by Anna

In ’09 I quit my teaching job and took out what little retirement I’d accumulated so that I could live in the South Pacific. I spent six months in the island nation, teaching at a local school, biking to work, walking to the open-air market. It was especially fulfilling for me because I am half Tongan. I was surrounded by family I’d never met, including my grandmother. I would spend afternoons learning how to shred a coconut, or being taught by my artist-aunt how to paint tapa (pounded bark of the mulberry tree) using paints made of earth. My nephew spent patient hours teaching me to say, “Malo e lelei.” Afternoons kayaking. Evenings in candlelight, the guitar being passed around. I met some amazing people. Fellow Americans Kristen and Chris lent a touch of sanity and generosity to my life. I experienced my first earthquake, volcano, tsunami warning, and hurricane. Memories are more vivid even than these pictures, and it tore my heart out to leave.