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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.