Thursday, December 10, 2009

Student work that brings a smile

Here are a couple of samples of student work that amused me. Thought I could pass them along to you. Both are from my 8th graders, although my 7th graders are adorable and funny, too. Maybe more so, for being younger.

This first one is from an assignment to write the lyrics to a song--either their own or one they've heard--and to mark the pronouns in it (we're doing parts of speech, you see). Although the student missed the memo about pronouns, I still thought it was a lovely bit of school-related holiday cheer:

My five Christmas days in school
By Sonia

On the first day of Christmas my true friend sent to me a student who likes to write songs.

On the second day of Christmas my true friend sent to me two sharp pencils, and a student who likes to write songs.

On the third day of Christmas my true friend sent to me three Christmas trees, two sharp pencils, and a student who likes to write songs.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true friend sent to me four Christmas presents, three Christmas trees, two sharp pencils, and a student who likes to write songs.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true friend sent to me five notebooks, four Christmas presents, three Christmas trees, two sharp pencils, and a student who likes to write songs.

This second one is from today's journal assignment to think of five nouns that are important to you and to write a sentence/draw a picture for each one. This student had nothing on his paper except for a lovely, detailed drawing of our classroom and this sentence:

“School is important to me because when I get to college I’ll take my refund.”

(Note: All College of Micronesia students receive a refund from the government to "save for their futures." Sometimes government funding is funny.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Quick hello!

Hi! Just wanted to wish everyone a Happy December and comment that time is flying by here. (Like, seriously, it's December already?! I've been a PCV for a month!) I'm adjusting gradually, and I feel like I'm making good connections with my family, coworkers and students, and I'm looking forward to my first Pohnpei Christmas. There's so much more to tell, but I've lacked significant time at a computer to compose my thoughts about/descriptions of the people and places that populate my life nowadays. However, my WONDERFUL American family has decided to send me a netbook for Christmas, so be expecting a marked improvement in blog post quality in 2010.

That said, thanks for reading and Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Faces in the Crowd

Sorry about the blog silence over these past few pivotal weeks. Settling into life as a full-fledged Volunteer has taken much of my energy, and I had little left to tell you about it! Even now I'm only going to give you an overall sketch because I've got to get on with my lesson plans for tomorrow.

But, on the whole, the thing about making a home for myself here is that my sense of belonging is coming in very slowly even though I have to jump right into family/teaching/life. Maybe it has to be that way for me to make strong connections that won't wear out over two years?

This feeling of nowness is so very different from training because the expectations of me are preceding my adjustment (training gave me nothing but time to adjust, I felt). But here, I land with a new family and am expected to belong to them for two years before we've found any kind of rhythm for living together. I get the same feeling at my school: I'm torn between wanting to get the lay of the land and needing to hit the ground running.

And the most disorienting part of all for me is not quite knowing the people of my community. For both my town and school I feel a little lost in the welcome of a large, interconnected group of people who all know who I am but who I don't yet know. There are easily a hundred people every day who can greet me with "Hello, Mollie" (or, more popularly, "Peace Corps!"), but to me most of them are just vaguely familiar faces. The heavy work of adjusting is forming those individual relationships--those friendships--that will help light my way to familiarity with my community here.

Those kinds of friendships are slow in coming, and it's still too soon to say who my support network is here. My immediate family, my principal, my counterparts have all at least made formal commitments to help me or to work with me. And I'm happy to say that a few of the other teachers at my school and a couple of the other women in the community have been warm and welcoming. So that gives me a handful of people here who I hope one day I can call friends.

I suppose it’s obvious that the urgent need to feel settled clashes with the slowness of relationship building. It’s also probably redundant to point out that this dilemma leads to some pretty serious homesickness. But the wonderfully good news is that just as I was feeling this loneliness the worst this past Friday afternoon, I had a chance to stop by the Peace Corps office and check my locker, which was overflowing with mail from home. So thank you for writing! Thanks EJ and Annie for giving me identical sentences of news (“The Yankees won the World Series. (boo)”). Thanks Britty for the package that finally arrived. Thanks Mrs. Ottoson for the great seasonal greetings & encouragement. Thanks Ruthanne for the note stuck in my locker. And thanks Mom & Dad for never letting up with the steady stream of letters, photoessays, and encouragingly silly tidbits. You all continue to remind me why I’m out here doing this, and that I’ve already got a pretty swell support network who loves me very much.

So thanks for that! And more on the mail front, it looks like my family has its own PO Box that you can use to send me mail more directly. So feel free to send mail either to PO Box 9 or to PO Box 1773, depending on if you want me to read your letter at the PC Office or at home.

So thanks for the encouragement and the love. I’ll be sure to let you know how it’s going after I’ve had a bit time here … today was my first day of classroom teaching, after all!

Happy Thanksgiving! I am thankful for this challenge, partly because it makes me that much more thankful to have you all in my life.

Monday, November 9, 2009

OMG! My school has internet!!!

Since last Friday I have officially become a PCV, I have moved in with my permanent family, and I have begun observing classes at my new school (today is my very first day!). I have so much to tell!

But I can't tell it in this blog post because I don't have any of it organized yet; I was working off the assumption that I wouldn't be online until the next time I went to the PC office in Kolonia.

Therefore, all I can say in this post is that when I arrived at school and reported for duty in the main office I was greeted by air conditioning, two computers, a functioning printer and copier, and internet access! It's dial-up and I have to use my own Telecom card, but this is NOT what I was expecting when my site was described as "remote."

Here's to rolling with it!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pictures are Up!

Thanks to Mom-the-longsuffering, you can see photos from LAX to Deketik here:


Musically Missing You!

Yesterday I made a psych-up playlist on my ipod. It is an array of up-tempo songs that make me glad, both for their groovy rhythms as well as for the people they make me think of while listening. Originally made to help me wake up in the morning, I found out yesterday that it doubles as really excellent afternoon walking music. It even works as lopwolopw music (aka: pounding your laundry on a rock with a club). Thought it would be fun to share!

“The Opposite of Hallelujah” Jens Lekman – EJ!
“1901” Phoenix – thesis dance parties with Pat
“Chicago” Sufjan Stevens – reminds me of this summer’s roadtrip
“Raspberry Beret” Prince – brother, again
“Dark Side of the Moon” from Mulan – the album is identified as “Misa’s Disney Masterpiece,” so I think that one would be obvious.
“Familia (Guy Sigsworth Remix)” Mirah – Hooray, FAP!
“I Want You Back” Jackson 5 – Pops, and CityStep, equally
“Heartland” George Straight – Papi
“Friends in Low Places” & “We Shall Be Free” Garth Brooks – ditto; “Friends” has an EXCELLENT beat for lopwolopw!
“The Bitch is Back” Elton John – The next three are Mama & her eclectic wonderfulness; I miss your LPs!
“Spanish Bombs” The Clash
“Beautiful” Carole King
“Short Skirt Long Jacket” Cake – Although friends here claim Cake is all about irony, I’ll continue to listen to this one and feel unironically empowered & awesome.
“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” & “Rosalita” Bruuuuuuuce – Mama, although 10th Ave is also a Pat dance party song
“California Girls” Beach Boys – From Erin, but encompasses all of home & high school
“Red Sweater” Aquabats – EJ, circa 1998-99

What were accidentally left of are “Shine Shine Shine” & “Box of Rain” for Laura & Emma. (Also, “I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress to Keep Dancing” by Mike Doughty, which has become a recent—and likely overplayed—anthem.) Although I did turn on “Box of Rain” sometime last week and accidentally triggered a heavy rainstorm, so I’ve got to watch out. I’m more powerful than I thought!

Anyway, I love and miss you all. You’re on my mind and I hope you’re doing well!

Highlights from the Final Weeks of Training

Fun at Home
My favorite niece Vannett turned 13 last Tuesday, and over the course of the week we had a lot of weeknights where I was home with the kids/teenagers. One night I made dinner!—a can of black beans, chicken, and salsa sent by Mom from Trader Joe’s served over the omnipresent rice. It was delicious and the family liked it! The other evenings we tended just to hang out, play with my ipod, cards, or camera. There were a couple of good photo shoots which revealed both new camera settings and unusual Pohnpeian proclivities (namely, that Pohnpeian boys like to goof around by dressing in drag). [Photos to be included if the internet will agree to load them!]

Schooling the Teacher
Last Thursday we had a teaching practicum. My partner, Amanda, and I were assigned to a 7th grade class of about 40 kids. We did a lesson about parts of speech and parts of a sentence, and then had some time left at the end to play a few games. The last one we played, Amanda put the words “The Federated States of Micronesia” on the board and we had them make as many nouns as possible using the letters on the board. While I was expecting stuff like “chair” and “ears,” the kids came up with a bunch of proper nouns, many of which were names of other countries and continents. So they taught me that Africa, Asia, America, Canada, etc, were all contained within the FSM.

Lukop at First Sight
On Friday, the day after the practicum and a week before swear-in, the trainees split up to shadow one of the 5 current PCVs on Pohnpei for the morning (Erica and I went to Awak to see Kate’s school). On the way home, we spontaneously decided to stop at our sites—Saladak for Erica and Lukop for me. By the time we got to Lukop, which is a ways off the main road around the island, it was almost 2pm on a Friday afternoon. Pohnpei is not known for having full days of school on Friday, so I was incredibly surprised to arrive to classrooms full of students quietly listening to their teachers. I talked to the principal briefly, and he told me that school goes until 2:30 every day. I was over the moon!

“Block Party” Kamadupw

On Saturday I went to another kamadupw on Temwan, but this time I got to see a kinder side to the ritual. The Nanmwarki was not there, and it seemed to be a smaller gathering all together. Ruthanne and I decided that this was more of a “block party” affair, since everyone seemed more relaxed and there was significantly less to-do: people got there later, the food was already ‘individually’ packaged, and there were NO pigs to slaughter! Also, there was catchy music and dancing, and lots of sitting around with sakau. Needless to say, we all had a great time.

Coming Up This Week:
Language Proficiency Interview on Thursday
Swear-In (with a traditional dance performed by the Trainee-Volunteers) on Friday
Meet & move in with my new family immediately after Swear-In.

A Pohnpeian Word

We got dictionaries a couple of weeks back, and they have rewarded us with some hilarious new additions to our vocabulary (see “A Pohnpeian joke” and use your imagination for the types of words you might find in a Pohnpeian-English dictionary). Here’s a favorite new word of a different variety [linguistic note: “Mw”s are pronounced like a deeper, longer “m” sound; same with “pw”s]:

mwenemwenei – to jiggle up and down like the fat on a fat person.

An explanation here is that it is considered beautiful and healthy to be “fat” (mworourou), which is anywhere from pleasantly plump to obese. So this word makes sense in the cultural context. And it’s an onomatopoeia, which I love.

A Pohnpeian Joke

I heard this one today in language class (told in English, not Pohnpeian. I’m not that good yet!) by my instructor. A necessary disclaimer: people eat dog in Pohnpei. I haven’t seen it done yet, but there are lots of dogs on the island, and it is seen as a viable source of meat.

So, the joke:

A Pohnpein man walks into a restaurant in Kolonia. He looks at the menu and sees “Hot Dog,” which makes him happy because he could really go for some dog meat for lunch. The waitress takes his order and brings out his food. He looks at this place confusedly and then up at the waitress. “Excuse me,” he says, “but we don’t eat that part of the dog here.”

I suppose now would also be a good time to mention that, aside from dog meat, Pohnpeians also love dirty jokes. :)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bringing you Up-to-Date

So that last post dealt with my experiences last weekend. Just wanted to give a brief description of how things are going presently.

This week we got a chance to have a few fun adventures. The rest of the island had only 2 or 3 days of school, breaking in the middle for a special election day and at the end for United Nations day. Although Peace Corps had a bit more class time, we still took time to enjoy life here.

Yesterday we went to a small island called Deketik (like deke tikitik, or small island) just off the eastern coast of Pohnpei, very close to our training site. We went to do more cultural and water safety training. We learned that weaving palm baskets takes patience and practice, and that lighting fires takes dry kindling and a lighter. The local way, of course. We also got a good chance to enjoy a day of sun and excellent swimming water.

That outing was great for several reasons. It was excellent to frolic with my fellow PCTs. It was fun to see my language instructors fishing while we wove our way through the mangrove roots and coral reefs of low tide. We also went right past the coastal community where I will live after swear-in (teach in Lukop, live a few villages away). Both Deketik and my home community have beautiful island foliage and look out over bright, clean water. Deketik has a beautiful white sand beach; my community, being on the main island, has a rocky and mangrove-y shore.

Right now I am two weeks away from my swear-in. That means that I have only two more weeks of official language and culture lessons, as well as only two more weeks living with my current host family (and near the 9 other M76 Pohnpei trainees). Today we are all in Kolonia for a day of running errands, and I'm about to leave Telecom to join them all for lunch. We've all gotten very comfortable with each other. November 6 will be a day of change for all of us, certainly. But the island is small and time flies, so I'm sure we'll be back together for our in-service meetings next spring before we know it.

And tonight I go to my first fundraiser. Hooray!

Kamadupw, the Sequel

Where we left off things were going well – sakau had begun, and the first of two dance troupes had performed. Large quantities of food were just being brought out, presented to the Nahnmwarki, and divvied up between the high titles and everyone else. Ruthanne—a fellow PCT—and I were both presented with a small feast consisting of a mix of local and imported foods. Granted, there is no way we could get through a whole fish, a piece of chicken, a hunk of taro, yam, and watermelon along with a mound of rice, a grilled hot dog, a pack of uncooked ramen, a bag of processed snack AND a sugar-infused beverage—tackling it alone or working as a team. So we ate what we could and passed the rest along to our nohnos later.

After eating we enjoyed another dance performance. In addition to the ever-popular salsa, this group performed a creative take on the electric slide. They also didn’t seem to mind when a few ladies from the audience joined them on the stage to do their own little boogie.

Next was the sugar cane presentation. Ladies brought in stalk after stalk of sugar cane, heave-ho-ing them assembly line-style and singing all the while. This display, to me at least, proved that Micronesians really don’t need to buy any of the imported, packaged & processed sugar that they use here. But imported ease is gradually winning out over traditional labor-intensive-yet-cost-effective items here.

By this point in the kamadupw I was getting tired of sitting. A couple of hours had passed, I had been fed, and I had thoroughly enjoyed the ambience and activities thus far. Ruthanne and I were sitting about mid-nahs and we felt like getting up and moving around, checking out the other areas where people were quietly visiting and digesting. But we were prevented from doing so from the alarming appearance of the men with the pigs.

Mind you, I had been warned about pigs at kamadupws. Jenny, one of the volunteers who have been here for a year, recommended bringing a plastic bag for when you get handed a charred hunk of pig flank. But here at this kamadupw were not already-dead, cut-up and cooked pigs. No, these pigs were live pigs, about 4-6 of them, hanging upside down with their feet tied to bamboo poles. They varied in size, the smallest was about the size of a Jack Russell terrier and the largest was so enormous that it needed a support strap to hold it onto the pole. Instead of taking the pigs into the nahs like all the other presented gifts, they were laid out at the entrance—which was a partially blocked view for Ruthanne and I, but a front-row seat for our friend and mutual trainee Nate, who was sitting right on the steps at the nahs opening.

Here’s where I started to feel a little less stoked on kamadupw-ness. One of the pigs was bleeding from the head a bit already, and I sensed that things weren’t going to get better from there. Ruthanne noted that maybe I should make my face look a little less like this was the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen, so I changed my look of foreboding into a forced smile. We both hoped that maybe the pigs would come in and go out, like the other presentations, but these hopes were in vain. The men began to slaughter the pigs right there.

Because of where I was sitting I couldn’t see the first pig get killed, but I heard it screaming (the term “bloody murder” comes to mind) and I caught a glimpse of the aftermath when they lifted it back up to take it away. The biggest pig was completely in my line of vision, but I had learned my lesson and was studiously examining the yams hanging across from me in the nahs at that point. NOTE: Yams and breadfruit are the major crops of the island, so the nahs was surrounded by a bunch of giant yams to be presented later in the kamadupw. Pohnpeian yams can grow to be very large, and I couldn’t help but notice that they, too, were tied to bamboo poles. Their large, tangled, brown root-ness with a spray of spiky green leaves on top to me were reminiscent of an army of captured trolls that would be sacrificed in the same way as the pigs before too long.

But even without looking at the swineocide, the sound of it all was enough to throw me into a bit of hysterics. For those of you who grew up near farms, I am sure you know better than I do that pigs make a lot of noise, much of it alarmingly human. I was not ready for this type of display, and I was trying hard neither to laugh out loud nor burst out crying. I noticed one of the men in the center of the nahs bemusedly watching my attempts to control my facial expressions. We men wai do funny things.

After the slaughter Ruthanne and I were in clear agreement that we needed to get out of the nahs before they started handing out the pig pieces. Her host family lives fairly close to the kamadupw, so we quickly fled there for reassurance and cribbage. Had we thought of it, we both probably could have done with a good cup of tea.

I did eventually come back to the kamadupw, and I noticed that my family had some good spoils—including a nice hunk of porker. I had heard horror stories from other volunteers of “hairy pig soup,” a popular Pohnpeian dish. So I was actually relieved to see the pig preparations for my dinner simply because my nohno cut off the skin for our pig and yam soup. As a cafeteria cook she has incredibly sanitary kitchen practices, especially by Pohnpei standards. Go Nohno!

By the evening I had gotten the shock out of my system and had begun to appreciate the rituals I had been permitted to experience that day. It’s really cool that I get to be here, and I guess it’s even fun for me to realize that in surprising ways. Soothed, I was able to enjoy my pig and yam soup and that evening’s movie selection—Babe: Pig in the City—with only a subtle laugh at the lovely irony of Pohnpeian culture.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mollie's First Kamadupw (Traditional Party)

[PART ONE ... time constraints have caused me to write this post in episodes]

In Pohnpei people get together to celebrate for all sorts of reasons; "Food, friends, and fun" is the Pohnpeian way. But there are different kinds of gatherings here -- for example, a birthday fundraiser (a raffle to raise money for a birthday person) is not the same thing as a birthday party (typically, an evening in which the extended family goes to the house of the birthday person to eat cake, ice cream, and pizza ... much like the US!). And neither of these typical Pohnpeian functions compare with the big kamadupws -- traditional celebrations held for the Nahnmwarki (the "king" or highest chief of the clan system in the municipality). Kamadupws are held in the nahs, or feast-house, of a family or community, for the benefit of the Nanmwarki and all those who attend.

Although this traditional kamadupw had been described to me and I had already seen pieces of similar celebrations over the past month, I got my first full taste of a kamadupw on Saturday (October 17, for those of you keeping track). My take on it? Well, I very much enjoyed myself and thought it was really, really great, until I got a heaping helping of culture shock and didn't love it so much. Let me explain.

Kamadupws are all-day affairs all about presenting the best of things to the Nahnmwarki and then sharing the bounty with everyone else. Every attending family brings what they have to share (crops, prepared food, etc) and it gets split up, celebratorily. More or less, the higher your title, the better your spoils. But everyone eats well that day -- there's plenty to go around, and there's always tons of leftovers to take home. For our family's contribution on Saturday, my nohno (host mom) and I baked a couple of cakes in the kitchen of the high school, where she works every weekday. It was nice to see her workplace, and to use an oven ... not a typical appliance in a Pohnpeian house.

This particular kamadupw was held in a very festive nahs and yard of my nohno's sister on Temwen island -- a community just past where I live in which most of my nohno's extended family lives. When we got there -- fashionably late at 10:30 am, the Nahnmwarki was already present at his place of honor at the center of the nahs, and people were milling about outside and sitting along the sides of the nahs. (Every nahs is built with a 3-sided, elevated floor, with an honorable stage at the front, and an open wall at the back ... like a large gazeebo with the center and one wall cut out of it.) Women and children typically sit on the sides, people of honor sit on the stage, and young men congregate at the center of the nahs, where the sakau stones are.

When we got there, the ritual of sakau pounding was just beginning. [I have videos of the process, which will illuminate this, surely ... to be added later] Sakau is part of all Pohnpeian parties, and it is consumed both freshly made and bottled. The bottled sakau is more casual and tends to be the beverage/narcotic of choice at more general hang out nights, when people come together for bingo, a fundraiser, or on a neighbor's porch or nahs. Kamadupw sakau is the most ceremonial of all -- there is a set sequence of pounding, sometimes in unison and sometimes not, packing, wringing, and presenting the fist cup to the Nahnmwarki. To a foreign eye, sakau--a plant root--starts out looking root-like, becomes like thick, muddy water from ceaseless pounding and a bit of added water, and then gets packed into a long piece of fibrous bark like a huge, wet cigarette to then be rolled and wrung out until the plasma-y liquid fills a hollow coconut from which the participants drink and get a calming buzz. This process begins the proceedings, and basically continues throughout. I bet the Nahnmwarki can hold a lot of sakau!
After a bit, a local group of children and teenagers presented a few dances to the Nahnmwarki. [I also have and will post videos of these] In a long row of couples in color-coordinated local skirts and typical western clothing, the dancers presented a salsa dance and a hip-swiveling pop ditty. The best part about the dancing, to me, was the age range -- all the way from near-adults down to a tiny couple in which the boy wasn't quite tall enough to twirl the girl without hitting her on the head.

After the dancing came the food. A huge mountain of food was amassed on the stage, and then taken out again on large pallets.

[I must abandon this tale in the happy middle; await the startling--but really quite understandable--conclusion for the next time I have internet!]

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On Safety:

After regaling you with random disease stories during a time of tumultuous weather in the Pacific, I feel that a reassurance on safety is in order. Therefore, you should know that we Pohnpei trainees had a visit from the PC Safety and Security Officer for the entire Pacific region last week, and he basically told us that where we are is the SAFEST spot in the whole of the Pacific Ocean. And here's why:

**Feel free to knock on wood during the entire reading of this post! There are always anomalies, and I do not want to tempt the fates with my self-assurance.

- Pohnpei is NOT in the typhoon belt.
- Pohnpei is NOT on a place where tectonic plates meet.
- Pohnpei IS surrounded by a double line of defenses -- dense mangroves instead of beaches and a sturdy ring of coral pretty much circle this little-island-that-could.
- The ocean outside of that tutu of coral is VERY deep.
Therefore, any and all earthquake/tsunami that happens in the Pacific must travel a great distance to get to Pohnpei. And once it gets anywhere near this high island, my surroundings diminish it to no more than a slightly higher tide and maybe some extra rainfall.

- The crime rate is LOW in Pohnpei, much lower for assault or other such disquieting events than other PC countries in the area.
- Pohnpei IS a clan-centered culture, and Peace Corps volunteers are de facto protected by this tradition because we become adopted into host families for the entire time we're here.

So rest assured, dear family and friends, that I landed in the safest speck on the map, and I am very happy to call it home.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

From the Sick Bay...

Hey Team!

So, the news is that I'm "sick." This weekend I was interrupted from my regularly scheduled activities to experience a whole slew of maladies from which I had been previously protected. A strong immune system is a blessing, folks, and don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got til it's gone...

Sunday it was flu symptoms (fever to weak stomach & everything in between); I hadn't had the flu in I-don't-know-how-many years because of the flu shot. (Folks who have the option, get your flu shots! This kind of grossness is not fun.) Monday it was general malaise (no complaints here). And then on Tuesday is when it started to get interesting.

On Tuesday I started to become polka-dot Mollie. Little pink dots started to spread from my arms and legs to the rest of me -- my host nohno was sure that it was a remnant of my fever, and my host sibs repeated inquisitively, "You sure it's not mosquito?" Largo the PA says it looks like measles. Wednesday the PCMO came out and said "Viral" ... which means "Contagious! Get her away from the other trainees!"

Which is why I now write from Kolonia. On Wednesday evening I was exiled to the PC "Sick Bay"--possibly aka "PC Hotel" if the phone number key on the wall is to be believed. Everything about my temporary digs are very hotel-like: nice big-mattressed American bed & pillows, air conditioning, hot & cold running water shower & sink, mini-fridge & microwave. There would be a TV, but it's at PATS with the trainees. Other than the security bars+padlock on the outer door, which are more prison than Hilton, I feel right at home, if a little bored.

The plan is for me to wait out the pink spots. When they fade, I get to go home/rejoin the others. I don't feel sick other than that, so my days have been spent thinking of ways to waste time. I read and sleep a lot. I "cook" in the microwave and take hot showers. I should have brought a deck of cards. I have to admit I was getting quite bored. But then the PCMO said I could go into town! So here I am, looking for company on the computer (just like procrastinating thesis, eh?).

The results:
-Mail: Before I left the PC Office, I picked up letters from the Parentals and from Erin. Hooray! Those will be great company later tonight! Do expect prompt replies, since letter-writing will be an excellent use of time.
-Gmail: many of you sent me news. Thank you!
-Gchat: I got to talk to Mom and Misa and Miekes and Reed and JHsieh! Real conversations! (Well, almost real) Which means I got news from all corners of the US and from all my lovelies. All news was welcome and wonderful, but JHsieh wins for most joyfully surprising -- one of my favorite theater boys, Matt DaSilva, joined CityStep! When I heard that news it was like two pieces of my Harvard life merged and and I got a happy from a very long way away.

So, satisfied for company, I will venture into Kolonia in search of food and birthday presents for my host family -- Nohno's birthday is Oct 15, Pahpa's is Oct 16, and niece Vannett's is Oct 27.

In terms of things I haven't shared, there are tons of photos that I am sure I will figure out how to post somewhere, somehow. FUN things I've been up to are:
- A weekend in Nalap, a nearby picnic island, two weeks ago. The 10 Pohnpei volunteers had a little holiday while the other groups went off to their new homes at the end of Phase I.
- 2 weeks of language training. Things are going much better, and we're having lots of fun/learning a surprising amount of dirty words in Pohnpein. (For example, it is possible to say "intercourse" instead of "explode" if you pronounce it improperly, and the words for "God" and "bathroom" are identical but for an elongated syllable)
- Zero impact from the tsunami/earthquake that started in American Samoa. Some people have been asking, so I wanted to ensure everyone that we are quite safe here on Pohnpei.
- A sleepover at my friend Ruthanne's host house this past Friday night, during which I took my first proper island bucket shower. Am now, officially, a Pohnpeian lady.

Therefore, moving into the Sick Bay is a step back in terms of acculturation, but it is very relaxing and welcome. Let's think of it as a health vacation? I'm looking forward to getting back to full-strength immunity so that I can keep learning in and out of my training classes.

Hope life finds you all well!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I sohte wehwehki!

I sohte wehwehki! = I don't understand!

We started language training on Monday, and today I demanded to know this phrase. My poor, patient language instructor obliged.

Even though I've been listening to Pohnpeian for nearly four weeks now, I still get flummoxed when I need to process & answer a direct question. Mostly because I have the deep-seated desire to be perfect (in fact, while writing this sentence I inspired a debate between two of my PCT friends over "which is right? deep-seated or deep-seeded?" ... we went with the former), and the language-learning process just doesn't work that way. I have to make mistakes in order to learn. The best and most frequently used analogy for what I'm experiencing right now is that I'm pretty much a baby here in Pohnpei, linguistically, culturally, whatever. Even though I've had a few decades to learn in the U.S., I have to relearn everyday things, especially language and behavior. It can be frustrating, but it's also going to be incredibly rewarding when I finally become ... a toddler!!!

So patience is the word of the day. For me. For using the internet here (So slow! No photo uploads today!) For the people waiting for me to finish this blog post.

On that note, I must be off.

Love from Pohnpei!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Alive & Well (With a Site Assignment)!

Hello All!

I've been in Madolenihmw, Pohnpei, FSM for just over a week, and things are going great! Just this morning, in fact, I found out that I will be here (in Madolenihmw) for the rest of my service! Hooray! That means that P.O. Box 9 will be my permanent address, so get on with writing those letters! They seem to be arriving from the states in about 5 days, but they're much slower going the other way. Also, my access to the internet will be spotty for the next few months, and then probably only once every other week, so letters are definitely the way to go.

In terms of how it's been so far, I've got to say that everything about this place is perfect in a way that unfolds over time--the island itself is beautiful (I can't wait to explore it more), the people are becoming better and better friends (both locals and PC), and my training is adding to my skills daily.

Some highlights of the experience so far:
- Daily morning workouts in the training room before school starts with friends (yoga and boot camp exercises are the favorites)
- Visiting a local waterfall & Nan Madol (cool military ruins) with PC Trainees and my host nieces/nephews this past weekend
- Dance parties to Chris Brown's "Forever" in my host family's living room with my nieces and their friends
- My host mother (nono) ... she's the best
and last but not least
- The view from our front porch every morning & evening

Hope everything is going well with you all. Send me letters and tell me about it!

Lots of love,

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A laugh before you go

Mom: Do you think you're going to put on any plays as part of your community development?
Me: Sure, yeah, maybe. Probably I'd want to kill many birds with one stone by making it a play in English that deals with hard-hitting issues like safe-sex, nutrition, recycling...
EJ: So, Cats, right?
Dad: I was going to say Hair...

This exchange happened at dinner tonight-- our last together as a family before tomorrow's staging in LA. The last couple of weeks have been full in a lot of ways. Two weeks ago I was visiting friends and roommates in New York and DC. This past week I've been frantically packing and connecting with Tustin friends and family. All told there has been mostly stress, joy & address-collecting. So it was nice to have one more family giggle-fest in the backyard before things change.

Ps: I'm bringing two kinds of Kathy Wright's famous/delicious homemade cookies to staging tomorrow, hoping their effectiveness as icebreakers haven't worn off since freshman year of college. Some things never change.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Aquarium of the Pacific: A Photo Essay

During the first weekend of August, my family and I took a day trip to the Long Beach Aquarium (alternately titled the Aquarium of the Pacific). Although it's obviously nowhere near as cool as "being there," I was very pleased by the amount of FSM/Palau flora, fauna & facts the Aquarium had on display. Here are a few of my favorite moments (all photos credited to the kind & generous Kathy Wright):

The first section of the museum we discovered was the "Tropical Pacific" Gallery--16 exhibits dedicated solely to the "beautiful marine life you would find off the coast of Palau" (AoP website). Here's the map to one side of the entrance:

And a close up of the expanse between Palau (in the west/left) & FSM (Kosrae is furthest east/right):

I learned something about Palau's Rocky Emerald Isles:

And got a glimpse of Nemo! (The photo taken of my brother & me in front of the "Baby Clownfish" filled mom with glee):

The biggest exhibit was a replication of Palau's Blue Corner -- a reef shelf noted for its beauty & its diverse sealife. We saw a diver demonstration with experts who had been to the real Blue Corner; they said it was the best in the world for variety!

But my favorite representation of FSM/Palau is from this map (found in the colorful, chirpy bird section of the Aquarium). As you can see, it is a map of the neighborhood, with other countries represented as land masses, but FSM/Palua represented as a sea monster. Awesome!

So in lieu of something new, I just thought I'd post something interesting/fun. Now I'm off to the beach--(un)fortunately my present corner of the Pacific doesn't look anything like this. No sea monsters of any sort.


Sunday, August 2, 2009


I'm joining the Peace Corps and you're coming with me!

What has passed:

I began my Peace Corps application around Thanksgiving 2008 , so I suppose that is where this journey starts. But if you really want to get down to it, I've been thinking about doing something like this for years--most vividly since my trips to the Philippines and Costa Rica in 2007. Likely before then as well. But one can't roam the world do-gooding without an education, so I didn't pursue these ponderings until this past year, my senior year at Harvard College (school friends will note this blog's web address is a loving homage to my dearly departed college email address,

After submitting my app in November, I interviewed with the recruiter in December and accepted my nomination for the Pacific Islands in January (that means the recruiter/nominator gives me the go ahead for an array of countries/assignments in that region, and then sends me along to the placement office to get further processed & approved). Then I had to jump through all the medical and legal hoops necessary to join any well meaning bureaucracy, which took the rest of spring -- until after graduation! Thankfully, in late June I was officially invited to serve as an ESL & Community Development Volunteer in FSM & Palau, departing in September.

I was so excited that I promptly put off doing any of the preliminary acceptance paperwork in order to go on a road trip in the Midwest with a friend from school. Then I arrived home, turned 22, and found myself facing a whole lot of to-do lists before group staging & departure on September 2. It's exciting and nerve wracking in a way that can't possibly be adequately captured in blog form, so I will leave my precise day-to-day activities up to the imaginations of my dear readers (hint: I'm doing a lot of novel reading, T.V. watching & Mexican food eating; it has been a lovely summer).

What is yet to come:

I leave for staging in LA on September 2, where I will meet the other volunteers in my class and say goodbye to America for two years! Then we fly together to Hawaii on September 3, and onto Pohnpei (the capitol of Micronesia) on September 4. In the interim we will cross the international dateline, so I have no idea what day/time it will be once we get there.

It looks like we will all be together for a preliminary orientation for the first two weeks, and then we will receive our site assignments and adjourn to smaller groups in local capitols for the rest of the 2-3 months of training. I'll be sent to my 2-year solo site-to-be-named-later in November. Once we arrive in-country we will be staying with host families. So although I will be with dwindling numbers of Americans as my time progresses, I will always have island relatives to look out for me.

An important note for you, my friends:

The point of the blog is twofold: to entertain and to keep in touch. However, I won't be traveling with my computer AND I won't necessarily have frequent internet access. But the mail works. So it's a very real possibility that I'll be sending "blog" letters to my mom, who will painstakingly transcribe every word for you, the great electronic audience.

But snail mail will be the best way to stay in touch with me. In fact, since FSM & Palau were recently US territories, the cost of sending letters or packages is pretty similar to doing so in the US. So that means you should

a) send me mail (this will be my address for the first two weeks at least):

Mollie Wright, Peace Corps Trainee
Peace Corps/Micronesia
PO Box 9
Kolonia, Pohnpei, FM 96941

b) send me your mailing address! If you're not sure where you will be living, send me backup mailing addresses or addresses for family who can forward letters to you.

I'll have email access for the next month, and I will be compiling my contact information in an address book during that time. If you don't email me your mailing address, feel free to send mail straight along to my Micronesia mailing address with your return address clearly written.

So to sum up, I'm going away for 27 months and I'd like to keep in touch with you!

Much love!