Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Swimming with the whales 2

After lunch we moved into much calmer water, and had the most unforgettable experience with a mother whale and calf.

At one point we were staring down at the whales, and the mother whale decided to come to the surface. The magnitude of the whale as she seemed to stand up straight was staggering.

Our third snorkel, the calf was in a super playful mood. We got maybe 8-10 feet away from it at face level. He did flips and turns and waved his fins. He was very curious about us, and wanted to investigate. When he started to get too close, our guide got in front and started turning in circles and waving his hands, amazingly, the calf mimicked.

Ah, such an amazing experience! I really don't know how to put it into words. Here's some pictures of us:

Us with Ryan and Abby .

Off we go.

Us and the top of the whale to the left of us.

Us, and you can see a little bit of the whale right in front of us.

We all came up laughing, the other group said they could hear our laughs and screams even when we were under the water.

Clearly, I'm amazed.

Swimming with the whales!

Yesterday, I can barely believe it myself, we swam with humpback whales. It was, in a word- Awesome. Intense. Humbling. Insane.

Tonga is one of two countries in the world where you can swim with whales.
The humpbacks migrate to Tonga every year from June- October to mate and have their babies.

We got picked up in the early morning, and it wasn't long before the other boat with our company spotted a whale. We zoomed out past the island-protected parts of the ocean, into some pretty big waves. It was....much more adventurous and intense then I thought it was going to be. It was all I could do not to throw up, and the waves were so big that at times I literally felt like we were on a rollercoaster because we would come down off of a wave and my stomach would drop right to my feet. We would spot the spout of a whale and when the wave crashed over it and uncovered its size it was so amazing. Then, with one flick of its tail, we would lose it, and the search would begin again. When we spotted the whales,the driver would gun the two 115 horse powered engines, and off we'd go.

There were eight "tourists" on the boat and a driver and guide. Only four people were allowed in the water with the whales at a time. We went with the other married couple, Ryan and Abby. We were amazed that in this crazy choppy water, when the time came for us to slide out of the boat, we put our heads in the water and were right above a mother and baby whale.

Looking for the whales

The other group sliding into the water

A little bit rough.....


One of the things Mark and I enjoy doing most during our time off is visiting other volunteers at their sites. It's fun to see different parts of the island, and also really cool to get to see the different volunteers and all they have accomplished at their sites. This last weekend, we went to visit the only other volunteer living on an "outer island", like us. His name is Jeff, and he lives on the island of 'Ofu. Our island is on the south side of Vava'u lahi, and his is on the east side. His island was absolutely gorgeous! We kayaked, hiked, and snorkeled, and all in all had an amazing time!

We kayaked over to a small island where an American couple is building a resort. There was a beautiful restaurant, and this tree house suite. They were really nice and we enjoyed some games of corn hole and some cold beers.


To celebrate the end of the third quarter, and reward our students for all of their hard work, Mark and I decided to have a pop corn and pancake party!

Mark made a good 50 pancakes!

Praying before the "feast".

One of our kindie students really wanted to join in on the fun...

Next week is a school break, and the following week our class six students will sit the secondary school entrance exam. Our students have (mostly) worked really hard, and there's a lot of pressure regarding what secondary school they will test into.

Gone but not forgotten

I saw this on our blackboard the other day....

Apparently, someone was thinking of you mom and dad. :)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

On Social Media and Service

We try to switch up our blog between accounts of our life and writing about our hearts. Here's one from the heart.

For a long time, I've struggled with how to deal with Facebook. It is certainly a blessing, and I don't think that I'll ever delete mine. To me, there exists no better way to keep up with friends, reconnect with old ones, or to simply check in with anyone in the whole world. Yet, I believe that there are dangers - better yet, temptations - that come along with having what can be considered a place to present a personality and life to the public that is entirely up to our choosing.

When my friend Ryan and I discuss it, he calls it "creating our narrative". Facebook and similar social media sites carry with them a chance to create what one could call an alternate self - a person that we carefully control how to present to the world. There exists a temptation to create a more ideal online person and to rely on likes and comments to give ourself worth and meaning. And I would venture to say that anyone can fall prey to these temptations - from high school students, to middle-age housewives, to Peace Corps volunteers.

It is because of these inner struggles that I did not blog or Facebook much for my last few years in the states. But when I joined Peace Corps and moved to the other side of the world, I hoped to share and update friends and family about my already difficult to explain journey by using social media.

Yet, I've found that for people engaged in overseas service, these social media temptations only grow greater. There is always part of me that feels the desire to present myself on the web as one doing something remarkably meaningful and to try to prove to the world that what I am doing matters. There is constant tension in my heart about these motivations. I sympathize with those, and it draws me even further from this kind of life, who live off of monetary support from churches, friends, or family. I wonder how they deal with this pressure to present their work and their hearts to people who, in reality, are literally paying them to perform "meaningful service."

Sometimes, I find myself jealous of the missionaries of old - and even Peace Corps volunteers who served 30+ years ago. They got the chance to embark from their homes to far away lands, unencumbered by the world of cell phones and Internet. While yes, having these means of communication is such a huge blessing, how refreshing it would have been to be able to return years later and share only face-to-face with friends and family about their indescribable experiences. How I long for the chance to sit down with everyone who has followed and supported us and talk face-to-face for hours on end about our experiences. And better yet, how I long for each one of you to ride on one of the little boats to our tiny island and to meet and talk with every person in our village. For they, and nothing else, are the reason that we are here.

At the end of the day, I rest and remember that it does not matter in the slightest how many likes, comments, or messages we receive. It does not matter how we present ourselves to the social media world. What matters are the little choices we make every day to choose to love everyone around us. What matters are all the decisions we make on a daily basis to turn our hearts either towards or away from God.

Continuing to deal with struggles and temptation,



Sundays here feel so...empty.

I know I am not the only peace corps volunteer that watches mournfully as the minutes pass like hours.

Sunday's always seem so stinkin long!

On Sunday's it's hard for my thoughts not to turn towards home. It's been a long time since I have been "homesick" . Mark and I would both say our hardest time, in regards to missing home, was last Christmas season.

Today I feel homesick.

Maybe it's that the seasons are changing (not here, but at home). Maybe it's that we've already been here a year. This is our second September 15. Our second "misionali". Seconds seem strange. Maybe its that we're coming home soon (December-for a whole month! How we'd love to see you all!). Maybe I just miss you.

What I wouldn't give to throw on some blue jeans, slip some boots on, throw a scarf around my neck and meet you for a pumpkin spice latte. To see the golds, oranges, reds of fall, to hear the crunch of the leaves. To laugh and gossip and cry (let's face it, I almost always do when we have our heart to hearts).

The thing with Tonga is....everything is blue (ocean) and green (coconut trees). And it's warm (okay....warmer. I've still been wearing a fleece but I've just got some weird internal temperature issues happening now that I've survived a south pacific summer with no fan). And even if one of you were here, there are no pumpkin spice lattes to be had in this country. And even if there were pumpkin spice lattes to be had, this is Sunday. Nothing is allowed on Sunday. Nothing is open. No work is allowed. No playing is allowed. No. Thing.

Thinking of a Sunday fall day back home....


This is awesome

On one of the post tests my students just took, one of the activities was to write a sentence about each picture. This picture is really too difficult for them because there are multiple aspects of it that don't fit their cultural understanding. (one student thought the chef hat was a cloud and the tears rain....his sentence was "Sione is happy because it is rain." ) The PRE and post tests were made by pc, and overall are pretty good, so we haven't bothered to change the few "bad" questions. Anywho, this was my favorite sentence :

If you can't see it " I cry to Peta because lavea to eye." lavea is injury in Tongan. I love it when my kids intersperse tongan in their writing. Hilarious!

*all of our students showed great gains in their English speaking, writing, and reading skills. We are so proud of them for all their hard work.


Thursday, September 5, 2013


Today marked the first day of our Kindergarten class. It was chaotic, hilarious, tons of fun, and maybe, just maybe, educational.

We had 12 children in attendance- 10 of them ages 3-5, a few two year olds snuck in.

We also had five extra "teachers". A few parents and older teenagers are interested in helping out. We were thankful for the help today, although we were surprised at the interest.

Our class will mostly be taught in Tongan, focusing on numbers, colors, letters, name writing, and maybe a little bit of English. Right now, we will hold class twice a week, but we'll see how everything goes.

We are excited to serve the community in another way. Everyone is so happy about this class. We only wish we had had the idea earlier!

One year!

Today, September 4th, officially marks our first year in Tonga!

We celebrated by:

Opening up a bag of new panties, underwear, and bras. They were so new, so fresh- no holes! :)


Eating some "Mountain House Freeze Dried Neapolitan Ice Cream" that my parents brought to us when they visited in June. It was quite delicious.

Unexpected Visitors

Here in Vava'u, there are two distinct worlds: the Tongan world and the world of white tourists, most of whom arrive in luxury sailing boats. In modern Tonga, these two groups go about their lives side by side, but their very many differences could not be more obvious. Yet, as volunteers whose mission is to work towards the development of Tonga by integrating and trying our best to live "like Tongans", we find ourselves in a difficult spot somewhere in between these two worlds. Much of the time, we feel so unlike the western tourists that their world seems almost as foreign as that of the Tongans. But, no matter how hard we try, the Tongans will always, in some way, associate us with this world that is both so near and so far away.

Now that it is winter in the southern hemisphere, "tourist season" is well underway. What this means, especially on the outer islands, is that life continues as it always does, but it is accompanied by the appearance of scores of sailing boats and curious tourists. As is typical, the tourists are interested in native Tongan life, so there are many advertised opportunities for them, but many would rather explore Tongan villages on their own. So, it is not uncommon for tourists to randomly wander into our villages for a look around.

Many find themselves at our schools, adoring the cuteness of the "native children". The kids of course put on a great show, and the teachers are good at, for lack of a better term, schmoozing the tourists. It is also a common occurrence for these tourists to come bearing gifts, usually comprised of school supplies or toys for the kids. While their intentions are fine, and to them, they are just trying to help out, I've grown to dread these exchanges. From the perspective of people who live in the villages full time, these frequent gifts are nice, but they unfortunately only contribute to many systemic problems of Tonga - namely, a lack of care for resources, dependence on foreign aid, the belief that all white people are extremely wealthy, and a constant widening of the gap between Tongans and Westerners.

In the midst of this constant tension, we were pleasantly surprised by the arrival of Ken and Diane - visitors from Australia who go about their travels in a different way. Ken is a retired mechanical engineer, and he and his wife have been traveling for the better part of the last five years around the pacific. Instead of bringing gifts of material things, they have chosen rather to help the people at their various destinations by sharing their skills. Ken is an extremely skilled mechanical engineer, so wherever they go, they try to fix any variety of broken machines that the villages may have. Throughout their travels, they have fixed countless machines, including water pumps for entire villages in Vanuatu and piles of sewing machines in Papua New Guinea.

When they showed up and met us, we quickly spread the word in our village about their skills and availability. And, quite unexpectedly, our lives for a number of days were thrown into a frenzy of traveling around the village, serving as translators, as Ken and Diane worked their magic. The amount of machines they fixed, many of which were in deplorable condition, was extremely impressive. As word spread instantly through the village of these miracle workers, folks came out of the wood work with all sorts of broken devices. People even rushed to bring things from town in the hopes that they too would be brought back to life. Here is an estimated list of everything that they managed to fix or improve: 4 generators, 4 boat motors, 5 weed eaters, 4 lawn mowers, 4 sewing machines.

Over the course of these last few days, we spent a good amount of time with these two interesting people. It has been full of good conversation, and it's been interesting seeing the village's reaction to their presence. Though their stay was very short, it was a blessing to have met them and hear about their hearts and experience.

- Mark

(pictures of them fixing things at the school. I'm trying to look like I'm being helpful, but I wasn't fooling anyone)

Ag Show 2

More pictures!

Giant Eel!

Mark and I outside one of Nuapapu's stalls (we had 2. Yes, Nuapapu is spelled two different ways, depending on who you ask. It drives me crazy.)

This picture is cool because of the giant taro....all the big leafy tree looking things are taro, a much loved root crop. :)

The King! :) King Tupou VI. It was really neat to see a people's love for their king, unlike anything I've ever seen. People don't usually talk much about the king, the monarchy, or anything political, so I wasn't sure what it would be like to have the king visit. It was really nice, and I thought he was especially regal (so tall!), and very smiley.

Waiting for the king to walk past with our Nuapapu friends.

Of course, our favorite thing about the day was hanging out with our pals Ryan and Abby, and eating Taro potato chips and cold Ginger Beer (from one very smart stall!)

Ryan and Abby in front of their towns stall.

Agriculture Show

A few weeks ago, Mark and I (along with pretty much the entire population of Vava'u), attended the annual Agriculture Show.

It was a really special day. Not only had the annual Ag Show not been held for a number of years (for reasons unknown to me), it was also the new kings first trip to Vava'u! (he was announced King of Tonga shortly before our arrival in Tonga).

Most people from our island came. This is a new boat, and because it is so humongous (by Tongan standards), it seems there is no limit to how much stuff and how many people can fit. This does not accurately portray the fullness.

At the Ag show, each town set up a little stall and displayed the best their town had to offer. There were tons of root crops, woven mats, vegetables, sea food, etc. It was so neat to see so many "me'a fakatonga" - Tongan things.

The islands totally represented with their fish display. Matamaka, the town Mark works in, had huge and strange fish. Super cool to see.


Finally arriving after a long day, followed by a long ride. Collectively (all 40 of us), sigh.

The kids have fallen asleep and need to be woken up. We've been crowded on in uncomfortable positions for well over an hour, we stretch. I hear the plow coming from a distance. The women are laughing. The men light up (again). One of the "youth" jumps ashore and ties up the boat. We begin unloading. There's root crop, by the basket full. Suitcases, bags, diapers, toilet paper, boxes of noodles, boxes of crackers, boxes of bread, boxes of meat. We climb out, handing over babies, and baskets for each other. Once its all unloaded we just sit awhile. The plow (a tractor with a small trailer) is coming, but mark and I rarely ride. We talk about the weather. We joke about Mark running away to kava. We stare out over the ocean. Theres a lot we dont understand about each other, but what we do have in common is we are home. What a wonderful thing, coming home.

The beauty. The scent of the ocean. The colors of the sunset. The sound of the waves. The "culture" of our wharf ( just to the right). The freedom of the children, and their responsibility as well. The isolation. The hard-to-get-to ness of our little island. The laughter of the adults as they tease each other. The roosters crowing, the church bells ringing, my students practicing the English I've taught them "cat- c.a.t.". Home.

I love that I know this place. Know where to go, know who is who, know what's being talked about, know what's going on, know what's culturally appropriate and inappropriate, know how to make jokes in Tongan. I know this place. I am known in this place. Home.


All I get out of Mark, is this:

He has discovered the wonders of Harry Potter.