Sunday, April 18, 2010

Girl Scouts Together

Miranda has recently started her job as Yap’s Girl Scout Coordinator. And girl is she excited!

The position is through the Yap Women’s Association and is part time. The job essentially is developing Girl Scouts in Yap from the bottom up, she was given a “leaders guidebook” developed by FSM GS, and told “go!”. GS was present here in the 70’s but when the leader left island permanently and fairly abruptly GS just fizzled out. Miranda has talked to some adults, who remember how scouting was here, and are excited to hear it is coming back!

There is a great need for the good that comes from girls being involved in scouting. Miranda is hoping to use this as a place to build self-esteem, leadership skills, and a sense of responsibility for their community, and to have loads of fun, of course! Though scouting will look different here than in the states, the same good can come from it. There are no badges, we get to design our own state uniform, and we don’t have a Safety-Wise, only “safety checks”! Some usual scouting activities are either not needed or not possible. Cookies are not possible. Outdoor living skills are not needed. These girls can probably teach Miranda a thing or two about fire building and lashing!

Resources are extremely limited, not only by what is available but what is affordable. Miranda has a very small budget to work with. There are already at least ten girls who are interested, just by hearing that Miranda has started to organize scouts. She wants to have fun and exciting activities to offer the girls to get them hooked into the wonderful world of scouting. She is currently creating a songbook and informational brochures that she will be taking to the meetings and talks she is beginning to schedule in order to get the word out.

Now our friends back home are loving and giving people. We are hoping that some, involved in scouts or not, would be willing to donate some supplies to get Yap Girl Scouts off the ground. We know times are tough right now, and anything will be accepted with great enthusiasm and gratitude. Below is a list of supplies that would be very helpful, new or used. If you can help in any way it would be so wonderful:

* basic art supplies- markers, colored pencils, etc (but please no crayons for now until we test run them in the mail)

*old Girl Scouting materials you may have laying around. Even if you think they are outdated. books, craft/activity ideas etc.

*beads, and simple jewelry materials for all ages

*any left over or odds and ends craft supplies you may have

*craft ideas that can use regularly available supplies on island such as yarn, fabric, thread, palm branches, coconut shells, Elmer's glue, and basic school supplies etc. (ideas are no cost to you!)

I am sure this list will grow and change, but this would be a great place to start!

You can either send them to me directly (see the care package post for mailing tips and our PO box address), or drop them off to Miranda’s dear mother in Bremerton who has agreed to help this cause.

Also, please to hit up any teachers you know at the end of the year for cast off supplies (I will do a Flat Stanley thing for them if they do it, and you need something to bargain with!).

Also if there are any GS leaders out there who are interested in doing a supply drive for us with their troop, please let’s talk! (or a book/toy drive for the daycare) We can also, once we get going, look into doing some pen pal exchanges!

I try not to ask too much of my loved ones when it comes to donating things. I don’t expect anyone to go buy new materials, just look into that vast supply closet that all GS leaders have (I know you have them!), or your own personal craft closet, and spread the love a little. Give me things that your girls didn’t like, you had too many of, your girls have grown out of, or items that just aren’t “cool” enough anymore, or materials you bought for that well intentioned project you will never get around to. Think of the good it will be doing if it hooks another girl into joining and sticking with Scouts!

A million advance thank-you’s,

The future Girl Scout troop(s) of Yap!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Things you don’t really think about until you move to a remote tropical island

Since we recently acknowledged our three month anniversary here in Yap we thought it would be interesting and maybe even fun to reflect a little on our experience so far.

Though the initial withdrawal of leaving modern civilization has begun to fade, some things remain noticeably different. There are things when living in a well-insulated home far from the jungle we definitely took for granted. Like being able to reach into your medicine cabinet, pantry, purse, or drawer and not have to check for creeping, crawling, or flying insects first. Or not waking up with more mosquito bites than you went to bed with. Hot water and bath tubs seemed to be a given before. Internet access was unlimited, fast, and reliable. Dishwashers may not have been in every home, but we had one.

Having more than a dozen restaurants to choose from, or one brand of anything. Winter. Clearly marked and fairly consistent prices on everything we bought. Simple conveniences such as drive thru windows, debit cards, and a well stocked shopping mall.

There of course are now things we appreciate even more. Like lazy Saturdays with a DVD full of great television or a new movie. Getting snail mail from anyone, the great fun that can be had over a few beers after a long week, and gazing out into the magnificent Pacific Ocean with no tall buildings blocking your view. Breezes. The copious amounts of time we get to spend together experiencing this grand adventure. Phone calls from our parents. And the lack of constantly being bombarded by media of all kinds.

As we feel more and more settled in our new home we are sure these lists with grow and change. So will we.

On the Road Again

We got a car! How exciting is that? Very, as it means no more carrying groceries up the steep hill of death near our house or long walks into and home from town!

How does one get a car in Yap? You can buy them on island from different stores, or, as we did, you can order one online from Japan and have it shipped over. Mike heard of a great website from a fellow expat, and was able to find this beauty for a very reasonable price. We ordered it, and 4 weeks later it arrived at the dock. Meet the Silver Bullet!

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It is used with only 70k kilometers on it, but runs great! We luckily only have two hub caps to worry about loosing when hitting potholes around the island. Since it is from Japan the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, similar to probably 90% of the cars on island. But we still drive on the right side of the road. This, we have decided, is so that when spitting betel nut out the window you lower the chance of spitting it on a passing car, but instead on a poor ill-fated pedestrian. But not to worry the speed limits in town are either 15 or 20 mph, and reach a whopping 25 mph outside of town, read on a kmph speedometer of course. Many drivers in Yap either have a lead foot and drive 20 over, or we suspect haven’t discovered there is a gas pedal and crawl along at 3 mph. We continue to error on the side of caution when it comes to driving. Which isn’t too hard to do with only 3 stop signs in town. We don’t even have a blinking light!

Miranda is happy to have another excuse to not ride the scooter. Though she did try riding it around the front yard one day to get a feel for it, and hasn’t been on it since. She wouldn’t want to take it away from Mike, he has way too much fun riding it!

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We are still adjusting to the differences in what is acceptable while driving and riding in a vehicle. Neither seat belts or car seats are required. Everyday we see infants riding on laps in the front seats, or two or three small children hanging out the window of the back seat. Standing or sitting in the back of a pickup or flat bed truck is also common here. Yes that is a bicycle helmet Mike is wearing in the above picture. A helmet, I use the term loosely, is required when riding a scooter or motorcycle. Bicycle helmets are the norm and Miranda has seen a man riding a scooter wearing a construction hat that he had added a chin strap to.

Along with small Japanese cars and various small trucks, some Yapese love to tint their windows. Partly to provide relief from the blistering sun, but also as an accessory. We have seen green mirrored tinting, and partial windows tinted to provide just the right amount of shade from the top half of the windshield and driver’s window.

There are numerous abandoned cars on the side of the road throughout the island that the jungle has begun to claim. Weeds and vines run through the picked apart and rusted cast offs creating a jungle planter of sorts.

There are a surprising number of taxi’s in town. We are sure they do great business because even though there is a high car to person ratio on island, many people don’t have cars. We haven’t had to utilize one yet, but we hear that the going rate for a taxi ride is around 50 cents to $2.50 depending on how far you are going and if you make any stops along the way. This seems fairly cheap considering gas is currently $3.95 a gallon.

The best part of having a car is the freedom it provides and how our circle of accessibility has grown to the entire island. If we get bored we can always hop in the car and go for a ride on the “loop” road that goes from town around half the island or so with gorgeous scenery all around you. It gives the term road trip a whole new meaning, since you can drive from the North to South tips of the island in probably an hour, if going the speed limit.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Everyday Yap

Some days it’s hard to keep a fully up-to-date, yet still somewhat interesting blog. Even on a tiny tropical island out there in the Pacific Ocean, there are the familiar, humdrum routines of everyday life.

There’s a morning commute of sorts, even if it’s only five minutes long. You share the one winding, potholed road into town with a surprising number of cars. There are trucks loaded with more people than you’d think would be safe, giant yellow school buses straight out of the 70’s, and drivers in every shape and size of tiny Japanese car waving to each other as they race to work at daredevil speeds of up to 20 or 25 miles an hour. Sidewalks are generally considered the outside two feet of the road, so one also has to avoid groups of kids walking to school, or any number of thu-wearing and/or shirtless pedestrians.  

Like anywhere else, there’s always the garbage to take out. Unlike being forced to have someone else take it away, out of sight and mind to some faraway landfill, here we have a choice. The easiest/laziest way is to just bag it, and take a short walk down to a few unguarded barrels across from a nearby an apartment complex. If you’re stealthy enough, and quick enough, you can make it all the way there without feeling the shame of someone seeing you. Everyone does it, no one’s said anything to the contrary, and there isn’t a “No Dumping” sign posted. For all we know, it could be for community use.

The other, slightly more disturbing way is to take it to the dump. Load up your one, white kitchen-sized garbage bag into the 80+ degree car. Head down the main ‘highway’ for five minutes or so, and make right turn onto a completely unmarked dirt road. Keep going until you start passing by massive piles of scrap metal, and hit the edge of a cliff with a sheer drop down at least 20 feet. At first, the view is actually not bad. There’s a wall of pristine jungle with tall palm and coconut trees. You can hear the cawing of flocks of birds in the sky, circling hungrily overhead. Then you look down. All you can is one vast pile of trash, mostly made up of white kitchen-sized garbage bags, that stretches from the edge of jungle halfway up the wall of the cliff. It’s so much garbage; you could easily jump off the cliff safely (and permanently psychologically scarred) into the hot, squishy mass of trash. Not that you’d ever, ever want to. To say the least, it’s a strange and somewhat sad sight to see the natural beauty of the place in such close proximity to the inevitable result of modern civilization. One can’t help but be shocked at how much garbage even a small population can generate.

DSCN0524While we do have a clothes washer, we don’t have a dryer. Thankfully, it’s not really necessary. The slats of our windows make a convenient drying rack, and on most days it’s hot enough that clothes dry fairly quickly.  Since the windows get a lot of sun, the clothes also create temporary curtains. Of course, the Hawaiian pattern curtains, hand-made by Miranda, work perfectly well too. On laundry day, it’s not unusual to see our windows completely covered in a variety of t-shirts, shorts, and towels, all catching the breeze like some strange, multicolored sail.

Drinking water comes in knee-high bottles from the aptly named “Drops of Life”, the local water treatment and distribution service. We order several of the bottles, that last us for at least a few weeks. DSCN0466 They cost only a couple of bucks a bottle to refill, and arrive via a friendly Yapese guy in a blue van. Since we’re so close to the store, he shows up in our front yard only a few short minutes after we call them up. We were also very lucky to inherit a hand pump from the former residents of the house, since the pumps are currently out of stock. It attaches to the top of the bottles, and with a little care, one can manage to not make too big a spill (this applies more to Miranda than Mike). We use the bottled water for cooking and drinking, but we’d probably be safe with the tap water too. It’s clear and tasteless for the most part, except on random days when you turn on the faucet and get a silty, dark brownish brew.

Of course, life here isn’t all just work and domestic chores though. There’s entertainment to be had, all around really. Along with drinking at one of the half-dozen bars scattered around town, diving is the major activity. You can’t have a conversation with a stranger without “Do you dive?” coming up in the first five minutes. We’ll try it eventually, but after seeing Jaws too many times, there’s no rush. Those Manta Ray’s, so highly praised by the divers, will still be as serene and graceful tomorrow. Yap’s apparently a world-renown location for divers, if you believe the glossy full-color brochures, and ignore those of every other island in Micronesia. You can’t walk through town without seeing at least a couple of very clean, very tan, very out of place looking tourists. They’re hard to miss really. They stick out plainly, talking loudly in their blue jeans and Hawaiian shirts, and snapping pictures constantly for the folks back home of the ‘quaint, remote’ surroundings. Some of them probably arrive via yacht. There’s always at least a few ocean-going sailboats moored in the harbor, like a billboard advertising the importance and wealth of the adventuresome, world traveler. Some days it would be nice to have a that say “No, I live here” on the front, and “Really” on the back.

Now we’re fully admitted, card carrying friends of our television, and being thousands of miles away from Comcast won’t change that. Luckily, the island probably has more video stores in a square mile than anywhere else. People here love to watch movies. Anything from the big Hollywood blockbusters from six to ten months ago, to shaky, camcorder captured movies shown in theaters across the US are available for rent for only a few dollars. One of our favorite shops is tucked away in the back of a grocery store. If you didn’t already know the store was there, you’d never guess. It’s always overly air conditioned, and the chilly tile is soothing on your feet since they don’t allow shoes. In a place where no one has heard of Blockbuster or Tivo, renting DVD’s is big business, and business is good. Mike was also pleased to notice one store had a Playstation 3 (on sale for $800!), and a couple of outrageously priced games, but there wasn’t an Xbox or Nintendo Wii in sight.

There’s other things to do, but the least expensive and probably most satisfying is just to explore, and see the sights. A postcard-perfect panorama of coral covered beaches and the ocean beyond isn’t difficult to find while driving along the coast road that circles the island. Along with a canal that cuts horizontally across the island, this road was originally laid down back in the late 1800’s by one of Yap’s first colonial masters, the Germans. There are also a few ‘public’ areas that one can go, without explicitly asking permission of the owners of the property. Other beaches, like the one pictured below on the southernmost tip of the island, can be rented out for a nominal fee.

Beach Panorama

Even on a small island, there are many places to go. To say the least, in our short time here, we’ve only scratched the surface. There are many more locales we’ve never been to or heard of, but would like to. We just need to get out there and find them.