Monday, January 26, 2009

Back to Majuro

So far this semester is off to a rip-roaring start! Well, it’s not even the start of the semester. We’ve just finished midterms and spring break. But I just feel like life has been moving at warp-speed and dragging me behind it!

I moved back to my old apartment block just before the trip to FSM, which has been really great. I LOVED my new place in Uliga, but it was on the other side of town from all my friends in my Small Island community, and I just got lonelier and lonelier in my new place. I found myself watching hours and hours of TV and not really getting out and doing anything meaningful with my life. So Stacey took on my lease and I moved back to “Jane’s Corporation” in January before I left for my trip. It’s a different apartment (4 doors down from my old one) but the layout is exactly identical. So far it has been really great to interact more with my Marshallese community and I feel less isolated when I go to church because I’m more involved in the lives of these friends and visa versa.

One of the funnest things about living in a country where English is spoken as a second language is small but very amusing mistakes that change the meaning of what someone intended to say. Take this sticker from the Division 7-12 store, for example. It just cracks me up every time I read it! “Thankyou, and have a New Year.” To which I respond, “Ok, thanks, I’ll try!” Another really funny one is the answer that one of my students wrote on their homework. The question read: Please write the set {Adam, Eve} using a written description. The student wrote, “The set of the first two people who landed on earth.” Well, yes, I get the idea...but according to the Bible, they didn't exactly come in a UFO! I also love this sign that I saw on the bathroom door at Monica's Chinese restaurant earlier this week. "So wait, you're encouraging smoking, or not?" One more funny thing that reminded me that yes in fact I am in the Marshall Islands: I went to the Tide Table (an American style restaurant) a couple weeks ago and my friend ordered a hamburger. The waitress said, “Do you want a hamburger sandwich or with Rice?” What!?! She tried to clarify, “Hamburger between two pieces of bread, or surrounded by a lot of rice.” Oh, that clears it up! Ha ha ha! Oh my goodness, I love living here!

In late January, after tossing around the idea for several weeks, some friends from work and I finally got bored enough that we jumped off the Long Island Bridge. The bridge is the highest elevation in the entire country (it’s about 30 feet from the water at low tide and about 25 feet at high tide). It’s the place where smaller boats can cross from the relative calm of the lagoon out to the Ocean. It’s also a hang-out spot for locals to fish or just shoot the breeze. So after Peter checked the exact time of high tide (to make sure there was enough water below…low tide would not be smart idea!) we headed out there. Although it doesn’t look very impressive from the side (that’s Stacey and I in flight in the photo), it’s pretty intimidating looking down from the top. We were cheered along by a group of Marshallese guys below on the Lagoon side and several cars whizzing over the bridge just behind us. Overall it was not bad. We jumped three times, didn’t break anything, didn’t land on any sharks or the decks of any boats. I would say overall we were quite fortunate. And it was fun, but I don’t think I’ll be making a regular habit of doing it.

Things are going really well at the College. It has been a nutso school year with Accreditation proceedings and such. We got the happy news in early February that the college has been removed from sanction for the first time in 7 years! We’re in the clear! But we couldn’t celebrate just yet, because the visiting team of 10 people who read our self study were on their way to inspect us for our regular 6-year accreditation visit. It went well (though I missed most if it because I was stranded in Honolulu on my way back…long story…the hotel forgot to send me a wakeup call and I had to wait for 2 more days for the next plane. Yeah, it sounds like a great place to get stranded, but it was rainy and miserable and I was stressing because I had no one to cover my classes or meetings with the team.) But now CMI's in the clear as far as the accreditation problems we've been fighting for such a long time. Though we won’t know the final decision on our accreditation until July, the exit report from the team was very positive, and it’s likely we’ll get full accreditation for somewhere between 3-6 years. Wow, all the hard work paid off, and now we can fine-tune little by little instead of constantly overhauling what we’re doing. 2+2 club has grown gigantic. We have between 25-30 students we are working with to transfer to Universities abroad in August. This little grass roots effort has mushroomed and it has become like a part-time job now (though I don’t get compensated and we still run the club without any college funding). But it’s exhilarating to be a part of helping them make this transition, and then to hear about all that they are learning and doing after they transfer. (By the way, that picture is of my reserved bike parking at CMI. Actually, it’s the reserved parking for the College President, but it’s close to my office and luckily he doesn’t mind sharing with smaller vehicles :) Cheeky, ain’t I?)

I went to California for a conference about teaching Critical Thinking in Berkeley during the last week of February. It was fantastic, but not as fantastic as seeing my family again. Honor and Grant came down from Salt Lake and the whole family was together in one place for the first time in years! It was a whirlwind 4-day visit, but was fantastic to spend some quality time together. I really lucked out and got sent to a great family! Honor generously offered to let me "borrow" the fantastic blog she posted about our time together because I’m lazy to write and also she’s so much better at keeping to the point and putting lots of pictures! Thanks Hon!

This week has been spring break. I spent the first half catching up on grading midterms and calculating midterm grades and then went on a day trip to Eneko Island (on the north side of Majuro lagoon) with some colleagues. I just got a camera with an underwater housing, so I went crazy and snapped a lot of pictures while snorkeling. The reef at Eneko is beautiful and pristine, and the variety of fish is just beautiful. While there I found Nemo and his little cousin, too!

I also got to spend some time cooking up summer traveling plans with my friend Ray. She is a teacher at Co-op Elementary school on Majuro by day and teachers part time at CMI in the evenings. She is a really, really cool person, and I’m looking forward to tromping around South-East Asia with her this summer. She and I coincidentally both landed in Kosrae during holidays just after Christmas, and found that we are similar travelers (ie: we prefer to go hiking and spend time outdoors away from the crowds, and we also like to get to know the local people and learn from them). So last weekend we exchanged our frequent flier miles for round-trip tickets to Manila, Philippines, and we’ll use that as our jumping-off point for some adventures in other countries in the region. We’ll try to visit Provinces in the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and perhaps Macao or Hong Kong. Not too sure about the itinerary yet, but it’s exciting! I’ve never been to the Asian continent before, but living here in Majuro has given me lots of opportunities to get to know many Southeast Asians who are living abroad like me, and they are wonderfully nice! So I’m really looking forward!

Well, that’s about it (in a nutshell). More later…

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Today was one of the best days I’ve had in a long, long time. I just had to post a little something and not let this day pass by without acknowledging it. Now this is breaking the chronology of my blog significantly, because I’ve written 5 other entries already about all the other island stops on my post-Christmas trip (Pohnpei, Chuuk, Yap, Palau and Guam), but my computer is giving me major hassles with uploading pictures currently. So I’ll post a few more stories from my trip (ok, not just a few…you know how long-winded I always am!) with pictures when I can straighten things out (maybe by this weekend). But for now…let’s just focus on today.

My day started at 4:30am when I woke up, showered, and headed down to the Tide Table restaurant for the 5am live broadcast of the inauguration of Barrack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. I am SO glad to have made it. His speech was so inspiring and I am SO thankful for a leader who will guide our country with compassion and hopefulness, while extending a hand of inclusion to all the other countries in the world. I am a staunch independent. I will never register for either the Republican or the Democratic Party. I will always vote for the candidate who I think is best qualified for the job, regardless of party affiliation. From the moment I heard about and read the platform of Barrack Obama, I knew that this man had my vote. I read his stance on immigration reform (something I feel very strongly about) and it focused on compassionately controlling our borders while treating human beings with respect as well as focusing on reuniting families. I read other platform topics and the whole thing just resonated with me. It was such a joy to celebrate (we were celebrating on Wednesday morning) with a few others (mostly from the yacht-residents of Majuro) a wonderful new beginning. Then I ate yummy French toast with local bananas and went home to bed to catch a few more winks of sleep before work. I awoke again at 9am to find no water (our catchment was dry as a bone), so I was extremely grateful to have woken up at 4:30am before the catchment was dry!

School went really well. This semester I have a lighter teaching load (though overflowing class sections) that allows me to spend some quiet time preparing for my classes and keeping organized. It has been MONTHS since I’ve done this. Last semester I was running around constantly in survival mode, always frazzled, and I never had time to prepare creative new lessons, I just had to recycle lessons from past semesters (which is ok, they were good lessons from the past, but not putting your heart into teaching is not good for the morale). So yesterday and today I had the luxury of preparing adequately for classes and organizing my office. It feels great!

I also booked my flights for a weekend trip that I’m taking to Berkeley California at the end of February to a workshop on teaching critical thinking skills. This is a developmental need that the majority of our students have that we do not explicitly address on our campus. When you grow up in a place where there are not many decisions to be made, and those that are made are made by elders and chiefs, young people don’t grow up in an environment that forces them to practice critical thinking. In fact, Marshallese culture strongly discourages thinking for yourself. Yourself is not a concept that exists in this culture. Community is everything, the individual is nothing without it. This is absolutely true. Marshallese living on outer islands with very little contact with the outside world will die without the support of their communities, and it has worked like that for thousands of years. Then in comes the western world and a western College, and tells young people to start questioning (a strict Marshallese taboo), analyzing, criticizing at age 20 when they’ve never done that before in their lives. Can you imagine what a challenge it is to teach a global curriculum that is so counter to everything our students have ever been taught? Yet to survive in a global society, our students will have to take the good from their own culture and blend it with the good from western culture. Easier said than done!! I’m so excited to get new ideas to help them through this process much better!

In addition to attending this fantastic workshop and getting all kinds of new ideas, I’m going home! Berkeley is about an hour’s drive from my hometown, and I’m flying my sister Honor and her adorable 2 year old Grant in from Utah so we can all be together. It will be the first time the whole family is home in a long time. My brother and his wife and adorable baby live near my parents and my youngest sister Cammie also lives nearby. I am SO excited to spend a long weekend with them!

So after finishing work I raced off to aerobics, which was a great workout and very satisfying. After that I went to Payless to get groceries and found just exactly what I was looking for, and it was all on clearance. I also discovered that Payless had over-bought women’s jeans from Target and had reduced them all to $1.49 (you read that correctly, $1.49). Since there is not much competition for my size (the majority of women here are literally a foot shorter than I am if not shorter), there were tons of size 12 extra long jeans. Yahoo!! They fit great, they’re comfortable, and my inner cheapskate feels supremely satisfied that I found the cheapest jeans on the planet! (Believe me, I come from a long line of Mitchell cheapskates…even this bargain is sure make my family extremely proud!)

After exercising I came home and cleaned up my house and realized that there was still no water. No worries, I just came to my office and took a shower in the new scuba shower room just downstairs from my office in our new Math/Science/Nursing building at CMI. Hardly anyone uses it. Now I’m clean, happy, and back in my office at 10:30pm writing this blog. What a wonderful day!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Guam

The flight schedule between Palau and Guam is the worst ever, with flights departing at 1am, stopping in Yap at 3am, and arriving in Guam at 5:30am. When we stopped in Yap, many, many travelers got on, and all of them were wearing beautiful fresh flower leis and alleles (head wreaths). Suddenly the airplane smelled so sweet! I landed for a one day stop-over in Guam before returning to Majuro.


My friend Rosana (a colleague of mine from the College who is studying at University of Guam) picked me up at the airport. She was dropping off her parents and aunt and uncle at the airport to fly back to the Marshall Islands that morning (she had been host to 4 extra houseguests besides her husband and two children in their 2 bedroom apartment for 3 weeks in addition to working and going to school…seriously, she is one amazing woman!) She was such a sweetheart to agree to one more houseguest for one night. It has been almost 2 years since she left to attend Guam and I have missed her very much. She was one of the people who helped me initially transition to life in Majuro and feel at home here. We dropped off her kids at school on the way back from the airport and went home and got a few winks of sleep. Then I went with their family to Two Lover’s point, to a movie, Taco Bell (wow, it’s been many months since I’ve eaten Taco Bell!) and shopping at K-mart (which is purportedly the largest Kmart in the world…why they would locate it in Guam is a mystery to me!). Guam is like a small version of Hawaii, and home to some very important strategic American military bases. It’s a US territory (though no one on the mainland really pays attention to it much).

It’s amazing what the Chamorros (traditional residents of Guam and Saipan) have been through! On the airplane back to Majuro I made friends with a really cool guy who is roughly my age and teaches at a private Catholic High School in Guam. He taught me so much about the history of his island and its relationship with America. He grew up in Guam, then studied Civil Engineering in Boston, then returned home to become a teacher and guidance counselor at the high school he had attended in Guam. He refers to Guam as the “bastard stepchild” of America. It is part of the family but ignored and not given much say in national decisions or even many local decisions. Guamanians carry US passports, but are not allowed to vote in American elections. The military uses land that was confiscated from local people many years ago without compensation. Guam was fiercely captured and occupied by the Japanese for 30 months during WW2. During that time, the indiginous people of Guam were subjected to family separation, forced labor, concentration camps, prostitution, encarceration, and execution. Approximately 1000 Guamanians died during this short time. America invaded and recaptured Guam before the end of the war. A 1951 treaty between the United States and Japan absolved Japan of future individual American war claims, which means U.S. taxpayers would be asked to pay for abuses committed by Japanese soldiers against American nationals on U.S. territory. To this day, the people of Guam are still negotiating and hoping for compensation(http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/08/15/news/guam.php) President Obama made a campaign promise to finally make the promised reparations to the people of Guam that they have waited 64 years for. I sincerely hope that he'll make good on this promise!

A new addition to a long string of decisions made for the people of Guam without local input was made by George W. Bush just before ending his presidency. This lame-duck legislation (no Congressional approval required) created a National Monument Marine Protected Area of the Marianas Trench. (The website: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/06/us/06oceans.html has more information) While environmental protection is a great thing, very little input was solicited from local people and the new legislation will limit the abilities to fish in their own waters! This means that local, indiginous recreational fisherman will have to ask permission of the US Government to fish around Guam. These people have depended on the sea for thousands of years and now they have to ask permission from the far off government in Washington to fish recreationally? That's absolutely ludicris! Decisions are continually made on their behalf by American presidents who have never visited their island who they did not have the right to vote for (despite the fact that they are considered US Citizens!). Today Guam has 1 Representative in the US House of Representatives, but he/she does not have the right to vote on legislation.

A particular moving and sobering display at the Guam Airport reflects a sobering reality. The pictures above show photographs remembering the soldiers from Micronesia, Guam, and the Northern Marianas who have lost their lives in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US military has such a strong and strategic presence in Guam, but it is amazing to contemplate the hundreds of soldiers of Chomorro and Micronesian decent who serve in the military of a country they are not full-fledged citizens of. And many of them will not come home alive.


Learning all these interesting (and somewhat shocking) new things makes me wonder about America’s decision to liberate the Philippines after World War II yet cling so tightly to Guam and Northern Marianas to this day, while allowing political independence combined with almost complete economic dependence from the rest of the islands in Micronesia. Truly their lives and societies have been impacted (for better and worse) by the influence of America while most of us mainland Americans have heard very little if anything at all about Micronesia’s existence. It is particularly fascinating to see the very diverse array of outcomes of American influence in the Pacific ranging from statehood and loss/exploitation of culture and language in Hawaii to fairly resilient traditional life in Yap and Kosrae with a whole range of other situations in between. I just have the hope that our new US President, with his upbringing in Hawaii and experiences living abroad will have eyes more open to what a powerful affect America’s actions have on so many people. I hope that he
will take as open and warm an approach to foreign relationships as they have shown to me these past two weeks! It has been truly wonderful to meet kind people from so many walks of life that are vastly different than my own! We all hope for the same things in our lives: for happiness, peace, opportunities to provide good experiences for children and young people around us. It truly has been a life-changing experience to see life from the perspective of many different types of people. Truly one of the richest blessings in my life has been interactions with wonderful people.

My mind is perplexed that despite so many good, wonderful people, there are others out there with potential for such evil and cruelty. My mind just cannot wrap itself around the concept that the potential for such extreme goodness and kindness can exist in the hearts of the same species capable of killing and torturing and maiming its own kind. It is so important to me to seek out the good and fill my life with it, while not forgetting the suffering of many and speaking out on their behalf. While I was in Micronesia, my Belgian friend Sinoui traveled back to his family home in Eastern Congo which is filled with war and suffering of innocents. I am aware that there are many such places in the world. My heart goes out to the suffering people of Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Sudan, Kosovo, Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Israel and scores of other countries in conflict zones. It is hard to believe in the intrinsic goodness of humanity when one views the cruelty of humans toward each other in such situations. Still others struggle in situations of persistent poverty and lack of other basic needs. I hope that this New Year will be a year of change for the better for all inhabitants of the world. There is a tremendous potential for goodness and kindness in the world if only those who are full of it will share it as best they can. This is the year that I will do my part in my own sphere of influence, and not shrink back and hide from difficult things. Sharing these things is what makes me happiest!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Palau!

Palau is one of the most naturally beautiful places in Micronesia with it’s famous rock islands and thousands of square miles of pristine reefs. It is much more commercial and developed than the other islands I visited (well, the capital city Koror, is). It actually had ATMs (Kosrae, Chuuk and Yap had none) and shopping centers (although nothing huge), and many immigrants from Philippines and other parts of Asia. My main regret about having only two days to spend there is not getting up to Babeldaob, the “big island” of Palau that is still very traditional.

I arrived at the airport in a throng of tourists coming to dive famous spots in Palau. The Filipino driver from the hotel moved about a million miles a minute and made me realize just how much I’ve chilled out and adapted to island time. He made me feel dizzy he was moving so fast! While waiting for the other hotel guests, I had a friendly conversation with Amena Yauvoli, manager the North Pacific regional office of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (the regional Pacific Islands partnership) coming for a conference and inauguration of a the new Palauan president. The members of the delegation with him were really important community leaders but all completely down to earth without the slightest bit of arrogance, which is one of the things I love most about living in the Pacific Islands.

Because Palau has really developed their tourism industry, there are many immigrants from the Philippines who come to earn dollars (which are significantly more valuable than Pesos). They work hard, provide excellent services, and are excruciatingly polite. My hotel in Palau was run completely by Filipinos and was immaculately clean and friendly, plus only cost $40 per night. It was just on the edge of “downtown” Koror, which made it very convenient to get around. I walked and walked and walked! The first day in town I got a haircut (my previous one was self inflicted and not very even…I don’t know why I do this to myself when I get bored, but cutting my own hair is a pastime that does not frequently have positive results), visited the Palau Aquarium and learned all about the coral reef ecosystem. I walked down to the end of the island hoping to climb a hill from which to see all the country, but realized half way up that I would have to bush-whack the rest of the way up and decided against it. So I walked back up to the other end of the island hoping to spend sunset by the bridge but never made it there because I got distracted talking to some friendly local Palauan guys.

When darkness fell, I decided to check out the Western Carolines Trading Corporation (Palau’s closest thing to a mall…it has one grocery store, one department store, and a couple of other small shops). The inner cheapskate in me couldn’t resist checking out the Ben Franklin discount center on the third floor, at which I found three new pairs of flip-flops for $2.50 each. It was there that I met Doods, with whom I became friends. She is originally from the Philipines but has lived in Palau for over 5 years now. She left the Philippines 1 month after marrying her husband because her mother got sick and she needed to provide for her parents somehow. She has an accounting degree from her country but there are so many talented people there and not enough jobs for all of them so competition is tough. She swallowed her pride and took a job at the Ben Franklin discount center working as a clerk (earning more than an accountant in the Philippines) so she could send some money home. Now she really wants to start a family as does her husband, but she’s locked into 18 more months of her contract or else she has to pay for her own plane ticket home and her work permit, which would empty all the savings she’s worked so hard for. Yet she misses her husband and wants to have children with him. Now it’s just a matter of putting her life on hold for another couple years before she can go home and resume her happy life. Meanwhile her husband is wondering if she’ll ever be able to return and is beginning to give up hope in her. My heart went out to her. I was reminded that despite challenges, my life has been so full of wonderful opportunities that many in the world have to really struggle and fight for. I told her that if she makes the decision to go home earlier than her contract ends I’d use my airmiles to get her a ticket. I look forward to keeping in touch and hope that someday our paths will cross again. It was just really easy to become friends because we have very similar outlooks on life.


The next day I spent kayaking through the rock islands of Palau. There are hundreds of these uninhabited small rock islands popping out of the lagoon outside the main island of Palau but inside the barrier reef. The water has undercut the edges of them so that many of them resemble mushroom tops or appear to be magically floating above the surface of the water. The water itself is emerald green from a distance and so clear to look through that you can see the rich coral and marine life from above the water just as well as if you were snorkeling (I took these photos from above the surface as the kayak drifted along). There were hundreds of neon colored small giant clams (mostly shades of blue and purple) and I saw three humphead napoleon wrasse (each about 2.5 feet in length) at the reef’s edge. There will millions of great snorkeling sites, so I paddled around for hours, occasionally tying the kayak to a tree and jumping in the water to see what I could see. It was just absolutely a natural paradise both above and below the surface of the water! I was pleased with the way the pictures I took turned out, although you know how the camera never does justice to real life!

That night I went back to the hotel, showered, and packed up to leave. It was a whirlwind stay there, but I saw a lot of beautiful places, learned a lot of new things, and made a nice new friend. I hope that I can return again sometime soon. All of these travels make me interested in renewing my contract at CMI for longer so that I can stay in this beautiful neighborhood! My boss will be glad to hear, I’m sure!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Yap!

Words can’t possibly capture what a wonderful time I had in Yap. It was on of the most beautiful islands with overwhelmingly friendly and kind people (both Yapese and foreigners). I thoroughly enjoyed my stay there and would love to go back someday. It was my fourth destination of the trip, and because I spent so much time trying to figure out the first three, I didn’t really have any expectations or notions about it. On my flight I read about Yap in my 15-years-outdated Micronesia guidebook and it didn’t seem all that special or different from other islands in Micronesia. Boy was I happily mistaken!! As I approached Yap, I was a little nervous about accommodations because my flight arrived at 10:30pm and the apartment I had emailed had given me a quote but not a confirmation. I was unsure about landing in an unfamiliar country without a confirmed place to stay, but I was excited to explore and really didn’t know what to expect.

The reception I received at the airport was wonderful. I knew no one there, yet everyone was extraordinarily warm and friendly. As soon as I cleared the immigration desk (one of only two), two Yapese young people in traditional attire welcomed me to Yap with a lei. It’s a courtesy they extend to all visitors of their country, not only the ones staying in 5 star hotels. As is typical in Micronesia, there was a throng of locals come to the airport to greet arriving passengers (or perhaps just to check out who’s coming and going because it’s the most exciting social opportunity on a Saturday night). I spotted a senior missionary couple and was excited to be able to find out from them where and when the church was meeting the next day. When I was unable to find anyone representing the apartment I had previously tried to reserve, they (the Millers) introduced me to their landlord, Joe, who just happened to be at the airport in case someone like me needed a place to stay in Colonia. Not only was his place affordable and impeccably clean, but it was just up the hill from town and 2 blocks walk from church. Yap is comprised of Yap proper (4 solid islands close enough together to be linked by bridges or causeways, as well as two outer atolls (Ulithi and Wolea). Many outer-island families who had migrated to Yap proper were staying in Joe’s place and across the street. It was great to be among local people rather than isolated with other tourists in a large hotel. It was just my style! I was quite pleased at the serendipitous way the evening unfolded.

Church the next day was great. Since Yap is considered the most traditional state of FSM, I expected the service to be completely in Yapese (like in Majuro). I was quite surprised to find that the members spoke a combination of Yapese and English, and most of them spoke impeccable English. I came to realize that this is because the people of Yap proper speak a completely different language than the Ulithian and Wolean outer islanders, and English is the only common language they can use to understand each other. Imagine that! Three completely different languages spoken in just one state of the country! It’s comparable to Northern Californians speaking one language, Southern Californians speaking a completely different one, and those living in the Central Valley yet another language. To communicate, we would all have to speak French to each other. Bizarre, eh? I made many new friends, including Faltinag, who is a teacher also. She told me that she would like to stop by and visit me after church and I happily agreed. When she came, she invited me to come with her family (husband, three kids and three cousins plus a rooster) for a Sunday ride in the back of their family’s pickup truck out to visit her home village on the west side of Yap proper. It was such a wonderful chance to get to know her, her family, and the island.

Yap has done an absolutely wonderful job of encouraging tourism while ensuring that it does not exploit or have a negative impact on traditional life in Yap, as has happened in so many places like Hawaii and Guam. It was a brilliant idea and as a result they do tourism extremely well and show tourists a wonderful time, and yet still live as they have for many hundreds of years. For example, many Yapese women (especially outer islanders) still wear only a traditional lava-lava and nothing on top. It’s natural and traditional and not offensive in the least. Villages in Yap are manicured meticulously. It is famous for the stone pathways that have been constructed between all the villages as well as stone money (large circular stones with a hole in the middle which are still used
for land purchases even today), and for their beautiful craftsmanship of traditional village meeting houses (some for men only, others for everyone). Not only this, but the landscape is kept immaculately trimmed and tidy. Rows of plants are carefully placed along the roadsides. I told Faltinag in amazement that this looked just like the jungle land at Disneyland, except it was the real thing, which she found amusing. We saw the school where she works, her parent’s house, and walked the stone pathway between her home village and her husband’s. It was amazingly beautiful, and I was so thankful for their generosity because I got to see parts of Yap that I could not have just wandered through by myself (everything is private property in Yap and it’s considered inappropriate for foreigners to just start wandering through uninvited, although permission will almost always be granted if requested.) The Millers told me later that one of the reasons that Yap is so very clean and pristine is that each village has an old lady who goes around and inspects everyone’s place and fines (actually writes tickets) people who are not in compliance with high standards of cleanliness. They told me that recently a member of their branch was fined $5 for “tying his pig to close to the road!” Well it’s a strict system, but the result is that not one speck of garbage lies around on the island and everything is ship-shape 24/7.

As Faltinag dropped me off back at my apartment that evening, she told me about the dreams that she has for her kids to get a good education. Her oldest daughter Maxine attended University of Guam, but it was a huge financial burden on the family and Maxine had
not really found something she was passionate about. But recently she had gotten a job at the front desk of a posh hotel in town and was really showing interest in hospitality and tourism. I told Faltinag of a couple of tourism programs I know about in the region (including a new one starting on Majuro) and told her that if Maxine was interested, she’s welcome to stay with me while she studies. Maxine is bright and friendly and tourism is definitely something that she could utilize after returning to Yap.

The next day I rented a scooter from an American ex-pat who has lived in Micronesia for almost 20 years. It was the perfect way to get around the island and explore a little. I saw beautiful villages lined with stone money banks, remains of Japanese zero aircraft still scattered around the old Japanese runway since WW2. I headed north where things are a bit more rural and got stuck in some thick red mud. It took a while to free up the tire and get the bike going again. I then proceeded to get lost and find lots of dead ends in beautiful places. Each time, friendly local people helped me figure out where I was this time and how to backtrack to the main road. By the time I got back to Colonia it was after dark and I met the Miller’s for dinner. They are originally from Idaho and have been in Yap for 15 months now. They have such a wonderful, respectful, willing-to-learn attitude toward the Islanders that is instantly recognizable and the local people love them so much. It’s going to be a really a. They are incredibly generous toward both locals and me! I’m so grateful that I met them, I learned so much and felt really well taken care of while I was living upstairs from them.

My last day in Yap I arranged to spend snorkeling the reef which surrounds the island. Unlike Majuro, you have to take a boat to get to the reef, so I signed up with a local dive operation to go out on their boat. There were two really great local guides who drove the other three of us (me and a very friendly Australian couple who are both teachers also) to the reef and we snorkeled for about 4 hours. We didn’t get deep enough to see any Manta Rays (which Yap is famous for), but we saw tons of magnificent creatures including pipefish, spadefish, parrotfish, giant blue starfish and many other colorful, wonderful creatures! During the trip I discovered that Lynn and David (my new Australian friends) had traveled to the exact same islands I had, stayed in the same hotels (either just before or after) and met many of the same people including Salik from Kosrae and a taxi driver we both met in Pohnpei. It was really uncanny and we hit it off and compared notes. They invited me for “tea” afterward at Pathways hotel,
where they were staying. It has charming thatched cottages that look like Swiss Family Robinson tucked in a hillside. We exchanged emails, compared photos (mostly of the same things from each island) and promised to keep in touch and perhaps meet up again. Meeting them was wonderful. I was just really so blessed to meet up with so many fantastic, kind people in Yap. It really made that stop on my trip extra special.

That night I went to the airport for a 10pm departure and one hour later landed in Palau.