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Monday, December 8, 2014

4 Months and a Very Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 26th marked my 4-month anniversary on island. Woo! I have been living this life for four months. Sometimes it feels like four years and sometimes like four days, but I've learned by now that time has a paradoxical way of passing both quickly and slowly all at once. If I've learned anything my first 4-months on island it's this: show up. Everyday. Show up for every one of your students and every staff member and every student at PCS who is not in your class, but wants to talk or visit your classroom. I've learned that no matter how tired, overwhelmed, or sweaty I am, I have to put on my energetic teacher face and show up. Before I get out of bed in the morning I take a deep breath, move my palms face up, and say, "Morning, God. Here I am - alive - with another day to live. I don't know what this day might hold, but let's do it together. Whatever you need me to do, I am here. Just show me." Because with God, everyday is choose your own adventure. I can choose to trust and live and laugh and smile and be open to whatever the day might hold or I can choose the exact opposite. 

My good friend Taylor is currently a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana, Africa, and sums up my thoughts on the normalcy of life perfectly. She says,

"I think it's easy to imagine that living in Africa is one great big adventure. It's not. Life itself is the adventure. Even in Botswana, there's still laundry to do and dishes to wash and things that don't go as planned. I'm striving to make some sort of positive impact while I'm here, but I'm certainly not doing anything heroic or newsworthy. And isn't that what we're all doing, wherever we are? As the things that used to be new and exciting start to become normal parts of life, I'm realizing that life itself--normal, everyday life-- is amazing. Adventure can be found in the sassy little kids who come over to tell me nonsensical stories and in the wandering livestock and in new sports and in the occasional latte. Because not all of life is movie-score-worthy, but it's the little moments that are beautiful and precious in the best possible way."

It's the little moments like giggling with my students while I watch them play at recess. Or helping some of my struggling little ones who just need a little more time to sit with material. It's seeing the beauty and innovation in the parachute Marlon made out of a plastic bag and empty water bottle. It's showing up, every single day, and saying that this normal day is going to count for something. Because our life is just a bunch of normal days woven together, and I want to weave hope and love and Jesus and joy into my students and into these days.

Now onto a little pictorial walk through how we celebrated Thanksgiving here in Pohnpei!

It started with a big dinner on Wednesday night with the Jesuits, other priests, and the two orders of nuns on island. Father Dave (the sole Jesuit on island, in the far left side of the picture. He's from small town Louisiana and has lived here in Pohnpei for 40+ years. He's got a witty, dry sense of humor and, like any good Jesuit, enjoys to share the occasional alcoholic drink with us) made sure we had the all the traditional Thanksgiving fixings. The nuns were as sassy as ever and we had a grand old time.

Our shelves have been stocked with all sorts of pumpkin mixes and pumpkin flavored goods thanks to plenty of care packages, so on Thanksgiving morning we enjoyed pumpkin pancakes before heading off to school. We had a Thanksgiving mass service, then all of the Kinder-7th grade students went home to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families. The 8th graders and teachers put together food baskets filled with local foods all the students had brought that morning from their land. We gave many baskets to the elderly relatives of PCS students and took a truck full of food to the hospital and jail.

At the hospital and jail we sang a few songs and led a short prayer service before shaking everyone's hands and saying "Happy Thanksgiving." The men in jail (there were maybe 20 of them) were so appreciative that we came and asked us to leave our prayer and song sheets behind so they could use them. At the hospital, patients pulled back the privacy curtains and someone in the isolation room cracked the door so they could hear us. It felt right to be giving back to the community, both in food and time, from our abundance.

Later on Thanksgiving afternoon Mer and I played an intense game of Ticket to Ride (one of our favorite hobbies while here - it's my new favorite board game) before starting to cook. We each made a dish and had a rather non-traditional dinner. The best part was Pohnpeian mashed potatoes: mashed bananas in coconut milk! After dinner we put the Pumpkin Dessert I'd made into Tupperware containers and headed off to the movies to see Hunger Games.

On Friday we had a half-day of school and a Talent Show in the evening. It was a night full of beautiful hula and singing! After the show ended we booked it out to one of the high schooler's houses. Maggie is half German, half American and her family invited us over for their Thanksgiving dinner Friday night. We got there late and the random assortment of friends were just starting dessert when we piled our plates high with turkey, gravy, stuffing, and the works. Maggie's German mother checked in on us partway through our meal and, upon seeing some empty beer cans, insisted we have more. We quickly learned that you can't tell a German that you don't want any more beer. They'll say, "that's stupid" and hand you another can.

We ended our 3 day Thanksgiving celebration together at a little table, talking about the good things and hard things and the way we want things to be for our students. It was a little dreaming and a little reality check as we hopped from topic to topic. There are so many things we don't know as outsiders and so many things we can't change. All we do know is that we have our two years to be here with these students. And we have the normal and yet adventuresome gift of today to do with it as we please.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Recent Happenings & Random Facts

October and November have been full of holidays, trips, and excitement! 

Hammock + beautiful waters
Black Coral: In October we went to a small picnic island called Black Coral! We took a little boat out to the island and along with the Peace Corp and World Teach volunteers, enjoyed a few days of relaxation and fun on our own private tropical island. What do you picture when you hear "private island?" If it's something like the following pictures, then it's not only in your head, but real life here in the Pacific!

So beautiful and picturesque. Crazy that this really exists and I get to experience it!

Fun with glowsticks!

The group

Men cutting the pig
Kamadipw: I experienced my first feast (kamadipw, pronounced comma-tip) a few weeks ago! It was Meredith's host grandfather's birthday (he's also a chief) so we got to experience the feast at the front of the nahs. Everyone is seated in the nahs based on their title/rank. As American guests, we were given a very high place of honor. Anyone who sits in the nahs (all the kids and some of the guests hangout outside the nahs) has to remain seated until the person with the highest title at the front stands up. Pohnpeians are champion sitters! We were given our place to sit, a plate of food, and hung out. We heard some speeches in Pohnpeian, got to dance a bit, saw a traditional sakau ceremony and the process of sakau being distributed according to a person's title. We were also presented with gifts to adorn our head and hair! They brought forward several huge pigs and dogs, which were cut into pieces before our eyes and distributed to the guests. Dog is considered a delicacy, so dog was only given to individuals with very high titles.

Britt and I after being rubbed down with coconut oil

Kristin and Mer

Visiting an old hotel called "The Village" after the feast

 Sue Ann: I have an incredible co-teacher three days a week!! Her name is Sue Ann and she is a postulate on her way to become a nun. She is Pohnpeian and finishing her teaching degree at College of Micronesia. But on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays she and I get to teach together! It's a huge blessing to have another pair of hands and eyes around the classroom. We are able to differentiate our teaching (especially in reading) to reach the students at their level.
Sue Ann (left) with Sister Sophie (the religion teacher)
Another Month, Another Waterfall: While Rose, a friend teaching on Chuuk, was visiting we took a trip to the other side of the island to experience another waterfall! I think this one is my favorite so far!
Walking through the jungle to get to the waterfall
Mer and I!

Halloween: I played up Halloween so much with my 1st graders. We had lots of fun doing math, reading, and art projects all related to Halloween! On Halloween students were allowed to wear their costumes if they wanted to. We did math with Skittles, ate candy corn, and enjoyed celebrating! 

Enjoying candy corn for the first time

November Fun: Now that all of our Halloween decorations are gone, we had to decorate for the next holiday - Thanksgiving! We've spent a lot of time talking about the gifts that God has given us and having an attitude of thankfulness. We also learned the story of the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and Native Americans. We did a very complicated Native American craft with an accompanying writing project. I was worried how they'd do with so many little pieces and kept playing up how complicated the project was. They did a great job and were so proud of the finished product!

Random Facts: I've been wanting to share some of the random cultural facts/happenings that I've become accustomed to over the past few months, so here goes!

-Driving: Sometimes when I drive, I dodge potholes like a Mario Kart driver. We never go above 40 kilometers per hour because you always have to be on pothole patrol. Most cars here are imported from the Philippines, so the driver is on the right side of the car and the front seat passenger on the left. The controls are also all reversed, so for the first few weeks when I tried to turn on the turn signal, the windshield wipers would go! Honking is also a very nice thing here. No one honks to be mean or aggressive, if I hear the tap of a horn it's just a friendly "hello" someone is saying to a friend or family member they see driving.

-Nonverbal Responses: In Pohnpei, you can respond 'yes' by saying yes or raising both your eyebrows. When I'm talking to a student one-on-one and ask a yes or no question, there's a good chance they'll choose to raise their eyebrows instead of say yes!

-Proper Greetings: Walking down the street in Pohnpei is never boring. It is culturally appropriate to say hello to everyone you meet, whether you know them or not (it's very rude if you don't acknowledge someone). So a trip to the grocery store will be filled with many nods of hello or the following greeting:
                                            Kaselehlia (hello to one person)
                                            Kaselehlia maing (hello to one person in a formal way)
                                            Kaselehlia maingko (hello to 2 or more people in a formal way)

-Cash Power: The power situation here is unlike any I've experienced. To buy power for your house, you go to a green drive-through window. You tell the person your house ID number, how much you want, and they give you a receipt with a really long number. Once back at your house, you go to the cash power box and enter the number in. Upon entering it successfully, a happy tune plays and a smiley face appears, along with how many units of cash power you have. If we forget to check our cash power meter and it runs out, which has happened a few times, we'll wake up in the morning sans power and have to go buy more. The generators that power the island are also turned off at different times throughout the day (I'm not sure why). So, an average of 3 school days per week there'll be a four hour chunk of time where we don't have any power. Luckily our rooms have plenty of open windows, so it doesn't affect us too much. Normally I'll just acknowledge, "oh, the power went out!" and we'll continue on in our lesson.

Thank you for going on this little tour of random facts about Pohnpei with me! I love being able to share my experience and this incredible culture and new way of life with so many of you.

Monday, November 10, 2014

On Letting People Love Me

            As a teacher, I spend my days helping 28 exuberant students fill their brains with knowledge. Most days include a generous helping of chaos and at times a sprinkling of tears, but 3:30 always manages to roll around and we’re all there, smiling, in one piece. My students see the world with a joy that is contagious. “Teacher Emily, a FLOWER. This is a FLOWER!” Besides soaking in their childlike awe and excitement, I witness their daily light bulb “aha!” moments when they realize that they actually can read that word or they can do that math problem.

            I had an “aha” moment the other day, too, while skyping with my parents some 5,500 miles and many oceans away. Before the conversation even began I could guarantee you that sometime, mid-conversation, my Dad was going to ask me, “Em, what can we do for you? How can we help you?” As sure as there'll be 90% humidity and sunshine in Pohnpei this week, my Dad will ask that question. As someone who would rather help others than ask others to help me, my brain immediate wants to say, “I’m great Dad, no help needed!” But, honestly, there’s not one ounce of truth to that statement. I’ve just moved to a foreign country thousands of miles away from my family. I am in my first year of teaching and I'm pulling together my own curriculum for a grade I've never taught before in a country I've never lived in. Lets face it, I need all the help I can get.

            In this particular conversation we chatted about my students and my weekend at my host family before the inevitable ‘how can we help you?’ question came up. And that’s when it happened - I had my light bulb moment. I may be the one physically in the FSM, but he and my Mom and so many others are playing just as important a role as I am. They love me and support me, which makes me able to teach and love my students. My parents? They get it. They are here with me. They are part of God’s plan by being so eager to hear my stories, pray for me, and send school supplies for my students. And it’s not just my parents but so many other friends and acquaintances sending everything from homemade jam (thank you Bertolucci's!) to cards, care packages, and letters sharing what they're doing in life and asking how I am. The fact that there are people out there willing to do that? Willing to pray and read my blog and walk through this teaching abroad journey with me? That is wild. That is the Church. That is community. And that is God incarnate.

            We were created by a community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:26 (“let us make man in our image”) and designed to walk through life in the same way. Even though I am on a tiny island in the North Pacific, God doesn’t ask me to be an island. He gives each of us many unique callings and missions throughout our lives, but he doesn’t expect us to do them alone. We can only fulfill these callings by leaning on the Holy Spirit and by letting people love us. By really letting myself soak in the support and encouragement that I’ve received since starting my JVC service, I am a better teacher, a better community mate, and am becoming more and more like the woman God made me to be. I am learning. Learning to be better at letting people love me and am finding that, in return, I am better able to love others.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Classroom Tour & First Grade Fun

 Meet my 28 ambitious, kind, and exuberant 1st graders. They come to school every morning full of energy and joy that we (try to) harness into reading, math, spelling, science, social studies, and religion lessons. I am grateful to be their teacher and am continuously challenged as I reflect on each day and set goals to help me become a better teacher. Being a first year teacher is hard and overwhelming, but my students offer me so much grace and love. I'm greeted every morning as soon as I set foot on campus by a committee of 3-5 of my students running toward me at full speed. After a group hug and giggles, we walk to the classroom. It's a great way to begin each day.

I've finally had a chance to make my room my own and am so excited to share it with you. Having transferred to 1st grade after a week teaching the 7th graders (1st grade is a much better fit for me) - I didn't have anytime to prepare the classroom or curriculum. I've spent the past quarter focusing on content and keeping my head above water, and am excited to have given some attention to the decor of my classroom.
 We put on our pretend 'sight word sweatshirts' everyday to review and practice our sight words.

 We just finished learning about the life cycle of a butterfly and are starting the life cycle of frogs this week!

 The view from the back of my classroom. My students sit next to their academic partners to make think-pair-share activities easier. 

 I post at least one learning objective on the whiteboard each day. We also count what day of school it is (anticipating a fun party on the 100th day of school) and have a good morning message to start our day.

 I just put up the big border in the back - we'll fill that space with our "My Favorite Part of School Is" writing later on this week. 

 Math posters reminding my students of all the different ways they can solve math problems.
Our life cycle wheels - each wheel can be spun to show the egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly stages!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Governor Mandates and Friday Adventures

 Friday morning started off like any other school day. I woke up a few minutes before my alarm, worked out, made oatmeal, and was doing my morning devotional when Sister Isabel, the principal of Our Lady of Mercy High School, called. She quickly divulged that the Governor had cancelled school for the day and declared Pohnpei in a state of emergency. The past few days we'd been hit with some intense storms, called tropical disturbances, that continued through the night and into Friday. To put it in some perspective for you: it rained so hard on Thursday that I had to yell (as loud as possible) so my students could hear me during math. The four of us, giddy with excitement at the prospect of a surprise three day weekend, quickly posted signs at the gate of Our Lady of Mercy and bunkered down in our apartment. We listened to the crescendos and decrescendos of raindrops and wind, excited at the events of the day but praying the weather wouldn't get any worse. [So far nothing had been damaged, but the best way to be sure everyone was safe was to have students stay home. We have some students who drive from the total opposite side of the island (about an hours drive) to get to school everyday!] We downed cups of coffee and tea, read, worked, and caught up on those things that you always say you'll get around to, but never do.

In the afternoon Mer and I decided to go on a little adventure. The intensity of the storm had died down and while it was still raining a bit, we were feeling a little stir-crazy. I documented our adventure so you could go on it, too!
 We headed down our street...
 turned left...
 took another left...
 and walked along the causway!
 Me, a coconut tree, a nas, and Sokehs Rock in the background. We took the road to my left in this picture and ended up...

 passing a rusted and sinking boat. 

 After taking the mandatory jumping pictures
 and a selfie, we headed back to our apartment. Our skirts were sufficiently soaked upon our return, but it was worth the adventure.

Thankfully, the storm has passed and everyone is safe! Storm trackers say the weather is now traveling up to Saipan and Tokyo, but hopefully the 'tropical disturbance' won't turn into a typhoon. 

We're gearing up for the last week of the quarter this week, and I hope to share more pictures of my classroom and students soon! I'll leave you with a picture of my favorite local food - bananas! Most bananas on island are the small one on the sides of this photo. The bananas in the middle are extraordinarily large and would be put into the 'cooking banana' category by locals. There are over 50 varieties of bananas on island! While bananas are always plentiful, the island has been out of eggs and cheese for about a month now. The veggies are slim to none these days, too, so we're hoping a shipment comes soon. You never know what you might find (or not find) in a grocery store these days. Such is island life! My stateside friends, you enjoy the plethora of food at your finger tips for me and I'll enjoy some bananas and coconuts for you :) 

Goodnight from Pohnpei!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Maiden Voyage of the Outrigger Canoe

Our little community of four here in Pohnpei is now the owner of a traditional Pohnpeian outrigger canoe! It all started this summer when Kristen mentioned to Meredith's host dad that we were on the market for an outrigger. Emmanuel, a man with many connections, returned to her a few days later saying, "I've found you an outrigger!" Our desire to paddle the waters around Pohnpei turned into a work project for men learning traditional skills in order to support their families (so, an outrigger and giving men work in their traditional craft...a win-win in our book). 

We had a marvelous maiden voyage last weekend paddling around in our brand new, green and yellow outrigger. Don't be fooled by these pictures, we may look like we know what we're doing but we spent a lot of time paddling in circles (and laughing at ourselves). Steering those things is harder than it looks! We're hoping to develop our outrigger skills enough to paddle around the island sometime this year. 

 It was also raining, as you can see in these pictures!

 Attempting to paddle through the mangrove trees.
 Stuck in the mangrove roots.
Finally Emmanuel (after laughing at us) helped guide the outrigger to shore.