Saturday, December 25, 2010

In the words of Arsenal...

Merry Christmas to all my readers, and thank you for your support!


Much love and blessings to you all today and in the new year,

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Family Matters

I’ve been told about the central role that family plays in the culture of the Pacific since before I came here. I’ve lived over a year in an island where every new Pohnpeian I meet is able to tell me exactly how we’re related through various connections with my host families. During funerals on-island I’m reminded that, yes, most people feel they should attend EVERY funeral because, in some way or another, they’re family with that person.
But sometimes, even when you think you “get it,” cultural awareness hits you over the head like a baseball bat. And I don’t mean that in a bad way.
A couple of weeks ago, we made family trees in my Oral English/grammar classes. In 7th, we just made simple, pretend family trees to practice using the basic family vocabulary in sentences in which the subjects and predicates agree (to limited success). In 8th grade, we felt we were up to the challenge of graphing our OWN families using family trees. The results were sprawling spiders of names … some of them understood how and why to connect these names, others not quite. But the big shocker moment came when I was collecting them.
There are a few sets of siblings in my 8th grade class, so I joked that some family trees would look pretty similar. Then I realized that cousins, too, would be represented on the trees. So I asked, by a show of hands, which students had cousins or siblings in our class. And in my 8th grade class of 20 students, only FOUR students didn’t raise their hands. I know that if I had asked them to raise a hand if they had cousins or siblings at our school (of 200-ish students), every hand would have been raised. A school full of family didn’t surprise me. But standing there looking at my class-full of cousins really threw me for a loop.
I smiled and tried to explain to them how this was different from my life/how that percentage of family in your class would be unusual in the States (except for in very small towns). Now, I’m not from a particularly large or small town. And growing up I always had a feeling that I was a part of a big and closely connected extended family, especially on my dad’s side. But then, as I was explaining to my students how I never, EVER had been in an academic classroom with a single sibling or cousin because all my cousins were older than me and lived in different cities, I realized how strange that must sound to them. To them it would look like I was all alone for my whole schooling life. And in that moment, I looked at myself through their eyes and thought, “Wow! That must have been really lonely!” And as I was being thusly moved, I tried to tell them what a unique gift their large, loving, and accessible extended families are—how they are lucky and blessed to be Pohnpeians/Micronesians/Pacific Islanders—but I wasn’t quite able to communicate my epiphany to them. To be completely honest, they were distracted when I got a little choked up in the telling.
But this was okay, my emotio-cultural epiphany, because my 8th grade class is a happy and accepting place to be (God bless them). [For example, on a different day we did a paired vocabulary activity about baseball. The first pair to finish was a duo of one of my highest- and one of my lowest-achieving students. They finished first because the high-achiever just filled out all the answers while the other copied. So I congratulated them on their speed, and then asked the former to explain what was going on to the latter. And as they bent their heads over their worksheets and I heard/saw the process of explanation, translation, and comprehension, I realized something else unique and heart-warming about this class – the explainer was 12 years old and my youngest student; the explainee was nearly 17 years old, the eldest in the class. They were dressed alike, in plaid, cargo shorts and black t-shirts, with skinny, machete-scarred legs extending down into Pohnpei zories. But the explainer’s legs barely reached the floor, while the explainee’s knees barely made it under the desk. And yet they worked together harmoniously, without any of the attitude or resentment one might expect from an age-authority reversal. Again, my 8th grade class is a wonderful place to be.]
But back to the family moment. After class that day, I talked with some of my students about how crazy my history must look to them—that as I’ve grown older I’ve been gradually conditioned to go further away from my family for longer periods of time. And how to me that’s normal, to maintain your claim to your family’s love while purposefully distancing yourself and “making your own life” in a new place—I mean, most people in the States do that without even needing to go abroad.
Pohnpeians understand having to go away from your family for a time to find work, send money home, and (hopefully) one day return with enough money to set yourself and your family up for a while in style. But that I haven’t seen my family for 15 months because I chose to go somewhere and make no money (on purpose!), and that I miss my family but am no literally sick for home, makes me a complete oddity to them. (Also that day I found out that my 8th grade co-teacher had started high school in Palau and, for a full semester, suffered actual, physical symptoms of homesickness.)
By most people here it’s assumed that, when I am done with Peace Corps, if I don’t marry a Pohnpeian man and stay forever, then I’ll go back to California to live. Because that’s where my family is, so why would I want to go anywhere else? And as I’ve been away from my family, I begin to see that they have a point. How wonderful it seemed to me that day to be always, literally, surrounded by family. Upon further reflection I can see that nothing’s perfect and that being forever tied into family connections and obligations without having a choice in the matter can also have its downsides. But that day it was a pleasant window (albeit a small one) into how my students view the world.
Ps: My REAL family matters, too. Very much so. I’m going to see them in December—we’re meeting up in Kauai one month from today! And since 15 months is the longest time I’ve ever spent without seeing them face-to-face, I am suitably excited! My computer’s background is a throwback picture from Homebuilders circa 1990 that Mom emailed a while ago. I went into paint, drew a big, pink heart around the four of us, and set it as desktop. To them, “I love you, and I’ll see you soon!”

Monday, November 15, 2010


Mom is an all-star. Captions by Mox.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Up-to-Speed, One Month Late!


When we last left our heroine, she was embarking on a mysterious trip, crossing seas and pursuing health care with great aplomb. Then she kind of got sidetracked and left everyone hanging. For this she is deeply sorry, or at least a little bit repentant.

The truth is that my time in the Philippines is NOTHING like I expected it to be! Cool, right?! Remember how I was going to be alone a lot? Remember how I was getting new glasses? Yeah. Neither of those things happened. Instead I made a lot of new friends, explored Manila more than I thought I would, and came home with a totally unexpected and laughably simple solution for my eye problems (one that doesn't even involve glasses!).

I should start with the eyes, since they were the cause of this little vacay. When I went to the ophthalmologist, whose offices were located in a mall named Shangrila, they examined my eyes and declared them functionally perfect, except that my "tear bays were a little low." (Since I'm now a fisherman's daughter, I automatically associated this diagnosis with low tide.) So basically I was told that I don't need ANY glasses for ANYTHING (a reversal of the last two years of bespectacled reading & computer time), and I was given ELEVEN boxes of moisturizing eye drops, plenty to bring my eyes back to high tide.

I was in Manila from Saturday night until Thursday night (flights from Manila to FSM do not run daily, you see). All the medical stuff happened on Monday. So I had the rest of the time to do with as I liked. Which I promise would have been spent regaling you with adventure stories if I hadn't been surrounded by people with whom I could make those adventures!

"What people?" I hear you ask. Well, the hostel where they set me up for the week also happens to be the central landing place for any and all Philippines PCVs, and my trip corresponded with several cool people coming through for various business. In fact, from the moment the lovely and hospitable PCMO ushered me into my hostel (after she met me at my terminal as I deplaned on a Saturday night ... what a lady!), I defaulted into having at least 15 new friends! There was a group of PCVs and PCTs sitting on the patio who were eager to welcome me once I said the magic "Peace Corps" words. It's funny, the Philippines has so many volunteers that there was some initial confusion/assumptions that I was, in fact, one of their in-country peers who they had somehow failed to meet earlier. But then we sorted it out and got down to the business of getting acquainted and having fun.

Over the week with my new friends I experienced Videoke (Video Karaoke; I hear it's the Philippines' national pastime), went out dancing in a club that plays more than 5 songs on loop (!!!!), ate delicious meals (Indian! Shawarma! Mexican! Dark Chocolate Cakes! Milkshakes!), and went to funky markets and upscale malls. So, yes, my main activity in Manila was consumerism, and it was fantastic. Amidst these adventures I got a chance to have wonderful conversations with some really excellent individuals. A recurring theme was comparing and contrasting PC experiences past, present and future -- what got us here, what life is like now, and where we hope it will take us. It's amazing that I was able to connect so well with people I just met--and was able to share and listen to really personal stories (you know who you are; thank you).

The other best part of the trip (I think we're several "bests" in right now ... it was a really great trip!) was the opportunity to skype using the free, fast internet at the hostel. Even though I was on the other side of the world (12-hour time difference from EST, what?!) It was amazing to see my familiar faces. I love you all very much! Thank you for connecting with me!

So that basically sums up my trip, but it only brings you up to speed to the beginning of October. Since that time, I spent a couple of weeks madly catching up with my work at school in time for mid-term exams and tried to get a good direction going for 2nd quarter (tough with all these early November holidays & community funerals, but who doesn't like a nice day or several off from school?). I also experienced the relationship twilight zone of saying goodbye to the last of the M75s on-island, getting to know the new M77s who will be sworn in next week, and looking forward to seeing the rest of my M76s when we come together for our Mid-Service Conference in December. I'm also falling more deeply in love with my host family, making new friends/having new experiences in Pohnpei, and looking forward to seeing my REAL family in Kauai in December. As my dear friend Caitlin would say (in quoting a great film), "It's all happening!"

So thanks for caring about what's happening with me. What all is happening for you?


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Embarking on my very own ‘kasdo en Philippine’

To explain the reference, “kasdo” is Pohnpeian for “movie.” And “kasdo en Philippine” is what they call Filipino soap opera sagas, which are very popular in Pohnpei.

But what, you may ask, does this have to do with me?

Answer: I’m going to the Philippines!

Actually, as I type I’m already halfway there. I’m writing from the Guam airport, which is easily the swankiest structure I’ve seen in a year. I’ve already had many adventures so far today, including leaving Pohnpei for the first time in a year and seeing/landing in Chuuk for the first time (the lagoon islands and Weno are quite lovely from the air), and eating Burger King (eh, not so impressive).

But why am I going to the Philippines? Shouldn’t I be in Pohnpei shaping young minds and interacting with my community?

Well, yes. Yes, I should be. And I will be doing so again in one week’s time, if all goes as planned. But the The Peace Corps is sending me to the Philippines.


For an eye exam and to renew my reading glasses’ prescription.


Yes, I’m flying many, many miles on the Peace Corps’ dime for an eye exam. And this is simply because my prescription is getting old and Pohnpei doesn’t have the technology to read, prescribe or treat my particular ocular malady.

The official term for what’s happening to me right now is a “medevac”—which is shorthand for a “Medical Evacuation.” Which clearly does not bring to mind a visit to the optometrist. But, as my wonderful and attentive PCMO explained to me, Peace Corps is responsible for my health during these two years. If I have a medical problem, they will treat it. And if that problem requires facilities or procedures not available to me at site, they will get me where I need to go so that we can resolve the problem. So, rather than conjuring up terrifying images of emergencies and life support, a medevac is basically just an extension of the really exceptional health care insurance that is the Peace Corps Medical Office.

So back to my kasdo en Philippine. The plan is this: I’ll be staying in Manila for a week because of flights. The only medical business I have to attend to are a visit to the optometrist and whatever necessary follow-up visits I might need. Other than that, I’ll be hanging out in my hotel, shopping in the malls, eating in the restaurants, and reading in the caf├ęs & coffee shops. Which is what the characters in these films do, pretty much. (Expect not in the period-piece ones, obviously) So I’ll have a one-woman show, literally. A mini vacation with a medical overlay. Which is a really exciting surprise. (I say “surprise” because I found out two days ago that this was the plan.)

The only downside is that I will honestly miss my island, family and school. Yesterday was slightly crazy trying to plan for the week of my absence, but my coworkers and family members have all been nothing but obliging. As soon as everyone realized that no, I’m not horribly sick, they all god excited about my trip. I’ve gotten many bits of advice on what to buy, how not to get cheated, and how to stay safe. At least 5 times people have told me not to wear “jewels” and stick my hands out of car windows because thieves will chop off the bejeweled hand. If it’s a tall tale, it’s a powerful one here.

And speaking of hands, it is tradition here to shake hands with a person before they leave on a trip. So even a trip as short as this one looks to be, everyone I know gave me a strong handshake with earnest blessings for my journey. My American Dad will also be happy to hear that my Pohnpeian Dad gathered everyone around to bless my journey before I left the house. Although I don’t think he used the exact term “travelling mercies,” I’m sure that he meant it.

And my trip has been blessed already – due to a conference in Thailand, Bruce, our post’s fabulous AO (Administrative Officer), is on all my flights until Manila. So I’ve had a great travel buddy to help me navigate the various stop-overs and transfers that are part-and-parcel with travelling in the Pacific.

But now it looks like we’re boarding now. If I’m feeling up to it, I’ve got a nice information packet for my medevac. Guess what that’s stored in? You guessed it … a manila envelope!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fun with assignments!: A Traditional Dialogue

Written Thursday, September 09, 2010

This week I had my eighth graders write dialogues about Pohnpeian traditions, with spectacularly fun results. Here’s my personal favorite, written and performed with aplomb by two of my top students and my one IEP (Pohnpei DoE for Special Ed) student, all boys. [Brackets mine]

[Shakira and Peggy enter from left; Sinsohn enters from right]
Shakira: Hi, how are you?
Peggy: What’s your name?
Sinsohn: My name is Sinsohn. What is your name?
Peggy: [With hands on hips and feminine flair] This is my friend Shakira, and I am Peggy.
Shakira: What is an important tradition in Pohnpei?
Sinsohn: Planting yam.
Peggy: How do you plant the yam?
Sinsohn: We will dig a hole, put the yam in the hole, and bury it.
Shakira: And then what do you do?
Sinsohn: After one week, we will put a stick on the yam, and the vine will grow into the trees.
Peggy: How do you eat the yam?
Sinsohn: We will take it out of the hole, wash it, peel the yam, and cook it and eat it with our hands.
Shakira: Ewwww! Gross!
Peggy: Disgusting!
Sinsohn: I mean spoon.
Peggy: Oh, I’m sorry.
Shakira: Oh, spoon!
Sinsohn: Yes, I mean we will eat it with a spoon.
Peggy: That’s how you eat it?
Sinsohn: Yes.
Shakira: Okay, thank you.
Peggy: Goodbye, see you later.
Sinsohn: You’re welcome!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dancing Video!

Mombo has done it again!

The most recent batch of photos are up on her picasa (to be captioned by me soon), AND she posted this little beauty from Madolenihmw Women's Day. I didn't previously know the teenage girls to whom I handed my camera, but they seemed to know how to cheer me on, nonetheless. Also, listen for random people laughing at the "lien wai" -- that means "white woman." You see, there are 7 or 8 districts in Madolenihmw ... District 2 (Pwin Keriau) was the only one with a foreigner.

Also, Mom, could you put up the video from Daddy's "Celebration"? I want to show the folks at home how ridiculous song & dance runs in the family.

Much love! (And welcome to the M77s who land in Pohnpei today!)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Casino for Lukop?

The 21st Century is coming at us all at once here in Section II of Madolenihmw. I've been back at site for less than a week, and I'm already practically live-blogging a town-hall-style meeting that just finished (from the internet-accessible computer in our air-conditioned school office). The meeting's purpose: To find out what the residents of Section II (the part of Madolenihmw for which Lukop Elementary School is the center) think about the current State Legislature bill that would approve the construction of a "premier casino/resort" in our community.

Here's the deal -- I found out about the meeting this morning from my host sister (typical), and I didn't even know the purpose for the meeting until I got to school (also typical; we're not too big on foreward notice). The meeting took place in my classrooms (the divider between 7th and 8th grade was removed to accommodate the number of attendees), and I perched atop the table that holds my 8th grade grammar books to watch the proceedings.

For about 3 hours, the chairman of a committee (I think it was the committee to build the casino, although no one could confirm it) fielded questions and comments from members of the community while the Nanmwarki, various local leaders, and a handful of legistators, looked on. There were several copies of the bill circulating, so I had a look. I was not particularly impressed with its contents, and by the sound of things, very few other memebers of the community were, either. Almost ever person who spoke stated their disbelief that a giant commercial enterprise aimed to increase tourism revenues -- through a 1000+ room hotel, casino, and golf course -- could do so without negatively impacting most aspects of life here (culture, environment, etc.).

I'm not sure if this juncture was more to let locals know that life will very soon change in a big way, or if it was actually a chance for policians to listen to their constituents. For me, I'm a bit torn. My instinct is against it because it embodies the destruction of one of the last vestiges of strong, Pohnpeian culture on the island. Everything I love about Lukop is tied up in its distance from the (tackier) development around Kolonia. But in assessing these feelings, I have to be realistic: I like the "quaintness" of Lukop, in part at least, because I know I'll be returning to commericalism and creature comforts in due time. Would it actually be an improvement, a step forward for this community?

Most people here don't know, but almost everyone is wary of this impact this change would have. As the time for the Compact to expire draws ever-nearer, the government has chosen an increase in tourism as the vehicle through which to bring money to Pohnpei/the FSM. However, everyone seems, in word at least, to prioritize the protection of local culture. I, for one, feel those goals are at odds with one another. I'm not sure how we're going to swing it.

In related news, I've heard they're almost finished constructing a new cell tower that would ensure reliable cell service to the community. I know it makes me a bit of a hypocrite, but that's a change I can really get behind.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The ME Report

I’ve been meaning to write up an update concerning my news and happenings for some time now, but am only just getting started on it as the summer draws to a close. A favored few of you have gotten an email from my mom (Happy Belated Birthday, Mama!) providing a mini-update. I hope to expand on that lovely memo here.

The biggest piece of news relates to the last couple of posts – because of my host Pahpa’s health condition, I’m moving in with a new host family.

This possibility has been a worry in the back of my mind since Pahpa’s stroke in early July. Because it happened on Majuro, Nohno and Pahpa were off-island for about a month waiting for him to heal enough to fly. During that time, my Peace Corps boss Largo and I decided to postpone making a housing decision until after their return. Well, they came home just under two weeks ago, and it was not long after welcoming them back that I realized I would be a burden to them if I were to stay in their home until the end of service. Largo agreed, and so did Nohno—after she got Pahpa home from the hospital and realized how crowded the house was.

Although it is very hard to leave them—and although the news that I would be moving out upset my Nohno at first—there is a silver lining. First, Pahpa is making good progress in his recovery, and I’m sure that will continue with the use of the house’s extra room. He still cannot sit up or move independently, but he is getting stronger and, about a week ago, he regained his ability to talk. Second, because I will be continuing to live and work in the same community, I will be able to visit the family often. Already I feel that my relationship with Nohno has improved, now that I can contribute to the family without taking anything away from them.

I had two major concerns with the possibility of moving host families. The first was that my first host family would be angry or hurt by my decision; it is a huge relief to see them taking it so well. The second concern was, well, who would take me in. I seem to have been totally lucky in this respect, too.

The search for my new family took about a week and was accomplished with such efficiency and such a lack of complications that I’m still pinching myself to make sure it’s not all a dream. The family lives in the village between my last host family and my school so that I have a much shorter commute to class (<10>40 minute walk), but, as I mentioned, I will still be able to visit my first host family. I’ll also have more neighbors and be significantly closer to the stores and churches in “the downtown area” of my site. My new Nohno is a very warm, very big lady who is the resident local medicine practitioner. My new host Pahpa is a fisherman, and it looks like I’ll have a lot of host siblings. I know the family only a little, but they are very well liked by the community, and about 3 months ago (before this situation arose) the Nohno mentioned to me that they would have liked to host a Peace Corps. This desire seems undiminished. My principal alerted them to my situation, Largo and a couple of PCVs went by to check out the house, and everyone agrees that even though many people live there already, there is an enormous warmth and excitement about their preparations—they really want me! (I’m nervous that I’ll be displacing someone, but the family also has an extra little house that they’d be willing to renovate for me, and I would love to work with them on that so that I can help increase/improve their living space in the long run).

In describing what’s going on I probably sound quite distant from the events at hand. The simple explanation for that is that I am distant at present: I’ve been living in Kolonia for the past three weeks. My temporary digs are a currently unoccupied house that Peace Corps rents for its staff. We (the PCVs) got to live there while running a 2-week library camp at the end of July (which was great fun, btw). And for this past week I’ve been staying there while all of this was getting sorted out – the two outer island girls who are also presently “homeless” (ie: waiting for their return ships/planes to be scheduled) have been lovely roommates.

So, to sum up the summer as a whole, I would say it has been a departure from all my service before this. Whereas earlier I was far from town living cozily with a host family, the summer brought lots of temporary changes to both place and family. Between Camp GLOW, my birthday celebration (a lovely weekend that even included a barbecue at the US Embassy – Go, America!), and Library Camp, I have spent a considerable amount of time bumming around Kolonia (even though it’s not as modernized as the US, this time has served up a huge chunk of consumerism, and, consequently, taken a sizeable chunk out of my savings). Add worries about my host family/future living to the mix, and you will find a girl beside herself with newness.

But summer was a good time, too. There was plenty of time and space for PCV-bonding. The camps we helped to run were both fun and successful (an agreeable mix!), and I polished up a long-rusty hobby: ukulele! EJ sent me a new instrument for my birthday, and I’ve been having a grand time relearning to tune it and discovering chords. I have high hopes for Uke as Integration Tool as I move in with my new family tomorrow.

Another victory for being in town is the amount I’ve been able to stay connected with loved ones. I’ve been spoiled rotten with skype dates with family and friends. And I have enjoyed ­I’ve gotten lots of mail (an avalanche of birthday cards, especially … THANK YOU!). But a note on mail – from now on, please only send to PO Box 9 (the other PO Box was the personal one for my former host family).

But now I’ve just skyped with my folks and my computer is almost out of juice and time. Be well, you all! And be in touch!

Love, Mollie

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Pahpa Report

Hello Everyone!

So sorry to have kept everyone in suspense for so long -- who am I, to post a scary call for prayer and then never tell you what happened next?!

Anyway, I am happy to report that Pahpa is in stable condition and looks to be on the mend. Nohno flew to Majuro to be with him a few days after the stroke. Before she lefte we had heard rumors about life support (or, in rough translation of the Pohpeian phrase for it: "the machine beating his heart for him"). But that is not the case -- his heart is fine and beating on its own. And since Nohno has been with him, he has gradually gotten stronger -- he is no longer on oxygen or using an IV. He can eat. He can communicate with Nohno, although I'm not sure if that means actual speech yet. And, even though it looks like Pahpa will be using a wheelchair for the time being, the doctors are talking about physical therapy for him to regain movement on his left side.

Although I haven't talked to Nohno myself in a few days, I have heard that they are planning to come back to Pohnpei in a couple of weeks, and that my host brother (who lives in Florida and I have not yet met) might be coming with his wife and son to stay with us and help out around the house, too.

In the mean time, a wonderful cousin of ours and her family have been staying at the house with the kids and me (that is, when I'm home and not in town for meetings, projects, etc).

There has been a lot of coming and going in my neck of the woods, and it looks like it's going to continue. So big praises that Pahpa is in a stabe state, and maybe a prayer request that I can be calm and flexible for whatever the future holds.

Much love, and thank you all for your support!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Scary host family news

Dear Friends,

I just found out from Nohno that Pahpa has had a stroke and is in the Majuro hospital in critical condition. The doctors say the stroke was caused by undiagnosed diabetes. Pahpa was off-island for a professional conference, and although that distance makes the news harder on us, he will likely get better medical care there than here.

Diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are incredibly prevalent and fast-growing killers in Micronesia. They're all the more tragic because they are usually preventable through diet and lifestyle changes and regular checkups. The rising statistics have been making me feel depressed and frustrated since I've been aware of them, but this development has brought those emotions to a much more raw and personal place.

Please pray for Pahpa. We're all very worried about him right now.

Thank you,

Friday, June 18, 2010

Stories from the Start of Summer

The last day of school was exactly one month ago, and time has been flying since then. The key word of this post is “surprise” … I’m learning that wonderful things happen when I relax and just let them go.

The first notable event after the end of school was graduation. My kids graduated the morning of May 27, the Thursday following the end of school. For a month we had been rehearsing their entrance, songs, exit, and other troop movements. From all of that I thought I knew exactly what to expect. But I was wrong. Graduation day found me surprised. It was a rainy morning as everyone arrived, and I was surprised to see how well—and in coordination—all of my students had cleaned up. All the boys were channeling the Blues Brothers in white oxfords and black ties—many with fly shades and all with spanking new kicks of the sneaker variety. The girls looked radiant in white silk dresses, fancy jewelry and hair, and makeup! (a first for many of them) Our graduation was much like a wedding—it was held in a church, we had two flower girls, and there was a receiving line afterwards with all 29 graduates accepting congratulations from everyone in attendance. After the first moment of the ceremonies—except for maybe when each student accepted his/her diploma along with mwarmwars/leis and hugs from family onstage—my surprises became less enjoyable. I was surprised at how hot & stuffy it got in the church, at how many people were crowded in. I was very unfortunately surprised at how long and inanely the guest speaker’s address was, and I was hungrily surprised at how quickly and voraciously the refreshments were horded and devoured by everyone but me. (I was trying to take pictures! Silly!) But my students were radiant and all 29 of them passed the high school entrance exam and will be continuing their education. The best surprise was perhaps how honestly proud of them I felt.

The next big news after graduation was Camp GLOW, a girls’ development camp led by the female Pohnpei PCVs from June 8-11. The week between the two events was spent running around soliciting donations and following up with guest speakers and participants. The camp was free(!!!) and open to the recently graduated 8th grade girls from each of our schools. Eleven girls came from Lukop—my most surprising cancellation was from one of my girls who couldn’t go because she was recently married! Camp was held at a beach park outside of Kolonia with enough space for all of the girls to sleep, play, and listen to speakers (all local professionals) who regaled us on various points of interest. Our focus was health—particularly mental, sexual, and making healthy choices with their futures. The girls also got to do the typical camp activities like arts & crafts, swimming, and immediately bonding with their new friends from around the island. We even had a talent show in which we PCVs/camp counselors made fools of ourselves with a Camp GLOW rewrite of an ABBA song—everyone loved it. I was particularly in my element and I may have overused my megaphone privileges. At separate times all of the other PCVs mentioned to me that my calling in life might just be that of a professional camp counselor.

Since then things at site have really taken off … and completely unexpectedly, too! We started the four weeks of summer school on Tuesday (only 3 days a week), and I am confident that my co-teachers and I will find a good rhythm for planning and teaching our 1.5 hours of English for each 7th and 8th grades. But also this week I was invited to participate in my community’s women’s group – next Wednesday all the women’s groups in Madolenihmw will come together to perform dances and compete in local games like “push a tire” or “juggle noni (small fruit) & run” faster than everyone else. Although I joined initially to learn local dance styles, my group elected to dance the “bus stop” (Pohnpeian for “electric slide”) and … the Macarena! It has been fun and very silly. By contrast, I was also invited to the evening revivals held every day this week at the local Baptist church. This evening is the final potluck fellowship & service. Both opportunities have been fun, new ways to interact with my neighbors, and I believe I might actually be making lasting friendships!

Writing from a happy whirlwind—

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mollie is slow, but Mom is fast!

Pictures (from January through April) are UP!

Thanks, Mom! I love you!

HOW long has it been?

Greetings Readers!

I am sorry to say that it has been nearly FOUR full months since I wrote anything other than brief weather updates here. If someone were tracking my happenings through only this record, I suppose he or she could reasonably assume that I had been annihilated along with the rest of Pohnpei by some tragic, freak combination of tsunami-drought.

Evidently, this is not the case. I am alive and well. We've just finished the school year, and my eighth graders (all of whom passed the state entrance test and will be continuing on to high school!) are looking forward to their graduation ceremony next week.

Since I last wrote, many things have happened to me:
- Along with other volunteers, I weekended at Black Coral, a picnic island (small island inside the Pohnpei reef). It's a protected zone from fishing, so it was really amazing snorkeling.
- The PCVs had a bake sale over Women's Day (March 8) as a fundraiser for Camp GLOW*. Our favorite concoction was the cocoa-coconut-banana cake. Mmmm!
- We came out of the drought and now are getting our usual wealth of rain (I know you were all worried).
- The Easter Season came and went, as did a relaxing Spring Break.
- I started a Dance Club at school for all grades -- because the response was so big we split into three groups and met after school, once a week for each group. They all learned a dance of 4 8-counts that incorporates 7 or the 8 Movement Elements (I couldn't figure out how to translate "positive & negative space" into Pohnpeian).
- An auditor from the FSM national government came to Lukop School as part of an audit of the Pohnpei DOE. Among other things, I learned that I shouldn't be teaching for the length that I am without having taken the National Standard Teaching Test. The principal is working on helping me take it the next time it's offered. Maybe Peace Corps should get on that, too?
- My eighth graders won the Madolenihmw Science Fair with a presentation on the states of matter.
- The female PCVs have been in full Camp GLOW planning mode--meeting every week with our students and every other week with each other to prepare for camp. (*Not sure if I've already mentioned it, but Camp GLOW [Girls Leading Our World] is a summer camp to empower eighth grade girls as they approach the challenges of high school. Our camp this year will be four days in early June and will focus will be on how a Pohnpeian girl can lead a healthy, happy, and successful life.)
- The neighborhood youth started gathering every evening at the house next door to play volleyball and chat; when I'm not too pooped from school, I go over to watch, visit, or play cards with the kids.
- I ran a 5K put on by the FSM Olympic Committee to celebrate Women in Sports.
- On Earth Day (April 22) the wives of the US Ambassador and the Commander of the Coast Guard came to our school to read a picture book about a sea turtle and to distribute playground and school supplies to the students.
- The Spring found my students taking standardized tests -- just like in the US, except that the date of the tests were last-minute rescheduled a few times.
- In fourth quarter we started a lending library in my eighth grade class, with contributions from me (thanks for the books, Auntie Judy!) and my students. It was a test run to see how borrowing books might work for the whole school. The jury is out until I get all the books back!
- I've celebrated the numerous Constitution Days that exist here (FSM Constitution Day, Pohnpei Constitution Day, AND Madolenihmw Constitution Day are all observed holidays).
- I visited the local Baptist church and had my own "3rd service": one of the families invited me home after church to sit and visit (they actually said "fellowship") over lunch.
- I had my second In-Service Training session, in which my principal, coteachers and I learned new techniques for working as a team that we plan to implement for both summer school and the coming school year.
- I've now seen Pohnpeian weddings -- both a religious ceremony and the more traditional "local marriage" in which the groom's family visits the bride's family, gains permission over sakau, and takes the bride home with them.
- Less traditionally, I've gotten to know the dynamic community of expats and locals who live around Kolonia Town and tend to have a lot of fun gathering together in the evenings. Of particular note was Pohnpei Prom in early May--we made a high school dance playlist and rummaged for formal gowns at the Super Saver. I found and wore a child's Cinderella costume, which was very well-received.
- This past week was the only week all year that Pohnpeians can gather trochus (sea snails) from the reef. In Pohnpeian this practice is called "seisumwomw," and it's popular because the meat is delicious and the shells are worth about $1.50/lb. This is ALL my community of fisherpeople were talking about this week. My family FINALLY fixed our boat, and I got permission from the principal to go out of the water (instead of going to school) on Monday. Trochus is best caught by diving, and there weren't enough masks to go around. So Nohno ended up teaching me how to catch land crabs (pworu) instead. I was surprisingly good at it!
- Our school made it through a few bouts with technical difficulties during finals season--sick computers, broken power line attachments, etc.--to have a lovely Celebration of Learning this past Thursday (a day to present the awards for perfect attendance, good behavior, and good grades ... and also to eat LOTS of sugary food and run/dance around for a few hours).
- My host sibs have finished third grade! Nohno made a cake, Belva got an award for grades, and Iverson enjoyed a good chalk war with his buddies after the ceremony. It was a good day for all.

Overall, I think I've found it hard to update this blog because the more time I spend here the more complex and layered (and hard to relate) my experience becomes. I feel good about the work I've done in class this year, and I'm very proud of my students and the progress they've made. I have become very comfortable with my host family, and I think we understand each other better and better every day. I've made lots of friends, both locals and foreigners, both at site and in Kolonia. I'm improving very much in my spoken Pohnpeian, although I'm hoping the Lukop PTA President will tutor me in the "high," more respectful Pohnpeian that is best to use with my elders (read: everyone but little kids, pretty much).

I have a lot of ideas for the summer, both for school and community, but I now know that I need to approach change gradually for it to be successful here. My host fam also has a lot of plans for the summer -- we're aiming to build a second story on our house BEFORE Nohno leaves in early July to visit our family in Florida for a couple of months(?). Change is happening all over the place, and I'll do my best to keep you up-to-date here. No promises. Just best effort.

But most of all, I really want to express to all of you how grateful I am for your investment in my life here. Huge thanks to all of you who have been keeping in touch--sending me packages, letters, or even facebook posts/messages. Even though I haven't responded to everything, I want to express what an encouragement your support is to me. It has helped me come through some rougher moments over here. I would especially like to thank all of our friends who put up with my loving mother sticking a camera in your face with a "Say hi to Mollie!" I know from experience how awkward it is to say something heartfelt to someone many miles away with nothing but an unfeeling piece of machinery to look into. (Related note: television and screen actors are WAY more talented than I previously thought!) Seeing your faces and hearing your voices really touched me and made me feel so much closer to home. Thank you for that!

So, full of love and good intentions, I think I'll bring this post to a close. Momma, please upload those most recent photos so our friends have some new visuals to go with all of these new words.

Be well & please keep on keeping in touch!