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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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Flying Coconuts

I spent this past weekend at my host family's house in Kitti (pronounced Kitchi). My host parents are Deacon and Paulina, and they are two of the sweetest, most hospitable people I’ve met on island. Deacon is a big jokester and Paulina is just cute and sweet and wonderful. Whenever I come, Deacon always tells me that I’m here to relax, sleep, and rest. I’m all about relaxing, sleeping, and resting, but I’m also a big fan of adventure. I decided this weekend was going to have more adventure and less relaxing when I was eating breakfast Saturday morning (pancakes, rice, and ramen) and heard that some of the family was going to go up to Deacon’s land to gather coconuts. I asked if I could go with them and was met with an uncertain look from Paulina, but pretty soon I was hopping in the back of a pickup truck next to my host nieces/nephews and a collection of machetes, the wind running through my hair as we drove into the jungle. After driving as far as we could go, the seven of us proceeded to trek through the dense jungle on foot - it took all of my focus to look at the wet, muddy ground below me and not slip. I lost my shoes a few times and got muddy up to my ankles, but made it to Deacon’s land in one piece.

I was instructed to sit down and rest (which I fully expected, I was just happy they let me tag along on the adventure) while the others started cutting down coconuts. I sat myself down on an empty rice bag, sticky with sweat and humidity, and watched the scene unfold. Picture dense jungle, trees and bushes and leaves of every shape, size, and shade of green. Insert 6 people into the picture, ranging from ages 59 to 9, with machetes and other tools, whacking away at the overgrowth and cutting down coconuts like the experts they are. At one point I watched an assembly line of flying coconuts with an incredulous expression, the coconut traveling from one person to the next and finally landing in a pile 10 feet away from me with a great big thud. At one point I thought to myself, “I am in the middle of the jungle, watching an assembly line of flying coconuts. This is wild.

I learned at this point that coconuts have a large brown outer shell that must be removed to reveal the smaller coconut that you’re picturing in your mind. This was done by my host brother, Roland, a bank worker by day, but a connoisseur of all the traditional Pohnpeian skills on the weekends. He stuck a large stick/pole in the ground, with a pencil-like point at the top, and made de-shelling the coconuts look like a piece of cake. After taking a soda and Pringle break, the coconuts were loaded into empty bags, slung over shoulders, and we were hiking our way back to the car. I, of course, was not given a bag to carry, but was instructed to get myself back in one piece. I managed to complete that task successfully, only slip once on the muddy brown jungle floor. The whole family was so surprised that I wanted to go to Deacon’s land and kept saying how strong (keilail) I was. I didn’t feel strong, just like a silly American wanting desperately to be a normal member of the family. The rest of the weekend was filled with a more adventures (ancient ruins, a feast, seeing sakau pounded for the first time) but I’ll save that for another day.

The weekend taught me the importance of asking – asking to be involved, asking questions about culture and traditions. Everyone in this world wants so desperately to be heard, to share their knowledge and wisdom with people who really want to listen. I’m thankful for the opportunity placed before me, two years of open ears and an open heart to learn as much as I can from my community mates, students, and host family.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Big Spiders and Big Hearts

This morning was my favorite kind of morning to wake up to: coconut trees blowing in the breeze with a backdrop of puffy, grey, overcast clouds. It started drizzling quietly as I boiled water and poured in oats to make a large pot of oatmeal for breakfast. Methodically stirring the mixture, I listened to the quiet sound of rain, meditative and melodic. I allowed myself to breathe and prepare for the day. Stir the oats, pray, stir the oats, pray, stir the oats, pray. 

Teaching 28 little 6-year-olds 7 hours a day doesn’t leave much time for meditative stillness. Most times, it’s “teacher! teacher!” every thirty seconds, but we’re working on raising our hands and not talking over classmates. We have little moments of magic everyday in the classroom though, even though most moments are more chaotic and less magical. We’re working on establishing a routine, and I’m giving myself plenty of grace. My favorite moment is normally when we read a story during our Morning Message/Meeting time. Students love hearing stories, and looking out at 28 faces with eyes glued to the page makes my heart happy. For those few moments, all students are quiet, focused, and engaged. 

Besides reading, the highlight of today was teaching a few of my students how to play tic-tac-toe. You’d have thought I taught them something magical and complicated by how enthusiastically they played the simple game. Duck, duck, goose was a hit last week, so now I’m scouring my brain for other simple games I can teach them.

But back to the title of this post: big spiders and big hearts. The day was over and I was planning/organizing as students filtered in and chatted. I moved a bucket and all of a sudden saw a huge spider the size of my palm and screamed at the top of my lungs. And, of course, at that very same moment a parent came in to talk to me. Not my most professional moment, by any means, but I had to laugh. Later I stared down the spider and played Sara Bareilles’ Brave as I tried to work up the courage to kill it. I’d been staring down the spider for a good 5 minutes when one of my little boys came in and volunteered to do the deed. I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘Emily, you’re 22-years-old. You did not let a 6-year-old kill your spider.’ I did. I was really scared and Ryhu oozed confidence in a very nonchalant way. I gave him a science book and told him to have at it. While he didn’t kill the spider, he gave it his best effort, and that was rewarded with a sticker. The spider scurried away to some undisclosed location, so we’ll see if it comes back to fight with me tomorrow. I'll be ready.

But for today, I am thankful for the ability to laugh at myself and the crazy situations I encounter here. I am thankful for rainy weather, quiet mornings, and the huge, generous hearts of the Pohnpeians I am getting to know.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

God in the Geckos

Of all the creepy crawly animals that I’ve experienced here in Pohnpei, my favorite is by far the gecko. They come in all shapes and sizes and colors, from dull browns to dark greens, from tiny babies the size of a fingernail to full grown geckos the size of your palm. These little guys have the uncanny ability to climb on walls and hang out on ceilings, just chilling upside down. 

And have I mentioned that they’re everywhere? I lay down on my bed, look up, and see one on the ceiling. I grab the peanut butter jar from the kitchen counter and find another one behind it, just hanging out on the wall. As I type this, I’m watching a gecko hang out on the ceiling of our living room and another run around like it just had a too big cup of coffee. 

The funniest thing about the geckos is how they sound. They’ll be hanging out on the ceiling, minding their own business, when all of a sudden they let out a screech resembling what I’d imagine a baby pterodactyl might sound like. The sound was at first sharp and startling to me, but has become one of comfort and ease. You see, the geckos are out little, unexpected protectors. They eat all the bad bugs that hang out in our apartment (namely the cockroaches), thus earning the title of ‘Protector.'

I can always count on the geckos. Always count on them to be here, always count on hearing their little pterodactyl screeches a few times an hour. And being in the heart of my transition, the hardest part of coming to Pohnpei, I’ve come to see God in the geckos. 

I know that I was made to give my life away, to carry my cross and follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. And that’s what I’m doing. But it is by no means easy. 

For a while, all I could think about was what I gave up coming to Pohnpei for 2 years. Air conditioning. The physical presence of friends and family. My church family. The gym. Healthy food. Seasons. I was trying to hold onto these things so tightly, even though I didn’t have them anymore, that it was all I could think about. I was constantly reaching into the darkness, trying to reason with God to give those gifts back to me again. To feel comfortable and at peace and whole instead of anxious and hot and uncomfortable.

But that’s not a healthy way to live. All is a gift from God. Every sweaty Pohnpei day is a gift from him. Every smile from my 1st grade students (more about switching grades later, but I’m so happy!). Every walk through town, passing coconut trees and breadfruit trees and mango trees. Every dinner together as a community. Gift. Gift. Gift.  By opening my life to him, really and truly saying “God, all gifts come from you. I accept what you’ve chosen to give today, and will do my best to give it all back to you,” that is how to live in a whole and life-giving way.

As I lay down in bed tonight and sink my head into the fluffy pillow, I’ll look up and inevitably see a gecko or two on the ceiling. And I’ll think about God. How he’s always with us. Always protecting us. How he’s got out backs, just like the geckos do. I’m grateful for the various ways he speaks to me. As loudly as the pterodactyl-screeches of the geckos, and as quietly as a whisper. He is all around us, everyday, if we only have the eyes to see and ears to hear.

May you quiet your soul to hear God today, and be open to the many ways he may speak to you.