Sunday, July 18, 2010

Yap’s Youth Summit 2010

When I took the Girl Scout position back in April, I was also asked to join the Youth Summit planning committee. It provided much needed work hours, and since when have I ever turned down an opportunity to work with youth? We met weekly, and recently twice weekly to plan a week long summit for all the youth of Yap State. Last year a similar summit was put on, but only for main island youth. This year we were able to secure funding from the FSM government to bring in youth from the outer islands. We ended up having 205 registered participants, with a daily attendance average of about 160 youth.

I use the term “youth” loosely. On some of the outer islands one is considered a youth as long as their parents are living. So we had “youth” participating that were well into their 30’s. But generally the youth were in their teens, mostly 14-17.

The theme was “Sailing Towards Our Future: Our Culture in Transition” Monday was an overview day, with opening ceremonies, and small group discussions DSCN0857 (pictured here) to generate topics/questions for the presenters on the following days. And of course ice breaker games. One game that was being played required the youth to break up into groups of a number called out by the emcee (ie. three, fifteen etc) then the people not in a group were out. When the participants were down to only 5 or so left the emcee called out “dance with an American!” Well, there were only four of us in attendance! I was sitting at a table where I had been doing registration, and sorting questionnaires. When I heard the emcee say this, I looked up and saw two Yapese youth running at me at full speed! Luckily the girl got to me first. I was pulled out onto the community center floor (a basketball court- that I have learned I cannot skate, the floor is rubber and they are VERY protective of it!) and was made to dance with this girl in front of some 250 people! yikes! But it was all in the name of fun!

We dedicated Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to Education, Environment, and Health. In the morning there were speakers from Dept of Education (pictured below), EPA and Forestry, and Public Health on the respective themed days. They gave a short presentation and then had a Q&A.DSCN0853 The questions from the youth were often financially related, such as, “why doesn’t our school have enough books?” or “ why do we only get expired medications at our island’s clinic?” The poor presenters did their best to answer these questions. Though the planning committee and presenters all expected more topical questions such as “What are the most common health issues faced by youth?” In the afternoon we did some sort of “taking action” activity.  We took a tour of the college, we did a garbage clean up at the high school, and we played sports.

I had not yet been up to the campus of the College of Micronesia (COM). I joined one of the tours and saw some of the facilities DSCN0873including the library. For being a fairly small room they did have a lot of books crammed in there! I also got to see a science lab. There was a small room in the back full of jars with different things in them, coral, sea animals etc.



I also really liked this shell chart.  These are real shells attached to a piece of burlap.DSCN0875



But the thing that caught my eye, as a newly (soon to-be) hired high school English teacher on Yap, is this sign:


At the college nonetheless! I know its hard to see, but it says “DO NOT add “s” to these nouns: equipment, mail, staff, work/homework, furniture, information, stuff, and input.”


In the middle of the campus DSCN0877is this large concrete pillar. It was a stand for a very large radar dish set up by the Japanese when they had control of the island.  I bet it could be turned into a pretty cool rock climbing wall with the proper equipment.


On Thursday, health day, we also had a man come from Fiji to give a “safer sex talk”. This was an interesting event. First, we had to divide the sexes. It is inappropriate for such topics to be discussed in front of siblings/cousins etc of the opposite sex. So the boys went first. While the girls stayed behind at the community center to play sports and games.

I was sitting at my table counting how many participants checked in that day,  when I saw my fellow planner, and co-emcee Tim (pictured in the science lab photo, bald guy pointing) bring out this 50 foot, or so, length of rope. It was several inches thick, and could probably hold a boat to a dock.  I watched him with curiosity as he tied the two ends together, ok I thought, we aren’t playing tug-o-war. He then called all the girls over and asked them to grab onto the rope. As per usual, everyone was shy and no one was getting up.  I had been holding back, and not participating in many of the activities all week, but I decided something needed to be done, so I grabbed the rope too.

Soon we had maybe 40 girls holding up this rope. There was a gap where no one was standing, and as I went over there to fill in the hole, Tim grabbed me and said “no, don’t, just don’t. I have something else for you to do.” I started to get scared. My heart started pounding. What was he going to make me do in front of all these people? When he made me duck under and get to the center of the rope ring I really started to get scared. And then these words came out of his mouth, “Who thinks she can walk on this rope?” OH NO!!!!! I shook my head. I didn’t think I could do it! After asking the crowd several more times if they thought I could do it, Tim took my hand and helped me step up onto the rope as all the youth pulled the rope out making the circle as big and taut as possible. And then I started walking. I stepped over each pair of hands with care, and focused on my feet the entire time. As I stared at my feet passing over all these sets of hands, I couldn’t help but think of this exercise as a great metaphor for this entire experience here on Yap.

When we first decided to come out here I didn’t think I could do it. I was scared, and worried, and well as many of you know, FREAKING OUT! But after many hours of talking it over, many tears, and many more questions, I took that blind leap of faith. I stepped onto that rope and hoped to everything in the universe that it could hold me up. That these Yapese youth could hold me up. I walked carefully at first, hoping not to hurt anyone or embarrass myself, but with practice I felt more confident in my ability to walk this path. I trusted the Yapese to hold me up and guide me through this terrifying experience. They did, and I hope they continue to.

I am happy to say I DID make it all the way around the rope and triumphantly jumped off of it when I finished! Tim gave a little talk about unity, how some things are impossible alone, but when working together, many things can be accomplished. I went and sat down because I was shaking from the adrenaline rushing through my veins! But no one could wipe the smile off my face for the rest of the day! Not even after I got 27 mosquito bites on each leg (I am NOT exaggerating!) at Girl Scouts that night!

This was an incredibly powerful experience for me, and I am sad to say that no pictures were taken. But the memories will surely remain for a lifetime. I had never seen this exercise done, and hope one day to use it again, in Scouts or something!

Shortly after my tightrope walking debut it was time for the ladies to go to the “safer sex talk”. I guided them to a nearby building where it was being held to provide a little privacy for such a discussion. The Fijian was very friendly and had a great PowerPoint presentation ready for us. He talked a little about the history and basic info of HIV/AIDS, showing how it is present in Oceania.  He talked about how Oceania has a culture of silence. That nothing like this is usually talked about, and how by not talking about it, people are getting sick. He then showed a slide show of people with STI’s ala 8th grade health class, which of course got some horrified reactions! By the way, when did it go from STD to STI? Is that just here, or am I that behind? 

The presenter gave me his camera and asked me to take a few pictures of him while presenting. Poor guy got a bunch of backlit pictures of him showing the audience how to use a condom. But I wasn’t about to walk in front of all the girls to get to the side or the room the bright window was at (more about what cultural habits I picked up from this week later).  He showed the girls both male and female condoms and discussed safer sex. He only touched on how they are also birth control, knowing that this is a largely Catholic island. 

By the time Friday rolled around I was exhausted! Friday was many more small group discussions, about creating an action plan of things they could all do in their communities in the three areas we had focused on.  The day started off with a panel of Yap leaders who are up for re-election, or who are running for the first time. I was too tired and cranky to sit through the two hour panel, so I decided to go home for a bit. I had been doing my fair share at the summit for sure! I laid down and accidently fell asleep for almost 3 hours! whoops! I went back down to the summit and enjoyed the closing party.

Here is a picture of some of the organizers trying to teach the crowd how to do the wave on Friday. DSCN0887They didn’t explain it well, and most people just yelled and stomped their feet when it was their turn, resulting in a wave of sound rather than of standing cheering people! This section seemed to understand it! The girl in the green shirt is Laura, a Peace Corps volunteer I have gotten to know while planning the summit.

On Tuesday, Yap’s Micro Games weight lifting team, its like the Olympics but just for Micronesia and is being held Palau later this month, came and gave a presentation at lunch. Here is there star, lifting 309 pounds. I’d scream too!DSCN0870DSCN0871DSCN0872 

It was amazing to be immersed in the Yapese culture for 5 straight days. I picked up several cultural habits regularly practiced here.  I think I have mentioned in the past that when walking between two people who are talking, or walking in front of someone watching a presentation, one must duck and say “suro”, which means excuse me, several times (“suro, suro, suro”) I now do this without thinking. The other habit I have picked up from the summit, and partly from Girl Scouts, is when indicating “yes” the Yapese raise their eyebrows. Its hard to describe in words.  Just think about how some people, when they say “what’s up?” raise their eyebrows and move their head in the upwards movement. Kind of a half nod. I do it now too. One of my Girl Scouts, Rulyan (Rule-yawn), who is 8 does a very exaggerated version of it that makes me smile every time she does it. But at least now I know it means she is saying yes!

Another cultural tidbit I learned about during the summit was brought to my attention during the discussion on education.

The outer island people still live very traditionally, so I learned many of these from having more contact with outer island folk (it is just how I understand it, so may not be totally accurate!):

A female is not allowed to be higher than male relatives (standing/sitting). This was brought up when girls talked about having to give presentations in school and their brothers/cousins having to come up with them and just stand there. It also reminded me of how sometimes when driving down the street I will see girls/women quickly squat down as a car passes, there must be a male relative sitting in that car!

Overall, it was a great time, and I am glad I could help contribute to the planning of this event. I hope to help again next year. Sorry this post was so long, but its the first time since we got here that I had full days for an entire week! Lots of details! I hope you enjoyed them!

And one more picture for the hell of it- my nametag lanyard. The orange tags mean I am a volunteer. DSCN0907 Waab means I am from the main island of Yap or Waab in Yapese. Sadly, only boys asked me about Girl Scouts. I told them to send their sisters and cousins over to me!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Quarter of This Adventure is Over

We apologize for the lack of blogs recently, but really what can follow a post about bug bombs?

July 4th was our six month anniversary on this rock! It sweetened the deal that it fell on Independence day! Though fireworks are illegal here, there was some celebrating to be had.

Independence day has a whole new meaning to us now that we are expats.  It caused us to really pause for a moment and think about how lucky we are to be American citizens. The freedoms we have, as well as the opportunities. It was also great to celebrate it with fellow Americans!

We went with several friends to Trader’s Ridge Resort where we swam in the pool until we were beyond wrinkly, and enjoyed a seemingly endless cooler of beer that was left over from the marathon party the other week. It was a beautiful day, with a few clouds floating by. It was just a great afternoon/evening with good company and lots of laughs.

The day before was also eventful for us. One of Miranda’s co-workers from the women’s association invited us to go to a village down south where a celebration was being held for the opening of a new Men’s House.

Going into a village is such a culturally rich experience. When walking in, men walk first then women, all in a single file line. Also when approaching a village you must have something in your hands. A small leafy twig works fine. This is to show you are coming in peace, empty hands could mean you are there to cause trouble.

We weren’t really sure what to expect, and were very thankful to Leona and her family for helping us understand what to do and where to go.  We had to separate for awhile, going with our gender to sit under a covered platform in the middle of this village. But were able to join up again after awhile when Leona noticed that many people weren’t sitting where they were supposed to. She attempted to explain all the “rules” to me, but honestly it is so complicated. It has to do with your family of origin, your married family, and the village you came from.

We ate local food, pork, fish, rice, taro, breadfruit, etc. We also got to try raw turtle. When something is offered to you in this situation, it is considered rude to turn it down, especially if you don’t know the people well. So when the plastic grocery bag full of raw turtle started circulating our little cgroup of people, we knew we would end up eating it. It is difficult to describe, but was the texture of what we would imagine rehydrated beef jerky would be like. Stringy, chewy, and a little mushy. It was pink in color. Luckily the pieces were small. The first bite wasn’t so bad, but the second just didn’t seem right!

We watched a few women’s dances, we missed the men’s dance because the event actually started on time- a rarity on Yap. We had seen several women’s dances on Yap day, but watching a dance in the village is different. It starts with family members circling the line of dancers while holding and offering gifts. There was soda, beer, tuba, fabric, shell money, and all sorts of food and candy.

Leona told Miranda that the dance being preformed was fairly new, and that the quality of this certain dance was measured by how loudly the dancers stomped their feet. She said they weren’t very loud, and there was little clapping when it was over. I guess they need more practice!

Unfortunately this is the day Miranda’s camera died. CIMG1295After talking with a few camera buffs here, it sounds like it is the photo processor. When taking a picture outside the picture is just white and gray with some lines running through it. Though we were able to get a few decent pictures as it was still taking a good photo every 5th or 6th shot.  Here are a few shots of the women’s sitting dance. The covered area to the left is where we were sitting, but we were in the middle and couldn’t see the sitting dance from there. 


We enjoyed spending time with a few locals Miranda has gotten to know through the Youth Summit planning committee as we sat and enjoyed the celebratory atmosphere. But we could only stay for a few hours. We had plans to see our favorite on island band, Nudies. This band, has three of our expat pals in it, and we try to see them play every chance we can.

It was a quick dash home for a shower and change of clothes, then we were back on the road headed south to a little spot called          T-Mart. It is a little convenience style shop, as we have talked about in the past, but it has a stage and a few koyengs. We listened to the band, and enjoyed the beautiful night.

It still amazes us to think that we live here. The first six months were an adventure, challenging, exciting, and amazing.  We hope the next 18 months that follow will be just as exciting, but maybe not as challenging. We are finally having that regular feeling of “we got this” when it comes to surviving in a foreign culture. Now we can take a deep breathe, relax, and enjoy this paradise we now call home!

More to come soon! We have many stories to catch up with on here!