Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Life After Yap

Well... I left Yap a little earlier than expected. Actually, it was a lot earlier than expected. Most of you who know me, knew it was coming. Ultimately I had to make an incredibly difficult decision, and the decision was that the best thing I could do for myself was to leave.

This really isn't the place to get into the gritty details of the decision, reasons, etc. but throughout this entire wonderful experience I knew that I had to do what was best for me and my own well being, despite wanting so very much to help others in a country as beautiful as Micronesia.

So, after many many hours and many flights I made it home where my friends and family welcomed me back with open arms to the life I once had. It's funny how quickly my views on the world begin to change after an experience like the Peace Corps. I learned, I laughed, I cried, and I experienced something amazing/terrifying/wonderful/weird/unique/and soo much more. I appreciate little things more, I find it easier to smile at the sunrise, and not frown when I can't have everything I wish I could.

Now, I'm back home.. with my man, my dog, my new students, my new house, and my new life... from the end of one journey starts the beginning of another journey. Let's hope it's a fabulous one!

Thanks to all of the people, friends, family, and strangers who supported me during my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer.. I'll always be grateful!

Much Love,

Monday, January 12, 2009

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Holy Packages!!!

Wow.... so this Yapese lady is sure feeling the love... which was quite needed after a scare with Dengue Fever... luckily I don't have it, but I have been sick this past week and very achy..

So, when I came to town today and had SIX packages... and last week I got FIVE... Wow, did I feel the Love! And it's 9 days until my birthday.. so happy birthday to me!!

So, thank you ever so much everyone... Now I have plenty of treats, great new flipflops, a watch, new books for the school, school supplies, football (all the saints games!), Venezualan chocolate.... fake gold grillz..hehe... tupperware, granola, bars, nips (you crack me up Jeremy), lotion, coffee, stickers, DVD's, sunscreen (5 types), and more bugspray....even one very special package that took a boat ride all the way here and a 2 month vacation at sea, haha and lots more!!

FANTASTIC!!!! THANK YOU ALL SOOOO MUCH! You don't know how much it really means to me and the kids at school!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

My Life as a Yapese Dancer

Part of being a Peace Corps volunteer is integrating into the community. Joining community events and trying to really become a part of the local scene. Here in Yap one of the oldest and most important cultural thing you can do is join traditional Yapese Dances. The dances are serious and each village that performs is performing something that represents their culture, their village, and their history. The dances tell stories of the past and are truly a beautiful thing to see.

So, months ago when I heard my church would be performing a dance, I said I'd love to join if I could. Apparently I could, so since then I've been going 2 or 3 times a week to practice my Yapese Women's Sitting Dance. It hasn't been easy. They don't really ever speak English to me, and I don't know enough Yapese to understand all of what's going on, so mostly I just sit and try to follow along.

Up untill yesterday we wore our grass skirts and shirts, but yesterday began a whole new adventure, the topless practice. Eeek! So, sitting at church, 30 Yapese women and I took off our tops and practiced all afternoon. Now, you all saw the pictures, with all those pretty flowers covering me up from my Peace Corps dance. I didn't know how lucky I was then. Well, there were no flowers this time, just a single black string called a murfow that hangs between my breasts. It was kind of strange, especially since, for the first time in all of our practices all the village men and chiefs came to "make sure the dance was going well". So, there I was sitting in my grass skirt, clapping my hands, waving my arms, trying to look graceful... with half the elder men in Gagil watching.

The first official performance is January 24th at a church in another municipality, and then we will be performing at a huge celebration March 1st for Yap Day. From now on we have practice every day and no more shirts are allowed. So, from this point on I'll be spending at least one part of every day here in Yap without a shirt. Strange, but I guess by the end of all of this I'll be much more comfortable with myself.

It makes me laugh to think how much time I'll be spending at my Catholic Church half naked. I can only imagine the reactions of priests in the U.S. if 30 women decided to start hanging out dancing outside the church everyday topless. I'll probably get some pictures at some point, but if they get posted I'll have to find a way to censor it so that the entire internet population doesn't see as much as the locals can.

Much Love,

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2009 The Year of Candy Licking Lizards

It's truly hard to believe we've moved up and out of 2008 into the vast new year of 2009. Wow! I wonder what all this new year has in store for me. 2008 was full of surprises and excitement, challenges and successes! So, here's hoping that 2009 will be just as exciting and productive for me.

For New Years Eve a Peace Corps friend and I rang in the New Year at my little house in the Jungle with a small bottle of White Wolf Vodka (the cheapest vodka on the planet..greatly cherished in Yap) and a toast of Ameretto (Thanks George). It was simple, but nice. We chatted for hours about our adventure so far here in Yap and Micronesia. The pros and cons... the successes and the difficulties. We talked about love and distance, about friends and family... about policy and politics...about the other Micro 75s... three of which have already ETed (gone home), so now we're down from 28 to 25 volunteers. All fun stuff, and at midnight I called the U.S. and wished my man Happy New Years from the future! It was good

I've come to learn over the months that if I fail to recognize and celebrate the smallest of accomplishments here that I will be absolutely miserable. So with 2009 now upon me, I'm making the effort to really notice little thing and find happiness in any way that I can. The truth is, there are many things in this journey of discovery that haven't gone as planned, and some things that have gone just downright badly, but I'm making this work by willing myself to look at the details that shine... finding the beauty and letting the darkness fade in the distance as much as possible.

So, in my quest to notice the small things (once again)... I sat and watched as one of the ten thousand lizards that lives in my house with me sat licking the candy wrapper of a CreamSavers candy for about 15 minutes... It was so darned cute. Gheckos are really quite interesting to watch as they go about their day...sometimes enjoying a sweet candy or two. So, thanks Robin for the candy in my Christmas package... it gave me and my lizards hours of entertainment.

A Few Little 2008 Peace Corps Accomplishments
*I taught my neighbors and a bunch of kids to play UNO and shared lots of laughs playing with them
*30 7th and 8th grade students know at least one extra thing about the English language that they didn't know before I came here
*My library has some new books and brightly new painted bookshelves... and the beginning of a book catalog
*I've shared lots of facts and stories about Yapese culture with everyone who has read my blog
*I've learned how to respect enough Yapese customs that I'm no longer making an ass out of myself in the village
*I joined a Women's Dance
*I sent stickers and pencils and hair ties and other goodies out to the outer islands to a family who needed them
*I learned how to descale, gut, and cook a fish... and I relearned the value of sharing whatever I have with those around me
*I held lots of little baby girls and made them smile or fall asleep in my arms
*I've practices patience, faith, respect, and courage when facing things that were difficult
*I reached out to a child and offered a safe place if they ever needed it

So Happy New Year my friends and family! I miss you lots and I hope that 2009 is filled with great joy and discovery for all of you! Thank you so much to Dad, Mary, Steve, Sabina, Ann, George, Jeremy, Christian, Jill, Mindy, Racheal, Robin, and others who have sent Christmas goodies or cards or well wishes... It makes my day knowing how much love and support I have back home!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Step Right Up to the Jesus Kissing Booth

Christmas Dinner... Served on a Coconut Palm Plate
(The Crab is a Coconut Crab brought from the Outer Islands of Yap)
This beautiful old turtle was sitting on the lawn of a neighbors house still alive.... and then.... well... he became food
A Very Disco Christmas Mass
Interesting Fact: After midnight mass on Christmas Eve the people attending all go up and lined up to go to the little nativity native house covered in christmas lights where a tiny Jesus figurine was. One by one the people filed up and kissed baby Jesus. When my family motioned me to go, I stood up and got in line empty handed. That is when I realized there was a offering basket in front of the Nativity scene and each person who kissed Jesus had money they put in the basket first. Well... I had left my basket on the floor where I was sitting, so I didn't have money. So, I guess I stole a kiss from baby Jesus, but then afterwards I snuck in a buck.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunburned Christmas

Merry Christmas! School is out now, all is well. I've got a sunburn... certainly is different from Christmas in the U.S. No snow.. .not even a slight chill in the air. In fact, it's darn hot... and my nose is pink. Friday was a fun day at school for the kids, no classes, just games and activities. Over the next two weeks I'll be going in on occasion to do more work at the library and basically staying in the village. Christmas Eve will include midnight mass wearing my grass skirt at church. Then Christmas Day I'm making spagetti for a party that my neighbors are having. So Spaghetti and Grass Skirts and Sun Burns... just another Christmas in the Pacific.
Much Love, Joy, Laughter, Peace, And Happiness to all of you on the other side of the world!
Merry Christmas!
Children reading makes me giddy with joy..... (and it's recess time too)
Kids looking through the library book piles, since we're repainting the shelves and walls
I love these kids!
This is my Christmas Present... smiling kids with balloons and tinsel on their heads

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Drinking the Water with Low Caste Bananas

When you first come to any developing nation, usually you are bombarded with warnings. DON'T DRINK THE WATER! Of course, Micronesia is no exception to this. Part of our medical training showed us no less than 4 ways to safely treat drinking water before consuming. Then we learned about all the parasites and other diseases that can happen to us if we fail to do as we're told. One in particular included pictures of the worms that you would actually puke up after they grow in your intestine for weeks... or months.. EEEK! Of course, I was really good about this, boiling my water, drinking the water Peace Corps provided for us during training, and avoiding water from the tap and rainwater. And...unlike others in my original training group... who drank lots of Sakau made with untreated water... I didn't get sick in Pohnpei.

Then training ended, and I'm on my own in my village. Well, luckily my host mom normally boils drinking water and puts it in our freezer, so i thought I was doing pretty good. Of course, then I have to go to a party with huge things of ice water and koolaid (think it's boiled?) probably not. And then there are the times I go to neighbors and they make me a big glass of water or tea mix or koolaid.... not boiled either. But it's rude to refuse, so I drink it happily...if not cautiously. I still felt pretty good about not drinking too much untreated water... and most days my tummy seems pretty happy.

Now, I should have been suspect at the fact that my school has one of those great water cooler/heaters... with the big 5 gallon water drums. Wow, fresh water... of all the things the school lacks... like when we sometimes run out of printing paper... we always seem to have those big water containers. Awesome! So I make sure every day to fill my water bottle before going home, just incase we're out of boiled water, and I drink lots at school. I don't want to be dehydrated now do I?

Well... funny thing happened the other day... I'm sitting outside on a break between classes and I see one of the teacher with the empty water drum...... and what does he do? Goes straight to the tap outside, fills it, and puts it back on the water dispenser. Hmmrph? So, you mean all this time I've been drinking untreated water? YUP... looks like it.

Luckily, I don't yet seem to be vomiting worms, which is always a plus. So, I guess I have a pretty tough tummy after all.

On a different note: I ate a fantastic banana today... It was red on the outside, shaped kinda like a mango, and neon yellow and squishy on the inside. And now my pee is also neon Yellow. Fantastic! Lots of Vitamin A! Yummy Yummy.

I heart Neon Yellow (Low Caste) Bananas! p.s. They're low caste because they grow up, not down like most others.... so only the low caste look up, and refuse to look down... or something like that. Low Caste Bananas Rock!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Beneath the Beauty

Looking around, ideal, bliss
Tropical paradise it seems
Bathing in Equitorial Sun
Lush vegetation, smiling faces
Ahh, the beauty of this place

Rub your eyes, look closer
take off the shades
to see the scars
Tongue bleeding
from months of biting it

Coconut palms hide drunken messes
The pain of alcoholic hell
Jobs suffer, families suffer, bodies suffer
Budweiser profits and smiles
Even granting us special cans...
Bud Nation

Hibiscus flowers hide violence
Drunken fights and domestic scars
women bracing themselves
voices halted by years of tradition
South meets North, high meets low,
Husband meets wife, drunk arms swinging

Grass Skirts hide failing bodies
chew rotting teeth
tobacco granting cancer
diabetes robbing kids of parents
Spam profits, Pepsi profits, Yap loses
Imported addictions thriving
Learning how modern influence can kill

So come, with your cameras ready,
capture the beauty, watch dances,
enjoy the view
But know this....
what you see is only the surface
For even in paradise, an iceberg lies below

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sitting With Chiefs

Another week in the rollercoaster that is my life now in Yap. It's up and down, up and down.... yaaaayyyyy... and then... ahhhhhhh... as I go swooping downward, only to find myself trucking back up minutes later. So is life.
Village life certainly is different from the routine of training. In training I was busy from morning untill 6pm when I went home.... now I'm still busy, but it's a very different kind of busy. Now my days are filled with writing lessons, planning things for the library, researching book donations, keeping calm when teachers fail to show up or even call, painting, gutting fish, learning Yapese dance, and of course sitting with chiefs.

Now it isn't everyday that you sit with a chief, but it happens quite a bit for me. And when a chief says sit... you sit. So, the other day I was walking back from the place where I do my laundry, a 10 minute walk, with a giant bag of freshly dry clothing across my shoulder when I noticed an old man sitting in front of the road that leads to my home, facing the driveway, in the middle of the road. Interesting? (Did I mention it was 7pm, and in minutes would be completely dark) So, one of the men in the village said "V, do you have time.... please sit." So there I sat in the middle of the road and met the eldest man in the village... our village elder and the High Chief of a neighboring municipality. He didn't speak any English, but another man was there to translate what I couldn't understand. The men in my village had just had a meeting where they discussed my presence in the village and how they had to keep me safe and secure... punishment "beheading....joked one of the men"... actually the punishment if some of the young men in the village bother me is Stone Money, Shell Money, and possible banishment from the village, Wow! So, our elder, this tiny old High Chief sat in the road (slightly intoxicated) asking me how I felt here, if I wanted to help... and repeating "Siro...Siro... Siro... " over and over... which means "excuse me or apologies" Did I mention cars drive down this road?... where we three were all sitting in the middle of... in the dark! But, like I said... when chiefs say sit... you sit.. and that's just what I did. I sat, talked, and pondered about all the things my village must think about this young American living up the dirt hill in their village. Just another day in the village

I'm getting better at village work now also, cleaning, gardening, cooking. I know when Americans hear those three words certain images pop into your head.

*Cleaning... Mrs. Clean with her mop and shining floor, dusting shelves....
*Gardening... Kneeling in a 10 by 10 patch of tomatoes and flowers, wearing a big hat and gardening gloves, pulling weeds...
*Cooking... Preheating the oven for garlic bread, going to the refrigerator to get veggies and butter... boiling water for pasta.. sauteeing onions.... or if you're in a rush.. just pop leftovers in the microwave... all in your kitchen, bright and full of appliances...


CLEANING IN YAP... First things first... get out your machete. Cleaning here involves machetes.. Last weekend I worked from morning until evening cleaning a taro patch... knee deep in mud, cutting (or trying to cut) overgrowth in an abandoned taro patch that the jungle had reclaimed. I came home, dirty, covered in mud, sweaty, and sore... kinda makes me wish for that Mr. Clean image with a mop

Back from the Taro Cleaning

COOKING IN YAP.. Well, without stoves, ovens, microwaves, toasters, and all the other little conveniences of modern kitchens, cooking can be quite interesting. Steps to making a Yapese meal.

Step 1: Use coconut husks to build a fire in the kitchen house
Step 2: Scrub the mud off the taro or yam, then using large knives to cut the outside of the taro off
Step 3: Clean the fish (Yes that means descaling and gutting.. I know dad would be proud)
Step 4: Go to the garden/jungle to gather greens
Step 5: Husk, cut open, and grate one copra (mature coconut)... squeeze with water with your hands to make coconut milk
Step 6: Combine the fish, coconut milk, and greens for a yummy soup.. while the taro boils.
Step 7: Relax..... it's hard work....
Step 8: finally eat and enjoy

My favorite time of day these days involves the time I spend working on the library at school. I've got a ton of work to be done, but things are beginning to happen. I've been writing everyone and every place I can think of to find books. I have managed to clean out most of the junk that was being stored in the library, and we've started repainting all the book shelves. Over the holidays I'll start recatologing what we have and dusting the books and donating so many of the books that are no use for my english language learners.... Some rotary club in California thought it would be a great idea to ship the elementary school cases of Very Old, Falling Apart, Adult novels from the 30s through 50s...

If you were a little kid learning to speak english... would these books look appealing? I think not!The kids helping me repaint the book shelves.. they want a library so bad!
The Library/Storage Space here at school