Friday, April 20, 2012

My 5th Grade Classroom

Watching Animal Planet

One advantage of having a lot free time in a jungle is that I have plenty of hours to stare at animals. The world is swarming with millions of creatures from big to the small, but oftentimes we tend to only notice the hairless apes. Many of these unnoticed creatures go about their daily lives without the slightest knowledge about the vast scale of the planet or their tiny significance in the grand scope of things, but they are still pretty darn interesting.
            Like I have mentioned before, I spend many hours sitting quietly, and I have had to find ways to fill these hours. Watching animals and insects has been one of those ways. As I have peered into the miniature universes of these critters, I have observed amazing behaviors and fascinating actions that have previously gone unnoticed right beneath my nose. The social interactions and peculiar habits of animals can entertain me endlessly.
            Being in a tropical rain forest, there are bound to be birds. Against the odds of practical aviation, these enterprising flyers have crossed an ocean of thousands of miles to reach the outcrops of land here in Micronesia. When they landed, they found a paradise ripe for exploitation. There are no large predators here, so the jungle is ruled by the birds.
Right after a short stint of rain is when I can usually hear their chirping at full blast. Throngs of birds emerge from their leafy nests and serenade the skies with squeaky melodies. When I listen closely I can pick out the different sounds and follow the connections between the calls. The communication is undeniable. These airborne squawkers compete audibly to let their call be known above all others. I am not sure if they are flirting with a little chickadee or mocking a macaw, but they make a lot of racket while doing it.
The red ones like to perch on the banana trees and slurp water from the upturned leaves of the singular drooping pink flower that dangles down from the trunk. The blue/yellow ones are always in action and move around at a wild pace from tree to tree. The larger white ones (terns?) are harder to spot and spend their time high in the trees. At dusk, the mammalian buddies of the birds come out to fly. Thousands of flapping fruit bats screech across the orange clouds on their way to find sweet mango nectar.
            Chickens are also a lot of fun to watch. The chickens in Chuuk are special. They don’t just cluck around and pick up grain from a farmer’s hand. These are wild chickens. They scour the jungle for meals and fight viciously for territory and breeding rights. Sometimes little boys organize it or sometimes it’s spontaneous, either way I see plenty of cockfights. The male roosters screech and claw in a fury of flapping wings until one of them hobbles away bloodied and beaten. Not only are these chickens ferocious fighters and jungle survivors, but they can also fly. Thousands of hours of watching cartoons as a child has taught me that chickens can’t really fly. Maybe a little bit of fluttering, but not real flight. But Chuukese chickens can take off and shoot 40 feet to the top of a tree, and then flap across the gap to another one with one with ease.
            The birds and chickens have staked out a pretty good place for themselves, but they do have one natural enemy. The lizard. I am not talking about the hundreds of geckos that crawl along the walls of my house and bellow their ckckckckckckckck at all hours of the night while pooping their black pellets all over my floor. I am not talking about hand length green lizards that slither up palm trees and munch on flies. And I am not talking about any of the other little cold-blooded pests that crawl through the rotting debris of the jungle. I am talking about the Koduf. The humungous beast of a reptile that is roughly related to the monitor lizard. This monster is the king of animals in Chuuk. He is as thick as a human leg and can stretch five feet from head to tail. He stalks the mangroves and mountain forests to prey upon anything that his vice like jaws can snap upon. He will chomp a chicken with ease.
            The Koduf might be the natural overlord of these islands, but man brought along his best friend to dethrone the king. Dogs have replaced giant lizards at the top of the food chain and have been known to take down the beasts every so often. Chuukese dogs are also much different than most dogs you are used to. Most of them have owners that provide some leftover food and an occasional pat on the back, but overall they can be considered wild dogs. There aren’t doggy doors, leashes, poopy bags, or water bowls for these canines. They take what they can get from humans, and scrounge for the rest. They are all mutts and have the same general look: short hair, mangy coats, long snouts, under 50 pounds. Watching these dogs interact with each other has changed my conception of their intrinsic nature. It’s obvious to see that they descended from wolves and still maintain the pack like ideals of their ancient ancestors. They roam in groups of three or four and are constantly in wars over turf. They bite unknown wanderers and brutally protect their homes. The hierarchy of alpha and beta is deeply ingrained.
            On the surface of things, dogs are the “top dogs” so to speak, but if you look closer you will find that they too have bequeathed the royal title of dominance to another set of creatures. Itty bitty insects. These little guys are the plague of the tropical world. Insects thrive in untold numbers in this warm and wet weather. They breed along the swampy shorelines and piles of rotting vegetation on the soggy forest floor. Then they set out to achieve the only mission of their short meaningless lives, to annoy the hell out of every other living thing. They bite, sting, eat, suck, and poop on anything that comes in their path. Mosquitoes are atop my personal list of hatred, but I think the lice and ticks are a bigger problem for others. Those blood sucking parasites feast on the gnarled skin of the animals and create a never ending cycle of itchiness.
There are dozens of types of ants that skitter around the ground, but three particular types have bothered me the most.  The black centimeter long biting ants can inflict a miniscule bite that will make a grown man scream in pain. They almost always strike on the feet and immediately induce a girlish cry of anguish. This throbbing pain can spread up the leg and hurt intensely for hours. The smaller cousins of these guys have a less painful but more enduring and itchy bite. A nibble by one of these babies will swell up to the size of a half dollar and itch incessantly for almost a week. Another kind of ant that is very common around these parts is as small as a grain of sand and seems relatively harmless. It doesn’t bite or itch. It eats. Interestingly, it doesn’t eat what you think it might eat. These microscopic black ants aren’t known to swarm over plates of food or bags of candy like you might expect, they just go after random shit. Their victim might be a tube of medicine, a bar of soap, a book, a waterproof bag, a t-shirt, an ipod charger, a pair of tweezers, a surge protector, a computer keyboard, my happiness or any other seemingly inedible object.
We also host loads of all the creepy crawly insects that scare the bejeezes out of most people. Invincible cockroaches scuttle in every dark corner and pounce into action as soon as the sun goes down. These buggers not only scurry around with their bone chilling tickity-tick legs, but also fly across the room and have amazingly good aim at landing on my face.
Cockroaches are gross, but I can handle them. Spiders on the other hand push me to my limits. As a little kid I was terrified of spiders because I had a recurring dream about a gigantic spider living at the foot of my bed, which I eventually accepted as the truth and set up an arrangement of sharing my bed space with the humungous arachnid. This led to my habit of sleeping in a crunched up ball, because I had to be fair and give the spider half the bed or else he might bite my feet. However I got over my mild arachnophobia as I grew up. By the time I came to Peace Corps I was killing spiders without flinching and was no longer scared of their potentially deadly bites.
But just like everything else, Chuukse spiders are different than most spiders. Many of them look like the standard 8 legged fiends of our attics and basements, but many of them don’t. I have awoken in the night to find a set of black tickling fingers attached to a peanut sized body prancing across my chest. I saw a white and yellow hairy spider hurry across our kitchen. But the mother of all spiders are the big brown, hard bodied monsters. I have been told that they don’t have a poisonous bite, but they still scare the shit out of me. Some are pretty small, they could probably be stuffed into a coffee cup. But some are huge, and could probably eat a coffee cup. With bodies as big as my pinky finger and legs engulfing my hand, these boys are not to be trifled with. I once got up in the middle of the night on another exciting gastrointestinal adventure, and sleepily plopped down on the toilet to handle my business. I heard a crunching sound and turned my head to the left. Approximately four inches from my face was a monstrous spider chewing on the still living body of a cockroach. The cockroach was being eaten from behind and was struggling in vain with its antennas and front legs flailing at a frantic pace. The spider didn’t seem to be perturbed, he just methodically consumed (not drained) the entire roach.
Once while staying at a hotel, I was lazily crawling out of my bed after a long night of drinking. I sat up in my bed when my friends came in, but I didn’t take off the sheets yet. I finally decided to start my day and threw off the sheets as I rolled out of bed. I leapt back in surprise as a five inch centipede with spiky pincers wriggled from underneath the center of my bed and quickly disappeared under the mattress. This poisonous crawler was apparently hanging out in the middle of my bed right around the level of my crotch for the entire night, but thankfully didn’t feel inclined to say hello.
Watching the animals in my jungle home has made me appreciate their unique talents and sometimes unsavory actions. Regardless if I hate them or love them, I feel privileged to have taken a peek into their tiny universes and see what makes them tick. Seeing this shit in real life is way cooler than watching animal planet at home. I have been utterly impressed with the beautiful birds, dominant dogs, large lizards and raging roosters; and equally disgusted with the mocking mosquitoes, crunchy cockroaches and scary spiders.

The Creation of Chuuk

There are legends about the scattered islands of the Chuuk lagoon being created by the pounding tail of an angry crocodile, and others about sea gods stealing pieces of land and depositing them in random places. But I am going to skip over those stories for now and give you a short summary of the geological history of the Chuuk lagoon.
Millions of years ago a boiling soup of molten rock swirled and surged in a circular fury. The fiery broth was sealed with a cover of hardened rock that stretched for miles. As the scorching stone slime pushed against its rocky lid, the seemingly impenetrable shield began to split. It began to pull apart and became weakened at a thin spot near the top. A crack splintered through the rock and the magma quickly squirted its way in to fill the gaps. The force of the rising fire was too much for the crumbling rock and it finally snapped off a small piece of its crust.
The melted igneous rock made its long journey to the surface, but was greeted with a watery bath. On top of the crusty lid was the largest body of water on the planet. Now the bubbling magma and massive ocean were locked into an epic battle for survival. The incipient volcano was relentless in its efforts. A gigantic pool of compressed magma at the center of the earth was exerting an immense outward force that was pushing the steaming liquid upwards. But as soon as it would peak out of the hole, the cold waters would squelch its fire and turn the magma into solid rock. The water was winning the battle, but it would lose the war. The causalities on the volcanoes side (rocks) were ironically working for its advantage. It grew wider and taller on top of the bodies of its dead comrades (rocks).
The once tiny crack was forming into a sloping mound that was growing minute by minute. After ages of fighting between fire and water, the volcano finally built a base large enough to pop its scalding bald head out of the ocean. Eons pass and the volcano continues to spew out lava to expand its territory. The peak of the underwater volcano now forms a legitimate island in the middle of the once empty ocean. This volcanic island of ancient Chuuk has a diameter of almost 40 miles and lush vegetation soon sprouts in its fertile soil helped along by an endless cycle of rain and sunshine.
Beneath the surface, the once prominent crack seals itself off and stops letting magma squirt up its spire. The big island is proud of his victory against the elements and stands majestically above the blue waters of the Pacific. But the island still has another challenge ahead of him, one that he will not win. He had conquered the wetness of the ocean, but Mother Nature has a varied toolbox full of weapons to destroy an island. Pounding rain, zipping wind, and slapping waves begin to stab their steely knives into the flesh of the tropical island. Little by little, their slow but consistent efforts start to wear away at the land. The shoreline sinks away and the hillsides crumble down. It appears as if the island is sinking!
But all is not lost for the future of this isolated mountain of rock. The subterranean volcano has one more trick up its sleeve. Around the base of the island, coral gardens grow in the warm shallow waters. These rocklike animals expand quickly as their polyps multiply in the nutrient rich conditions. The coral reefs don’t just attract fish and an abundance of sea life; they also leave behind a gift for the island when they die. Their skeletons pile up and form organic graveyards. These piles of coral bones grow steadily below water at the same time the central island is being worn down by erosion. Eventually the coral builds enough of a base to break the surface of the water. These become low-lying coral atolls. Together they form a ring around the circumference of the main island and act as a barrier shield from the oncoming waves and currents.
PAUSE. This is the Chuuk Lagoon today. The sad remnants of the big island are now all that can be seen in the center. Eleven former mountaintops stick their chins out of the water and struggle for survival. A broken ring of coral atolls surrounds the central islands and encircles them in a protective fortress. If you were standing on the ocean floor and looking at Chuuk from a side view, it would like a tall plateau with a jagged edge of coral and some pimples on its face.
As the life cycle of our lagoon continues, the high central islands will continue to decline into oblivion. Parem and Fono will drown in the turquoise waters and someday even the mighty peaks of Tol and Tonoas will fade into their watery graves. The middle of the lagoon will be an empty lake, but the shoreline of the lake will expand. The coral reef will continue its growth and possibly connect into an enclosed circle. The atolls will never gain substantial altitude, but will survive until sea levels change or erosion takes its toll. Depending on how extreme your views are about climate change, you might think this will happen in 5 years or 5 million.

Chuukese Boys' Hair

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my experimentation with my hair since I’ve been in Chuuk. I think part of the reason that I don’t mind what my hair looks like is because I have lost all scruples for personal hairstyle. The Chuukese boys have taken hair experimentation to a whole new level. Hippies grow their hair long to show freedom, Jamaicans grow dreadlocks to solidify their oneness with nature, Emo adolescents dye their hair black and let it hang in their face to be nonconformists, punk kids will rock green Mohawks to rebel against society, but I have no explanation for the Chuukese hair.
Any and all ridiculous ways of cutting your hair has been tried here in Chuuk. Many kids cut a circle around the base of their head and leave hair only on the top. Some shave lines or stripes. Lots of them have traditional mullets. Sticking combs and ribbons in your head is a good fashion statement. Cornrows, braids and all kinds of manipulations are fair game. One of my students shaved exactly half of his head, and left the other side about 3 inches long.
But by fair, hands down, the most popular way to play around with you hair is to grow a really long rat tail. A rat tail is a strand of long hair that hangs far past the rest of your head. This thread of hair can sprout from any part of your head. From the front, above the ear, or behind the head. The longer and more awkwardly placed rat tail makes it all the better. I have seen guys with buzzed heads, and a rat tail as thick as a pencil hanging down to their waist. Some will spend years and years cultivating the perfect sliver of hair to loop around their neck and hang like a necklace.
However the award for best hair goes to one of my local friends that just moved to Hawaii. He went to go live in America and was surely going to make a statement. He usually had a shaved head that was adorned with two sprouts coming out from both sides of his head. Oftentimes he would tie these together and form a graceful rope on the back of his neck. But the reason he takes the cake as the top hairstyle is not for the hair on his head, but on his face. My friend has a bulbous brown mole on his right cheek. The epidermal oddity is topped with six thick black hairs that twirl downward past his chin. He has taken full advantage of his three inch amigos and twisted them into a braid covered with colorful rubber bands. 

Kiddie Games

Kids everywhere in the world are extremely creative at making fun games out of nothing. A ball of string or a broken cup can provide hours of enjoyment if put in the hands of an imaginative child. They can delve into self-made realities based on simple ideas and have a great time messing around with it. Adults often look down at these activities as foolish and childish, but that’s what makes them so great, they are foolish and childish. I think we would all be a little happier if we cultivated our inner fool and inner child a little bit more.
As I have said before, I have a lot of free time around here, so I inevitably spend a lot of it watching little kids play. One thing that I have noticed, and supported with memories from my past, is the stage like progression of different games. Games get played in fads. For a few weeks, all the kids of my village will be totally engrossed in a single activity. And then one day, they will get bored and move onto something else. It moves in cycles and sometimes comes back around to old past times, but there are always some new twists on what they do.
I think this is just human nature. We become obsessed with things, but then wear them out and eventually move onto other things. It roughly follows the economic principle of diminished returns (of enjoyment). The first time you do something fun it blows your mind and you crave for more, by the tenth time it starts to become a standard routine, but by the hundredth time it has lost all its luster and drags you down into a obsessive hole of boredom. When I was little I would play Mario Kart for three hours everyday for a week, then the next week I would play ping pong instead, then the next week I would play basketball, and so on. During the period of play I would be engrossed in the activity and think about it all the time, nothing else seemed to matter. But by the time I was flowing into the next thing, I had entirely forgotten my love for the old activity. Unbeknownst to my conscious mind, the activities in my life were based on stages and fads. I have continued this in my adult years, but the fads have changed their context. Now I will drink whiskey for a week, then drink beer the following week, then wine for the next.
What has interested me so much about the games in Chuuk is that they are created from almost nothing. The children don’t have TV’s, or video games, or sports fields, or Barbie dolls. The objects for their games come from leftover garbage and jungle scraps. They make do with what they have. One of the most popular games (for a couple weeks at a time) is played kind of like the American game of Jacks, but the Chuukese kids use rocks as the jack pieces and limes as the bouncy ball. They play steal-the-bacon with a chunk of breadfruit in the middle. Sandcastles are made with broken coconut shells. Rounded rocks are used as marbles to play an extreme jungle version of classic marble games. Empty oil containers are cut in half and circular nuts from a bushy tree are used as wheels to make toy cars.
The only “toys” that they really have are rubber bands. Rubber bands are pretty cheap and are sold at the little stores in Chuuk, and ultimately the kids find ways to get their hands on them. They have made dozens of games with the use of rubber bands. The most common are group jump rope challenges and a flinging game that reminds me of POGS. They make bets with the rubber bands and ownership is always changing hands.
No matter what their surroundings are, kids are kids. They will always want to be goofy, be entertained by simple things and use their imaginations to turn their worlds’ into fantasy land.
I sat down to right this blog because of a hilarious situation I just saw with two of my little sisters, Kimbo and Orinta. They were playing BINGO and betting their rubber bands. Kimbo said that she won, but Orinta checked her card and saw she was cheating. Instead of arguing with Kimbo, the little girl just blew a huge green slimy snot rocket into her hand and wiped it on her sisters face. Kimbo was shocked and stood in silent disbelief. She acted like she was walking away, but then plugged one nostril and snorted a gooey glob of snot on Orinta’s hair. Then they ran around laughing in circles for the next five minutes snotting on each other and rubbing dirt in each other’s hair. Kids will be kids.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Donating for my Basketball Court

As many of you know, I have been serving in the Peace Corps in the remote Pacific Islands of Micronesia. I live on a tiny tropical island called Fefan in the Chuuk Lagoon. While many of the stereotypical paradise images of swaying palm trees, white sand beaches and crystal clear waters are present on our islands, we are nonetheless plagued with many issues of impoverishment. My island has no electricity (phones, computers, internet, TV), no roads, no stores, limited running water, and a scattering of crumbling buildings and tin shacks.

My main job is teaching English to schoolchildren, but I am also involved in all kinds of secondary projects to assist the development of my poverty stricken community. After integrating into the local lifestyle and assessing the needs of the people, I have found that youth development is one of the most serious issues that needs. Straddling the line between tradition and modernity has created a troubling situation for the young men and women of Chuuk. The leaders of my village have requested that I help them build a basketball/volleyball court as a recreational center for the youth to enjoy.

The undertaking of this project will require a lot of work by the locals. One of the village elders has freely offered a parcel of his land for the placement of the court. However, there is no flat land on Fefan, so in order to make a place for the court they will have to create a piece of flat land with their hands. We have no large machinery to assist with the construction. Using shovels, machetes and pick-axes, the locals will reshape the jungle hillside into a foundation for the court. They will pound rocks with hammers to crush the volcanic boulders into aggregate to mix with the cement. The men will dig sand by hand and carry it on their backs almost a mile through the jungle pathways. All of the difficult construction work will be done for free by the willing young men of my community.

My responsibility for the building of the court is to organize the project and provide most of the materials. I will need to purchase hundreds of bags of cement and rebar poles, basketball posts and backboards, and all the other materials needed to complete the construction. This is where you come in. I am hoping to rely on the generosity of my friends and family back home in America to provide the money to buy the materials for this project. The community leaders and I have entered into an agreement called the Peace Corps Partnership Project, which relies on a combination of contributions from the locals and Americans to fund the project.

If you are interested in possibly donating any amount of money towards the building of a basketball court for my community, please consider visiting my website and contributing a tax-deductible charitable donation through the online payment system. I would greatly appreciate if you could also spread this message to anybody that you think might be interested in our fundraising efforts. The community and I will be forever indebted to you for lending a helping hand towards realizing our dreams and improving the quality of life on our island.

Please visit our website at and input the project number 401-142 to complete your donation.
Peace Corps Volunteers travel overseas to make real differences in the lives of real people. Apply online to Volunteer, find a local recruiting event, donate to a Volunteer project, or access teacher and student resources.

Won Orur

A behemoth of brown rusted metal sits stranded on the coast of a tropical island. It is the remnants of a once promising project to build a dock and a road for a small village. The long neck of the crane-like dredging machine lies on the ground next to the pile of gears and bars. Nobody knows exactly when it met its demise, somewhere between 10 and 30 years ago, but the general consensus is that a part of the motor broke and nobody knew how to fix it. So it fell into line with the rest of the large machinery in this tiny Pacific state and began its slow decline into obscurity. The salt water caked its metallic skin and the relentless sun baked it to a crisp.
The mound of rotting steel is in stark contrast to its beautiful surroundings. Two coconut palms lean lazily over its head and a broad-leafed tree is wrapping around its bulky body. Verdant green grass topped with half exploded firework bulbs crawl along its base. A small beach with cracked seashells and driftwood welcomes the soft lapping of warm waters. Spiraling shades of blues and green dance in the clear ocean as schools of fish splash in unison across its glimmering surface.
The silhouette of the rusted crane is a blackened blob against a backdrop of green volcanic islands that spread across the remote lagoon. The convergence of images of ugliness and beauty on the dock in my village is a perfect microcosm of Chuuk as a whole. It serves as an analogy to show the incongruous nature of these tropical islands. Pristine purity against uncontrolled pollution, abundant resources against lack of possessions, carefree relaxation against frustrating inefficiency, peaceful happiness against desperate isolation, scorching sun against pounding rain.

Conceptions of Time

The understanding of time has been one of the greatest riddles that have fascinated mankind throughout eternity. Time is the basis upon which we comprehend our lives and structure our thoughts, however I do not think that human beings have fully grasped the reality of time. We have slapped definitions on time and tried to make sense of its flow, but its true nature has eluded us.
A few thousand years ago, we finally put together calendars that made a framework of time based on the cycles of the sun, moon and stars. A few hundred years ago, we invented clocks and watches to keep track of the minutes and hours of a day. Only in the last couple centuries have the majority of the world started paying attention to precise timing based on mechanical devices.
Some people think that time is a frivolous invention of mankind that is simply an inaccurate way of structuring our universe. Other people think that time is a universal constant that governs our reality. Our basic intuition leans us towards the latter explanation, but deeper analytic thinking pushes us towards the former. Philosophers have contemplated its meaning, Einstein portrayed it as an unseen dimension, and modern scientists have come to question its linearity and regularity.
Regardless of the true definition and significance of time, we must admit its stranglehold that it has on how we live our lives. Everything that we do is based on the organization of time and how we utilize it. From birth to death or from sunrise to sunset, the use of our time on an efficient schedule is imperative to maintaining a functional life. Especially in western civilization, we have become slaves to time and dedicated all our mental and physical resources to taking full advantage of every second. This obsession with time has led to wonderful things. Unparalleled efficiency and punctual rigidity has led to the booming of a wondrous society that exponentially grows in technology and functionality. Businesses run smoothly and yield high profits, schools instill loads of knowledge and cultivate productivity, construction and infrastructure stretch out and connect the corners of the globe, innovation continuously strives to better our lives and move our society forward. All of these things are possible because of our adherence to proper planning and harnessing the power of time.
On the negative side, our preoccupation with time is also the root of most of the mental anxiety and depression that plagues our lives. Recalling regrettable past actions and remembering tragic events is often at the core of our feelings of sadness and guilt. Thinking about the past festers old feelings and transforms them into monsters that haunt us forever. But imagining the future has a much greater effect on our current mental health. Worrying about how things will work out in the future, near or far, is the main cause of anxiety and stress. Freaking out about how things might potentially transpire takes up hours of our mental thinking time. We create potential scenarios in our mind, accept them as true and then go bonkers panicking about it. The majority of the time, the actual of the events of the future are much different from the fantasy worlds that we created in our minds, and sometimes turn out a lot better. Regardless of how our life actually unfolds, we wreck our nerves by stressing out about the future. Time obsessed people might be effective in their undertakings, but they might also be miserable in their minds. (see Stumbling on Happiness,  by Dan Gilbert)
However, there is another way to deal with time. You can forget about time and just live your life as it happens. Follow the sun to determine your day and the your feelings to dictate your actions. Maintain a vague conception of the time, but use it only as a general structure to organize your work. Do not fret about the future, or agonize about the past. Live in the present moment. Be here now.
This general philosophy of time has been advocated by spiritual leaders, clinical psychologists, and the people of Chuuk. Islanders in the Pacific have a much different conception of time than the standard western view. This is a troubling issue for most foreigners to grapple with and leaves many people frustrated and disillusioned. It infuriates us to wait idly for hours because someone missed a meeting, it baffles us to see a project drag slowly along and fall behind deadlines, it saddens us to see potential wasted by inefficiency and laziness. The developing islands of the Pacific, especially Chuuk, suffer immeasurably on an economic and political scale due to this ignorance of the formality of time.
On the other hand, their purposeful ignorance of time has many positive ramifications on their overall wellbeing. Despite the setbacks caused by inefficiency, people are happy. As long as their basic needs of food and shelter are met, the accumulation of material goods by exhaustive work is not a top priority. They are content living life at slow and leisurely pace. Things get done around here, it just takes a little longer. Hard work is a highly valued personal characteristic and I have been surprised by the intensity and determination of the local people’s work ethic. But that high octane pace of work doesn’t go around the clock.
There is an infamous saying around the islands that goes something like, “ I’m not late, I’m on Chuukese time”. Chuukese time doesn’t necessary imply lateness, it just means that exact time is ambiguous. When a Chuukese person tells you that they will meet you at 3 o’clock, they really mean that they will meet you sometime in the late afternoon between 2 and 4. If they tell you that it only takes 30 minutes to walk somewhere, they really mean that it takes anywhere from 10 to 100 minutes. When they write on the schedule that school will begin at 8 am, what they really mean is that it will begin around 830ish.
They do not intentionally deceive each other with false time predictions and faulty schedules. Time is just a rough approximation of reality. Their minds don’t attach the same significance to punctuality and efficiency as us westerners do. Those are imported ideas that are slowly infiltrating their way into the islander mindset. I think the acceptance of the importance of time will follow the same schedule as everything else in Chuuk… it will take a long time.
Placing value on time is a double-edged sword. There are good and bad things about following either the “hurry up” or “chill out” mantras. Sticking to a strict schedule allows for efficient success and high productivity. But if you place too much value on time, you end up as an anxious stress case that lets life zip by without taking the time to smell the flowers. Going with the flow of things and taking a relaxed attitude towards life will allow you to be happy and appreciate each day. But if you disregard the ideas of timeliness, opportunities will be floundered and progress will be hindered. It depends on what you care about the most in your life: relaxation and happiness or success and efficiency.
Our interaction with time determines the course of our lives, and its our personal decision about the nature of that relationship.

Under A Watchful Eye

Participating in cultural tasks and island chores has been one of the most rewarding and frustrating experiences of my service. I take pride about my ability to integrate into the culture and live the same lifestyle as the locals. I have forced myself into their circles of work and insisted on being involved in tasks that are never required of me. Getting involved in the daily work of the men is not as easy as you might imagine. I have never been required to help pound breadfruit, I have never been told to cut the crass, I have never been asked to carry loads from the dock, I have never been invited to go fishing. But I do all these things all the time.
            Doing these things has brought me limitless praise and acknowledgements from the community. They always call me aat en Chuuk (Chuukese boy), because of my knowledge in local tasks. The men respect me, the little boys look up to me, and the women giggle when I pass by. My happiness as a volunteer and my acceptance into the community and family has been pushed along because of my involvement in these tasks.
            Although my life has been enriched by these actions and my reputation has grown, I have still not broken through the barrier of differences that they place upon me. I am still watched cautiously by many worried eyes every time I take a step. My family still treats me like a child and never wants me to do anything but sit around and eat. I can do most of the tasks as well or better than many of the locals, but everybody steal acts like I am a little baby.
            I wield a machete almost every single day while I am chopping things, cutting things, or just participating in some type of work. Nonetheless, every single time I pick up a machete somebody grimaces and tells me, “You are going to cut yourself”. This warning is coming from the same people who allow their 3-year-old girls to run down the road with knives in both hands.
            I pound breadfruit almost every single week, but nonetheless every single time that I sit down with the pounding rock someone guffaws with surprise and says, “you know how to pound breadfruit!” If I hammer a nail into a piece of wood, a pair of shocked onlookers will exclaim, “wow, you can do that!”. When I pick up a bag to carry it from the dock to my house, a flurry of voices will demand me to “put down the bag and let a man carry it”. If I open a can of tuna and plop it into a frying pan, my sisters will laugh in excitement and yell, “are you sure you know how to cook”. Every time I tie the knot on the rope for our boat, somebody comes and inspects it. I always do it correct, but they still check every single time. At least four times a day somebody will tell me (not ask) that I am tired.
I know that these overprotective precautions and constant warnings are based on good intentions, but its still infuriating. My family and community are just trying to be hospitable. They want to pamper me and make me a fat, lazy, and dependent slouch. It is their way of treating me like a guest and taking the best care of me that they can. The problem is that I hate being treated like that. I don’t like to be put on a pedestal and treated special when I don’t deserve it. I want to be like everybody else. In my point of view, the negative outcomes of embarrassment and infantile treatment far outweigh the relaxation and chubbiness of being treated like a baby.

A Few Chuukese Recipes

I have a love/hate relationship with Chuukese food. Some of it is delicious, and some of it isn’t. The local island food is nutritious and tasty, but the islanders prefer to eat the lowest quality food product imaginable that is imported from the unsold stockpiles of American grocery stores. There are a wide variety of good ways to prepare fish, bananas, and the other tropical treats; but I am going to tell you about some of the more interesting meals. I am not going to get into all the details about all the weird things that I have eaten like turtles, dogs, sea slugs, fish heads and pig intestines. I am also not just going to give you a boring list about my daily eating habits. Instead I thought I would enlighten your culinary curiosity and explain how the Chuukese have put a twist on some traditional dishes.

·        Catch a fish from the ocean
·        Slice vertical lines at centimeter intervals
·        Pour soy sauce and lime juice on it
·        Pick up the entire fish with your hands and gnaw the gooey flesh of the bones


·        Chop 2 frozen chicken thighs (always from Tyson Farms in Alabama)
·        Place chicken parts in large pot and boil
·        After the chicken is cooked, dump out all the chicken broth
·        Refill the pot with new water
·        Add soy sauce and salt
·        When the water comes to a boil, add chopped onions at the last second and immediately turn off the stove

·        Open can of Corned Beef
·        Plop the cold mush on a plate of rice

·        6 cups of warm water
·        1 cup of sugar
·        3 ounces of evaporated condensed milk product in a tin can
·        Mix together and enjoy!

·        Open a 25 cent packet of Korean ramen
·        Pour the salt pouch into the packet
·        Pour Cool-Aid mix in the ramen packet
·        Smash the bag with your hands and break the ramen into little pieces
·        Don’t add water
·        Eat like chips

·        Open a can of tuna and dump all contents along with the oil into a bowl
·        Pour soy sauce and salt into the bowl
·        Make balls of rice with your hands and dip them into the tuna grease
·        If oil is left over after the tuna bits are gone, drink the oil

·        Open can of machined processed luncheon meat stuff (SPAM)
·        Cut into slices
·        Enjoy cold or fried

·        Fill a cup with boiling water
·        Add half a tablespoon of instant coffee mix
·        Stir in 6 full tablespoons of sugar
·        Add two tablespoons of powdered creamer
·        Drink at anytime of the day, even if its 95 degrees outside

Islands of Contrast

Weno is an island of contrasts. The good, the bad and the ugly are all smashed together on a tiny scrap of land in the wide ocean. As I walk down the main road on Weno, my senses are overwhelmed with positive and negative things that bombard me from every angle. I gaze around at the surroundings and my feelings surge from happiness to despair in a matter of seconds. The conjunctions of heavenly beauty and impoverished disarray are impossible to ignore.
Follow my eyes as I scan the island from top to bottom. Above my head is a baby blue sky with patches of fluffy white clouds. No smog to blur the atmosphere or skyscrapers to block out the sun. The bright blueness of the sky is then abruptly interrupted by a jagged line of brilliant green. The mountainsides of the ancient volcanic slopes are carpeted with a thick blanket of jaded green jungle. Over the sides of the hillsides, I can see the vast expanse of endless water that stretches towards the horizon in all directions. Its blue color is not uniform like the sky, but multi-hued in a tie-dye swirl of cobalt and periwinkle. The pureness of blue and green shades is so flawless that it seems only an artist could have created such beauty. The warm sun caresses my skin and the smell of tropical flowers fills my nostrils. These are the scenes of paradise that children dream of and adults yearn for.
As my gaze lowers below the tops of the mountains, I begin to see scattered buildings nestled into the rain forest. A cell phone tower pokes its metallic head out of the dense thicket of trees and signals the end of untouched jungle. The roofs of the two story buildings have rusted rebar poles sticking up towards the sky and cracked rain gutters drooping off the edges. Corroded tin slats of roofing ward off the pounding sun and drizzling rain. Small windows with half torn security screens and soggy pieces of plywood nailed on the fronts provide some ventilation for the concrete buildings.
By the time I reach street level, the stench of the raw garbage has caught up with me. No sewers and no trash cans mean that garbage piles up in the corners and rots in mounds of disgusting putrefaction. Almost all the buildings are one story and follow the same basic design. The nice ones are concrete boxes with flat roofs and the poor ones are jumbles of wood and tin that form the general shape of a shack. Faded signs are plastered above the doorways of some stores and wire fences mark off the property line of buildings. The muddy ruts that they call streets are pockmarked with construction workers digging holes to fix the drainage problems. The roar of bulldozers and rumble of dusty cars drown out the sound of singing birds and crashing waves.
Amidst the collapsing city are crowds of lounging men and frolicking children. Random people stop me on the street to say hello and ask me how I am doing. Little girls scream hello and waves their arms frantically in excitement to get my attention. The construction workers stop their digging and greet me as I pass by. I am surrounded by smiling faces and a carefree island attitude.
But when I look closer, some more contrasts become visible in those same happy interactions. The man who smiled at me on the road and shook my hand had a mouth of only two black teeth and touched me with a dirty hand crusted in red betelnut spit. The children who cheerfully yearned for my glance had no shoes or shirts and were covered in scars of infected wounds and burst boils. The construction worker who politely addressed me was visibly drunk and hollered an obscene comment at an attractive woman across the road.
Chuuk is a place of contrasts. From one perspective, it can be viewed as a fantastical tropical paradise that fulfills your imagination’s expectations of pure beauty and island relaxation. From another perspective, it can be viewed as a struggling third world dump that is bursting at the seams with confusion and pollution. One’s interpretations of Chuuk depend on where one looks and how one looks. As one of my Peace Corps buddies eloquently stated it, “Welcome to Heaven, Welcome to Hell, Welcome to Chuuk”

Blank Time

One of the most interesting personal changes that I have undergone during my time on the islands has been the changed allocation of thinking time. In America, when I have nothing to do I will usually find something to do within a few minutes. If I am bored, I can always switch on the TV or browse the internet. I can talk to family or friends, or find some task to fill up my time.
            Life on the islands is much different. When boredom comes along, there is nothing to alleviate it with. There are no entertainment systems to numb my mind, there are few activities to occupy my attention, and relaxed silence is preferred over casual conversation. We just tend to “tick away the moments that make up a dull day, fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way”
            This lack of things to distract my mind and keep it active during lull periods has led to an overabundance of inner monologue thinking. I will sometimes sit for hours and barely say a handful of words. The only time I would ever do that in America is while watching a movie or sleeping in my bed. But here, I do it all the time. My blank time is no longer filled with things, it is filled with nothingness.
            However, I have realized that this nothingness is not worthlessness. The blank time that I spend thinking has opened up new avenues of thought and given me a deeper understanding of the world around me. I carefully sift through my visual surroundings with a fine-toothed comb and notice minute details about the people and things around me. My mind doesn’t go blank, instead it wanders around in a maze of thought until it finds something to settle on. My brain finally has the time to fully develop ideas instead of creating the beginning of notions and then having my thought process interrupted by external stimuli. There just aren’t a lot of active external stimuli to capture my attention. So I concentrate on what’s going on inside my head and weave convoluted networks of random thoughts.  I ponder intellectual puzzles, work through personal dilemmas, reconstruct the past and plan the future.
            Through most of my life, my thought processes are dictated by the structure of the environment around me. If I am in class, I think about school. If I am watching a movie, I think about the movie. If I am playing rugby, I think about rugby. If I am having a conversation, I think about the conversation. But here, the structure of my environment is stagnant and relatively unchanging. My thought processes have nothing directing their flow, so I am free to have unrestrained thinking.
            I have learned to harness the unlimited power of free time and transform it from frustrating boredom into insightful thinking. I guess this is what monks and philosophers strive after.  Isolation that gives the opportunity to think in silence. This lifestyle is in stark contrast to how I have lived previously. I was always a talking, walking, doing and going kind of guy. I never spent time alone in my room or in quiet contemplation. I thought it was a waste of life to sit around doing nothing. But now I realize that having time to cultivate inner thoughts is not a waste of life, but rather a way to enrich it through the personal improvement of spirit and mind.

Kitten Kraziness

Around 30 kittens have been born in my house on Fefan. These little felines seem to pop up in new batches every few months and swarm our home. Their squeaky cries and whiny howls can be heard emanating from the cracks of cupboards and underside of boxes. The newborns can fit inside a coffee cup and barely open their eyes.
            The funny thing about having more than two dozen kittens being born in my house is that we don’t have any pet cats. The mothers are stray cats that sneak into our bathroom/storage area and find a secluded spot to give birth. I think they favor this spot for two reasons. Its well protected from the elements and it is very close to food.
            We never feed the cats, but they find ways to get plenty of food from us. The older cats work in teams to open up doors, tear through screens, squeeze through holes and sneak through doors to find their way to our kitchen. We don’t have a refrigerator so leftover plates of fish, bowls of rice, and slabs of Spam are usually out in the open for a cat to steal. Our family is in a constant battle against these cats.
            I never thought that I would hate cats, but I am pretty close to hating these cats. These kitties are not cute cuddly balls of fur. They are mangy, skinny, diseased mongrels that ruin our food and make a mess of our house. Their numbers continue to grow, and their pestilence upon our kitchen increases with each new litter. But in reality it’s impossible to hate a baby creature with those innocent blue eyes and tiny fluffy heads.

Mango Madness

I finally fulfilled one of my dreams about living here in Micronesia. I gorged myself on ripe mangoes until I couldn’t eat anymore. I had heard the legends of copious mangoes dropping from the trees and lining the roads in such abundance that they went uneaten and rotted on the ground. The tales of mango madness captivated my imagination and I have been eagerly awaiting their arrival. Due to some unusual seasonal changes in weather patterns, I have never seen a proper mango harvest. Every once in a while, I will get to chomp on a sour little mango that some little boy has brought me, but I have yet to see the rain of ripe mangoes that drop from the trees.
Last week, I went deeper into the jungle with a few friends and found a gigantic mango tree that was fruiting wildly. A boy climbed the tree and proceeded to knock down 50 or 100 oval shaped mangoes. I happily stuffed myself with the fruity goodness and enjoyed the tasty tropical treat.

TV Culture Shock

I check the internet on occasion and hear splices of news from rumors, but overall I am pretty clueless about everything that is happening outside of my tiny island home. Last week, I spent a night in a hotel and paid the extra $1.50 to have access to the newly installed cable TV hook up. A night of watching TV made my isolation and disconnection from civilization quite clear.
A BBC news broadcast brought the most shocks. They were discussing politicians I had never heard of, unknown African wars that had sprung up over night, random celebrities with juicy gossip and a slew of new inventions. I saw a segment about the first commercially available flying cars. It appears that the number one science fiction fantasy is no longer a dream. Also, I watched a report on the prototype of the futuristic Google glasses. This technologically eye wear provides a tiny computer like screen in your field of vision that describes and enhances all the objects in your environment. I had seen predictions of this idea in the movies Wall-E and Minority Report, but I didn’t think we were actually there yet.
I know I have been gone for a while, but I didn’t expect the world to change so much so quickly. I am going to leave my quaint island abode and return to America to find a flying car in every driveway, an Ipad in every hand, and reality augmenting Google glasses on every head. hah

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Street Sweepers

They’re sweeping the streets! They’re sweeping the streets!

The newly built roads on Weno might actually have a chance to survive. For the last couple of years, the state has been trying to rebuild the embarrassingly horrible road system on the main island of Weno. The majority of the roads are muddy pits of sludge and slime that streak through the island. Apparently, the roads were nice at one point way back when, but due to poor plan and lack of maintenance they have slipped into disarray.
I have been greatly disappointed with the construction of the new roads because within a period of only a few months they had become caked in dirt. I saw in my minds eye the progression of how this centimeter of mud would eventually build into a foot and the roads would slip back into their state of deformity. The drainage/sewage system is still incomplete and the brand new roads still flood when it rains.
My pessimism was turned upside down last week when I saw street sweepers. The street sweeping was exactly what I imagined it would look like. Men, women and children were walking down the center of the road and brushing away the dirt and grime with palm frond brooms. It might not have the same effect as a high powered street sweeper truck, but it still gets the job done.
With no roads, the economy of Chuuk will never advance. This essential step must be undertaken with care to ensure the future success of the state. I am happy beyond belief to see that they finally got the sense together to clean and maintain the roads. Good work!

Solar Lights

A few months ago, my dad sent me a few different type of solar lanterns to give to my host family. The smallest and cheapest of those lamps turned out to be an amazing feat of human achievement. The D. Light S100 solar light has brought brightness to the dark nights in Chuuk. Most people use expensive and dirty kerosene lamps to light their houses at nights and others use second-rate Chinese flashlights that zap a pair of batteries in a few days. Both options are insufficient, but solar provides a solution.
            My host family liked the light so much that they asked for a few more. My dad happily purchased a couple more and sent them in the mail. Pretty soon, the neighbors became jealous of the fabulous lighting system and asked if they get some. As a Peace Corps volunteer I am not allowed to sell things so I had to rely on the generosity of my dad to buy the lights for the community. He sent over a dozen more of the lights and I gave them away to some of my extended family and community members.
            During the last month, a wild craze has started in my village about the lights. Maybe not every single day, but at least every other day I get stopped on the road and asked for a light. People that I have never seen before will approach me and beg for a solar light. They are obsessed with the potential of these solar lights and the rumors are spreading like wildfire.
            I cant rely on my dad to buy 100 lights for every family in my village, but the need is obvious and the demand is large. I am trying to work with a local NGO to apply for a grant from the light corporation to get a big load of lights. We’ll see what happens. 

Mowing the Lawn

          Mowing the lawn and weeding the garden have never really appealed to me as enjoyable activities. For most of my life, hired gardeners have taken care of those jobs at my house in America. Manicuring the backyard for ascetic appeal was just not on the top of my priority list, and I always found a way to avoid them.
            Taking care of your backyard in Chuuk is a little bit different though. Mostly because your backyard is a tropical rain forest. Elephant grass ten feet tall, leaves bigger than a table, and an endless mat of twirling vines that envelop everything they touch. Having a jungle as a backyard and having to maintain its appearance and functionality present an interesting paradox. It takes a lot of work, but the work is a lot of fun.
            The water saturated green plants that cover every inch of my island grow at an amazing pace. The combination of abundant rain and constant sunshine provide the perfect team to help plants flourish. Grass grows faster than it can be cut, vines climb higher than we can reach and abandoned buildings get buried in a mound of foliage in a few years.
The jungle is also the source of our livelihood and we depend on it for food. If we allow the grasses, vines and weeds to overtake everything; then our food crops will be denied the nutrients that they need. So the locals are in a constant battle to keep the encroaching jungle at bay.
            Luckily, rain forest plants are easy to chop. They are filled with water and can be sliced like butter with a sharp machete. So when the time comes to “mow the lawn”, I usually jump at the opportunity and go nuts with my machete. I go on a samurai rampage and hack the unwanted plants into smithereens. It is a lot more fun that pushing a lawn mower.

Humid Hygiene

Living in a humid jungle surrounded by sandy oceans easily creates plenty of hygiene issues to deal with. Bacterial infections, skin diseases, parasites and infected wounds are commonplace. The stifling heat squeezes pounds of sweat out of your pores on a daily basis and leaves a stinky grime coating your body. The constant rains transform the dirt roads into muddy quagmires that are unavoidable and will eventually cake your ankles and feet with gunk.
       The way to avoid being disgusting all the time is to take a lot of showers. Almost everybody takes at least 2 showers a day. The most common insult that kids spout at their enemies is, “kese tutu nessosor! (you didn’t shower this morning)”. Everybody showers all the time.
          Showering means dumping a few buckets of cold water over your head from the tub of tank water. It’s a cold shocking experience that takes all the fun out of showering. Contrary to my experiences in America, showering is a laborious task not a relaxing rest. When I shower in Chuuk, I clean myself like a maniac. I scour my feet with a laundry brush, use my abrasive washcloth to scrub every inch of my body, and rid my skin of all the tropical germs that have accumulate during a long day.
            When I go to the main island of Weno, I often expect to relish in the luxuries of a clean and slightly more prosperous environment. Running water, flushing toilets, and air conditioning. But often these things are not readily at my disposable. The showers at hotels are usually cold and often clog. The air conditioning units at our office are broken. And last week the septic tank filled up in our office. So now when you flush the toilet, poop squirts up through the drain hole and covers the bathroom floor.

Hippie Hair

I have been living up to the stereotypical Peace Corps image and letting my hair and beard grow long and mangy. For the majority of my life I have stuck with the short jock-style haircuts. A short buzz that never sprouts longer than an inch. I liked the low maintenance/low worry style of short hair. About a year ago, I decided to take a new path for my hairdo and let it flow. My hair is now stretching down towards my shoulders and flopping in my face.
            While the hair is often problematic and takes some work to keep it under control, there are some fun advantages to having long hair. The best and worst part of my long hair is the constant experimentation with harnessing its wild strands and fashioning into a controllable style. Hats are an easy way to contain my mane of salty brown hair, but I have also learned some new ways to play with accessories on my head. Sometimes I rock the half-ponytail/samurai topknot look. Other times I loop a thin headband around the top and look like a Spanish soccer player. I’ve tried the double braided Pippy Long Stocking technique. I can also slick it back and do a good impression of a 50’s greaser. Just recently I have enough length to cinch it back into a customary ponytail and blend in with the girls. The options are endless, but none of them feel very natural.
            My favorite zany hairstyle has been tightly braiding my hair into cornrows. This gangster look is quite popular here in Chuuk and I get jealous praise from all the locals each time that I do it. The style is called cornrows in America because the lines of hair resemble cornrows. Well there is no corn in Chuuk, so they came up with their own unique names to characterize the different styles. There is the nipach (octopus), the bunkin (pumpkin), and my personal favorite the senco (mosquito coil).
            When I return to America I will most likely chop off my raggedy mop of hair and return to normalcy, but it has been an interesting hairdressing experience to play with my tropical locks.

Hitchhiking the Waterways

The trend of hitchhiking America’s highways has faded considerably since its heyday in the 1970’s. It is no longer common to see longhaired wanderers sticking their thumbs out to oncoming traffic on the side of the road. However, hitchhiking has made a comeback in Chuuk. But just like everything else that comes from America to Chuuk, the locals have put their own unique twist on it.
            We don’t hitchhike for cars. We hitchhike for boats. The strips of water between the scattered islands of the Chuuk Lagoon get much more traffic than the measly road on the main island of Weno. Fiberglass motor boats with 40 horsepower engines are the standard form of transportation in this watery world. Even if you are going from one place to another on the same island, it is much quicker to hop in a boat.
            When I want to make a trip to Weno in order to spend some internet browsing hours, down a few beers or handle some business I need to find a boat to take me there. Oftentimes I can get a ride with my family or close neighbors, but sometimes I must hitchhike for a ride.
            I will stand out on my dock and wave my arms frantically in the air when a boat comes passing along. Since I am an innocent looking white guy, somebody almost always stops for me. I will toss them a few dollars for gas and get a lift across the depths of blue to the main island.
            Some of my most interesting boating experiences have been while hitchhiking back from Weno. The return trip is much more sketchy and unreliable. The timing, placement and weather all throw monkey wrenches into the situation. I am usually able to find a willing boater, but sometimes it takes me on a wild ride.
            One week, I found a man that I knew from my village who offered to give me a ride. He bragged profusely about his new boat that he just got last week. He is a very poor man and obviously had not purchased this boat, so I don’t know the real truth behind the situation. I waited around the market place dock while he went to get gas. The market place dock is possibly the shadiest place on Weno. It is a hangout for drunks and troublemakers and has turned into a living and breathing junkyard of trash. I wormed my way out of a few drunken conversations with half naked men, before retiring to the boat to wait for my captain. One man held my hand for at least two minutes and kept squeezing harder and harder. He had a huge smile on his face and was asking me normal questions, but I finally recoiled away when he gave the standard “Chuukese tickle”. This move involves one person rubbing the inner palm of your hand while you are embraced in a handshake. It is known as a flirtatious move, but drunken men do it to me all the time.
            We finally got in the boat and drove a mile or so to the other side of the island, where we pulled into another garbage filled marina and tied up our boat on a slimy rock. We then waited for over two hours for my captain’s nephew to get off work. We weren’t waiting to give him a ride. His uncle just wanted to ask him for some money to buy some food for his family. He finally met his employed nephew and managed to get $4 from him. I lent him another $1 and he bought a huge bag of turkey tails. The ass fat of American consumerism.
            Another time I got on a boat with a young man from the other side of Fefan. He was extremely concerned about my safety and continually warned me about dangers of Weno. His boat had broken and his uncle was there to tow it back. We tried to tow the boat but the waves were too big and the storm was too fierce. So we detached the second boat and made our way back to the island. The captain was furious with all the problems that day and wouldn’t drop me at my home, so I disembarked more than an hour’s walk away and wandered through the jungle on my trek home. The young man refused to let me go alone and followed me the whole way. 

Reflection Time

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The commute from Fefan to Weno is a tiresome and annoying task for most people. They dread the splattering salt water, the tailbone crunching smacks, and the deadening heat. It costs too much money, takes too much time and is always a hassle.
            Although I struggle with these same issues when crossing the lagoon waters on my way to or from Weno, I actually enjoy the ride. The main reason that I like the commute is because it serves as a time of personal reflection for me. I often get restless in my jungle abode or get wrapped up in the frustrations of school and poverty, but when I get out onto the open ocean everything changes. My troubles slip away and float out towards the distant horizon. The salty air whisks away my worries and a calming sensation washes over my body and mind.
            When I am out on the ocean, it puts everything in perspective. Literally and figuratively. Being in the middle of the dotted islands on the shimmering blue canvas gives me a jolt of reality and reminds me that I am not stuck in a dusky classroom in a sweltering jungle. I am in the center of paradise and the sights around me are beautiful beyond imagination. Somehow, this realization of the physical freedom of my situation spurs a feeling of happiness and contentment with my life.
            I have some of my deepest philosophical thoughts and most affirming inspirations while I am floating over the open waters. I ponder my life decisions, plan the future, recollect the past, and appreciate my life. The quiet atmosphere and feelings of freedom never fail to boost me up. At the end of our journey, most of the other passengers have nasty grimaces strewn across their faces but I will usually have a cheerful smirk on my salty sunburned face.