Sunday, October 2, 2011


Last Saturday yours truly made a dancing debut during the island’s annual celebration of the arrival of the Protestant women missionaries in 1852. I was the first menwai (pigment challenged person) to dance with the women’s group… ever. This is how I was dubbed no-longer-a-menwai but a “local lady”; not by eating with my hands, scaling a fish, showering in the river, or wearing local clothes, but by shaking my hips. It all started last Wednesday (our usual church night), when we were practicing our ritual dividing of the sexes for the post-service coffee hour when the women told me to come with them up into the attic to do some “activities”. My first thought was something along the arts and crafts line, until I saw the President of the women’s group pop a cassette into an old stereo. Thus I had my first of three nights of rehearsal before the big day.  

Dance rehearsal with middle-aged Pohnpeian women has been one of my most favorite experiences since I have been on island. Typically after church while the men sit at tables and discuss Pohnpeian history, government and life philosophies, the women sit on the floor and chat quietly, shushing the playing children when they get too disruptive. When we were away from the men however I was able to see another side to them. This is how I discovered that gossiping looks the same in every language. I finally got to see some of their personalities shine through while they made fun of my exaggerated dancing and grabbed my derrière in a complimenting fashion. As their giggles bounced off the walls and circled around the room I tried to stifle some of my overwhelming contentment so as not to be that creepy girl who goes around smiling for no apparent reason.  But I was more than just content; I was elated to feel a part of something and not just an observer.

The women headed up to the grave of Annette, the first female missionary who created the first women's group.

                As teaching becomes more challenging it is the cultural activities that we participate in during our limited free time that serve as catalysts for easing my tightly wound mind. The actual event which lasted about five hours included dancing and singing from women’s groups from each municipality. Since I was representing Kitti, I was wearing a white moomoo which my neighbor not only let me borrow, but after seeing me in it and thinking it fit me just right, gave it to me. I also donned a white marmar (roll the r’s) which is like a lay for your head, along with a gardenia and a plastic local flower in my hair and an ample amount of coconut oil rubbed on my body. This was exactly the type of experience I was looking for when I decided to come here. I don’t just want to go to school, teach and come home. I want to be a part of this community and really get to know the people who have been so gracious to us. I finally feel like I am getting to do just that.

Three of the women I danced with. This was taken before the prayer service. 

 This week was chock-full of cultural activities, as we also attended our first Pohnpeian funeral. We were invited by a colleague couple that Scott and I hang out with frequently. It was the third day (a.k.a. fish day) of the traditional four-day funeral.  We were lucky enough to be invited into the Nahs which is only for people with high titles. As we sat listening to legends being told through the clinking of sakau pounding, a pile of fish of every shape, size, and color was continually growing about a foot away from us. During the four hour ceremony I drank the most sakau I have had yet which made finishing up lesson plans when we arrived home a bit difficult.  Upon leaving, we were granted with not one, not two, but three local baskets full of food, and a bag of four of the fish. The generosity is overwhelming sometimes.

The fish we were so graciously given. I scaled and fried the one on  the left for dinner!

 In between celebrating a life and commemorating missionary arrivals we have learned how to make lihlih (which means womanwoman), a pounded, cooked breadfruit with coconut milk pored over, I have shaved my first coconut, gone on a hike to a waterfall, eaten a lifetime’s supply of bananas and played baseball with some of the world’s cutest kids. All while trying to be a teacher. Life is pretty pweipwei (crazy).

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