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.


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).

Friday, September 9, 2011

Chh: We're Alive Over: Chh

Welp, I know it’s been a couple (okay three) weeks since I have written but that folks is just part of the charm of living in Kitti versus Kolonia. It also goes hand in hand with having no water for two days and showering in a skirt in the middle of the jungle with nothing but the moonlight (okay, and a small flashlight) which was both therapeutic and enthralling. Similarly, two weeks ago after hours of lesson planning Scott and I went out and saw the most incredible sky I have ever experienced. The stars were so bright and Milky Way so vivid it was terrifying; it felt like the universe might actually suck us up. We walked out to a dark road and laid in the middle of the street just staring. One of the things I thought about was how hard it is to believe that Scott and I have now been living as one with nature for a whole month. Time is ironically moving fast on an island that is always late.
            School is wonderfully exhausting. I never anticipated loving teaching so much, and I also never expected to be so tired at the end of each day. My gratitude and respect for my previous teachers is continually swelling. Honestly, it’s not entirely the teaching I love so much, but the relationships I am forming with my students while teaching. Don’t be mistaken, I cannot explain the elation I feel when they really understand a lesson- but rather its more about the journey with them to get to that point of clarity that I am enjoying. I love my students, even when they talk too much they are always keeping me laughing, are helpful and understanding and most of them are eager to learn. They are some of the sweetest kids you will ever meet. For instance, I thought my birthday last week would be a little lonely and overlooked since I am in a foreign land. False. It was the most acknowledged birthday I have ever had. My kids brought me coconuts, mangoes, coconut oil, local combs, gum, scrunchies, and wrote me heartfelt letters and cards with any spare change they had taped inside.
Don’t get me wrong, teaching isn’t all smooth sailing; there are rough days when they are feeling particularly boisterous or when a lesson doesn’t go as well as planned. I was really trying to avoid the following statement due to its’ level of corniness, but the kids really do make it all worthwhile. I have gotten such beautiful letters from kids thanking me for being a good teacher and for smiling and laughing and leaving my friends and family to help them. I will never forget one day last week, right after the last bell of one of those days rang, and one of my freshman students skipped by singing, “Ms. Gill is the best teacher” after getting his “A” vocab quiz back. It is those comments, and when my students ask if they can read ahead in the book we are reading for class, or thank me for doing a game activity that I cling to get me through the difficult days.
Yesterday, I did a song activity with my freshman and sophomore classes where I played Jack Johnson’s “Better Together” and had them fill in some blanks I created and identify the subjects and actions in each line, which was the grammar lesson we had the previous day. It went beautifully. They couldn’t have been happier. They asked to hear it over and over again, and even the most unexpected students were singing aloud. Day by day I am learning what works and what doesn’t. I am even getting quicker at lesson planning and pulling less late-nighters.
            Some events of particular importance have occurred during the last three weeks when I wasn’t lesson planning. For instance, I have eaten both turtle and dog. Turtle is delicious; I had it fried with local pepper after it had been boiled in coconut milk. Although with the turtle I also stomached a fair amount of guilt for ingesting a majestic creature, but what can you do? When in Pohnpei. As for the dog…well if you asked me three months ago if I would ever eat dog I would surely have declined. However, in a place where dog is the most prized meat and the fact that I routinely almost get attacked by the nothing-resembling-Lassie-K9’s, I wasn’t opposed to sinking my teeth into some much needed protein. That being said, there isn’t very much meat on dog ribs, and the taste is overwhelmingly meaty, so it didn’t quite make my tail wag. Too much? We have also been partaking in less controversial local foods such as breadfruit which Scott retrieves by skillfully shimming up the tree in our front yard, and the bananas he chops down from the back. I gotta say Pohnpei is like ever little kids dream: there are countless things to climb, food can be found outside, endless things to chop with a machede, and there are always new places to explore. Which leads me to the last weekend’s adventure in Nahlap.
Approaching Nahlap

An old Japanese boat

Our local house

A short boat ride away out of Kitti is Nahlap, an island resort with one thing in mind: relaxation. Snorkeling and kayaking are also options on this island littered with hammocks and local houses. For 4 bucks Scott and I got a round trip and our own little sea-side hut to nap and read in. The day after our trip of relaxation, we got internet in our very own home! Alas, it shan’t be going another three weeks without a post- Scout’s honor!
This is the ocean by Seinwar Elementary school, which our friends Leona and Colldrick took us too with their two sons.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Report from the Tree House:

My house!

            Well folks, I was anxious to get out to Kitti and see what life would be like, and as I am ending my 5th day in the wilderness, I figure now would be just a good a time as any to report back on the situation.  Kate, our Field Director, dropped Scott and I off out here late Monday afternoon and we were finally left to fend for ourselves. Naturally minutes after she left and as the sun was going down our power went out- before we had begun to unpack anything. Turns out this is common in Kitti, but with a home full of spiders of record breaking size (which will be discussed in detail later), more ants than are worth mentioning, cockroaches the size of field mice, geckos, lizards, moths, huge toads, approximately ten unidentifiable insects, and one recently spotted mouse; we were not eager to hang out in the dark before we had cleaned the place.
            When the power did return just in time for darkness to fall, we began de-spidering, bleaching, and sweeping up termite evidence, only after securing our most necessary living tool: the mosquito net. In our bedroom is one real bed and one …mattress pad? Scott being the generous man that he is has given me the moldy bed (how could it not be in this climate and in a house with no walls?) and is braving it on the floor, a mere fraction of a centimeter above the stomping ground of our lovely housemates: the animal kingdom.  A note on spiders: Scott and I have developed a Richter scale for our 8-legged dwellers.  A 1 is not even worth commentary, a 2 is the average American-sized spider, a 3 used to scare me but now I don’t even notice them, a 4 is grounds for killing, and until last night a 5 was a hypothetical, even number to end on. The spider Scott found in the bathroom is the biggest spider either of us has ever seen. We have since named him Harry, due to his tarantula-like fur. Harry is about 5-6 inches across and we can’t bring ourselves to kill him because he is so large it would feel like killing an animal. So tonight I showered a few feet away from our new, chill friend. Don’t be fooled by the causality in which I now speak of him. When Scott first showed him to me I was both disgusted and appalled. But, I figured when in Pohnpei right? I am amazing myself at the things that are no longer an issue for me, the only thing I fear is what wild woman will return to the states in June claiming to be Gabrielle Gill.

  We are so exhausted at night that neither the creepy crawlies nor the 6 a.m. church bell keeps us from sleeping. The most difficult part of sleeping here is… prepare yourself…: we get cold at night! After weeks of being the two sweatiest people in our group, we have yet to turn on a fan out here and are wishing we had a light blanket. Since our bedroom is local style with a roof crafted from leaves and twine and walls made out of wooden lattice and mosquito netting we get quiet the ventilation. The coolness is a very pleasant surprise, as are the banana, coconut, lemon, breadfruit and apple trees growing in our yard. We also have beautiful wild orchids which I would love to snip and put in the house, but the last thing we need is to attract more bugs.
Moving on, are current project is trying to build our reputation around town so that we can get to the status we have in Kolonia where we know and spent time with many locals. Living with the Augustines, I had automatic respect and a pool of people to meet. Here in Kitti with just Scott and me living in a house, we have to try a lot harder. But we have great neighbors to our right who help us get clean water to drink. To our left is a very active church with welcoming goers who gave us coffee and fried bananas after the Wednesday night service we attended. We are looking forward to returning on Sunday and meeting more of the congregation.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I am going to be a teacher on Monday! I just found out today (Friday) that I will be teaching 12A (seniors with the highest GPA), 10E (sophomores with the lowest GPA), and 9B (freshman with the 2nd highest GPA).  Originally I thought I was teaching only seniors, so I am a little less prepared for the underclassmen syllabi however I am excited with the new opportunities this will give me. Beginning a stronger education program at a younger age is something that I have been feeling Pohnpei needed since I arrived, and I think it’s great my school is testing out WorldTeach with underclassmen. Hopefully this will help students get more out of their future education. Additionally, after school I will be teaching local teachers about how to teach the essay for their student’s college entrance exam and anything else they might request of me. This semester Nanpei Memorial High School will only have three block periods instead of four due to the shortage of teachers. It is things like this that make me want to stay for more than a year.
Alright, that’s all for now! This weekend will be filled with last minute lesson planning, bug killing, washing our clothes by hand, and our nightly ritual of trying to concoct dinners out of canned foods and rice. Stay tuned for the next update from our adventures in the wild!

In Memory

Becky is in the orange, we were at Coco Marina's. 

On August 6th we lost Becky Schaffer a fellow WorldTeach volunteer. Becky had already given her time volunteering in India and Africa, and would have gone on to do even greater projects.  It is unfortunate that the students of Madolenihmw will not get to experience her talent and passion.  This is a link to the WorldTeach website, which explains a little more about Becky and what happened.   Here I would rather not go through the experience of her death again.
 I am grateful to the community of Pohnpei who continually displayed their condolences and sympathy. Particularly, Becky’s host mother Clara who hosted a funeral service every night at the hospital until Becky was sent back home. Furthermore, the Department of Education was wonderfully understanding in giving the rest of us an additional week before starting school. We have been fortunate enough to have a fantastic Field Director who handled such a traumatic situation with both efficiency and empathy as she arranged for Becky’s travels while consoling us. I do not think that such an experience would have been possible to go through without such a great group. It has been a truly upsetting experience to say the least; however our relationships with each other have gotten us through. I want to thank my group and my host family for being the amazing people that they are, and everything that they have done for me these past two weeks. 
My deepest, deepest condolences go out to Becky’s friends and family you are in my thoughts every day, and please know that there are so many people thinking of you in Pohnpei during this time. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Last Supper

Today was the last day of orientation, and as my fellow volunteer Laurie gave us helpful information for setting up our classrooms and deciding first day activities, I was a bit distracted with the reality of the situation. Two days from now I will move out of my host family's house and into my local house in Kitti crafted from tin, leaves, wood lattice, and mosquito netting. The next week will be full of bug killing rampages, lesson planning, syllabus writing, setting up my classroom and trying to organize the new house. Luckily I will have the amusements of my roommate Scott to help relieve some stress.

On Monday (hopefully) I will find out exactly what classes I am teaching, exactly one week before school starts. I am really excited for the school year to start and to meet my students, but I definitely have work cut out for me next week. I am really pumped to give my students some academic experiences and opportunities to express themselves that they have never had before. I had never thought I would be a teacher before I thought about doing WorldTeach, but now that I am here it makes sense. Education was my way of bettering myself; to get out of my small town, to see the world, to go to college, and to build my self esteem. I was blessed with great professors that challenged and pushed me: if I can do for my students what they did for me, that would be the greatest gift.

So tonight, we are having what I have just decided to call The Last Supper- it is our end of orientation dinner at The Village. It will be a nice way to end the three intense weeks of discussions, guest speakers, field trips, and knowledge overload before we go to our separate locations. I will be writing a post soon about some overall things I have discovered/was mislead about Pohnpei! Stay Tuned!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Unreal Life

There are some moments in your life that fill you with an unexplainable feeling of both peace and excitement. Because in that one moment you know you are where you are supposed to be. Pohnpei has been a continuous string of those moments for me. From sitting on the floor of my family's store, picking fish meat off the bone with my fingers, to watching the sun set on the edge of a mountain that drops steeply down into the jungle, experiencing Sakau, getting a lime burn from chewing betel nut, learning Pohnpeian, being chased by a dog, swimming with manta rays, seeing a shark, bonding with Pohnpeian teens, drinking from a coconut, laying in a hammock, cutting my feet on coral, to jumping off of boats into the warm pacific waters. This is what I have wait my whole life for. Not to mention trying to learn how to be a good teacher in the midst of my intoxication with Pohnpeian culture.

This weekend was... well in a word Pohnpeian. Friday we attended the Presidential inauguration and that night the other WorldTeach volunteers came to my family's house for Sakau. My host father said that I looked so happy, and I was. All of the people mean so much to me here, were there together and I was able to share my host family that I am so enthralled with. The other volunteers were able to experience some of the things that spoil me here in my Nen Pal Mal home; the making of Sakau (which is truly beautiful), breathtaking views of the sun setting over the lagoon, and most importantly my generous family.

 Melvin and Tommy, my host brothers who are 16 and 14 respectively and who are the experts on making Sakau took me to the sunset spot the night before everyone came over. It's easily one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The sky was a brilliant red, and as I walked back between these two boys carrying machetes, as dusk became night and not only stars but galaxies emerged - I felt my eyes sting when I thought of how much I am going to miss living with this family. The boys climb up coconut trees for me when I get sick ( best re-hydrator), Lulu my host sister talks about boys with me, Denise my four year old host sister watches me put on chapstick and mascara every morning and teaches me Pohnpeian, my host parents share their lives and family with me, and they all keep me laughing constantly. The fact that they own a Sakau market has given me the opportunity to meet many locals and have some truly unique experiences. I get to see my brothers pound the roots and branches of the Sakau plant on a giant rock which will be passed down to them when my father passes away. The process is so beautiful I had to make a video, which I will upload as soon as I get Internet set up in my house.

Saturday I rode in the back of a pick up truck for about an hour to the Nan Mwarki 's house. Pohnpei is divided into five municipalities: Nett, Uh, Kitti, Madolenihmw, and Sokehs, each with it's own chief. The chief of Madolenihmw is the highest ranking chief of Pohnpei. Tony, our charismatic language instructor and the Director of Education presented the Nan Mwarki with a bottle of wine wrapped in leaves as a gesture to request the use of his territory to enter the archaeological ruins of Nan Madol by water- which is reportedly then best way. The Nan march was extremely generous and not only allowed us to use his land but to come inside his home to sit on the tile floor for a few moments to escape the Pacific heat. Tony informed us that we would have to wait for the tide to come in before we could boat out to our destination, so we were enjoying our lunch along the water when the chief decided it would be a good time to make Sakau. Then I saw something unexpected; Mike and Scott were invited to take off their shirts and help pound Sakau for the Nan Mwarki. I never thought a menwai (white person) would be allowed to pound Sakau- no less for the highest ranking man on the island. I have was really proud of them.  Menwai or not, being a lady I was only allowed to observe which I was secretly grateful for because I don't think I could handled even a sip in that heat.

After our boys were pumping with testosterone, the tide too had come in and we were ready to embark on a journey to the ruins which hold so much mystery. I will get into the legends of Nan Madol in a later post when I have learned more, but it was truly incredible. Supposedly crafted in 500 A.D.  out of rocks not native to Pohnpei it remains a mystery how these structures were built. After our blast to past, we stopped for some beer and Sakau at a local market in Kitti, where I will be moving on Sunday. After a few drinks and chatting with some locals, we made our way back into town beautifully exhausted. That night I stayed up talking to my host father about relationships and watched my brothers make Sakau.

At the cruel hour of 7:30 on Sunday, we met at Pohnpei surf club to begin what has to have easily been of the best days of my life. It was the kind of day I always imagined I would one day have. I saw and touched things that are usually reserved for Nat Geo's travel magazines. We boated to the uninhabited outer atoll called Ant which is everything you imagine when you think of a remote Pacific island; thick jungle, beach, bright blue clear waters. And I did everything you would imagine doing on such an island; snorkeled over lively coral pulsating with marine life, lounged on the beach, listened to Jack Johnson and ate fish caught on our way in and cooked over a fire which was washed down by a coconut my oh-so-manly future roommate Scott climbed to get and opened with a machete. It was the kind of day that makes you see why some people run away and never go back. It was also the kind of day perfect for distracting one from the stress and anxiety of being a first year teacher in a third world country. On that note, every day my passion for why I am here is not weakened by our sometimes scary " this is how life here really is" talks, but instead those difficulties inspire me to be the possible teacher I can be and to give my all to my students. I just hope in some small way I can have a positive impact on their view of education and the people they will become.

Each night as I fall asleep to the sound of Sakau being made, and each morning as I wake to roosters crowing- and through all the sweating done between morning and night: I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing precisely what I am supposed to be doing and I could not be more content.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

I Med = I am full

I meant to get this post up earlier!

I med is Pohnpeian for I am full. And here in Pohnpei I am just that. Full. All of the time, in every way a person can be full.  Full of food, full of welcoming, full of laughter, full of hope, full of anticipation, full of happiness, most recently full of sakau, and yes full of sweat and rain too. It is now real. I am on the adventure of my life and I am loving every minute of it. This is only my second whole day here and the first where I am relatively functioning. After months of anticipation, hours of teaching observation, a half summer of goodbyes, a wonderful week with my West Coast family (whom without I would be quiet unprepared for this trip) and a grand total of 25 hours of flying, not including a whopping 11 ½ hours of lay over time, I AM FINALLY HERE! The beauty is mind blowing and the people are above and beyond amazing.

                                         Lori and I fresh off the plane in Pohnpei!
I could not ask for a better host family- everyone is so nice to me and they are great to hang out with. My host father has a very high title in the community, and everyone knows him- in fact he will run for governor in the next election!  His wife is also very smart and they both speak English well. They run a sakau bar/market every night- people from town come and sit for hours and talk and drink sakau. To make Sakau they pound and grind the roots and some of the branches from a sakau plant, and squeeze the thick liquid out it. Then they add hibiscus. Today I watched Tommy, my 14-year- old host brother make sakau- it was beautiful. They put it inside long leaves and twist it tight so the cappuccino colored liquid drips down. It was so beautiful I had to videotape it. Last night I drank Sakau for the first time- only 1 cup but tonight Setim says I will drink 2 or 3. To be honest, I was a little hesitant but my host family makes it with clean water which is why many people come to their market. Sakau is a pepper with 14 natural painkillers and it makes your tongue numb, but you drink tiny sips and many people don’t swallow it but hold it in their mouths for a little and then spit it back out and take a “chaser”. A chaser includes water(spit it back out too), chocolate, chips, candies, unripe mango with salt and soy sauce- which is insanely bitter, pickled papaya- again hard to eat, or basically any food  that is around. I can drink liquor without a chaser like a champ-but with sakau a chaser is absolutely a necessity the after taste is so strong and to be honest terrible. But it mellows you out, makes you very calm, and eventually very sleepy- it helps you sleep through the sounds of the jungle. I am very grateful that I get to experience such an important part of Pohnpeian culture so intimately.

                                         Melvin and Tommy my awesome host brothers making Sakau.
 I am the only volunteer placed outside of Kolonia for orientation, and I think this is quiet lucky because I am on a mountain with a view of the lagoon and cliffs. I am also on the side of the island that gets the good sunsets and from up here you can see the storms coming before they get here. It rained very hard my first day here, and Setim said that this means that the ancestors are happy I am here, if they were not it would not rain and the plants would suffer.

So far life is mao (good) on Pohnpei and I can’t wait to learn more about this awesome island!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Minor Change in Plans

You know how people always say that you don't know how much something means to you until you lose it? Well, I don't think that's always true. I knew exactly how much I wanted to go to Kosrae. I wrote and rewrote essays. I dedicated these past four years to getting the grades that would get me into a program like this. I read everything I could about Micronesia. I passed up job opportunities. I planned fundraisers. I prepared myself for leaving my friends and family. I accepted that I would not look very pleasing to the eye due to lack of make up and high humidity for 11 months. I was okay with the fact that I would not have many modern amenities such as air conditioning and cell reception. More importantly however I had embraced the things I could not wait to do. To teach. To meet people. To learn about the culture. To discover the island. 

Then- in an instant- it was all gone. I felt my heart rise into my throat and the words blur as I tried to read the e-mail that explained that funding had only been provided for 8 of the 11 volunteers accepted. That the last three to be accepted would be cut. That I was one of those three. 

Suddenly I was in 3rd grade and I had just fell off the parallel bars and had the wind knocked out of me; I laid there trying to gasp for air with my friends around me trying to help, but unable to do anything. Instead I was 20, and no one was home. I sat shell shocked. I closed the computer because I couldn't look at it, maybe if I didn't see it it wouldn't be real. 

Alex, my life raft, came home bringing a bottle of wine, chapstick (god you know me well), and a Cosmo. I am sorry for what she had to come home to find. I had tried to hide evidence by quickly wiping my face when I saw her pull in the drive, but alas my non-waterproof mascara betrayed me. 

As I sat staring, trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces and make a new life plan, Alex was calling in reinforcements. She had never seen me like this. I had never seen me like this. Then again, I had never felt defeated in this way. I had worked hard all year not to be the girl with no plan after I graduated. I had had options, a few actually- where I would have made more money, been close to the important people, and not have to put myself in any type of discomfort. But that's not what I wanted. It's not what I needed. I needed this trip. I needed this experience. Even though this had happened- I still had that feeling that that was where I was supposed to go, what I was supposed to do with the next year of my life. 

So Alex, the God-send that she is, did what any good friend would do and got angry for me. Real angry. She quickly set into motion the idea that I had freedom now and I was in a position to do whatever I wanted. But what I wanted was Micronesia. But I was not illogical, I knew that tomorrow I would start applying for new jobs, and I knew that I would find something quickly. But then, in that moment, all I wanted to do was grieve.  Grieve for all my teaching ideas that would not have a chance to tested. Grieve for the plans I had made. Grieve for the way my life would have been for a year. 

I don't mean this to sound so dramatic, but I was truly jolted. I could not write about it on here until now because it would make it that much more real. How would I explain that to everyone? Only a few people knew because I couldn't even say it out loud. 

However, it is my philosophy that things have a way of working themselves out. I knew that this had happened for some reason, I was just unaware of that reason until a few days later when a spot opened up in the island of Pohnpei, Micronesia. This island is home to an archaeological wonder called Nan Madol, nick-named the Venice of the Pacific, which I will write about in another post. I was meant to be on that island, with that archaeology. When I began reading about that island, it just felt right.  I am even more excited about my trip to the "Garden of Eden" that is Pohnpei, Micronesia. The joy that came with that e-mail ... I had my dream back, and I cannot wait to go spend the next 11 months living it. 

*I would like to say a special thank you to my family, Alex, Alyssa, and particularly Mrs. Adams. There just aren't words that can express my gratitude to each of you for what you did for me during those days, I am so lucky to have you all in my life. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Preparing to Peel Back the Layers

                On July 16th, after two days of flying and months of mental preparation I will arrive in Kosrae, Micronesia- a place that, until a couple of months ago I couldn’t even locate on a map. I will embark on an 11-month journey where, in the words of the dear Mrs. Adams, I will find out what I am made of. As I prepare for the mental, emotional, and physical challenges of teaching in a third world country I am excited to learn the culture, meet my students, fellow volunteers, and host family. I cannot wait to explore the beautiful island, learn how to snorkel, and see layers of stars. My good friend Neal said of his trip to Kenya, that as each day goes by the experience peels off layers and layers of the things we think we need to live and that this experience will change me and that no one is going to quite understand except others who have had a similar experience.  I can’t wait.
            But I am afraid, a little. This is huge commitment I have signed up for- but I know I wouldn’t have been accepted unless they truly thought I could handle it, and I know that I can. The wild dogs, different view of women, and limited access to medical attention do have me a tad worried. I am also nervous about teaching English as a second language and figuring out what types of activities and methods work best. However, tomorrow I begin my teaching observation hours and I am sure that will spark ideas and help me feel more confident. Selfishly, and perhaps most of all, I am afraid of the things I will miss out on here; my siblings growing ever so tall and become their own people, my parents, and my friends.
            Despite my fears and anxieties I am overwhelmingly optimistic and eager for this trip. I know it is going to have an irreplaceable impact on my life, and I hope in some way, as small as it may be, I can inspire my students to learn.