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