Thursday, July 31, 2014


I had the opportunity to spend last weekend visiting two volunteers on the outer island of 'Eua. I'm glad I waited until almost two years into my service because it reminded me of a cross between Vava'u and Northern Wisconsin (home) and thus made me a little homesick.

To get to 'Eua I jumped on a 3-hour (so much better than a 24 hour boat ride!) ferry with three other volunteers and two Tongan friends (Michael, Tynesha, Joey, Hepi and Samu), took some motion sickness pills and fell asleep under a large fleece blanket.

Chiara and Katy were waiting for us at the warf when we arrived. They were such wonderful hosts. We shared stories, cooked meals together, caught up and enjoyed each other's company.

A little bit about 'Eua: 'Eua is covered in lush rainforest (which isn't very Wisconsin-y), but there are also pine trees and hilly and beautiful fields (which is the part that reminded me of home). Both rugged and breathtakingly beautiful, this island paradise has many beaches, rocky cliffs and trails for trekking.

'Eua is the oldest island in the Kingdom of Tonga and is the place where the Polynesian god Maui supposedly stood when he fished the other 175 islands of Tonga out of the depths of the great Pacific Ocean.

We spent an afternoon hiking Fangatave (cliffs and beach). At one point I scaled a 20-foot cliff and free climbed using ropes that were tied into the side of giant volcanic rocks. It was an exciting and relaxing way to spend a few days before our COS (Close of Service) Conference began on Tongatapu (the main island in Tonga). 


A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the souls of its people.
- Mahatma Gandhi

COS Conference [part 1]

Together for our final conference together. This week was full of reflection, sharing stories and enjoying each other's company. I'm so proud of these people and so grateful to call them friends.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tongan Culture 101: Showing Love

When I was little I knew my mom loved me. I knew it because she'd tell me it every day (and still does!), but I also knew it because of what she would do for me, my sister and my brother. 

She hugged and kissed us, did our laundry, she sometimes (okay, most times...) made our beds, she wiped our fingerprints off the windows, and cleaned up the tornado messes we'd leave behind wherever we went. And over time she helped us to become more responsible by giving us more to do.

How did I show my mom love in return? 

I let her do all those things, I'd hug her back, tried not to grumble when I was told to do something, and tried not to be a bad kid. I think, if you asked her, she'd say that she liked to feel needed (and I know that sometimes we took advantage of that).

The same can be said for my dad, too.

And recently I've spent a lot of time thinking about love and how it manifests itself here. 
How do you show love? 
How do you receive love? 
How do you feel loved?

It looks so different here and, in many ways, very similar.

Yesterday when church finished one of my neighbors invited me over for Sunday lu (meat/coconut/onions baked in taro leaves and put into the ground to cook). She has 3 children (with a fourth on the way). When I sat down in their house, she sat down next to me and the kids got right to work. The kids! The two oldest boys went out to the 'umu (underground oven) and brought in lunch and served it to us. The 3-year-old girl grabbed a piece of fabric to use as the table on the ground and grabbed plates for us to eat on. And mom? Mom sat and patiently waited. The kids did all the work!

I was talking recently with some friends here who relocated from America in the late 1970s. One of them mentioned that many years ago they adopted a local teenage girl into their family. During her first year living with them the girl was pretty miserable and seemed to be very angry all the time. My friends didn't understand her disposition until one night when one of their Tongan friends was visiting after dinner. The father of the family was doing dishes and the adopted daughter was trying to push him out of the way. When that didn't seem to work, she crossed her arms and stood glaring at him. The father looked to his Tongan friend and asked "Do your daughters treat you this way?" The Tongan man responded, "No. I let them respect me." And it clicked. The way the Tongan girl had been taught to love her family was through helping - she wanted to feel needed. And in feeling needed, she felt love from her new family. As soon as my friend let her have control of the dish washing, laundry, and sweeping, the situation greatly improved.

What I've noticed throughout my time here is that in order to feel loved you need to feel needed. There is a smaller emphasis on words of appreciation and more on acts of service. 

For some of us we feel love when people use their words. For others it's through gift giving, intimacy, or quality time. But what I've noticed here in Tonga is that love is almost always given and received through acts of service and it starts at a very young age.

I think there is something really powerful about paying attention to the people in our lives and the ways in which giving and receiving love change - from culture to culture and from person to person.

"Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own home. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor... Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting."
- Mother Teresa

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Snow in the South Pacific!

As the sun was setting over the South Pacific this evening I took a walk around the school grounds to see a transformation nearly completed - a school, that just two days ago had crumbling cement walls, broken windows and wires that hung all over the place. And now? Now the school looks brand new! After studying each new window, paint color, and door knob carefully, I returned to my house and found snow in a big pile next to my door! No, it did not snow. The soldiers just dumped out their cooler before leaving, but it SURE DID LOOK LIKE IT.

I called some of the neighbor boys who happened to be passing by over and told them about snow in America. And we spent the next 10 minutes making snow balls...
 ...surfing in it... 
 ...singing songs from Frozen (yep, the Disney gem has made it's way here) and challenging each other to stand in it barefoot. You'd think the girl who grew up in it would be able to out challenge three little boys... nope. Boy do they have some tough feet.
What a fun way to end a busy week. And I may have sung them this song before they ran home for dinner (and they may have called me faka'saseli - crazy).

Hehe... I like to plug my favorite movie any way I can.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Camp GLOW/GROW: An Update

This morning Harrison, Joey and I pulled together as many of our campers and counselors for Camp GROW (Guys Reshaping Our World) and GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) and continued to introduce the concept of Club GLOW and GROW.
Sharing what we love about camp!

As dynamic and engaging as camp was in 2013, we didn't want the learning to stop there. Club GLOW and GROW gives an opportunity for the campers to extend what they've learned into the rest of their schooling experience. By keeping each other accountable in their goal setting, learning more about empowerment and offering the opportunity to create a service project that gets the word out about GLOW and GROW, Club GLOW/GROW promises to be a positive addition locally.
Joey leading a brainstorming session.
Sharing why we love camp!
Today we specifically talked about recruitment for this year's camp (it's in less than two months!). Over the next few weeks we will visit local high schools and present Camp GLOW/GROW to the Form 3 (13-15-year-olds) in hopes that they will consider applying. 
Making a list of things we loved about camp and want to share with others!
We also are planning a service project for September that I will share with you soon! (We're still nailing down the specifics! Hint: It involves running!)

A Visit from the American Air Force

I already had a huge amount of respect for the service men and women of the United States of America, but it has multiplied by a lot the last few days.

I think a lot of the time I automatically connect our service men and women with guns and protecting our country. And while that is an extremely important and selfless act, the last few days I've been able to see a completely different side. 

Over the last year and a half a few Air Force soldiers visited my school a handful of times. They took tours and began looking at ways to improve the already existing structures so that they would be a safer and make it a happier place to learn.

For the last 48 hours a group of Air Force men and women have come to our school to help make it a better place. It's definitely in need of some updates and these men and women came prepared.
Pouring new cement steps.
Cutting new door frames.
They've replaced many windows and doors, painted the exterior and fixed some electrical problems that made teaching on rainy/cloudy days really tough (it's hard to teach in a dark classroom). Their generosity to the people of this community has been really amazing to see and it's been fun to share with other Americans my little corner of Tonga.
Salesi (the Class 3/4 teacher) helping out!
When I returned home from the market this morning (Saturday) a huge portion of the village met these men and women and thanked them with the nicest feast I've seen yet in Tonga. It was a great time to translate between the soldiers and community members. I was reminded multiple times throughout the day of the sacrifices these men and women make (much longer than my two year Peace Corps term) and the special set of skills it seems most every American service woman and man possess (perseverance, kindness, being brave - except they weren't quite brave enough to eat pig brain... ;-) sai pe! [it's okay!]).
They even let me help out! I love painting!
Showing the Air Force how a Tongan feast is done.
'Ofa liked potato salad too!
On behalf of the GPS (Government Primary School) I work at and the people of my village, thank you American Air Force!
Today I learned that Kalo likes potato salad a lot more than I do and I really like it!
Local puppy wanted in on the fun!
 Enjoy the little things in life
 because one day you'll look back,
 and realize they were the big things.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Life According to... 'Atu [Vol. 6]

The last five installments of the Life According to... series have concentrated on the little ones in my life that bring me joy every day.

I'm going to change it up this time.

Why? Because even though I spend the majority of my day with little ones, there are some pretty powerful and pretty amazing adults that I've come across in Tonga. They've shared stories with me that I will take wherever I go and have really made me think about the way in which I have chosen to live my life up to this point.

Take 'Atu for example.
'Atu stands at just over 5 feet tall. What she lacks in height she makes up for in creativity, kindness and grace. 

She is one of the sweetest, most wonderful people I know in Tonga.
 Her everyday commute is over 40 minutes long (that's way long in Tonga!) as she drives into town with her husband from their village on the other side of the island. She says she comes back year after year to my school because she loves working with the Peace Corps volunteers. But I think I'm the lucky one in this situation.

She's also the principal at our school. Her leadership style is unique - she's very humble about her strengths (almost too humble sometimes!), has a passion for learning from others and enjoys incorporating art into her teaching (we're kindred spirits this way!)

She has three children (ages 15-24), cares tremendously for her family and adores her husband. God comes first in her life and you can tell. When she isn't at school, she's very involved in church (her husband conducts the choir at their church and at the high school where he teaches math and Tongan language).

I love learning from 'Atu and she appreciates learning from me and the things I have learned during my time as an American elementary school teacher.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

School Break.

After our birthday celebration for the King the students and teachers of my island began a two week break. This malolo (rest) reminds me of winter break back in America and marks the half way (!!) point of the school year. It's just another reminder of how quickly time is flying and that in 3 months I will be returning to America. 

So over the last week I've worked a lot on side projects and had the chance to do a little more exploring than normal.

But my favorite part has definitely been spending time with the people in my village.

Here is a picture walk through the last couple days:
Hanging with two little cuties and talking about the new church hall that was built across the road.

eva (wandering) around.
chatting with Silia under the mango tree 
watching the sun set behind the coconut trees
Happy (almost) weekend to you!

postcard project // a thank you.

A few months ago I asked readers of this here corner of the interwebs to help me out with a special postcard project that involved teaching my students about other places in the world. 
The project also gave my students an opportunity to practice their English skills.

I want to thank you for your response.

A small assortment of post cards received!
You all are unbelievable and I cannot tell you how amazing it was to sit with the globe (dated some time when the USSR was still around - we make it work!) and try and find each and every place where these notes started their journeys.

We are in the process of learning about letter writing and my oldest students have started scribing responses to you all. They should be in the mail soon! We have our work cut out for us (I wasn't imagining what an amazing response we'd get!) but it's worth it and every Monday is like a fun scavenger hunt!

Thank you for your patience.
Thank you for being awesome!
And if you are interested in sending a postcard you can still send them!
Mandy Pederson, PCV
PO Box 136
Kingdom of Tonga
South Pacific

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Birthday Celebration for the King: Ta Fuka

After about two months of practice, our weekly gatherings at the school field in town came down to yesterday. Part of the King's Birthday Celebration was a celebration put on by the Ministry of Education. Every primary and high school on Vava'u Lahi came together to wish his Majesty a happy 55th birthday.
'Atu (my principal) and I waiting for the show to begin. 
At around 8:30am we all arrived by bus, truck, or foot to prepare for King Tupou VI's arrival. My neighbor sewed my a brand new puletaha (dress) for the occasion and my principal brought a taovala (grass mat) for me to wear.
I've spoken about taimi fakatonga (Tongan time) before and how it's been one of the hardest things for me to adjust to here. If a meeting is set to start at 7pm, many times things won't begin until 8:30-9:00pm, but I guess when it comes to royalty that's different! At exactly 10:00am the king arrived flanked by soldiers and the royal family. As he was driven onto the field all 1,000+ children waved to him.
He took his place under a special tent that was decorated with tapa and woven mats. In front of the tent was a pile of me'a 'ofa (gifts) presented by all of the schools. Mats, carved boats and tofu'a'a (whales), tapa, and pictures (I drew one on behalf of my school!) were piled high to show our appreciation to the king!
Gifts for the King. My drawing is directly to the right of the two Tongan flags.
The King (he's the gentleman wearing the sunglasses sitting beneath the tent).
The welcome prayer and speech were said and then we all sang "Happy Birthday" and "Happy Long Life" to him. We bowed to him and as we bowed the kids created the Tongan flag out of their bodies (which is where ta fuka - draw the flag - comes from). 
After the singing and bowing finished, we got to my favorite part... the dancing!
After our 6 minute song finished we marched off the field and each high school had an opportunity to share their birthday greetings with the king through...
...taolunga (traditional female Tongan dancing),
...kailau (Tongan war dance)
and hula! (Hula is not native to Tonga, but it was still very neat to see!)

More taolunga! These girls were lovely!