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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nunsgiving and a Man Named Bernard

All of my life I've had a fascination with nuns. It all started with Maria in The Sound of Music and continued from there. Whenever I see a nun, I have the urge to sit down with her at the nearest cafe and bombard her with questions - how did you join the convent? What order are you from? What work do you do? How do you pray? 

Lucky for me, I've had the chance to work alongside some of the sassiest, most hardworking, wise Sisters here in Micronesia. Nuns were present at all three of our Thanksgiving celebrations, so it was indeed a nunsgiving, and it was quite the event. It started a week and a half before Thanksgiving's calendar date with a Thanksgiving dinner at the Jesuit house with Father Dave, Father Ken, Sister Isabel, Sister Marlesa, Sister Toni, and Sister Dasko. Natalie, Nicole and I put ourselves in charge of preparing all the food as a thank you to the priests and nuns, who are always incredibly hospitable to us. Natalie, Head Chef, cooked an incredible turkey and Nicole and I helped with all of the side dishes. The nuns came over a few minutes before we were ready and thought it was so funny that we were using our computers to look up recipes online. We were glad to give them a good laugh, and grateful to Buzzfeed for the turkey recipe.

My heart was so full that night. The lazy susan was constantly spinning as people helped themselves to seconds and thirds. We were so happy to cook for this wonderful group of religious people who give so much to the church in Pohnpei.

Celebration #2 took place on Thanksgiving Day at Bernie's (the principal of my school) house. In true Pohnpei fashion, the power was off all afternoon that Bernie was planning on cooking. What do you do when the power is off and it's Thanksgiving? Eat chips and spinach dip until the power comes back on, tell stories and laugh and enjoy each other's company, that's what you do. Bernie made a wonderful spread after the power came back on for the three of us JVs, Sister Sophie, Sister Christina, and Sister Elerina. [There are two orders of Sisters on the island. The MMB Sisters live right next door to us (they were at our first celebration) and the MA Sisters live about 15 minutes away in Awak.] The MA Sisters are quite spirited - they have big laughs and bigger personalities. We had such a great time celebrating together!

Our third and final Thanksgiving took place next door at the MMB Sister's house. Our first Thanksgiving inspired Sister Dasko to try her hand a cooking a turkey, so we found ourselves sitting on their back porch with appetizers and wine on Friday night. The Deacon of the local parish was also there with his son and a man named Bernard.

Bernard is from Indonesia and has a crazy story. He is a fisherman and was out fishing in his boat one day when somehow he ran out of gas. No one was around, he couldn't get any help, and his boat started drifting. Bernard drifted at sea for 35 days. He only had uncooked rice to eat and rainwater to drink for 35 days. Finally, he was found drifting in Yap, the most western state of the Federated States of Micronesia.

I couldn't wrap my head around this story, this man who sat across the table from me. I just kept staring. Bernard. Bernard. You were stranded, drifting at sea, for 35 days. 35 days. And here you are! Alive! Breathing! Laughing! Drinking wine and miming because we lack a common language. Bernard!

I couldn't get over it. Through drinks and appetizers, a dinner plate full of turkey and all the fixings, and a plate of our now-famous JV gluten free apple crisp. I kept looking over at Bernard and I just wanted to give him a big hug. Bernard, you are here. Bernard, you are safe. Bernard, God provided for you. Most of Indonesia is Muslim, but Bernard is a Christian. With the few words of English that he knows, he told us that it was only thanks to God that he was rescued and is alive today.

Bernard finally has all of his documents in order and he flies back to Indonesia to be reunited with his family next week.

Bernard has so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and Christmas season. And while none of us have been lost at sea for 35 days like Bernard, we too have so much to be thankful for. What has God blessed you with this year? Where have you seen His hand at work? Ask your friend or your sibling or your child what they are thankful for this year. Lets be a people who spend less money on gifts, more time with those we love, and more quiet moments whispering thank you, thank you, thank you for the blessings in our lives.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Getaways & Goals

I have a confession to make. I am not a beach person. My family has never been a "lets go to the beach" family (probably because everyone but my mom would have burned to a crisp). Our idea of a vacation is go-go-go see-see-see rather than the lounge-with-a-book philosophy of other families. And yet here I am, living on island time in one of the most laid back regions of the world - life does have a funny way of working itself out. Sometimes it takes a sharp left turn an you have a split second to choose: lean in or risk falling off. So I leaned in, and now I'm learning more about island culture, Pohnpeian and other, than I ever knew existed.

Which is how I found myself lounging in the blue waters of the Pacific on October 31st, on a very tiny, rentable private island, with 8 other volunteers (Jesuit Volunteers + Peace Corp Volunteers). We lead very simple lives as volunteers - small stipends, simple forms of fun, lots of humble learning in a new culture - but one (of the many) joys of life in the Pacific is a private island getaway cheap enough for our volunteer salary.

So, Halloween weekend and we're floating in the perfect blue ocean, reading books on our bungalow porches, napping in hammocks, eating candy corn, talking and catching up on our lives, exchanging funny school stories, being filled with good company and good friends and all the feel-good vibes of a late night glow stick dance party.

I also reached a big milestone on Halloween: I finished my 75th book since arriving in the FSM. Like I mentioned earlier, we do a lot of reading, game playing, cards, and conversations rather than being glued to technology screens at night. I have always always loved books and read away my summer days in middle school and high school, but I lost the pleasure of reading for fun once college hit and I had so much required reading. It has been heavenly to come to a place where I have extra time on my hands and plenty of books to peruse.

I do my best to have a healthy work-life balance, so I leave school around 5 pm and don't work in the evenings. It keeps me sane and whole, because I am more than a teacher. We are all more than the work that we do and we should not let our work define who we are. It's the best feeling leaving work at work and knowing that I can spend the rest of the evening relaxing with good company, good board games (Ticket to Ride, anyone? I'm obsessed), and good books.

When I first came to the FSM 15 months ago I started with series books, reading through all the Harry Potters, Hunger Games, and Divergent books. Then I had a science fiction kick (The Night Circus, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore) and an autobiography phase (Redefining Realness, Bossypants, Yes Please). There was the era of thriller-adventure books (the Vanessa Michael Monroe Series) and the sweet, sassy books about friendship (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, The Friday Night Knitting Club). I always enjoy books set in foreign countries (Girls of Riyadh, It's Not About the Tapas), books that inspire me to continue helping the world (Kisses from Katie, Pencils of Promise), and books that open my eyes to the harsh realities some children face everyday (Say You're One of Them). There were the books I couldn't put down, whose suspense made my heart rate rise the second I picked them up, both from fascination and fear (Brain on Fire, Touching the Void). Then the sweet love stories (Eleanor & Park), books written in email format (Attachments), and a compilation of letters sent to the Dear Sugar advice column (Tiny Beautiful Things). I have loved each and every book in parenthesis and would recommend them to anyone.

My 75th book, The Geography of Bliss, definitely makes it onto my Top 5 book list. Eric Weiner, a foreign correspondant for NPR, travels the world in search of the happiest places (also visiting some of the unhappiest) to see what we can learn from them. It combines some of my favorite things in life (travel + happiness) and I enjoyed it immensely.

I love the moment when I finish a book, stick it on the shelf, and stand back to survey the scene. Two bookshelves full of books...the world is at my fingertips. What am I in the mood for? Fiction or  nonfiction, we have a bit of everything - spiritual, autobiography, comedy, thrillers, historical, science fiction, classics. Whenever I'd walk into a library in America I immediately make a beeline for certain sections, genres I knew I loved, but here I've tried a bit of everything. And I love that. I never would have picked up a science fiction book in my life in the US, but I decided to give one a try here and loved it.

75 books (that's 25,376 pages) down, 25 books to go to meet my goal of 100 books in my service.

What was the last good book you read?

If it's been a while, I hope this post has inspired you to put down your phone or TV remote and pick up a book instead. Ask your mom or your grandpa what their favorite books are. I've had some of the best Skype conversations exchanging good book ideas with my parents and grandparents. Use that library card stuck in the bottom of your wallet. Take one of those books you bought on amazon (and promised yourself you'd read) off the shelf.

I promise, you won't regret it.

"We lose ourselves in books, we find ourselves there too." -Kristin Martz

Friday, October 23, 2015

Weekend Mwahu

One of my favorite phrases in Pohnpeian is a simple one – weekend mwahu. Literally translated to ‘weekend good’ it is the Pohnpeian way of saying ‘have a good weekend!’ I throw ‘weekend mwahu’ around like candy on Fridays, saying it to teachers and students and anyone I greet on the street. Because who doesn’t love Friday at 5 pm?

I say this phrase exuberantly but I welcome the weekend in every Friday afternoon quietly, with a solo walk to church, a good workout, and a walk back to the apartment. It’s golden hour, 5 pm, when I start my walk and the streets are bustling. A flat bed truck with a family of 10 sitting in the back passes me, a student sticks her head out the window of another passing car, “Hi Teacher Emilyyyyyyyy.” I wave and smile before saying hello to the man crossing my path. My “kaselehie maing” (a formal version of hello for anyone older than you) is met with “kaselehie, serepein” (hello girl) and I continue on. I notice a hibiscus, bright fuchsia in the center that ombres into a light peach. Next a perfect plumeria, white and yellow, which I pluck from the ground and nestle behind my ear.  Ever since my parents visited in June, I’ve been noticing every flower I walk by. My mom would, without fail, notice every flower we passed on a walk or hike. It was all, “Rick, can you take a picture of this flower” every time we went anywhere. By that point I’d lived here 11 months and hadn’t noticed the gentle beauty of a flower in a long time. I was walking with blinders on, and my mom reminded me to walk in the light, and find beauty in all of creation, even if you see it everyday. So now when I walk to church my eyes are all open – flowers and smells and sounds, a quiet way to decompress after the week and start the weekend right.

Someone is pounding sakau with a rhythmic bong, bong, bong. Brightly patterned skirts are drying on a line outside a house. Cars are pulling up to buy bread and snacks from a container store (literally, a store inside of a shipping container). I pass a bunch of bananas still on the tree, perfectly green with the banana blossom still on. I wrinkle my nose when I pass the pig pens and algae covered riverbed. I’m already sweating and I try to forget how big the last hill up to church is and instead look up. Afternoon light is streaming through the palm trees in ways too beautiful to capture in words or pictures. Coconuts dot the tops of trees, clouds waltz by, even the sky knows it's Friday.

I'm here 10 minutes early, so I sit outside the Sunday School room we use to do T-25 workout videos and breathe. It's my chance to sit and process the week, to ponder and consider and say thank you to God. With a view like this, there is a lot to be thankful for.

After a sweaty workout I step outside into the cool breeze. I’m drenched, almost like I went swimming, and Sylvia and I chat about relationships and dating, her kids' experiences and my own. Sylvia, a native Californian, has been living in Pohnpei for 25+ years with her husband Nob (a missionary kid from the islands, who went to Biola). Together, with a local staff, they run Pacific Mission Fellowship Church and assorted programs for Pacific Mission Aviation, the organization Nob's father started in 1956. PMA is an incredible organization, and I have been wholeheartedly embraced as a member of PMF Church. I have never been so genuinely welcomed into a church as I have felt here at PMF, and for that I am incredibly grateful. (You can learn more about PMA and PMF here:

We talked a bit longer than normal today, so I set a brisk pace and know that I’ll slip through our apartment door as darkness falls. I exchange "pwohng mwahu" (good night) with half a dozen people I pass and ward off a taxi asking if I want a ride with "mwahu! Kalahangan, pwohng mwahu." Less people are walking around now, but the sakau bar is filled with people sitting in yellow and red plastic chairs.

I see my favorite stray dog, Cow Dog, as I pass the dumpster by PCS. I see the glittery sign on my classroom door and smile, another week with my sweet class is in the books. I stand on our stoop for a minute before going inside, relishing the cool breeze, breathing in the peace of a quiet school on a Friday night.

Welcome, weekend, I’m glad you are here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

No Loitering

Six year olds are busy little people. From the moment I get to school to the second I step off campus at 4:30 or 5, I am pummeled with questions and comments and stories and tears and smiles and hugs and band-aid requests. One should not underestimate the power of a superhero or Disney Princess band-aid on the knee or arm of a child.

When my band-aid stock was running low in the spring, I knew I needed to call for back up. I needed more band-aids, and I needed them fast. We all have those people in our lives that we can call, anytime, for anything, so that’s what I did. I sent my tribe of friends from college a desperate SOS: SEND BAND-AIDS. Pretty soon I was opening envelopes overflowing with precious, tiny band-aids – Disney Princess, Clifford, glitter, superhero, sports. I continue to experience the magical power of those band-aids everyday, and I relish the small joy of opening the band-aid wrapper and seeing the look of pure delight on a student’s face. I have enough band-aids to last me this entire year, all because of that one SOS I sent to five friends. If my service here has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes, you just need to ask for help.

Besides band-aid requests, the other request I get most often is “Teacher, can I clean?” Pohnpeians love to keep things neat and tidy and students are always re-organizing our glues and scissors after we finish a project. After school is no different, but the cast of characters who want to clean the classroom includes 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders. Lots of little bodies with the greatest of intentions.

Honestly, some days I’m tired. After school I just want to get my work done, and I want to get it done alone. On those days, I get this urge to slap a “NO LOITERING” sign on my door, turn the lock, and get all my work done in productive peace and quiet. But that peace and quiet rarely happens because I am somewhat of a mystery to the school. Random students walk into my classroom throughout the day, look around at everything on the walls, whisper to their friends, and walk out. If they notice me watching them they’ll give a sheepish smile or a “I like your classroom, Teacher Emily” or just walk out. Combine these surprise visitors with my current class and the 2nd graders who often visit and I never have a moment to myself.

But if I’ve learned anything while here, I’ve learned about hospitality and generosity and being with people. And if I know anything about God, he calls us to community and togetherness and love in action. He also really loves little kids.

So after school when sweaty students come sliding into my room and ask if they can clean, I put them to work and play some music, grateful to have seven or eight little bodies do all the work I would rather not do. I delegate like a drill sergeant and the work gets done: someone cleans the chalkboard, two others sweep, one holds the dustpan, another two put stars on behavior charts, another takes out the trash. We laugh and talk and belt out our best versions of Frozen’s “Let it Go.” In 15 minutes the classroom is spotless, everyone chooses a sticker, and they skip outside to wait for their ride. I have relationships with older students purely from this cleaning time; those tiny 15 minutes when I would rather hang a “No Loitering” sign on the door have built community and relationships. Their tendency to loiter is an opportunity for me to love. It is a chance for me to show them that I care, that they are loved and helpful and they have value. 

I’ve learned my lesson. 

I’m glad I never put that “No Loitering” sign on my door.

Part of the afternoon cleaning crew

Sunday, September 13, 2015

He Runs Like A Giraffe, He Loves Like A Linebacker

I have a student named Dominic. He's little, even for a 1st grader, and often speaks in a mixture of English and Pohnpeian, rattling off in a jib jab of languages as his brain still figures out what to speak at school.

Dominic is a part of what I call 'The Morning Crew'. This dedicated group of students likes to play Predator and Prey every morning, where I am the prey and my students the predators. I think they have a sixth sense about where I am because the moment I step out the gate of my house and start walking to school, they spot me with great shouts of "Teacher Emily is coming! Teacher Emily is coming!" It's serious business. I wouldn’t be surprised if they bet their snack money on who can spot me first.

Once I have been spotted they break like a football team and one contingent runs out to give me hugs and escort me to the classroom (because clearly I need miniature bodyguards to walk from the school gate to the classroom door) while the others jump up and down and cheer from outside the classroom “Teacher Emily, Teacher Emily is here!” I kid you not. There is jumping and there is cheering, everyday. 

Dominic is part of the 'run out to greet Teacher Emily' party, and let me tell you he runs with a purpose. He also runs like a giraffe. All his limbs are very straight and a little awkward and he looks like a miniature baby giraffe barreling down the grass to give me a hug (and almost pull my skirt down, daily). After a round of hugs at the gate - which could last all morning because everyone starts talking a mile a minute because lots of very important things happened that I need to know about and Teacher Emily I have this for snack and Teacher Emily I did my homework and Teacher Emily my dad comes on the airplane tomorrow - I say, "Lets go to the classroom!" I start walking, with the contingent walking behind me and running ahead of me, all wispy and whimsical in their 6-year-old selves.

This is what happens to me every morning from 7:58 to 8:02 as I make the short commute from my apartment across the street to school. They greet me like this, with such deep, outward love, and all I did was show up. Wake up, put on my local skirt, eat some breakfast, and show up at school.

This year I'm only the 1st grade teacher until lunch. After lunch the kinder teacher takes over in 1st grade while I work as a reading specialist in the empty classroom next door. I work with small groups of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders who are struggling with reading fluency and comprehension. I LOVE this job and am so grateful the school asked me to work in this capacity. I love working with smaller groups of students who really need the extra encouragement and love.

I still see my 1st graders in the afternoons when I'm in the classroom at recess or other random times, but the way they hug me and say "Teacher Emily I missed you!!" makes it seem like its been weeks, instead of hours, that they've gone without me.

That's how six-year-olds roll. They love you deep and loud, even when it's 8 in the morning and you only just showed up. They say 'I love you' and give random hugs throughout the day and dance and smile and giggle. In the afternoons Dominic likes to give me a play-by-play of exactly what happened in class with Teacher Banae while I was next door.

My little Dominic, he runs like a giraffe but he loves like a linebacker. 

And I think God greets us this way every morning, too. He doesn't wait at the classroom door. He doesn't even wave or cheer from afar. He sees you, that you are awake and alive and choosing to show up and live this day, and he runs to you. Whether he runs like Dominic, like a giraffe, I'm not sure, but I know he runs to you and loves you like a linebacker.

How can you love like a linebacker? A hug, picking up a surprise coffee for someone, calling your grandma or a friend you haven't heard from in a while. Everyone can do it.

On the days that I forget this kind of love, I thank my lucky stars I have my students as a physical reminder of how much God loves us.

May we all be bold enough to take a cue from my 1st graders, today, and love like a linebacker. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Seasons and the Second Year

I went to the airport 19 times this summer. Nineteen. In the span of less than 2 months. Goodbyes and hellos, more goodbye's to those I'd just said hello to, then finally hello to my two new community mates. Thankfully the airport's a quick 4 minute drive down the causeway from our apartment, otherwise I'd have been in trouble. Once my airport runs got into the double-digits the guys from Budget Car rental and the hotel shuttles started recognizing me. I bet they were thinking something along the lines of, "What the heck is the white girl doing at the airport again?"

It's been over five weeks since I've been to the airport, but yesterday I was running some errands in the priest's car and almost drove down there, just for kicks. But that season is over now, and a new one has begun. Summer was that perfect, bittersweet mix of good and sad and wonderful. I said goodbye to my second years and many Peace Corps friends who finished their service. I showed off Pohnpei to family, friends, and volunteers here for summer programming. I smiled a lot and I laughed even more. I also cried, a number of times, when it really hit me that someone had left and wasn't coming back, or that I had to say goodbye to my parents for another year.

One of the bummers about being a onesie (not having any other volunteers come to Pohnpei with me when I came) is that I don't have one or two other people to share my full 2-year experience with. The three people I shared my first year with are back in America, and I feel like I've had the rug pulled out from under me. I've lost my comfort zone. In those moments when it's still hard I let myself have two minutes. Two minutes to breathe or mope or say "this is hard and I miss so-and-so" before picking myself up and going on my way.

It is a new season, and in many ways I feel like I am stronger than ever.

The new community Natalie, Nicole and I are forming is supportive, simple, and life-giving. I have a new job description at school that is energizing and matches my strengths with the needs of the school.

Magically, now that I am a second year, everything feels normal. The staff at PCS trust me more and share more with me. I have friends. I feel known and feel like I know people. Everything isn't new because I did it all last year. I'm figuring out what the new normal looks like and I like it.

Nicole, me, and Natalie at church at my host family

Some of my sweet students!

Painting Natalie's room!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The World Needs Your Help

Do you remember your first days of school? There’s the nice outfit, the new backpack filled with school supplies, the parents taking photos and embarrassing their children. That scenario is about to play out all over the world this next month as students head back to school. And, the best part is, you can help make the first day of school a little sweeter for students who don’t have the means to buy school supplies.

I’m talking about all over the world. There are students in America that desperately need school supplies. Great organizations like Kids in Need Foundation, Volunteers of America, United Way, and K.I.D.S. (Kids in Distressed Situations) give valuable school resources to America’s children in need. Check them out.

There are students in Africa that need school supplies, in Eastern Europe, in Asia. Pencils of Promise is a great place to start. Or my friend Taylor Henderson, working as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana. Send an email her way and she’ll let you know what supplies her village would utilize. [check her blog out at]

I’m challenging you to give. Today. To a child down the street or across an ocean.

If you want to give to elementary and high school students in the FSM, consider donating the following:
-Boxes of crayons
-Ticonderoga pencils (we have trouble with other brands breaking too easily)
-Books for kindergarteners through high school students. [We’re working on building up our school libraries because there are no bookstores on island.]
-Page protectors
-Dry erase whiteboard markers
-Prizes for our prize box (think small toys, bouncy balls, or cool things from the Dollar Store or Dollar Aisle at Target)
-If you’re really feeling fancy, bags of candy (M&Ms, Skittles, or gummy candy) so we can do some fun addition practice in 1st grade.

My parents are collecting supplies to send (email me if you want to drop something off and need their home address) or you can send a Flat Rate Box through the USPS for the same price as America, directly to Micronesia!

Emily Hagen
Jesuit Volunteers
PO Box 160
Pohnpei, FM 96941

From this teacher’s heart to yours, thank you, for donating to Micronesia or your hometown or any of the many organizations that help students succeed around the world. Thank you.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

One Year Later

365 days ago I stepped off a plane onto a tiny island. 365 days ago I bravely said yes to God. 365 days ago I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

A lot has happened in 365 days. I started and finished my first year of teaching. I lived in community and learned how to support others and ask for support. I entered into a culture I have grown to love and cherish. I knew signing up for JVC that it wouldn't be easy. I signed up to be challenged, to be changed, to be stretched and molded into more of who God wants me to be. Has that happened? Definitely. Has it been easy? No, not for one second. Has it been good, am I glad I made the decision to come to Pohnpei? Absolutely.

Good and hard and beautiful and challenging and wild all walk hand-in-hand in this story, my story. 365 days have given me just that: stories, lessons, and humility. I wanted to share some of the most important with you today.

How do you find a church home? You go to church one Sunday and then you go (back to the same church) again the next week and the next and pretty soon you've been going for 20 Sundays, 30 Sundays, 40 Sundays. And pretty soon those strangers in the foyer are your friends, and they care about you and support you and encourage you, and you do the same for them. A church home is built on commitment and consistency, even if every element of the service isn't your "style."

How do you build community? In a million tiny moments. Card games and laughter and a million conversations where I can't remember what we talked about but I can remember how I felt: happy, free, at home. It's those small and nonchalant moments that I remember most. Playing Settlers and listening to the Serial podcast, endless games of Ticket to Ride, long conversations lying on the floor after dinner. I didn't know those would be my touchstone moments, the moments that I go back to in my head, but there they are, playing over and over with vivid recall.

How do you get to know a culture entirely different than your own? One moment at a time, one day at a time. Choosing to say hello to the woman you pass while walking to the grocery store, to go for a walk instead of stay inside, to ask questions and also to just sit and be, listen and absorb.

Each of these lessons has required action. Choosing to go to church. Choosing to engage in community. Choosing to immerse yourself in a new culture. Choosing the uncomfortable and the awkward knowing that you have to pay your dues there to get to the good stuff, the real stuff.

365 days have left me stronger, braver, a little bit wiser and very thankful.

"Your first year, you sink. Your second year you've learned how to swim and you have to force yourself to dive back down."

Here's to diving back down, to rolling up my sleeves for another year of hard, heart-changing work.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Relatives Came, Part 3

"The relatives stayed for weeks and weeks. They helped us tend the garden and they fixed any broken things they could find." -The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant

Change the word garden to classroom and you've described my parents visit to Pohnpei in a nutshell. Their stay didn't go 100% as planned, but they rolled with the punches and were true adventurers. First, a huge storm came through and we had 6 days of almost non-stop wind and rain. It was so cold (for my Pacific-adjusted body, not my parents) that I wore sweatpants, slipper socks, and a sweatshirt to bed all week. (My second years promised that I would eventually get cold here and I never believed them. Kay, you were right!) We had more rain in those 6 days than California has had all year. Then, my Mom got sick and had to stay in bed for two days, I got sick for a day, and there were no rental cars available on island. Despite it all, they were so excited to be in Pohnpei and be with me. My Dad took the opportunity to fix every broken thing he could find in our apartment, which meant almost daily trips to Ace Hardware. He also bravely took boxes full of junk outside, dumped them on the ground, and used the broom to whack all the cockroaches that ran out. Where brooms and cockroaches are concerned, that man is brilliant and hilarious. He came, he fixed, he killed cockroaches, he conquered. My sweet summer school students also enjoyed having 3 teachers instead of 1; everyday my parents would "report for duty" and do anything I asked of them.

All of my visitors this summer, but especially my parents, have reminded me that my commitment to Micronesia is not my own. I am here and I am learning, growing, and being challenged. But so are my parents, so is my brother and extended family, so are my friends. They have said 'yes' to Micronesia just as much as I have. They pray for me, they send packages, they listen to my stories, they write me letters, they cheer me on, they are my home team. 

One of the best parts of my parents visit was introducing them to everyone: my church family, my coworkers at PCS, my host family. Everyone was counting down the days until they would be here, always asking "When are they coming? When will they be here?" Everyone was excited, and I feel closer to my staff and host family thanks to their generosity and hospitality towards my parents. 

At this almost one year mark, having visitors this summer was exactly what I needed. It gave me confidence that I can welcome my two new first years (who come TOMORROW! WOO!) and guide them through how life is done here. It showed me how much I have learned about Pohnpeian and Pacific Island cultures. But mostly it encouraged me. It refilled my tank, helped me feel whole. I am ready to walk into year two, and my parents, Alex, and Myvy have played a huge role in that.

Thank you for your adventurous spirits, Mom and Dad. Thank you for helping me and laughing with me and doing life with me. Thank you for coming 5,416 miles to see me and for investing in the lives of so many Pohnpeians.

"When they finally had to leave, they were sad, but not for long. They all knew they would be together next summer." -The Relatives Came

We'll be together again next summer, on American soil, I promise.

Dad at Nan Madol

Getting shave ice on one of the few hot, non-rainy days!

Touring the US Navy Pacific Partnership Ship

Drinking coconuts!

Skirt shopping

Church uniforms!

Meeting my friends, the Japanese JICA volunteers!

Me with my real parents and host parents!

New racks up in the kitchen!
Thanks to my Dad, Ace Hardware, and a drill my borders will never come down!

The view from Cupid's Restaurant

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Relatives Came, Part 2

This is Myvy Ngo.

She is outrageous and she is an organizer. Anyone in her life will tell you that she "loves like a linebacker." And she paid one of the most expensive single airplane tickets in the world to come out here and visit me. But not to be a tourist and see all the sights, oh no. Her main purpose of the trip? To help me teach summer school and help organize our apartment and be there for me. Who travels over 5,500 miles just to help someone clean and organize their apartment and kill cockroaches? 

Myvy Ngo did. She is a champ.

Normal people in life try to hide all their clutter in closets or the basement when visitors come, but not me, not this time. I knew I couldn't do it alone. So, in hard moments of vulnerability I said, "Help." And she didn't judge me. She gave me a hug when I needed to cry about my second years leaving and told me to relax while she worked her magic and organized what she deemed our "Clearance Aisle" shelf into a beautiful, organized shelf. We ate shave ice and cooked and did life together, Micronesian style, for a few weeks. 

There's nothing better than making a commitment and having a friend who will not only stand by and support you in that commitment, but who dives into it, too. Myvy sends me a package every month and has read more articles about Micronesia than I have. She sends letters and postcards and reminds me that I am loved and cared for. She even sent packages to my community mates! Having her in my corner this year has helped me through some of the hardest moments of my service. 

She's the crazy, fun sister that I always wish I had. You're the best, Myvs, and I can't wait to be reunited next summer!

Sometimes you hike and it starts pouring and you take a picture

Gaining some altitude while climbing Sokehs Rock

Baby pineapple on top of Sokehs Rock

Myvy made a cake to celebrate Mio's birthday!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Relatives Came, Part 1

One of my favorite books as a child was The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, a book about a family that piles in their rainbow-colored station wagon to visit their relatives. Once they get there there's lots of hugging, eating, and fixing broken things until the relatives leave a few weeks later. 

My summer has been a Micronesian version of The Relatives Came. I count my blessings every day that so many people I love would travel over 5,500 miles just to see me. The visitors started with my brother flying in for a week before traveling on to spend the summer in Tokyo, Japan. He came during the last of my 2 weeks of vacation before summer school started, so we had the chance to visit my host family, hike, see some waterfalls, hang out with my second years before they left, and experience island living. It can be hard at times to put this experience into words, via skype or via blog writing. There are so many nuanced elements of culture, teaching abroad,  and living abroad that can only be experienced in that place. Now, my brother knows what I'm talking about when I say I went to Kitti over the weekend to visit my host family. He really understands what I mean when I tell him that the only thing I did on a Saturday was read and walk to get shave ice because it was too oppressively hot to do anything else. He understands, in ways that he wouldn't be able to had he not set foot on Micronesian soil himself. 

Alex, thanks for making it all the way over here to visit me. Thank you for treating me to good company and good food and being willing to do whatever I had planned for the day. You're the best, bro.

Our uniforms for church. We got so many compliments!

At Nan Madol

Myvy and I on one of the Nan Madol bridges

The view of Sokehs Rock right outside church.

The view from Cupid's Restaurant

Monday, July 13, 2015

Speed 2.0

            Three nights a week my church offers a ladies fitness class in the Sunday School room. We do a 25-minute workout video, chat about life and get very, very sweaty. There is a level of sweat here, working out in almost 100% humidity, that is out of this world. I thought I’d known sweat before coming to the FSM, but trust me, sweating here is on a whole other level. One of our hardest workouts is called Speed 2.0, 25-minutes of constant jumping, hopping, lunging, and moving. Your feet move fast and don’t stop until it’s over.

            My summer has felt exactly like that workout. I’ve sped from one responsibility to the next, one visitor to the next, one activity to the next. Teaching summer school, organizing and cleaning the apartment, saying good-bye to Meredith, Kristin, and Brittany, showing off Pohnpei via hikes and host family visits, playing tour guide, tutoring a Korean family in English, planning in country orientation for my two new volunteers, and welcoming many JV visitors from Chuuk. They’ve all been good responsibilities, things I have done happily and gratefully, things that have nourished me in ways I didn’t know I needed. But I’ve had my fair share of emotional and overwhelmed moments, too. You probably know the feeling. So much to do, too little time. And then, out of nowhere, those magic moments happen, like the other night when Annie and I were having dinner. When you sit with a friend and you talk about the things that have changed you this year, the things that have hurt you and the things that have healed you. It is those quiet moments that ground me. They remind me that God is doing a good work in me and in my service here, even when I can’t see it or feel it or believe it.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Re-O/Dis-O: Pisar

Most millionaires pay thousands of dollars to rent private islands, but here in the FSM you can do it for something like $10 a day. Once a year all of the JVs in the FSM get together for a week known as Re-O/Dis-O, a retreat for first and second years to relax, regroup, and reflect. We, the Pohnpei JVs, flew to Chuuk and combined forces with the 8 JVs there. I hadn't seen the other first year volunteers since orientation in July, so to say I was excited to hug Annie, Ian, Jason, Mel, and Mary was an understatement. We stayed on the main island of Chuuk, Weno, for a night before taking a bumpy, laughter-filled boat ride to the edge of the Chuuk Lagoon. Our final destination was a teeny tiny island called Pisar, a little slice of heaven in the middle of the North Pacific.

This is Pisar, where hammocks and hermit crabs abound.

A picture of Pisar from the water

Hammocks, hammocks, and more hammocks

Twelve Jesuit Volunteers and one Program Coordinator took a week to regroup. Under the shade of palm trees we reflected and shared, had moments of quiet solitude and moments of great community. Getting 12 young teachers together after 7 months apart (or for the second years a whole year apart) means there are a lot of funny student stories, culture stories, and community stories to catch up on. 

Living in another country, especially a developing one (in an entirely different geographic area of the world than you've ever lived before) is about as wild as it can get. We're constantly on the go teaching and helping our staff and schools in extra ways, so taking a week of personal time was a real treat. We had a few retreat sessions each day and time to relax, read, play cards, snorkel, sit in hammocks, or spend your time however you pleased. You can wade through the water to one of the near-by islands, walk to the edge of the reef and watch the waves break, or bask in the white sand and perfectly clear water.

Community time is always better when a hammock is involved!
Retreat session

Looking out at neighboring islands

The sunsets were breathtaking and the company couldn't have been better. On our last night, there were a few moments where the second years honored the first years and the first years celebrated the second years. Our elaborate plan involved coconuts (which we husked ourselves), traditional clothing made of palm fronds, a bonfire, lots of theatrics, and a healthy helping of sentimentality. It was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip.

But, undoubtedly one of my other favorite moments was discovering this...

the best shower in all of Micronesia!! In my book, this outdoor bucket shower wins the award for Best View While Showering. Come on, soaping up with this view? Can it get any better?! I think not. I can't wait to go back to Pisar next year, but in the meantime there is summer school to teach (starting tomorrow), second years to say good-bye too, friends and family to say hello to, and much more! 

All the volunteers
The ladies of PNI. Mer, Britt, Kristin, and myself