Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lopwo- whaaa? Lopwolopw.

                 As March comes to an end so do the ambrosial, strong trade winds coming from the Northeast that have been mercifully cooling us off for the past three months . And thus the heat has been unbearable this week, crushing us from all angles. I look across my classroom at my students trying not to waste too much energy breathing, realizing that keeping students in this tin box may in fact be some mild form of torture. I thought maybe I was more susceptible to the heat because I am not used to this climate, but no the heat has zapped their energy too. They’ve all got wet rags tossed on their heads, they’re fanning each other with papers, leaves, broken book covers, and they’ve started wearing fewer layers and have become even more prone to stripping in class, more apt at sleeping and less likely to participate. I’ve had a heat headache every day and it makes teaching nearly impossible. In fact today, it became exactly that.
If it wasn’t the heat that caused it, it could have quite likely been the task of attempting to introduce the Diary of Anne Frank to kids who have never heard of Hitler, the Holocaust or Nazis. These are difficult concepts to explain to students who are unfamiliar with nearly every word you would inherently use: mass murder, concentration camps, genocide, propaganda, anti-Semitism, and in addition to that are even less familiar with geography then Americans. A LOT of explaining is involved.
  The light and sound sensitive migraine forced me to cancel my last class of the day and  I was slovenly gathering my belongings and tossing them into my bag at the pace of an island snail when my student Meagin came in, saw my state and ordered me to come over and lay on the long table in my classroom.  I was in such pain that I didn’t ask questions but just followed orders, as I had moments ago when my attentive husband thrust the last two Tylenol on campus in my face… I am still at a loss for how he managed to procure those.  As I lay on my desk with my head in my student’s lap I was ever so grateful for the cultural differences making it possible. In Pohnpei no one judges you for doing what makes you comfortable at that exact moment. There is no societal pressure to keep ailments a secret and to pretend that you’re perfectly fine when you’re not.  Got a wedgie? Pick it. Need to blow a snot rocket, spit, fart, burp, scratch an undesirable place? Go for it. Do it all at the same time if you want. No one will even bat an eye. If you do decide to go the Western route of keeping your issues private (be they physical or emotional) which is the route I take most days: they still know. I’ve mentioned it time and time again but Pohnpeians are extremely deft at reading people.
I’m not sure if it was the position I was in or Meagin’s miraculous hand movements that made my limbs go numb (mildly concerning), I finally began to relax. I drifted in and out of consciousness as a student began to sweep my classroom and as another kept insisting that I let him buy me something cold to drink or eat.  After the last bell of the day rang I stumbled up and headed home still in a migraine haze- but it disappeared in a few minutes.  
Having recovered from my debilitating situation I was free to resume my lopwolopw date with the same student. Last week she taught me how to wash laundry in the river (lopwolopw) the Pohnpeian way. We had driven to a river I Poke, the next village over where we scrubbed our clothes with tawasi’s (scrubbers) against a rock, and then beat them with a carved piece of 2 by 4. The cleaning is much more thorough than hand washing in a bucket at home because each article gets individual attention; turned inside out, scrubbed on both sides, and beaten multiple times. I've always found chores to be relaxing but sitting in a river in the evening beating clothes on a rock while carrying on a conversation every now and then as water trickles around you, is extremely therapeutic.

Lopwolopw - literally means to pound, and that's what you do to the clothes, with this lopwolopw-er!

This week’s laundry outing was not as laid back. Meagin showed up a little after 4- this time with no car. “In Pohnpei, when you’re sick you need to walk a lot.” So I tossed (let’s be real it was more of a heave)  a queen sized sheet full of mine and Scott’s laundry on my head and proceeds to walk the mile and a half to the river, creating a small spectacle on the way because as Meagin said, “they’ve never seen an American do this.” 
Meagin and I on our walk to the river!

After stopping at Meagin’s house to get a bucket and play with some three week old puppies we finally arrived at the river, only to discover that I had forgotten the detergent -_-. So we walked another ½ mile to use her auntie’s phone and I thanked the universe for my forgetfulness which led me there. It was a beautiful compound- a huge garden, 3 separate structures (one for sleeping, one for cooking, and an outdoor nahs). The main house was two stories made of a combination of trees and dry wall and looked like something out of a children’s book. There is a hammock strung in the front yard along with the longest laundry line I’ve ever seen. After I phoned Scott asking him to ever so graciously bring the detergent when he ran down to the river to swim with us, I was served cold water from their ice box (heavenly), given a tray of bananas and got to taste a “Pohnpeian peanut” which I never knew existed! It’s about the size of your palm and delicious!

This little guy kept getting his baby teeth stuck in my skirt. 
 We walked back to the river to wait for Scott to come and save the day and Meagin told me stories about the Nanmwarki of Enpein and what it was like before the bridge that crossed the river we were currently sitting in was built in 2002. We were scrubbing ourselves with rocks when we saw Scott run across the bridge at around 6 o’clock- we were there lopwolopw -ing until I couldn’t see the clothes I was washing anymore. Scott tried to help but since washing is “women’s work” there really wasn't anything for him to do except feed bananas to the river fish while he waited. It’s a good thing he stayed because I vastly underestimated how much heavier clothes are when they’re wet. Scott with his brute strength carried them practically the entire way home under, leaving me free to carrying the bananas and a bucket and gaze up at the sky full of bats and stars. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pink and Red on the Island of Green

Obviously living on a relatively isolated island in the middle of the Pacific has taught me many things, some things expected, others not. Sadly, one thing I have learned is how much “the holiday spirit” relies on commercialism. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and now Valentine’s Day, just haven’t been the same when everything isn’t decorated and when there aren’t marathons of holiday related movies on TV. Maybe a less cynical assumption would be that these holidays lack their usual spark because there isn’t the passion thriving in a community of believers; instead with each of these holidays there has been a feeling of “eh, yeah we’ve heard of it but don’t really get it” which results in only a handful of people really celebrating.  Refusing to accept that I could only feel the anticipation and exhilaration of these holidays when companies are spending, and making, billions of dollars a year to make me feel that way, I needed to take action for my own piece of mind.

The Valentines my students made me <3 

So this 14th of February I decided to teach a lesson on the history of Valentine’s Day to explain why we celebrate it, even though it is not widely practiced in Pohnpei. I actually did not feel the “oh-man-I-am-forcing-them-to-become-American-guilt” with this lesson since the Science Club had decided to sell $1 dollar Valentine’s Day cards to raise money for a science fair and many students are familiar with the idea from movies they have seen. I was merely providing a little more substance to their concept of the holiday. I told them the legend of St. Valentine who was a martyr for marriage, standing up for what he believed in and facing the consequences rather than relinquishing his beliefs and living the rest of his days as a phony Roman. I talked about the enticement of secret marriages, Valentine being detained until his execution, and sending letters asking for prayer, signing them “Remember Your Valentine.” I thought I made a solid case for Valentine’s Day, and given the hopelessly romantic love letters and journal entries I have received this year I thought that my Pohnpeian students would be an easy audience. But when I gave them the supplies to make Valentine’s Day cards only some of them were as enthusiastic as I had envisioned.

One of my seniors Eugene, hard at work on a card for his special Valentine. 

As you can see some students were really into making their cards, while others were more
interested in  looking out the window and listening to music. 
  Pin the wings on Cupid? Oh that they loved (I mean who wouldn't and frankly coming up with it may just be one of my greater accomplishments). They were even more eager about a race to see who could come up with the most words from the phrase “Remember Your Valentine” than they were about making Valentines.  As I was moping around looking at my disheveled classroom and watching students put my markers in their mouths after I have lectured them countless times on the way to handle materials, it suddenly hit me. Maybe Pohnpeians don’t really see the point in Valentine’s Day, because for them every day is Valentine’s Day. 
Richenard....expressing his emotions

My student's first experience with a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey type game.
Richenard had measured where the wings belonged with his fingers when I wasn't looking. 
This is Cupid post-game.

               In the Western world it is corny, cliché and just plain difficult for us to speak openly about our emotions. Maybe I have lived a sad existence, but in my experience when people do speak openly it’s usually as part of a wedding or following a tragic accident (well…that’s ironic), or the grand gesture in your favorite rom-com.  Rarely to people go around professing their love on a daily basis. That is, unless you live in Pohnpei.  My students, both male and female, are extremely in touch with their emotions.  There seems to be very little “loving from a far”- if you love (let’s be real, this is high school, have lust for is a better term) someone – they know about it, mostly likely because the boy showed up at your window at night, but there are other methods of communication as well. My students have written openly not only about romantic love, but about familial and friend relationships as well. They will tell you when they are embarrassed, ashamed, proud, confused: they will identify their emotions more thoroughly and more readily than any American I have ever met, especially one at their age. When I was their age I had two ways of expressing emotion, “I’m pissed” or “This is awesome.” It always felt too awkward to be too specific about emotions.

Grading by candlelight due to a power outage;  true romance. 

My two Valentines :) 
So Americans need this day, this one day out of the year where you are supposed to be open and honest and tell someone how much you love them, even then it’s still too scary for many of us. But here, where people where their hearts on their sleeve (short sleeves mind you), they don’t have a need for Valentine’s Day the way we do. Then there’s that whole commercialism thing, but let’s skip that discussionJ. After grasping the real situation I wasn’t as bummed about missing out on the real spirit of Valentine’s Day, because it’s around me every day. And plus, I get to live with an awesome American who understands how much it means to me, and made this one of the best Valentine’s Days I’ve had yet.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Definition of Paradise? Pingelap

**disclaimer: I sincerely apologize for my blogging hiatus, but after unlocking myself I am ready for a comeback!

December 2011
I had a case of Island fever. What are the symptoms of island fever you may ask? This may be the biggest white girl problem of all, "Oh woe is me I am getting a little too used to living on this beautiful, tropical island." But in truth, I was getting stir crazy; we are half way through the year, and as I become more familiar with Pohnpei the initial allure starts to wear a little. My cure? A trip to the even more remote island of Pingelap.On December 26th we arrived at the boarding dock an hour and a half early, thinking we would be among the first there since everyone else would be on island time.  We were wrong. The boat was swarming with people, chickens and pigs all who had arrived even farther in advance in order to secure their “seats” on the deck. On the deck are two cargo holds with platforms above and tarps rigged over them- under the tarp is where we would need to squeeze in and find a space that we could occupy for the next two nights. We put our bags down in a space the Jesuit volunteers so graciously shared with us, and went to watch the sunset from the back as the ship departed.  Our two day journey including a not-so-short detour through the underworld had begun. 

As soon as the ship left the lagoon we were at mercy of gigantic swells – no matter where you were on the ship you got wet. As the ship thrashed back and forth and waves splashed over deck making me feel like I was Deadliesty Catch I wondered if this was normal. We quickly took refuge under the tarp shelter only to find out that it didn’t keep much of the rain out either. Since we were some of the last to lay claim to any territory our quarters were cramped to say the least. To avoid losing any more valuable space and from puking everywhere, we had to lay down on entrance (at about 7 pm mind you) and remain for the rest of the journey. There was about enough space for your torso, legs were propped up on luggage. Being on the front of the deck we could feel each “rock and roll” as Scott so cornily phrased. The swells were relentless and every few minutes when there was a particularly large wave we were doused with water that forced its’ way in through the openings at each corner and the holes in the top.

Many hours of not sleeping later I was in dire need of using the restroom, a trip that would nearly cost me my life. By this time ropes had been added around the tarp to prevent it from blowing inward and smacking those on the very front and as an attempt to minimize the amount of water coming in. Therefore the task of getting out was like trying to walk (let’s be honest I ended up crawling) on a wet board balanced on a ball from which you have to do Cirque du Soleil tricks through ropes and tarp with the ease of a contortionist, while the wind causes said tarp to smack you in the head with unlimited force, before finally putting your foot on wet metal and gripping whatever you could not to go flying as the boat bounces haphazardly and huge waves do not hesitate to come aboard.  If I was on Deadliest Catch, what I was hunting was a bathroom. Fortunately I had Scott as my venturing companion, preventing many a face plant. After reaching the cabin where the bathrooms were supposed to be and finding all doors locked except the shower- I may or may not have committed some questionable acts while vowing not to consume any liquids for the remainder of our voyage.

The Caroline Voyager approaching Mokil at sunrise.

After surviving the trip back I tried to sleep in the rolling Sea World splash zone until about 4:30, when just after I had fallen asleep I woke up to what looked like an alien abduction. Unable to see anything but the blinding light of headlamps, I noticed that these extraterrestrials seemed to be packing their things up and the tent was no longer flapping wildly a mere half a food above my head creating thunderous crashes, but instead rested calmly. We had to be in a lagoon, thank god. My companions continued to snooze taking advantage of a steady bed, while I decided to give an encore performance and shimmy down the tent and ropes course once more to see what was going on outside. It would turn out we were anchored just outside of the lagoon of Mokil, but all that was to be seen was bright stars in what was otherwise pitch black surroundings. After exchanging pleasantries with a Mokilese man about their red sands and plentiful lagoon there was no going back to sleep so instead I took up fort on the bow with a pack of dry ramen and watched Mokil appear. I never saw an actual sunrise, but rather the stars started fading and the sun seemed to replace them, as if all of the stars decided to move together and form the sun.

The Mokilese coming to unload cargo from the Voyager. 

Slowly, Mokilese men and in some cases teenagers began coming out to meet the boat since the lagoon was too shallow for the ship to enter. We had to clear off the top of the cargo hold so that a crane could begin moving supplies including food, kerosene, gasoline, and one very sick pig. During this process we learned that the Captain was planning to depart Mokil at 10 am instead of the planned 6pm and therefore we would not have enough time to get off and explore Mokil before it was time to leave. We sat deep in disgruntled thoughts about missed opportunities and feeling stir crazy on the boat when suddenly a Pohnpeian boy flung himself off the edge of the boat. One local boy jumping ship was the only cue Scott needed as he quickly made his way to where the boy had jumped and released the urge to flail himself overboard he had been stifling since we embarked on our journey. Mike, Molly and Matt were soon to follow, and our fellow ship companions were thrilled to see menwai doing front flips, back flips and barrel rolls off of every surface of the boat. After all cargo had been unloaded and our friends returned aboard we headed for our final destination of Pingelap.

A Pingelapese man deep in contemplation waiting to get
off and see his friends and family. 

The only reason anyone has heard of Pigelap is because many of its inhabitants suffer from a rare form of color blindness called achromatopsia in which people can see no color, only shades of grey. No concept of color exists for them, not even in their dreams. On our second day in Pingelap the Mayor told us the two theories of how this high concentration (1 in 10 compared to 1 in 30,000 as it is in the rest of the world) of colorblind people came to be. The first story is the Pingelapese legend in which a ghost man, who was ½ human and ½ ghost and therefore saw in shades of gray, came to the island and immediately fell in love with the Nanmwarki’s wife and demanded to lay with her. The Nanmarki refused, and the ghost man said that if he forbid his wife to sleep with him then terrible things would happen to the island. The Nanmwarki  prepared his warriors and boarded his island in ships, and again refused. Then the ghost man brought a terrible typhoon to the island, wiping out most of the population. Alas, he and the Nanmwarki’s wife were together and had three colorblind daughters, one who moved to Mokil, one who remained in Pingelap, and one who died.
There are similarities between the legend and what historians believed to have happened: in 1775 Typhoon Lengkieki hit Pingelap, which being a mere 10 feet above sea level suffered irreversible damages. Ninety percent of the population perished, with most of the survivors passing soon after due to starvation. The Nahnmwarki was believed to have this achromatopsia and when his island needed repopulating he was the one to do it, making this once rare condition extremely prevalent. While it is almost cruel to think of people not being able to see well in the sunlight when they live so close to the equator, achromatopsia does grant them the ability to see better at night then people who have normal vision. So on an island with no electricity, it is not a complete lose-lose situation, especially since it makes them better night fisherman.
The number of people living with achromotopsia is most likely on a decrease in Pingelap since more and more residents are moving to Pohnpei and even the United States, and are marrying outside of each other.

December 31, 2011 New Year’s Eve 8:50 pm
Once again I have slacked on my documenting duties, but I cannot honestly say that I am sorry for I just had possibly four of the best days of my life. They have been a picture of perfection: sunshine, hiking, swimming (with sharks!), snorkeling, sandy (and hidden) beaches, deserted islands, aquamarine waters, fresh local food, new friendships, a nice tan, drinking coconuts, star gazing  and plenty of sexual innuendos to round it all off.  We arrived at Pingelap at sunset on finally calm waters, and as I rushed to the side of the deck to see land- I saw several fires ablaze to greet us and I knew this trip was going to be amazing.  As we crammed twenty people with hundreds of pounds of supplies and luggage into one tiny boat powered by a 15 horsepower motor, the boat barely clearing the surface of the water, Pingelapese shouted from shore holding maramars, while we turned and waved back to the ship to those continuing their journey to Kosrae.

After climbing out of the boat into complete darkness save for the one fire still ablaze, we could see no one but see shapes of small children splashing in the water. We set our heavy bags down amazed that we had finally reached our destination, and we didn’t even have time to worry about what to do next because Aida Ernest, the cutest woman in the world, appeared out of nowhere with a little lantern and mwaramwars for all of us. She then led us to a small cart where we put our bags and after providing us each with a coconut led us down the path to where we would be staying. It’s about a 5 minute walk from where we landed on the beach to where we would be sleeping, we could see nothing but Ida’s little lantern and would have to rediscover the island in daylight. Ida led us to two little local huts on the beach, next to the small airstrip. Scott and I took the more local of the huts, with just a leaf roof and no walls, while Joe and Mike slept on mattresses in a screened in house. After Ida and her husband Elias helped us set up our sleeping foam and mosquito nets we hung out on the beach next to the causeway which was thriving with nightlife since people had come to see the big ship arriving. After an exhausting journey, it wasn’t long after we ate the hot meal Ida made for us that we nestled into bed.

These carts are what Pingelapese use to move things around the island. 

This is where we stayed: Neime Hotel, Pingelapese for "taste it." We were the
 first guests of the first hotel on island. 

Aida, the sweetest lady I have ever met and owner of the hotel.

We woke early the next day to discover dohnas (fried dough balls) and instant coffee available- two things which are high commodities and very expensive. While we were enjoying our morning morsels, our Jesuit friends had come to find us. First thing on the agenda: see the island. We walked down the main path, towards where we landed and discovered many abandoned houses overgrown by jungle, beautiful in their loneliness and chipped bright paint. After a walk in the sunlight, a cool dip was in order. The tide was so far out you had to walk a far way on the reef before reaching a sudden drop off into clear blue water. We were sharing this oasis with about 30 children, which turned out to be the entire elementary school. We hung out there for a couple hours; Scott amusing them with his human tricks and flips while Molly and Sam sang Christmas songs.  

Aio sarawi kasalel; a beautiful church we stumbled upon on
our walk around the island.

These two men sat and chatted while looking at the anchored Voyager,
which only visits once or twice a year.

Some children playing during low tide. 

We had some free time in which we needed to find a way to entertain ourselves without electricity:
meet Mike and Scott, otherwise known as Mary-Kate and Ashley. 

Volunteering is really rewarding. 

Local outrigger canoe

This is the heaven some of us walked to.
 The next few days were full of snorkeling, hiking, walking to deserted islands during low tide, boat rides and lying in hammocks. We closed each day in a way that makes it sound like I am putting out a personal ad:  a walk on the beach during sunset followed by star gazing. It was the most at peace I have felt in a long time.

Scott's brute strength snapped this local oar in half. 

On our last full day in Pingelap Scott was invited to go fishing early in the morning with Elias, Aida’s husband, and his brother. Scott was allowed to bring a plus one and sweetly invited me to come along. I was excited to use the line fishing equipment I got for Christmas and popped up at 5:30 to wash up before our excursion. Sadly, I soon found out that in Pingelapese tradition women are not allowed to fish outside the reef, which is where the men would be going to troll for tuna. There are many things I have had to sacrifice being a woman and living in this culture, but since I had been fishing so many times before in Pohnpei, the thought that I could be restricted from this had never crossed my mind so it was a hard blow.

Since I was up so early anyway I decided to go see the sunrise on the other side of the island. Pingelp at dusk is actually quiet eerie, my imagination was running wild as I walked past the remains of once vibrant houses. I had just turned down a small path when suddenly a huge black wild boar crossed my path, I swear there was drool dripping from his tusks- I quickly threw myself back into the jungle to hide until the coast was clear. When I could no longer hear the panting of the beast I crept out of the prickly bush I had landed in during my cowardice. As I made my way down the path I realized that there were no longer any houses, but gardens. These neatly planned and well-tended to gardens, each had a black human shaped figure wearing a dark moo-moo, a scarecrow. As I meandered down the path intrigued by these figures, I came to a fork and realized I had taken many twists and turns already, and was unsure of my way back. Still curious I peered down one branch of the fork to see a three headstones shaped like ghosts peeking out of the jungle. That’s when I made my getaway.

Sunrise on the landing strip.

Once I was safe in my familiar territory I went to the end of the causeway which was full of people sleeping right on the runway, to watch the rest of the sunrise.  I watched some kids play slap-ball and wondered what it would be like to be a volunteer on an island like this, with barely more than 200 people, minimal electricity, water shortages and very little contact with the outside world. I wondered if I would be able to handle that kind of challenge if given the option. It’s been nice to have internet and be able to go into town and eat at restaurant every now and then, but maybe I want even less development and even more of a challenge?

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!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Day in the Life

Since everything was so busy and new when I first arrived and there have been so many specific events that I have been trying to document, I feel like I haven’t gotten to write much about my daily life.  Keeping a blog is much more difficult than people make it out to be; I haven’t had much time to write about all of my adventures because I am out there living them!  I am going to try to tackle the challenge of trying to put into words what life is like for me here.
                At 6:00 AM the church bell rings next door and I usually awake startled before nestling back in for another 30-45 minutes more of necessary sleep. When I can no longer avoid waking up, I slip out of my mosquito net and slowly and carefully climb down the ladder from the bedroom into the living room, and stumble my way to the bathroom in my sleepy stupor. The next 45 minutes or so consist of me trying to make an outfit out of whatever clean clothes exist, attempting to secure my hair in a way that will foster the least amount of sweating and shoveling down some breakfast before walking to school.
                If it hasn’t rained recently Scott and I can take the shortcut through the woods, but more often than not we take the main road to school. The road is coated with thick jungle on either side, and given its windy nature you can never see too far ahead. On a clear day the walk is stunning, the dewy jungle is glistening with the morning light and just as you round the first bend a view of the mountains greets you, popping against the bright blue sky. The walk to school only takes us about ten minutes, but this minor physical activity jumpstarts what will be for the next 16 hours by personal battle with sweat.
The walk to school. 

                We unlock the padlocks that keep our classrooms secure overnight, and try to prepare ourselves for the day. As I am writing the quote of the day on the board and trying to straighten up my classroom students are shouting good morning as they walk (or run) by. At 8:15 (or 8:30 with Pohnpeian time) a student beats an old metal oxygen tank that serves as the bell and its game time. My first class of the day is my 12A, the highest level of seniors and my most behaved class. I have 35 students in this class, and still they are more manageable than my other classes of 24 and 27. We have been reading Island of the Blue Dolphins and they love it! They are all eager to read aloud and we have been able to have fantastic class discussions. I have not had any issues with class participation like I was told I would. They have been working away on their 5-paragraph essays, and last week we started poetry at which they seem to be naturals. I even let them have a party last week since they have been working so hard and doing so well.

My senior class!
Hard at work trying to fill in the blanks to a Brett Dennen song.
Richenard literally hanging from the rafters. 
Steve and Misako playing cards during their "party."
  At 10:00, my 10E which is the lowest level of sophomores begins. After a stern talking to a couple of weeks ago I have been having less behavioral problems. However this remains a challenging class to teach because they understand very little English and I also have many special needs students so there is a large range of ability and it makes it hard to do some activities. This class is wear my energy starts to waiver, between asking them to be quiet and repeating myself in as many ways as I can think of, by the time the bell rings for lunch my head is pounding.

The elementary kids we play with during lunch. This group of boys also hangs out at my exercise class and  they sometimes walk home with us, taking turns being on Scott's shoulders.

Me tickling Ira, one of our favorite little buddies. 

        The lunch break is where I seek salvation and try to muster up the energy to make it through third period- my most energetic class. The high school and elementary school eat lunch at the same time, so the teachers have to wait until all of the students from both schools have eaten. For the first 40 minutes of lunch my freshmen are coming in and dropping off their backpacks or braiding my hair while a few of my senior boys will come draw on the art walls I have made in the back and play island remixes off of their cell phones. After a lunch of either mackerel, chicken, or sardines is served we head back to our classrooms for the last class of the day.

                I love my freshman students. They are brave and talkative and I have a very close relationship with almost all of them. Their level of comfort with me makes teaching more difficult because they are not shy to speak… so they don’t stop. They are also 13 and 14 and my class is mostly boys, so it is hard to rein them in sometimes but they are all such good kids it is hard to get angry. On Friday they presented their skits they had to create based on Beauty and the Beast which we just read. Given that cross-dressing is something this culture finds particularly humorous, all of my boys were wearing lipstick, eyeliner, and mascara and were wearing dresses. Even though the beginning of class was chaotic and I was questioning my abilities as an educator, when they performed their hilarious skits that actually met the criteria I gave them I felt relieved.

                When that 2:00 bell rings I am ready to sit and stare at a wall for an hour or two which is sometimes necessary. When I am not brain dead I usually make some coffee start grading or on more entertaining afternoons we hang out with some locals. A couple weeks ago Scott was teaching two local boys, their grandmother, and me how to juggle with overly matured beetlenuts. It turns out the grandmother Elizabeth was a natural! 
Scott teaches in his free time too :)

Elizabeth, his best student. 

 Around 5:30 depending on the day of the week, I either go exercise with the local women and Natayla, or a local lady comes to my house for our own session on the off days. I will also be starting a Zumba style workout class at my church for the women to participate in a couple nights a week after church, while the men are sitting and talking. I asked them about it last week, after seeing how much fun they had with the dancing we did for the missionary celebration and they are really excited! Hopefully I will be able to start that in the next couple of weeks.

On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays when I work out with the group of women in the Nahs 5-10 minutes away Scott comes to pick me up so I don’t have to walk back alone in the dark. The bats flit about overhead as we walk home, saying pong mwau to every passerby. After showering is dinner time, our most creative hour as we concoct new combinations of the same ingredients in different ways and with different spices for variety. At this time it is vital that I thank the Perkins family for sending the wonderful food, our meals have improved greatly! I never thought I would enjoy Velveeta so much.

Scott playing cards with Elizabeth's grandchildren. 
Following dinner we spend our last waking hours lesson planning with a mosquito coil in between us. If we get done early we can squeeze in an episode of Modern Family (thank you Aunt Marni!!) or catch up with some friends at home. Finally, at 11:30 pm give or take a half hour it’s bed time. After securing ourselves in our mosquito netting, we usually use the last bit of our energy to get a few laughs out of the day’s experiences before passing out into a deep sleep. My life is simultaneously the most enriching and exhausting it has ever been, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.