arched over the road. Each school was so creative and presented their sentiments to the king in unique ways.
Before the King arrived in town I helped position my students along the road. The Ministry of Education officers then pulled up in a van and asked if I would like to be their official photographer and go and find the king. I said "of course!" and jumped into their van and we rode to find the tu'i (king). Here are some images from today.
Decorations galore!
matapa (door) by one of the secondary schools
There goes His Majesty! 
More decorations!
Catching a ride back to town after waving to the king!
Kalo getting so excited to see the King!

Life According to... [Vol. 5]

I learn so much from my students and from the people here in Tonga.
The Life According to... section of this little corner or the internet is my attempt at putting into words how much these individuals mean to me. How much they have forever marked my heart with their kindness, love and zest for life.
Today I'd like you to meet Kalo.
I've mentioned Kalo a lot on this blog. (Here, here, here and here!)
She's 3 and lives behind the school with her mother and brothers ('Emosi and Vaila'a).
Kalo is the youngest in the family. And the only girl.
It took months and months and months for Kalo to trust me, but now we're best buds and I'm so glad.
Here's what I've learned from this sweet little girl over my last 2 years in Tonga.
She shows people how much she cares for them. Whether it's hugging or kissing everyone around she is full of love and is not afraid to show it.
She loves the sweet things in life and isn't afraid to indulge. She also loves to share!
She's hilarious. Seriously, so so funny. And the way she says my name makes me laugh. Every. single. time.
She's taught me patience and is working on building her own. She was especially patient today when we waited for the king's arrival.

New to the blog? Check out my other Life According to... posts.
Meet Soni, TounaGloria, and Lionasi.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

1.5+ Years in Tonga

I'm a bit late with this post (about 2 months late ... Let's just blame the chicken-boom-boom chikungunya virus).
If you want to take a look at the highlights from my first year serving in Tonga take a look here and here.

Here are some highlights from the past eight months.

October 2013: After the Class 6 exam wrapped, my students started studying hard for the island-wide Solopani (Abacus) competition). They worked closely with a JICA (Japanese Volunteer) who was serving in Tonga and teaching students how to do math in a way that I had never seen before! My students loved learning about it and at the competition there was even time for teachers to participate (I chose not to because I know nothing about the abacus). It was a wonderful day in Neiafu.
November 2013: Lu is a Tongan staple food. It is made with coconut milk, onions and your meat of choice wrapped up in taro leaves and bananas leaves and then cooked in an underground oven called an umu. For a very long time there has been an annual Peace Corps Lu competition. What makes this day so much fun is that Peace Corps aren't known for cooking amazing lu and it gives us an opportunity to be creative when it comes to the lu we eat so often. It was a great night hanging with Peace Corps and some Tongan friends (and the trophy I won wasn't bad either ;-)). 
December 2013: After nearly a year of planning I helped direct Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) and Camp GROW (Guys Reshaping Our World). It was a week full of learning
January 2014: The 77th and 78th Groups of Tonga Peace Corps Volunteers came together in Tongatapu (the main island of Tonga) for a week of sharing best teaching practices and ideas about our service.
February 2014: My second school year in Tonga started up and the students were so excited to be back in English class. What felt so good was that they actually had retained a little bit of what I had taught them last school year. Their enthusiasm for learning is contagious and it makes it easier to teach them when they are excited about what they're learning.
 March 2014: Teaching continued and with it came more responsibilities for my students. I spent less time talking at them and at the board and more time getting them actively involved in learning English. Through centers and various games we learned about conversation, colors, food, ABCs, and other fun topics!
April 2014: This was a difficult month because I was away from my students and village so long because I was fighting the chikungunya virus. Part of the virus included a pretty gnarly rash that literally took over my body. The bottoms of my feet itched and I looked like I had been hit in the face with a ping pong paddle.
May 2014: With the King's birthday approaching, all the students, teachers, and Ministry of Education officials (Sione is the one in the white with the sweatband!) spent every Friday practicing a giant dance for the King. What is special about the King's birthday this year is that it will be the first time he's celebrated it in Vava'u (the island group where I live) since 2002. The Ministry wants to make it special so we have been practicing a program that doesn't only include dancing, but gift giving, singing and creating the Tongan flag out of red and white clothing. I can't wait to show you the final product in July!

Here's to enjoying the last few months of my service in Tonga.

Friday, June 13, 2014

[virtual] coffee date

Hey there.
Let's imagine that we are spending a few moments together at a little cafe next to the South Pacific Ocean. You've got your warm beverage of choice in a mug while I'm sipping on a cappuccino with extra foam and sitting across from you.

Mmmmm... tasty.

If we were drinking coffee together I would tell you how excited I get (and a lot of the island does) when that orange ferry pulls up with supplies for the week (and mail!). This is what everything from mail to pigs travels on to get here.

If we were drinking coffee together I would tell you how little my students know about the ocean and our affect on it. It was so wonderful to have VEPA (Vava'u Environmental Protection Association) come into school this weekend to talk about coral reefs and rubbish. I found that the students have some idea of what to do with rubbish, but the follow through is what we're working on. I'm hoping they went home and shared the information with their families.

If we were drinking coffee together I would tell you how much I have enjoyed Fridays recently. I've mentioned how we are preparing for the King's visit at the end of June. We've spent an enormous amount of time learning an aerobics/Zumba dance for him and I hope to eventually share with you what it looks like when 1,000 little kids and all their teachers dance together.
If we were drinking coffee together I would tell you how thankful I am for the little things. Like holding super cute babies that look like cabbage patch dolls and pull at my glasses and aren't afraid of the palangi (white person). What a sweet pea this one is.

Hope you enjoyed your coffee.
What's something you'd tell me?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Legend of Veimomuni Cave

The little village I live in is home to Veimomuni Cave and this morning Ane and I were talking about all the interesting legends and tales found in the Tongan culture.
She reminded me of the story of the 'Ahiohio and Mt. Talau and then asked me if I knew the story behind the freshwater cave that sits a mere two blocks away from my shack.

I told her I didn't know about it.

So we sat down and she shared with me the following:

Once upon a time in Tonga there lived a beautiful girl named Vei with hair that sparkled like the sun. Her home was a freshwater cave and every day she would climb out of the cave, sit beneath a large mango tree on a rock and dry her hair. Because her hair was so beautiful that it could be seen many kilometers away, and because of this it drew the attention of a boy named Muni who worked on a plantation on the tip of a peninsula which had a clear view of the cave. 
Every day the beautiful girl would dry her hair, the boy would watch from afar wondering if he would ever meet her. The girl eventually noticed the boy across the way and she hoped he would not come over to her cave. 
One day after working on his plantation, the boy created a man from sticks and dressed him up in his clothing. He put him on the shore - the same shore that where he stood day after day looking at Vei. He then jumped into the water and swam to the girl, but she thought the boy remained on his side of the water. 
As Muni came out of the water, Vei got very scared. Muni declared his love to Vei, but Vei said "You are a stupid boy. I will give you my cave if you leave me alone." Muni was very surprised to learn that the cave was full of water, but Vei and Muni lived in the cave together for many years. (Veimomuni translates to Vei and Muni).
If you visit the cave today you are encouraged to bring the ugliest rock you can find and throw it into the cave before you go swimming.

Now I have no idea why Vei thought Muni was stupid.
Nor do I understand why we need to be throwing ugly rocks.
These are answers I'm still looking for. I'll let you know if I find them.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Throw Back Thursday - The Perfect Dad for Me.

Must have been a good book.
I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who are celebrating their dads this week. And I'm sure that many of them are saying things like "I have the best dad in the whole wide world!" and "My dad is the greatest dad EVER!" Now I know I have been one to say some version of these things, but as I was looking at these pictures last night I realized that there is more to being a dad than being the best at it. When you include the word best you make fatherhood out to be a competition - and it isn't. All dads walk the path differently. There are so many wonderful and caring fathers out there, but at the end of the day, I'm so very glad to call Dick Pederson my dad.

What I've learned is that in 1984 God blessed me with a dad ...who is perfect for me.
And the older I get the more I realize why he is the perfect dad for me.

Dick P. is far from perfect.
In fact, I'd call him perfectly imperfect.

He is a wonderful combination of loving, compassionate, selfless, goofy, sometimes serious, and friendly.
He's taught me to constantly be exploring and appreciating the world in which we live.
He treats everyone with respect even if they think differently than he does.

I think he's special for many reasons - he's the ultimate encourager, he's a great hug giver (even when I don't want them), he's a man of great faith, and he can talk to anyone on Earth about anything. He's devoted to his family and is a wonderful husband to my mom. And he's not perfect, not even close, and that makes me love him all the more. My dad didn't try to be a super hero or the best dad while I was growing up but I know that he tried to give me the best upbringing he knew how. He never tried to hide his flaws and in doing so has taught me that it's okay to recognize and embrace my own.

When I was little Dad noticed the things that brought me joy, recognized my talents (and celebrated them!), and made me feel like anything I could put my mind to was possible. When I made the B-team in basketball he made it feel like I had been a first round draft pick in the NBA. When I gifted him the world's ugliest tie (covered with deer, trees and a turkey), he made it seem like it was more precious than gold. He made me feel special (and still does) and he does that for my brother and sister too.

I'm a really lucky girl and I don't tell him that enough.
Thanks for being you, Dad ... perfect for me.

Exploring the sweet awesomeness of autumn with Dick P.

A little eva pe [volume 1]

Eva pe means "just wandering around" in Tongan and, aside from sitting under the mango tree, is one of those things that I just love to do. I've been eva-ing much more frequently now that the weather is breezy and amazing.

I always begin by leaving the school gate alone and end up with at least 10 children happily walking with me. It's a great way to practice Tongan and it's so much fun to get outside and say "hello" to as many people as I can in the little village. It's also good to get in a little fakamalohisino (exercise) whenever I can.
Here's what went on during my eva today.
I started out my adventure by walking past Kalo's house. She ran down the street and threw herself into my arms and then got really shy. Here she is sporting an amazing Bart Simpson t-shirt and asking her mom if it is okay to walk with me.
 Very soon Kalo and I were joined by 'Emosi (Kalo's brother) and Ana.
 Kalo chatted with me all the way to the other side of the village where we met up with Mosese.
 Mosese had climbed an orange tree and was shaking it so that all the ripe little oranges would fall. Kalo sure thought he was funny. She ran around underneath the orange tree's branches giggling and picking up any orange that fell.
 Then Wayne met up with us. Wayne's one of those cool kids who doesn't even know he's cool (see the popped collar?).
Later Mosese jumped down to show us the stash of moli (oranges) he had collected. He shared one with each of us and they were very mahi (sour).
 And then we continued on down the road past Epenisa's house.
 And then a little puppy got attached to Kalo and started following us too.
 And right before we finished our eva we had to be careful to cross the street because Latu and his brother were demonstrating a common form of transportation in my village. And having so much fun while doing so - there was a lot of giggling!

I loved today.
I love to eva.