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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