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.