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.