Monday, February 14, 2011

A festive weekend! (with a capital “V”!)

I never thought I’d say this, but just I celebrated Valentine’s Day all weekend here in Pohnpei! In my community last year I felt like I was the only person who even knew it was Valentine’s Day. But 2011 seemed to be the year of the Valentine’s Renaissance on PNI, and I got to celebrate it in a number of ways. (None of which involved a boyfriend, so you can put down the hedge clippers, Dad!)

My first Valentine-esque activity actually had roots in something that to me was very sad. I found out last week that one of our 4th grade students got pregnant over Christmas break. It was later revealed that she had been truant all but one day last semester, was several years older than her grade-level, and had other issues outside of school that would put her at risk. But the news still upset me greatly, especially since few staff members at our school could recall the last time a Sex Ed team came to Lukop to give “the talk” (here called “ia mumwen naitik” or “how to give birth”). I felt like we had failed her.

So, with my principal’s permission, I got to work and called up the Public Health office. Eventually, I connected with the Adolescent Health team, and two of their educators agreed to visit our school. That visit landed on Friday, February 11 and kicked off V-Day weekend for me.

Their presentation was great – they had an informative flip chart and power point, but the best part of all was seeing my students paying attention and asking important questions about their health. We invited all students grades 5 through 8 to attend and divided them by gender into two classrooms. I was in the girls’ classroom with a female colleague, and two of our male colleagues were with the boys. The Pohnpeian health educator did a great job of answering questions in a way that minimized the girls’ embarrassment. Some girls were quiet while others were chatty with their friends, but I believe everyone learned something. I can only imagine how it was for the boys. It seemed like a steady stream of them were walking back and forth from their classroom to the bathroom, craning their necks to see what the girls were doing.

They got a taste of their own medicine, however, when the girls were excused a few minutes before the boys, and we got to witness them performing a hilarious song and dance their educator had taught them (for some reason the girls didn’t learn it). It’s to the tune of Frère Jacques with words and hand motions as recorded below:

Watermelon, watermelon
(Pantomime an enormous pregnant belly in front of your belly)
Papaya, papaya
(Pantomime holding and/or squeezing large breasts in front of your chest; giggle moderately)
Guava and banana, guava and banana
(Curve the fingers of both hands into a small spheres and stick out your index finger in front of your crotch; giggle maniacally)
Fruit salad, fruit salad
(Pantomime stirring an enormous pot with a humongous ladle; continue aforementioned giggling)

On Saturday I was included in an entirely different manner of Valentine celebrations. The youth group at our local Baptist church sometimes holds social events. This weekend it was decided that they would have a Valentine’s banquet on Saturday night with “partners” (“dates”), even though practically all the young people in the church are cousins. It was held in the Sunday School annex to the main church building, and the girls got together to clean and decorate on Saturday morning. I enjoyed cutting out LOTS of little paper hearts that day with the girls – my small contribution to what turned out to be a VERY well-decorated banquet space. The official start time was 4:30 pm, so by about 7pm all the boys and the girls were there and dressed to the nines – the girls were waiting in their most formal gowns with their hair gracefully and painstakingly styled on one side of the church building, and the boys were playing volleyball in their collared shirts, gelled hair and jeans on the other side.
Then we filed in – the “honored guest” (me) got to hit the buffet and find my seat first (There was even an artificial, long stemmed rose waiting for me there with a tag that read “Molie Write”). Then the “couples” came in. The pastor and his wife were hosts, other ladies from the church were helping serve kool-aid out of coffee carafes, and I helped out by taking lots of pictures. After eating, we had a few songs by the girls, a testimony time, and a game of balloon volleyball (!!!!!!) before a short sermon on love, based on John 3:16. After it was done, everyone helped clean up and we all went home.

You couldn’t find two more diverse ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day, could you? But wait! There’s more!

On Monday—actual Valentine’s Day—I did my standard grammar activity excuse just to make Valentine’s in class (We practiced adjectives, adverbs, and verbs. See? “Dear Valentine, You are very beautiful! I love you! Love, Your Valentine”). The students enjoyed it, I had a few embarrassed gigglers who were taking the opportunity finally to let a special someone know “You are extremely handsome and popular,” but it was pretty standard other than that.

Then on Monday night I went to a reading of the Vagina monologues and a discussion of domestic violence at the First Annual (we’re hoping) Pohnpei V-Day. It was amazing to hear Pohnpeian women speaking out about an issue that is just not discussed here, although it is an enormous problem. I was especially heartened to hear from Pohnpei’s sole female member of the legislature, as well as key members from women’s groups around the island. Also, a number of men from the audience took a pledge at the end of the presentation to “protect the women in my life from violence and abuse.” Pretty cool, huh? Pohnpei V-Day even made it onto the international V-Day website of events! (You can see it here!

That about covers it for my Valentine’s Day celebrations. So let me send you all a big hug and let you know that I love you THIS much, since that’s what Valentine’s Day is all about anyway!

Sincerely your infrequent but heartfelt blogger,