Saturday, February 27, 2010

Crazy weather we've been having!

Here's the big news: El Niño makes a drought, an earthquake in Chile makes a tsunami warning, and I'm doing fine. Don't worry!

Growing up in Southern California, I always thought of El Niño as an extremely wet and rainy event. Which this tropical storm IS for CA residents--my folks have been writing about lots of recent rainstorms. But what never hit me before is that this wet weather doesn't just appear in California. It comes from somewhere. And now I know where it comes from: Here! 

All of Micronesia is experiencing a severe drought right now. It began about a month ago, and it will likely continue through May or June. Our typically wet, frequently rainy island of lush, green plants is beginning to look a lot more like the dried-out brush of semiarid SoCal. People tend to burn their trash, so threats of wildfires will rise as more of the plants dry out. And because the water system relies on frequent rain, many homes and villages are without fresh water. My house and school still have functioning wells/tanks, but many of my neighbors who once had running water now have to collect their water for drinking, bathing, and cooking from more distant water sources. (Also, on another "don't worry" note, my family buys our drinking water in Kolonia; it will not run out.) Ideally communities will conserve, and those with plenty will help those without, but the longer the drought the more serious the problems that might arise.

This morning, the weird weather expectations got even stranger--my Program Assistant called me about a potential tsunami on its way from the enormous earthquake in Chile. Not only was I concerned for how things were going in Chile, but I was also worrying about our outer island volunteers who live only a few feet above sea level. The good news here is that the tsunami warning was just that--a warning, and no more. We got the all clear just as the wave was scheduled to hit, and it's been determined that there's now no threat to FSM.

So I hope everyone out there is doing alright, and that no more natural disasters cause panic--there have been far too many of late in my opinion. But this post is to let all those news-watching readers know that I'm okay. And thanks for your concern!

Love and sunblock (it's HOT here right now!),

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Human Resources

In Peace Corps Micronesia, we have many people in our lives. I’ve already written a few posts describing my Pohnpeian family, coworkers, and community, with whom I spend the majority of my time. But I haven’t said much about the spread-out network of other volunteers who share my island state with me. Well, there’s 15 of us all together—10 from my swear-in class and five who are “a year older” in their Peace Corps service. And this past week I’ve had the rare opportunity to see all of them—and to appreciate more fully the wonderful and unique ways we can impact each others’ lives and services.

This week brought all of Pohnpei PCV together on Wednesday afternoon to meet the new U.S. Ambassador to FSM (he seems to be a lovely and well-informed fellow, by the by). This meeting would have been the 12 main island volunteers, exclusively, but for the fact that the first In-Service Training for us Pohnpeian M76-ers also happened this week (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday), bringing in the three outer island PCVs as well. Meaning I’ve just spent the most time in Kolonia since my Sick Bay escapade during training—to a very different effect.

Unlike my solitary sojourn in medical quarantine, IST is a time to gather, share and reflect as a group with my PC contemporaries. We focused on all aspects of life—emphasizing host family and culture issues, but also spending time talking about our work in the classroom, and, well, about the forms PC expects us to fill out (we’re pretty big on the paperwork, being a government program and all). The first day brought representatives from each host family together to talk out difficulties and successes, and then the rest of the time was just for PCVs and staff.

The time together met my expectations, which were to exchange tangible things like teaching techniques and Pohnpeian vocabulary. But more than that, the formal and informal conversations with my peers have impacted my outlook on my service and myself in a completely unexpected and glorious way. For example, I didn’t just learn “quick fix” strategies for talking through problems with my Nohno or my principal. Instead, from hearing the philosophies of the others on their PC service, I was able to more closely examine my own. I gained a whole new perspective on how I’ve been approaching all my interactions—revealing to myself more clearly how the motives, expectations, and biases I’ve been carrying into these situations have been barring my integration and growth.

The (somewhat over-the-top) analogy that comes to mind is that, before IST, my approach was like trying to take a picture of the natural beauty around my home—I’ve been looking through a narrow lens, imposing a frame, and failing to capture the whole. But now my view is expanding. I’m being offered moments of being able to put the camera down and absorb in the whole, splendid panorama. I guess it’s fitting that it’s only the vantage points of my peers that can show this view to me—they’re the ones standing next to me and seeing it, too.

Pretentious metaphors aside, today I am feeling very satisfied with my IST. I love that the buzzwords of the week were patience, balance and support. I feel encouraged and refreshed. And I have a renewed admiration for my PC people, who can be there for me in a way that no one else really can.

And in addition to challenging each other and urging ourselves on to greatness, we also know how to have a darn good time when we get together—which is another kind of balance, if you think about it. This week’s (and weekend’s) experience was so “balanced” that I’m presently sleep deprived with a wicked headache, but it was definitely worth it: I’ll be coming back to my community happy and with a renewed sense of purpose. My place in this community helps me better belong to that one.