Thursday, December 1, 2011

We close with humility, visceral humility

[I left Pohnpei on November 8, 2011. True to form, I'm updating my blog about one month late. What's unique about this post, though, is that it will be my last.]

Leading up to my departure, I was flying high. Full of emotion, excitement, fear and all sorts of conflicting desires. I was amped up. Between my host family and my friends on island, I must have had 5 or 6 goodbye parties. For two whole weeks, we went on picnics, had feasts & dinner parties, and made speeches & toasts. I laughed, cried, hugged lots of people, and shook lots of hands. I got thanked for my service many times, and tried to articulate my deep gratitude for everything that had been given to me. In my mind I knew how lucky I was to have lived my experiences on Pohnpei, how much I loved my island family, and how much I would miss them when I got home.

But as fate would have it, my appreciation got a whole lot deeper.

If you follow other PCV blogs, I'm sure you've heard stomach bug horror stories. Amoeba. Parasites. The whole nine yards. Well, I almost got through my Peace Corps service completely unscathed by this nonsense. Almost. During my last 48 hours on island, however, it was my turn.

I think what happened is that I overloaded my schedule, didn't eat or sleep enough which sucker-punched my immune system, and subsequently caught a silly bacterial infection that was going around the island. The Peace Corps doctor thought it could have been stress-related. My host mother thought maybe I had eaten something that had been contaminated by flies ... food from somewhere other than our house, obviously. Maybe all of these explanations are true. Regardless, two days before I was scheduled to fly away, I became a complete invalid.

Afterwards, a chipper fellow PCV quipped that I was basically losing fluids through every orifice of my body. I'll narrow that description to just the ups and the downs of my digestive system. But it certainly did seem that my body was on a mission to rid itself of fluids, violently and unrelentingly. I was a mess, my strength had abandoned me, and I couldn't rely on myself anymore.

And that's where my host family comes in. I may have mentioned before that both my host parents are local doctors. Well, once they found out I was sick, they went to work. They gave me plenty of drinking coconuts. They rubbed my back and arms. They even made me a medicinal tea and then mixed in warm coconut water so that it would taste better to me.

It would have worked, too, if I had been patient with myself and sipped the remedies slowly. But I gulped it all down in an effort to expedite my healing. And it all came back up, with a vengeance. But I was not abandoned because I had my host family.

I made a mess of my room; my host mother patiently cleaned up after me. I reported that the Peace Corps doctor asked me to come to the hospital for an IV and some meds; my host father convinced my uncle to lend us his taxi so they could drive me there. Both my host parents accompanied me into the emergency room and sat through the English-language discussion of my symptoms and treatment, even though neither of them speak English fluently. They brought provisions for my overnight stay -- blankets, towels, a bucket for accidents (thankfully not used) -- and they would have stayed with me had I asked them.

After a good night of sleep and a bag and a half of IV fluid, I was feeling stronger. Before I was released from the hospital I had a parade of visitors -- my host sister and cousin, the Peace Corps doctor, and my good friend Suze all made appearances and kept me company. Suze even ran my errands for me and brought me milk crackers, ramen, and gatorade to nurse me back to health.

In a time where I could have been struck by the bad luck and loneliness of spending my last full day on island in the hospital, I never felt unlucky or alone. If anything, I felt inexpressibly grateful for just how cared for I had been, both that weekend and my whole time as a PCV. That day was a representation of my entire Peace Corps experience in miniature: it was something I foolishly believed I could manage by myself that actually taught me how much I need to rely on other people, too. I expected complete independence and instead was schooled in interdependence.

So as I flew away to strike out on my own, I took with me an abiding love and appreciation for the people who have shaped (and will shape) my path.

Kalahngan en Kupweromwail!
Thank you all very much!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Too Good at Island Time

Today I missed my “last dance” because of island time.

Let me back up a bit. Today is Education Day, which means that all the educators on the island celebrate learning by taking a day off school. The event was held at PICS, the high school in Kolonia. Everyone assembles at 9am to hear speeches, sing songs, dance dances, play games, and eat. This is how we celebrate everything else, so it works for education, too.

On Tuesday of this week, I was conscripted into the Madolenihmw teachers’ dance team. We met at MHS (Mad. High School) for a couple of hours each afternoon – three days of practice in all for those, like me, who joined a bit late. (The early birds started last week, apparently.) Although some men joined in the signing, the dancers were all women. We learned three dances: a locomotive one to make an entrance, a stationary one to perform in the middle, and another locomotive one to make our exit. The dances were primarily shuffling feet with lots of swiveling hips, accompanied by sign language-inspired hand motions to act out the words of the songs. All very typical for PNI dance.

It was great fun to go to dance rehearsals this week. The special education teacher at my school and I carpooled each afternoon. We’ve never been especially close, and it was a great opportunity to bond with her. She bragged to the other teachers about how fast I learned the moves. It was also the first time I’d had any major time to interact with other teachers in my municipality. There were a few familiar faces from past teacher trainings and meetings, but this was the first time we had a fun project to work on together.

Needless to say, I was pretty pumped about our performance today. I had my steps down. I had my “uniform” all in order – black skirt (the one with my name embroidered on it) and red shirt (a tank top from The Village Hotel that I turned inside out.

Principal had given me a schedule of the day’s events and I had everything planned out. I got in to town early this morning to take care of some errands. In a stroke of devious brilliance, I had intended to arrive around noon, in order to skip the speeches but partake in the food and the dancing.

However, when I was walking to the event around 12:15, I spotted my principal driving away from it. He pulled over and said, “Mollie! Your group is dancing right now!”

Sure enough, the entertainment section of the day was in full swing and my group had already performed. I snuck in and sat with my group, drawing many cries of: “You’re late! You missed it!” They said they had done a good job, but it would have been even better if I had been there.

So, with two and a half weeks left on Pohnpei, I have finally adapted to the point that I’m even later than the rest of the island’s “island time.” I guess I can’t get away with showing up three hours late and expecting to be on time, now, can I?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My impending nuptials

Or, my return to the States. Because with every Pohnpeian I talk to, these two subjects are inexplicably linked. This is strange and amusing to me for a variety of reasons, not least of all being the fact that looking for a husband is NOWHERE near the top of my to-do list. But here are a few examples of how the topic follows me around. (Translated & approximated from Pohnpeian)

Dialogue A
[While walking to school]
Middle-aged Pohnpeian man: Good morning, Mollie!
Me: Good morning!
Middle-aged Pohnpeian man: Find a Pohnpeian husband so that you don’t leave!
Me: Maybe one day. (This is how you brush someone off in an indirect culture)

Okay, so this one kind of makes sense and is flattering (in a place where telling single girls to get married isn’t considered sexual harassment or meddling). To me it says, “We like you and want you to settle here!” mixed with “Pohnpei is the best. Pohnpeian men are the best. Why go elsewhere?”

Dialogue B
[In the teachers’ office, after school]
Female coworker: So what will you do when you get back to America?
Me: Oh, you know, visit my friends and family. Maybe find a job or figure out grad school.
Female coworker: You should find a husband right away.
Me: Maybe…

Depending on the coworker, the conversation either ends there, or we get into an interesting comparison of cultures, e.g., what wonderful things life can hold for me as a 20-something woman without any dependents.

Dialogue C
[Afternoon in the kitchen – I’m 100% at the same table as the conversation]
Host mother: Mollie leaves in November!
Visiting woman: Wow, you’ll miss her. Will she get married and come back?
Host mother: Maybe one day. Our white daughter with skin the color of an eggshell is not in a hurry to get married.
Visiting woman: [under her breath w/sidelong glance at me] How old is she?
Me: 24.

Then the conversation branches in two directions. First, gossiping about the prospects of my 25-yr-old host sister, who is also unmarried. Then talking about my actual parents’ ages upon marrying & having children and comparing the size of American & Pohnpeian families (most Americans don’t have pigs to feed and bananas to pick; most Pohnpeians need more than two kids to get all those chores done).

In summary: I’m single. That fact really bothers most Pohnpeians. I hope someday to return here with a husband and a kid or two to put their minds at ease. Maybe in like 10 or 15 years…

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I have a friend who blogs

... and she remembers to update much more regularly than I do. So, again, I'm going to let Suze tell you about one of the highlights of my summer! Everything went exactly as she said it did. I'm a lucky, lucky girl!


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pacific Partnership - by Guest Blogger

Hello! Kathy, Mollie's mom, posting upon Mollie's request.

Have a look at was happening on Pohnpei, FSM, when Mollie's parents were lucky enough to be there in July 2011!

Micronesia was I think Pacific Partnerships' fifth country in the Pacific, and the final stop.

They had clinic for three days at Mollie's school and she helped translate for triage one day. There were
also clinics at the main hospital and at another school on the other side of the island. We saw the road scattered with many people walking to get medical care, more as the word got out.

We had fun watching softball and soccer games of local teams vs navy / marines teams. Must say the Pohnpei Football Club did shine on the day!!! (Kathy's a big fan!) Within one or two day's time, we saw an entire elementary school completely painted by a team working LONG days!

We worked with extra-duty military team volunteers when we were helping the Peace Corps Volunteers
with story time at the library. They were reading to the kids one-on-one! The "One World, Many Stories" theme sure was prescient and came true right in Pohnpei this summer!

The navy band played big concerts twice at the softball field by the Spanish Wall (ie town center) in Kolonia and also performed at Mollie's school to entertain the people waiting in line. They are really good and have a lot of styles of music they play with accomplishment and energy! The July 4th concert was quite fun, I heard.

And Pacific Partnership participants did all this in full fatigue uniform including boots -- except the athletes! -- in Noteworthy Heat!

I don't know if most of the world is aware of this remarkable joint effort by military and medical volunteers from many countries, but it was amazing! They lived on a big navy vessel anchored out at sea and boarded the landing craft at about 4:00 in the morning to be in place on various locations on island on time. They got back to the ship about 8:00 pm every night.

Posted with appreciation by Kathy!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Graduation Speech

Graduation ceremonies for Lukop Elementary took place on May 27, 2011. This year my eighth graders asked me to say a few words for the occasion. This was lucky for me because I love them a lot, and I had plenty to say (10 minutes worth!).

[Video Here!]

The text of what I said is below. The first Pohnpeian part is just the introduction, acknowledgment of high titles, etc. Then there's my speech in English and the Pohnpeian translation (translated by my principal and practiced together ... aww, bonding!). Lastly is a surprise presentation of Math Olympiad certificates the principal asked me to do.


Kalahngan menindei,
Thank you, MC.

Kaselehlieh mainkoa,
Hello everyone,

Mwohn meh koaros ei tungoal sakaradahn wahu pahn kupwuren samatail koht, wauniki lukodo koaros nan palien tiahk, mwomwohdiso oh government.
Before everything, I want to give thanks to God and pay respect to the traditional and government leaders present.

Kumwail ketin kupwureie,
[I'm not actually sure what this means ... Principal just told me that people say it.]

Mwurin ansou kis, irail me kesepwil kan pahn patohwan arail tungoal kisin likoun kadehdeh me re neksangehr rahnwet. Ahpw mowe I pahn ekis patohieng ihr ni wai ah mwuri I pahn kawehweh ni lokaiahn Pohnpei.
In a little while, the graduates will receive their diplomas. But first I will say a few words in English and translate them into Pohnpeian.

To the Class of 2011, My Very Dear Friends,

Our time together in the classroom at Lukop Elementary School is now over. However, I still have time for one last vocabulary lesson:

In English we have two words for this kind of ceremony. One is graduation, and the other is commencement. “Graduation” means moving on from one thing to something higher, and “commencement” means “a beginning.” Neither word means “the end.” We use these words at graduations because today we are not only celebrating the things you have achieved in the past (“past tense”), but we are also celebrating all the possible things you will accomplish in the future (“future tense”).

So although my time as your teacher is over, I stand here to praise what wonderful students you are and to celebrate the exceptional graduates you will become. In the last 18 months, I have seen each of you grow in confidence and find your voice. You were quiet and shy, and now you stand in front of your families to give speeches and sing songs. You were academically unsure, but you showed dedication to your studies. Now each of you has passed the test and will go to high school next year. Each and every one of you has a bright future.

This November, I, too, will celebrate a commencement – I will go back home to start the rest of my life in America. Like you, and because of you, I have grown a lot in the last 18 months. You have changed my life. I taught you some grammar and a few silly songs, but you taught me how to work together, how to support one another, and how important family is. Thank you for being my family here. I have been blessed to be a part of your present. I will continue to cheer for you as you commence your life as elementary school graduates. Through hard work you have the potential to change your world for the better. Although I won’t be on Pohnpei anymore, I am so excited to see what you will do and what you will be.

Congratulations to the Graduates!

[Translation of the English above]
Ong kumwail me kesepwil kan,

Atail ansoupene nan perehn sukuhl nan Lukop Elem. School e nekier. Ahpw, ansouet ahi ansoun kasukuhlihkin kumwail keimwseklahn lepin lokaia riau.

Lepin lokaia riau kin doadoahk ni lokaiahn wai ong soangen kasarawiet. Ehu iei graduation, ah ehu commencement.

Graduation wehwehki kosousang ehu dake kosoudalahng ehu dake me ilehsang.

Commencement wehwehki tapiada de tepda. Sohte ehu rehn lepin lokaia riauet me wehwehki nekier de imwseklahr.

Lepin lokaia riauet kin doadoahk ni kesepwil, pwe kitail sohte kasarawih pweidah kan me ke wiadahr de ke kanekelahr ahpw kitail pil kasarawih pweidahkan me ke pahn wia ni ansou me pahn kohdo mwuhr kan.

Eri, I solahr wia amwail sounpadahk, ahpw I patohda mwohmwail ansoukiset pwe ien kepinga uen amwail wia tohnsukuhl mwahukei, oh pil pahn wiahla aramas pweidahkei ehu rahn. Nan erein sounpwong 18 me neklahr, I kilangehr emen emen kumwail eh keirda ni koapwoaropwor, oh saledek. Mahs kumwail me nenen oh namenek ah met kumwail kakehr kesihkerda mwohn peneinei oh koul oh kapahrek. Kumwail sohte nohk ahniki koapwoaroapwoar ahpw sang ni amwail ngoang oh tohnmetei kumwail koaros pil pahsehr des en high school oh pahn karadahr nan high school pahr kohkohdoh. Kumwail koaros pahn pweida nan amwail ouremen.

Nan nohpempehn pahret, I pil pahn duehte kumwail me pahn tapiade ahi mour nan ahi wasa nan wein America. Duei kumwail oh pwehki kumwail, soahng tohto I koledi nan erein sounpwong 18 me neklahr. Kumwail inenen wekedala eimour. I padahkieng kumwail lokaiahn wai oh koul en wai, ah kumwail padahkihengie duen doadoahkpene, sawaspene oh kesempwalpen peneinei. Kalahngan en kumwail pwehki amwail wiahkinie kisehn amwail peneinei. I inenen pahiamwahu pwehki atail patpene, ahi sawas sohte pahn tokedi sang mahs leledo met oh pil pahn kohkohlahte. Ma kumwail pahn nantiheng amwail sukuhl oh doadoahk kumwail kak kamwahuiala amwail wasahn kousoanakan.

I solahr pahn mi pohnpei ahpw I udahn pereniki kilang de rong dahme kumwail pahn wia oh dahme kumwail pahn wiahla ehu rahn.

Congradulations ong kumwail me kesepwil kan oh ni wahu, kalahngan en kupwuramwail koaros.

Ansoukiset, I pahn patohwen weliandi ohpis ahpw mehlel principal oh patohwanda kisinlikoun kaping de certificate riau ong tohn sukuhl riemen me iangehr towehda Math Olympiad de siai en wahntuhke ong pwihn kawalou me wiawi ni May 12 en pahr wet.)
Now I will represent the office and the principal in presenting these two certificates to two students who competed in the 8th grade Math Olympiad on May 12 this year.

Eri en kak sanasal me ira riemen pwukat iang alehdi nempe siluh nan Pohnpei.
These two students placed third in Pohnpei.

Eri tohnsukuhl riemen pwukat iei
The two students are:

1. Ivan Jerome Usiel
[The class' valedictorian]
2. Michelle Olter
[The class' saluditorian ... and the principal's daughter!]

I men peki kitail koaros en ketkihiengira ehu lapalahn lopwolopw.
I ask everyone to give them a big round of applause!