Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Pageant

I'm very sad I missed your big performance, your "breaking of the ground" of "A Salinas Merry Christmas", so to speak.

As it turns out, I also performed in a Christmas play this year. It wasn't anything I was planning on, in fact, it seems the whole village was apart of the plan except for me.

As apart of our attempt to know everyone in Nuapapu, we have been visiting all the different churches here. This week we attended the Mormon church, where the people were exceptionally friendly, though the service was a long three hours. After the service we were finishing up a long lunch with the pastor, when a student of mine, a PK of the Wesleyan church, asked us to come to their Christmas lesson practice.

Not exactly sure of what a Christmas lesson practice was, and always eager to comply, we said yes.

When we arrived at the church, I was given a paper with my lines, and informed I was Mary, or Mele, here, and Mark was Sosifa. Ohhh those sneaky Tongans! I know for a fact that this Christmas lesson practice has been going on for a good month, and I haven't a doubt that all along it was planned that Mark and I would be the holy couple.

After a two hour practice, and a reminder to return at 5 for dress rehearsal, home we went. At the end of that day, our church time was at about 8 hours...a little much for me.

Of course the play went off fine. My only lines were about my virginity ( which people loved ). At one point mark and I walked in the wrong direction and people were hissing left and right, and I got to wear a headband type veil thing, which was pretty neat-o.

The highlight of the night was when we recognized the song "Silent Night", and amazingly, surprisingly, saw that someone had Christmas lights decorating their house. I definitely got a lump in my throat.

Everyone asked, do you do something like this around Christmas in Amelika. I couldn't help but smile as I thought of you, dad, and For Unto Ya"ll.....ya, something kind of like this.....

(but for all the Christmas "pageants" I've been in, this was my first as Mary. Geeez dad!)

For as long as I can remember, shortly after Thanksgiving, a day is planned to begin. To begin the celebrating of Christmas. While growing up, we put up the tree with laughs about old, ugly ornaments with popsicle sticks and glitter, a certain white feathery dove, and arguments about which, truly was "the good" coffee cake. (sadly my dad has never known...)

And always, always we listen to Steven Curtis Chapman "Music of Christmas".

When I got older, and went off to college, my first Christmas season away from home I promptly went to the first Walmart and purchased ol Steven Curtis Chapman...

When we got married, and moved in with Nick and Beth, we knew there might have to be compromises about Christmas traditions...they are real tree people, and we'd always been fake tree people....they insisted on decorating their dog, Sufi, with as much care as decorating the tree...but the one thing we didn't compromise on was good ol Chapman. Sure...we had to listen to some pretty horrific Amy Grant** Christmas melodies due to Beth's childhood, but still Steven sang on in yet another Christmas.

And now here we are in Tonga....and though we attempted to get in the spirit, Steven just hasn't been played....too many memories, elicits too many tears.
It's Christmas today. Raining cats and dogs. Our laundry is hanging on the line, so that's always something in weather like this. We were awakened by our neighbor shouting our names and saying "open the door". They had made us some "cake". We're off to church soon, then supposedly a wedding/birthday/Christmas feast....we're a little unsure of the details. Over our cake breakfast we asked each other if we were sad. We are...but marks in the shower and I put on old Steven anyways...just seemed like the right thing to do. A few days ago I realized I hadn't bothered to buy anything for Mark...hadn't really considered celebrating just the two of us. I feel a little guilty about we should be creating this exotic Christmas experience here that we blog and post pictures about that make everyone jealous...that we could have told our one day kids about that time we were in Tonga and celebrated Christmas all by ourselves...but the truth is, we don't want to celebrate Christmas all by ourselves. It's you all we miss, it's you all that make Christmas so magical. So, today we'll celebrate fakatonga...and it will be different and cool. And this weekend, I will most definitely turn into Mrs. clause whilst we celebrate with fellow volunteers. And maybe one year, we won't be so utterly sad when we have to celebrate alone...but not this year.

***A few weeks ago, we were in town on a Thursday and wound up at trivia. One of the questions was a song being played, and you had to guess the artist and song title. I was so sure it was Amy Grant. In fact, I said something like, "I grew up in Mustang, Oklahoma. I know Amy Grant when I hear her!" of wasn't Amy Grant...should have listened a little more closely when we decorated the tree, huh Elders?

Also, if we were able, we'd decorate Buster too.

Friday, December 14, 2012


We got a pup! His name is Buster, mostly, we thought, because of the show Arrested Development. However, the day after we brought him home, I awoke and immediately let out a loud, long, shrill, "buuuuusssteerrrrr" and immediately thought of my sister. You see, we'd visited them right before moving here, and they have a dog named Buster.

Here he is:

Don't be fooled by that face, he is usually busy doing this:

Biting one of our skirts... (love that I get to say ours!)

Buster loves food (even though we mostly eat vegetarian-he'll only eat beans of they've been seasoned-what a brat!), pigs (that's why he's always dirty), and biting....everything.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Summer day

Yesterday felt like the perfect summer day.

We taught the kids Lean on Me and This is the Day. We taught them how to play Kickball and Freeze Tag and Elbow Tag. And then, because it was awfully hot outside, we all decided to go swimming at the beach.

We brought ole buster boy with us, because he's growing fat and needs the exercise.

Imagine our surprise when he swims right out into the ocean with us! I was shocked and delighted! Later he even jumped from the wharf right into the ocean. This little pup is something else....

Of course, not to be outdone, some of the Tongan boys went and got their horse and it swam in the ocean with us too.I'm so serious. It was an odd and scary thing that I mostly kept my distance from. Anyone ever seen Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken? Well...I was practically living it....minus the high dive and the jump and the fact that I wasn't in any way on the horse..but, close enough!

(I did ride a horse earlier this week. Just not in the ocean).


The Blessings of Mother Nature

It's hard to know where to begin when we're describing our new home to folks - especially those who are probably shivering cold right now in temperate climates way up in the northern hemisphere. This place is so unlike anywhere I've ever lived, in every way. If we're talking physical geography, one of the best things about living here is the plethora of edible vegetation that surround us at all times. Fruit trees and local vegetables are a vital part of daily life here. They make up most of everyone's diet and really do dictate the changing seasons much more than a hot/cold or dry/wet season. So, I thought it would be a neat introduction to the landscape of our home to take you on a little tour and show you some of the growing goodies that are located right here where we live, inside the school grounds.

One of the most plentiful fruits in the whole country is the banana. Inside the school grounds alone, there are probably 30 banana trees, though they all bear fruit at different times. There are a few different types as well, my favorite being the "pata" - a short, fat banana that tastes like a perfect mix of a banana and an apple. This nearly-ripe bunch is pretty close to our front porch.

Bananas are so bountiful, that when someone gives you some, you usually get an entire stalk off a tree. We got this one from a neighbor in exchange for a band-aid.

The papaya is the other fruit that is generally available for the whole year. They've been hit or miss for me in the states, but I've really enjoyed them here. They are especially good paired with some grated coconut or some lime juice. This little tree is also right off of our porch.

PS - I think my first project plan for the summer break next week is to try and convert that little shack above into a chicken coop.

As is typical in most tropical climates, palm trees with coconuts are everywhere. You can, of course, eat the fruit, and use the palm branches for weaving and basket making. The coconuts on shorter trees are usually picked when green, so one can enjoy the delicious, slightly carbonated coconut water. The coconuts on the tall trees ripen until they fall, and are then used to grate and make into coconut milk. These brown, fallen coconuts are so plentiful that they are also used to feed all the pigs.

I know we've mentioned that "root crops" are the Tongan staple starch. But one of the most common of these starchy, usually boiled foods is the "breadfruit", which, as the name suggests, grows on a tree and not in the ground. They are hard to describe...kind of like a mix between a potato and..well, bread. The leaves also make great fans for especially hot days. We've got a few that are almost ripe on this tree.

We are going to wait a few months until the end of the hurricane seasons to start planting some traditional American vegetables. But, the first on our list of native crops to plant very soon is called "pele". Many people call it "tropical spinach" - it's a cooking green, similar to chard or collard greens, that grows tall like a bush. Apparently, all you need to do to plant some is take a few stalks off of a mature plant and just stick them in the ground. We've got one plant now in the corner behind our house.

And finally, by far my favorite growing thing in our yard is our very own lime tree! Right now, there are dozens of slowly ripening limes on it that are making me really excited. Now if only I had some mint leaves and rum...

So there you have it. Really, the only major things we're missing are a mango tree and some pineapple plants. But, when they're in season, they are very easy to get our hands on. I'm still continually amazed at how the Tongans use all of these natural resources in daily life. Even the flowers are picked every week and used to decorate churches, and many other plants still unknown to me are still used to make traditional medicinal remedies and woven handicrafts. It's a neat place to make our home in.

Here's a bonus picture of our flowerbed by our porch. The school has done a great job keeping it looking great. I've tried planting some ginger in those containers on the porch.

'Ofa Atu,


After all this time...

I still occasionally pick up my phone to text one of you....

I am still disappointed when roasted puaka tastes absolutely noooothing like ham.

I am still unable to successfully open or close our front door.

I still can't tell when it's beads of sweat dripping down my arms, or ants crawling up them.

I still think we are going to drown on this island anytime there's a little (or big) rain storm.

I am still thrilled by the boat rides. (I got my first Tongan slap last week on a boat ride...oh, did you know all Tongans hit everybody? Apparently you aren't supposed to hang your arm over the boat and splash it around in the water whilst driving to town. The slap surprised me, made me laugh, hurt my feelings, and finally made me felt I belonged.)

I still have moments of great pride regarding my Tongan language ability, and moments when I want to rip my brain out because of its inadequacy.

I no longer cry when Tongans cry. A speech is not a speech without some tears, and any gathering is no gathering at all without a speech.

I no longer crave American food...I just crave anything cold...anything.

I no longer freak out when there are ants in the house...a few ants never hurt anyone...

I no longer wear bug spray. My legs are so ugly, I don't want to talk about, but there's only so much deet a person can withstand.


Home is wherever I'm with you!

Api o Lisi mo ma'ake:

Porch (mo laundry)


Mark built those shelves! We have a just doesn't have running water or a we use it as the drying rack.

Our Christmas tree!


The "closet" we made

We love this little home, it is such a blessing to us to have our own space, and what a wonderful space it is too!


Something that folks are always naturally curious about are the amenities that we have. So, in purely informative fashion, here's our electricity situation.

This is the one light we have in our house. We move it around and hang it on nails depending on where we need it.

It gets its power from the car battery below. Every day, we move the battery and connect it to wires leading to an old solar panel outside the house.

Right now, the only way we can charge our Peace Corps phones or any other electronics is by turning on the school's generator. But, it's expensive to run it, so we only turn it on for about an hour, once every three days. This makes things tricky, for example, when the school ran out of diesel last week, and our phones were dead for 5 days. Which then coincided with a Peace Corps safety check that left the office scrambling, calling people in our community trying to figure out if we were still alive.

However, the village is in the process of installing new, pretty nice solar panels in every house, due to a grant from Japan. This will give us enough juice for a couple lights and an outlet that will charge our phones. There's still no hope for having a fridge any time soon, so we've still got that hurtle to jump. Our current status of eating vegetarian 4-5 days a week is motivating me to learn to fish soon...


Thoughts About Christmas

I don't know about you, but I was almost able to get through this holiday season without participating in it at all. That was the plan-to all together ignore the Christmas season. It wasn't hard- I didn't go into any stores, I didn't listen to any music, I wasn't going to be able to see any family or dear loved ones...there was no Christmas tree, presents, Xmas card picture, snowmen, carols....none of it. And, much like the grinch, I thought that would keep Christmas from coming. Oh, I know that "Jesus is the reason for the season", but the traditions of Christmas, the culture of American December, the culture and traditions of my family...those were the things I was going to do without this year, and in doing so, decided I could forget about the whole holiday.

As it turns out, I couldn't.

I was cleaning the house when a knock came at the door. My "neighbors" , the Primary school, we're practicing Christmas carols to perform for the end of the year concert. The teacher couldn't remember all the words to "Oh Holy Night" and asked me to write them down. I sat down and started singing to myself, almost immediately lost in tears.

"long lay the world, in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth....A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices..."

I'd forgotten that Christmas isn't about the traditions, the gifts, even the Christmas eve's about remembering. And, I don't know about you, but I found that my soul, my heart, is doing okay without the gifts, the twinkle lights, the carols, and even the family traditions. But I need to remember. I need to be reminded that He came...he came because he loved. He came to save, he came to bring hope, he came to redeem. He came! Joy to the world, the Lord has come! That forever changes this world, and my life. And....I need, desperately, to be renewed by that truth.

Maybe you haven't been much in the Christmas mood. Maybe, like me, you've ignored the Christmas season this year, or maybe you've just begrudgingly participated. Maybe you've been crazily shopping and hanging mistletoe and baking Christmas tree sugar cookies. Maybe you've hosted numerous Christmas parties, have visited all your relatives, created the cutest shutterfly Christmas photos ever from a wonderfully unique idea you saw on pinterest.

All those things are fine...just ....remember to remember.

- Alissa

Throws me off

This last week Mark and I have been spending the morning in Nuapapu and the afternoons in Matamaka. At both schools we are practicing Christmas songs with the kids and doing little activities.

The Matamaka PTA decided on Monday that they would coordinate lunches with a different family every day so we could get to meet the students parents, and more people in the Matamaka community.

Its been great getting to meet families one by one. Usually we meet people at times when we are hearing 5+ names at a gets so hard to remember who is who.

While all of our lunch dates have been going really well, and all the experiences are interesting, one in particular I want to share. There is an Italian man living in Matamaka. He is older, but you'd never guess it. He has two children in the primary school and their mother (who is Tongan) is currently out of the picture. He is such an interesting dude-I honestly could have stayed for hours! He speaks only a little English, less Tongan than I do, and he's being living here for years. I was pleasantly surprised to find he used to be a cook, and his food was delicious! But what really won me over was the moment he put on Micheal Buble.

There are so very, so so very few moments here in Tonga when something reminds me of home...there's just not much ..overlap, ever. But in his house, which was more...well, westernized looking, eating anything other than root crop, and to top it off with Buble...gets me all confused. I honestly forgot for a moment where we were...moments like these are so weird, and usually strangely emotional. I blinked back a tear and preceded to thoroughly enjoy myself.

I've been making banana bread more often than normal (taking treats to our neighbors is one of our meet people tricks), and everrrry time I pull the loaf out, I remember that time I made chocolate chip banana bread at the blue house. Remember Elders? It wasn't cooked all the way and I dumped the loaf out all over the counter...then proceeded to eat it with a spoon. (sorry for everyone who doesn't care about this story). I honestly laugh aloud every time.

Anyways, it's just good to remember.


Thursday, November 29, 2012


A few people have asked us about sending packages-what to send, when to send it, where to send it too. Well here you go:

Where: soo... I know I should have our address memorized, but I don't. However, it is on our blog on the tab labeled "keep in touch". Just don't forget to put our names at the top!

When: the sooner the better! Officially, we receive packages duty free for the first six months of living here. After that, we could (though it apparently rarely happens) be charged varying amounts of money depending on what's in the package.

What: the following would indulge us immensely:

Crystal light packages (I especially like peach tea)
Ground coffee (there's only instant here!)
Nuts-cashews, almonds, peanuts, anything!
Dried fruit-craisins, raisins, etc
Packaging tape
Dried chilis
Spices ( autumnal, Italian, Mexican)
Trail mix
Seed packets for herbs

School supplies like :
Individual pencil sharpeners
Crayons, colored pencils, markers
Dollar store pencil bags ( I want to keep a bag for each of my students...they never seem to have what they need)
Any kind of sports equipment- jump ropes, balls, frisbees, little water guns, water balloon kits,etc
CDs of songs-Christian or otherwise
Coloring books-Scooby Doo, Disney, religious

If you do send a package, comment and let us know so we can try and track how long packages take, etc! Malo aupito!


Just cooking dinner and turned around and saw this in our doorway:

I wonder when we will stop being entertaining?

(this is nothing compared to the other day when I was working out. The kids were piled in the doorways and climbing on chairs to watch through the windows. Later that same evening I watched a young boy successfully accomplish a plank and downward dog...good to know I'm making my mark.)


Pride comes before a Fall

Last Friday we went into town to celebrate Thanksgiving (more on that later), then stayed the night, and decided to do our shopping on Saturday before catching a boat back home.

I felt comfortable, settled, like I was living the "norm" as we wandered through the market selecting our produce, stopped by the ice shop to fill our cooler, bought some meat and dairy products... A cruise ship had docked sometime earlier and there were all these crazy old palangis running around everywhere like chickens with their heads cut off. It was nice to feel like I knew what I was doing.

We got home Saturday evening, enjoyed a few of our purchases then and on Sunday. This morning, Monday, we decided to have eggs and bacon and coffee with real milk. That's when it all started falling apart.

It seems that, though we had created a safe little carrying nest for the eggs we had purchased, a few of them broke...and then sat for two days...spilling and drying and stinking all over the other eggs.

Also, though we had attempted to seal the packaged meat we bought, the water (because, ya, the ice had ALREADY melted), was a brownish reddish smells-of-meatish-color. Disturbing.

Especially when there is cheese and butter and lettuce and the like sharing a home with that raw meat water. Soo...if that doesn't scream food poisoning I don't know what does.

And then, the generator ran out of gas (we just needed to charge our phones). And we couldn't get our water filter to filter the dang water, AND there were ants all over our house again. (don't even get me started on the swarms of mosquitoes that share this home with us, I will cry.)

And that's when I realized I don't have all this down yet. It is perplexing when simple meal prep and cleaning takes a good four hours because..everything is nasty. Perplexing and overwhelming.

Anyone have any suggestions for life without a fridge? About why mosquitoes might be so attracted to our home? Malo!



Well, we have a cat. I didn't really want a cat, not yet anyways, but... Things happen and life gives you a cat.

Her name is Taika. And by her, we could, as typical of Mark and I (remember Theresa, our male cat?), mean him....we really aren't too sure. She was previously living with a Peace Corps volunteer from Group 76, 'Ofa. Mandy moved into Ofa's house and along with the house, inherited the cat. Come to find out, Mandy is allergic to cats...

So Mandy called us up one day last week and asked if we would take the cat. Mark, of course, was rearing to go...never mind that we've barely figured out how to live in this house, he's already ready to teach something else how to live here...Oh Ma'ake!

I said no, and convinced Mark no was the best answer. But then, the very next day, we noticed a large bite in one of our mangoes,and then some suspicious little brown terds, and then, to top it all off, we saw that our brand new, incredibly awesome, only available to buy in Tongatapu, loaf pan (nowhere to buy bread on our island), had been eaten!!!


I quickly changed my tune. Who cares that we don't know how to keep the cat out when we want it out, or don't know what all it's going to eat, we do not want mice!

You see that box? Remember how we live a good hour and a half boat ride from the main island? Ya, that's the box Mandy rigged up for Taika. It's sitting on the top of the boat. Please try and grasp the hilarity of this situation!

We are traveling across the ocean with a Benadryl-drugged, yet still howling and clawing cat. Believe you me, this was not something our fellow boat riders understood.

All that to say, we have a cat. (and we already love, him?)


Oldies but Goodies pt. 4

The following pictures were taken by the beautiful and talented Mandy! Because it seems that we will never have the time to upload pictures on Facebook, we wanted to include som cool pictures of fun times from the last few months. If you want to see some more amazing photos like these, pop on by Mandy's blog:

Una, Mandy's host mama. She's pointing to where she snuck pig skin to eat. Yeah...unappetizing....

This is the deck we all spent those 22 hours on during our boat trip from Tongatapu to Vava'u.

Exhilarating, huh?

Oldies but Goodies pt. 3

The following pictures were taken by the beautiful and talented Mandy! Because it seems that we will never have the time to upload pictures on Facebook, we wanted to include som cool pictures of fun times from the last few months. If you want to see some more amazing photos like these, pop on by Mandy's blog:

Louisa, host sister.

Muli, host brother

Maili, other host brother

Vaiola, host mama

Sione, host papa

Oldies but Goodies, pt. 2

The following pictures were taken by the beautiful and talented Mandy! Because it seems that we will never have the time to upload pictures on Facebook, we wanted to include som cool pictures of fun times from the last few months. If you want to see some more amazing photos like these, pop on by Mandy's blog:

Is this not the most awesome photo you've ever seen? I'm telling you, Mandy should be professional...this was at Oholei Beach Resort in Lavengatonga, the town next to Fatumu (where we stayed during homestay). Oholei puts on an amazing show-definitely catch it if you ever happen to be in Tongatapu!

Me trying to roast a pig...

...This pig...

A very weird and yet typical picture of group Fatumu!

Still aroastin..... It takes awhile..maybe an hour of constantly turning that stick you see in the picture.

Eating the roasted our first goodbye feast in Fatumu.

Oldies but goodies

The following pictures were taken by the beautiful and talented Mandy! Because it seems that we will never have the time to upload pictures on Facebook, we wanted to include som cool pictures of fun times from the last few months. If you want to see some more amazing photos like these, pop on by Mandy's blog:

Swimming in a fresh water cave in Tongatapu! (of course Mark was diving from every cliff even though we were only able to see by candle light! Boys!)

Visiting teachers at G.P.S. Fatumu!

Language class with Tulu and Mandy...why yes, we are playing Memory!

Good looking group!

First Thanksgiving with our out-going Country Director, Ruth