Monday, October 31, 2011

A Few Things Pohnpei Has Taught Me:

1)      1. The definition of true generosity. Now, keep in mind that I am from south of the Mason Dixon line and still I have never experienced such overwhelming generosity. I have mentioned the abundance of free food before, but it’s more than that... you tell someone you like their skirt: they are going to bestow it upon you the next day. You tell someone the snack they let you try is good, they are going to hand it all over to you. There is no end to the giving. My students are constantly offering me pickled papaya, shrimp flavored snacks, and sips of their sodas they have bought from women who set up small shops in the mini-local houses on the school’s campus.  They will clean the classroom without being asked, never let you lift or carry anything too heavy, and will even give up their seat for you. Last week, my three of my students started fanning me when they noticed I was hot. Another day, my female student thought I looked stressed and began massaging my shoulders.

2)      2. The effects of human contact. I suppose this is not something people haven’t always known, but I am realizing the importance of physical contact in all relationships. The idea of personal space does not exist in Pohnpei; my students hug me, lean on me, hold my hand, rest on me, tickle me- everyone is always on everyone else. Sometimes it is hard to tell where one student begins and the other ends because as you look across your classroom students are draped across one another. Boys hold hands with boys and girls walk with their arms around each other. It is how you display familiarity and friendship, and I love it. There is something about always having people hanging on you that makes you feel accepted and a part of something… or more importantly someone. It seems like every place I have traveled to outside of the U.S. does this, why didn’t we cling to the custom of clinging to each other?

3)      3. What community really means. Sadly, I think I have lived my entire life never feeling a sense of community, until now. In America you can live years in the same house and never meet your neighbor. It doesn’t help that I was living in New York for the past two years- isle of independence where even small talk seems to be too bothersome for people who are always in a hurry to lead their obviously, very important lives. Here it’s different. We go to  church with the same people every week, I exercise with them, teach their students, go to their birthday parties, wave to the same people every day and staples from the same little store regularly. I realize that some Americans do live this exact life, but for me it is a new experience to know everyone that I see on a daily basis. I am beginning to understand the comfort of familiarity.

4)      4. How to appreciate natural beauty. I am most likely going to have a problem properly acclimating to American standards of what it means to be presentable after this year is through. Make-up? Not so much. Hair products? Nope. Shoes other than flip-flops? Only when I run. Let’s not even discuss my clothing. The thing about living here though, is that no one else does any of these things either. It would be silly to even try to tame the hair in this humidity. Make up would just melt off anyway, and why raise my body temperature any higher than it already is by swaddling my feet in fabric? I am so used to seeing bare faces that when I see a random student who somehow got her hands on some makeup I am appalled. Made-up girls now look like clowns to me and I used to never leave with first applying “my face”. I am glad my concept of beauty is changing, but I am also mildly worried I am turning into a huge hippie.  

5)      5. Eating with your hands is so much easier. I guess using silverware is more sanitary than eating with your hands, but it really is so much easier to just grab food instead of trying to coax it onto four prongs. Slippery salad? Corn? Tiny Noodles? No problem with the ole’ right hand. I may never be able to use utensils again. Before I know it I will be at a business dinner forgoing a job opportunity in effort to more hastily grab a stray pea that’s been dancing itself around the perimeter of my plate.

6)      6. Human beings are incredibly adaptable. Not only have I become more comfortable with bare faced beauties and eating with my hands, but I can now watch a pig be killed and ripped apart and not even flinch. This Saturday we went to our village’s feast for the Nanmwarki where not only did I watch about fifteen pigs be slaughtered and have their insides ripped out, but then watched children crawl inside the carcasses retrieving organs and handfuls of blood, and then joyfully skip around toting their new found toys. A few months ago it would have made me extremely uncomfortable to watch something like this, but now I am so accustomed to the general treatment of animals and the fact that at the end of the day here they really are just a food source. Do I still wish they would kill them quickly and not let them bleed out? Yes. Do I still think of Wilbur and tear up? Eh, Wilbur Shwilbur.
This is present of a pig in the crate below, giant yams dangling from the above,
all topped off with some sakau and balloons is being loaded up to be taken to the home of the Nanmwarki. 


Around fifteen pigs were carried in to the Nahs and presented to the Nanmwarki, before being cleaned out. 

While waiting to play inside of the pigs, the boys were mud sliding in front of the Nahs, where heavy rains had created the perfect mudslide. 

7)      7. Children are the cure-all.  Well, I hope no one questions my love of America after this post, because there is truly no place like home however there are quite a few charms of Pohnpei that I will forever miss. The kids here are on the top of that list. I am sorry new mothers, but it’s fact that Pohnpeian children are cuter than American ones- no question about it. Not only are these young whipper snappers physically adorable, but each one radiates a unique (and more often than not hilarious) personality. When I am less than enthusiastic about the beginning of the school day, being greeted by the parade of elementary students on the way to my classroom turns my attitude around. During lunch, when I am in need of a little pick me up- I wait for my little friends to come by my classroom and play with me. If I am disappointed about the way my 3rd period went, I can count on those little buggers to cheer me back up with a game of red rover.
One of our favorite little buddies who always keeps us laughing. He came to visit the first day Scott missed school because of his unfortunate injuries experienced after running (and stopping) too fast on a hot track barefoot. Not to worry, he has had a speedy recovery and it now back on his feet after a week of being in a wheelchair. Congratulations Scott :)

8)      8. It’s okay to keep some of your own traditions and comforts. I have learned that keeping some of my menwai habits is not only okay, but probably healthy. At first I felt a little bit guilty if I hung out with all the menwai for too long on the weekends, but I feel better afterwards. I think it’s good to remind yourself of who you are, and spending the night in Kolonia gives me some familiar comforts, like being able to order food out, go to a store, sleep without a mosquito net, and yes purchase the occasional beverage. And there is nothing wrong with that. This weekend for example, we were even able to get in costume and celebrate Halloween! Do you know how hard it is to find festive garb in the third world? Unoriginally, I was able to scrounge up an army jacket and at from a thrift store in town and Waalah! Army girl costume! Some other WorldTeachers were more creative we had Cleopatra, the Brawny man, and Ursula! Happy Halloween Ya’ll! (That’s for you Michael Hilbert.)

Halloween! With the resources we could find Scott became the very creative, Brawny paper towel man!

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