Thursday, January 10, 2013


The other night I was talking with a Tongan girl who had just returned from her two year mission in California. Here was a girl I could connect with. We talked about missing family and home, and then I, feeling incredibly clever, asked her if she had missed the Tongan food.

I expected that we would laugh together at the absurdity, gush over In n Out hamburgers, moan and sigh over the wonder of Mexican food.

But, to my surprise, she jumped towards me, "oh yes," she said, "I had my parents pick me up at the airport with Tongan food, I missed it so much". On and on she went, and I loved it. Your home food is your home food, and while there isn't anything necessarily gross about food here, there's not much anything about it that's tasty.

Good for her for missing Tongan food. I sure hope I never do....


While sitting at a feast yesterday, listening to speech after endless speech, I decided to make a list of all the foods it is mandatory for me to eat next time I'm home. Enjoy.

Blackberries -by the handful, please.
Grapes-all colors
A triple venti nonfat caramel macchiato from starbucks...many times over.
My dads tacos that he grills. Fabulous.
Jane's beer bread
A peach mojito from Mynt (or 3 or 4)
Followed by a lemon drop martini from Mynt
Soy misto
Burger from cherry cricket
Tortilla chips. A bottomless basket. There is not a single tortilla chip on this entire island! In the country of Tonga! Travesty! (I'll take a margarita with it, might as well)
Grilled corn on the cob!! Smothered in that corn dip you make, mom! Ifo! (delicious)
Frozen yogurt
Kale. Lots and lots and lots of kale.
Wine...not boxed, most likely diluted with a little bit of juice/water, but wine. Wine from wineries, wine tastings, red and white, at the perfect temperature paired with the perfect food. Wine.
Cereal-all kinds. With cold, liquid milk, none of this powdered stuff.
Really anything cold....

Over breakfast I asked mark what food he misses. His response: "meat".
We eat meat, just not consistently. He is ridiculous. Jeff, plan on smoking something with him when we get home!


A Great Day Turned Tragic

Earlier this week, we decided to take it easy one afternoon and enjoy a little midday swim in the ocean. It is summer, after all. We made the trek down to the wharf and were pleasantly surprised to see some kids and a couple families doing the same. The family was planning a "kai tunu" (a barbeque) on the beach, and to prepare for this, the dad took his spear gun out to catch some fish, and a few other folks were diving for shellfish. I've been bummed lately that I haven't gotten to do any fishing yet, so I decided to run back home and get my snorkel gear, in the hopes of tagging along. When I got back, the dad was long gone with his spear, so I joined in the search for shellfish. Those of you who know me know that I love seafood, so I was so excited to give it a try.

Starting out was frustrating. I didn't really know where to look and what to look for, so it took me about twenty minutes to find my first shellfish. Alissa was done swimming and headed home, but I, determined to keep trying, decided to stay. As time progressed, I slowly got better at knowing what to look for and where to dig, and after about an hour, I had covered quite a bit of ground, and had pockets full of about twenty mussels and clams.

Feeling quite accomplished and proud of myself, I headed to shore to examine my loot. As I finished clearing my pockets and checking out my spoils, I noticed something that quickly quenched my happiness and excitement - my wedding ring was not on my finger. We do try to remember to take them off before we swim, but we do admittedly forget sometimes. To put it lightly, I started freakin out, searching frantically in the sand, hoping that it had just fallen off as I was taking everything out of my pockets. But much to my dismay, it became clear that my ring was now resting somewhere unknown within the Nuapapu coral reefs. The Tongans offered to help me look, but I knew it was a futile task, having covered so much ground over the last hour. So, devastated and in tears, I headed back home to tell Alissa the news. Sad, sad day...the shellfish were delicious, but were certainly not worth the price it took to get them.

- Mark


A laugh here, a giggle there, "Tonga time". Snicker, snicker.

Infuriating, this "Tonga time". Enraging, frustrating, ridiculous, preposterous. How can we function like this?

Example 1:
Tomorrow, the Matamaka reunion starts at 9 am and is finished in the afternoon.
Great, we set the alarm. Hop out of bed at an early 6am. We have to pump the water, fill the water buckets, charge the car battery which provides power for our single light, fill the dish washing tubs, take a bucket bath (after waiting 20 minutes for the bucket to fill), make breakfast, do the dishes, get more water to filter to fill our water bottles, take out the compost, kill approximately 234 ants, empty the trash so more ants dont attack while we are gone, and pack our backpacks for our day in Matamaka.

The walk takes around 30 minutes. We are hurrying, killing ourselves to get there before 8. It's Christmas in America, and we want to call our parents before the reunion starts. We don't get very good cell service in Nuapapu, so we plan to call from Matamaka.

We arrive slightly after 8. We are wet from sweat, panting. We pass the first house and call out a greeting. "Yes, here for the starts at 10?" Oh..,okay. That works out fine, we're running a little behind schedule ourselves.
We pass the next house. "Yes, we ate well, thank you, for always, always asking. Yes, here for the reunion. Oh, it starts at 12....". That's ....interesting.

We head to the school to make our calls. We come back down to the center of town. It's almost 11. Turns starts at 12. No big deal, we are soo so so flexible. We wait. After a long church service, and a feast, it is 4:00.

We are asked by everyone we pass, "will you stay for the faiva?" hmm. We aren't sure, we didn't bring flashlights, don't want to take that jungle walk in the dark. We ask when it will be starting. "5" is the reply, from everyone. Oh...less than an hour, of course we will stay. News spreads. Now everyone knows the palangis are staying for the faiva.

At around 530, I realize it is not going to start at 5. I ask around. 7, it seems is the new time. Oh, don't mind me, I'll just sit here in the grass another 2 hours...waiting.

At around 9, yes 9pm, people begin to prepare for the faiva. I catch bits of conversation..."I'm going to go shower", "here is a light for the show". Showering, changing, make up, hair, tree posts with lights attached have to be out up, the speaker and the dj show up, a table appears. At 930, it starts.

What had I been doing from 4 to 9? Sitting in the exact same spot of grass! Waiting. Waiting like a palangi. Waiting like a crazy person. Stewing and grumbling, and fighting my urge to start the dang faiva all by myself.

We get home after 1. I am exhausted.

Example 2:

We double booked ourselves. It happens. It wasn't at all our fault, could not have been less our fault. Remember that Christmas pageant I mentioned? The one where everyone knew all along we would be Mary and Joseph, except for us? Well, the pageant was scheduled to happen on Christmas Eve, but we had been told it would be on Christmas. Who knows...lost in translation. (except, we knew the days of the week in Tongan months before we moved here....way back in May I was reciting those babies...just throwing it out there). Anywho, we had promised the people in Matamaka that we would come to the Christmas Eve service there, because we had been told nothing was happening on Christmas Eve in Nuapapu. Oh the things we do to ourselves.

After our two hour long drama practice the day before the play, we realized we were double booked. Forgetting everything we had come to learn about Tonga, we persuaded the church in Nuapapu to have the Christmas Eve service start at 5. So we could go to it, perform our lines, and hurry to Matamaka.

Here in Tonga, every church has a bell. It usually rings an hour or 30 minutes before church is supposed to start (or both an hour and 30 minutes before church is to start). And then again when it is starting. And when I say ring, I do not mean a mere one time. In the morning, the bell is meant to wake you up, and in the afternoon, serve as a signal to start preparing yourself for church. (our friends Ryan and Abby live right next to a bell. It rings every morning at 4am. They have counted to a hundred before losing count...)

We asked and asked and made double sure, the first bell would ring at 4:30, the service would start at 5, after our part, we would leave. Everybody wins. We keep our appointment, our promise.

On the day of the pageant, we leave our house at 4:15. We are dressed in our costumes, ready to go. We pass the church hall. The pastor is in work clothes and burning trash...not a good sign. We pass the next house, whose occupant happens to be the director of the play. She is out weeding her lawn. We are growing very concerned, flustered, and grumpy. We call her over and have a little chat. She sees we are ready to go. We ask again if it is starting at 5. And then those dreaded words come out of her mouth... "io (yes), 5 taimi fakatonga". And then she laughs.

We are pissed. Now, I find it hilarious. But then, I could not have been more frustrated.

We ask if we can go ring the bell, get a "i guess you crazy palangi" kind of answer, and walk to the church. Mark rings and rings that bell, and I swear the whole town was laughing at us and completely ignoring it.

It ended up starting at 8. (and we did make it to Matamaka after all).

Example # 3

Two expats living in Neiafu planned a trip to Australia or some such destination. They had a wonderfully interesting goodbye party that I did not attend, but heard about. The next day, the day they were supposed to be off on their grand adventure, I heard that they missed their plane. Curious, I asked why. Apparently, the prince was in town for a visit, and was taking that same flight from Neiafu to Tongatapu. He got to the airport early, and was ready to go, so the plane left.

(parents who plan to visit, don't dilly dally, get to that airport and camp out if you have to! We do not want any of that nonsense when you visit!)

The truth is, last week I had "had it" with "these people". I was so annoyed, so frustrated, so uptight.
But, I'm wrong to be mad.I don't know anyone on the island who has a job they have to be on time for, who sets appointments, heck, who even has a working clock. They don't need to do any of that. Everything is so small, and there is never any rush. If something starts five hours later than planned, it absolutely doesn't matter at all because nothing is happening anyways. It is killing me slowly, but I will learn to unwind my tightly wound up self.

And no, we are no longer committing to go to anything, ever. We respond maybe to every invitation, never sure of what we are actually committing ourselves too.


Our New Church

As you know, churches and Christianity play a huge part of life here. There are five churches in both of our two tiny villages. In each one, there's a Wesleyan Church, two different Churches of Tonga, a Mormon church, and a Pentecostal church. Both the Wesleyan churches are the biggest, and some of the smaller ones have only a couple families who attend. All have been quite different in many ways from what we are used to in America, but we have heard from a few people that the Pentecostal church might be pretty close to what we're used to.

Right now, we are in the midst of visiting all the churches in the villages - we figured it would be a good way to meet people and a good way to integrate into our villages. The time finally came last week to visit the Pentecostal church in Matamaka. And, we were doubly excited, as the main family of the church has been one of the friendliest in the village.

From the start, it was a wonderful Sunday. Everything about the church made us feel at home again. Instruments were used in worship, some English was thrown in to the songs and sermon, and the spirit of the church felt more like "real church" (according to us) than we've felt thus far in Tonga. The subsequent after-church meal was full of great, meaningful conversation about God and religion here in Tonga. The family is so, for lack of a better word, legit. Wonderful, wonderful people. We already love them so much and feel like their church is where we belong. At one point, they remarked that they "knew that God had brought us to the right place at the right time." Pretty sure both of us nearly cried.

We know we probably can't commit to going there every Sunday, as what church you go to is such a big deal here. But, we definitely plan on going as regularly as we can. It was a great Sunday, and a huge, huge answer to prayer.

- Mark

Belated Christmas Thoughts

Spending Christmas here was hard...probably the hardest time thus far. Sentiments like homesickness, missing friends, and missing Christian community were inevitably multiplied and sorely took their toll. I caught myself missing even the corniest and most commercialized parts of Christmas in America. Yet in spite of everything, I still couldn't help reflecting on what brings me to my knees every Christmas. Something that is, in my opinion, the most moving truth of our Christian faith...Something that has renewed my faith countless times. The simple truth that God chose to enter and save this world by lowering himself to live and die like a man never, ever loses its beauty or its power. And, how telling it is that this story begins by God in human flesh being born quietly, in a dirty manger, in a small, unimportant town.

From the beginning, one of the most attractive draws to Peace Corps service was the chance to live in the same way, and on the same level, of the people we are serving. Like the Derek Webb song says, "like the three-in-one, know you must become what you want to save." What a beautiful Christ-like notion it is, even working for a secular organization, to adopt the language, culture, and lifestyle of those we are serving and living with.

But now that we've been here a while, this "beautiful notion" has started to rear its realistic, not so beautiful head. To summarize a thousand stories, some short and some long, the challenge of cross culture work has started to take its toll on us. Even for me, an extrovert who gets recharged by being with people, there have been days of exasperation where it has been difficult even to leave our house. Amid the great days, there have been days of extreme loneliness, of feeling unappreciated and unwanted.

But on the worst of days, I am reminded that the one I am following and striving to imitate, faced challenges that were much, much worse. I am reminded that "his grace is sufficient for me and his power is made perfect in my weakness". I am reminded that this type of life is not supposed to be easy, but on the same hand, we stand to benefit in unimaginable ways from the challenges we will surely continue to face.

- Mark

It's January...

...And because we so missed ...everything about Christmas this year, we are desperately hoping to come home next year.

So, logically, we just discussed whether or not we would order a baked potato at Ken's next Christmas during our visit in Oklahoma. Logically.


Whale hunter

Last Sunday we had lunch with a bona fide whale hunter! Of course, he doesn't hunt whales anymore, it being illegal and all. And he's mighty old...not sure he still has it in him. But, it was fascinating to hear his stories. And though part of me thinks I would be a little sad for the whale (and truly horrified when the Tongans made me eat all the fat from it), I would absolutely love to see a whale hunt.

He said that after they caught the first whale, and cut it open and learned where the heart is, they changed their hunting tactics. They got close to a whale, and then seven men would jump onto its back, and all thrust spears into the same area, all aiming for the heart. Can you imagine? In my minds eye, the whale is something like a bucking bull. Me being from Texas, I guess that makes sense..


I just wish...

... I hadn't found the second piece of mouse poop on our bed frame. I mean, really? You trapeze around on our head and foot board while we are sleeping? Why? There is no food in the bed, no food in our room! I hate you. I will find you and destroy you.



I rarely ever comment back, but just wanted to say:

I read every comment that you all post on our blog. Thank you so much for taking the time to read about our life here, and comment on it. It is encouraging to hear from you and I always look forward to checking our blog to see what you all have said.

(the reason I don't comment back is because it just takes so dang long for every little thing to download and upload. Surely you can understand...) :)



We are given food quite fact, the last three weeks we have pretty much lived off of all the feasts and parties and food gift baskets and such. Sometimes the food is delicious, but other's just food. Sometimes it comes at a perfect time, other times, we might have just finished making our own meal...

Every once in awhile, something like this comes along, and it doesn't matter at all if we've just eaten, or had other dinner plans in mind. We devour it. Delicious!

Today, I'm happy. Contented. Comfortable.

Just wanted to say it, write it, express it. Cause there's been a lot of hard days this month, but there's been a lot of great days too.

Everyone always says peace corps will bring you your lowest lows and highest highs. I concur. (and I'm only like 17 weeks in...)



Remember how I hate ketchup? How I have never eaten it? How, growing up, I would throw a fit if my happy meal order was wrong, and ketchup arrived on my burger? "meat, cheese, and bun", was my order, always.

No ketchup on fries, burgers, on anything...not even on moms meatloaf.

Well.....I've probably consumed over 3 dozen bottles worth of ketchup here so far.

I just wanted you to know.

(I still don't like it, FYI. However, I do like it more than some other flavors I am currently working with here in Tonga, so I eat it.)


Peas in a pod

We were at lunch the other day with Ryan and Abby, the other married couple serving here (who also happen to be from Colorado). We sat down and were handed menus, and after looking at them in silence for a few minutes, I said to Mark, "whatcha thinking babe?" while at the exact same moment Abby said, "what do you think, Ry?". I think both of the guys eyes about popped out of their heads. Abby and I thought it was absolutely hilarious.

It is different to be serving in the Peace Corps as a married couple. In many ways, I think it is easier. But sometimes, it is very challenging. Our experience is very different because we are married. The way Tongans relate to us is different. The way we do (or more often, don't) fit into community here is different because we are married. It's just different. And while we are very thankful for everyone serving in Vava'u alongside us, we are especially thankful that another married couple is too. It's nice to know we are not alone in some of the unique challenges we are facing.


Amen or oh me

For as long as I can remember, I have not felt comfortable saying "amen" in church. It's just...not me, at all.

I'm a private person, very aware of the way I express. And when I hear a really powerful, or true, or poignant point during a sermon...I don't feel a need to express externally.

And if I DID need to say anything...I'm not sure "amen" is what I would choose.

I stumbled into a black church a few years ago (I have no idea if it's pc to say black church or African American or....? Someone feel free to tell me! Just know I am not trying to be offensive in any way!) Well, really, it was like I was drug in. My friend Elise and I had just left a different church and were driving home with the windows open, enjoying the California sun, when we heard this soul moving music. There on the corner was a little old church. The music and energy coming from that church...I don't even remember talking about whether or not we would stop and go in, we just did. The pews were crammed full, the music was hopping, the people were dancing and shouting and lost in worship. There were Kleenex boxes being passed around like offering plates, and I absolutely fell in love with it. And best of all, during the sermon, instead of saying "amen" , the women called out a loud and throaty "uuuuh huh!" and "preach it".

The truth is, I wish I weren't such a private person...wish I were better at cutting loose. Wish I could dance down the aisle, or shout an "uh huh", or cry or clap or...anything without one tiny thought about what's appropriate and what's not. Wish I could just always do what I feel and think a little less. Working at it...But, in the meantime, I just don't know what an uh huh will sound like coming from me, but I do know, that I'm much more of a "preach it!" kind of a girl, than an "amen" kind of a girl.

All of THAT to say, I think I'm going to have to be an "amen" sayer these next two years. We went to the Pentecostal church in Matamaka last week, and it was...a blessing, to put it simply. Our hope is that we can make it there every other week. During the sermon, the pastor would translate at various times. And when a pastor is translating just for you, and you are the only person able to understand a certain part of the sermon, and the pastor says "amen?" , you really just have to say amen back, don't you? I mean, what kind of a person wouldn't? I absolutely agreed with everything he was saying, so no problem's just....I've never much liked saying amen. Maybe I'll try responding with a "preach it!". I'm sure mark would give me the look of death for that....