Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Halloween 2010

Mike here, finally getting around to posting this much-delayed entry.

As the month of October wound down, both Miranda and I were uncertain whether Halloween would be celebrated on the island. Given that Yap has no costume stores, very little candy for sale, and is strongly influenced by many active and vocal churches, we thought that few locals would be dressing up and going trick-or-treating door to door. As it turned out, we couldn’t have been more wrong.

On the Friday before Halloween, Miranda had the honor of being selected as one of the teachers to judge the tenth grader’s costume contest during lunchtime.  Before lunch many students in her class used some spare time to get ready. Before her eyes she watched her students transform into zombies, a hunchback, witches, and even Sponge Bob Square Pants- made out of cardboard boxes and banana leaves! They used water colors and markers in place of face paint. She cringed at the idea of them returning to school on Monday still covered in their permanent marker masks, but luckily this did not happen. Along with a fellow expat teacher, and a local teacher,  they had the tough job of deciding who had the best store bought, and the best homemade costume. Sponge Bob won for homemade, as the effort and creativity that went into the costume could not go unnoticed.  The store bought prize went to a student who used a sheet, a store bought mask and his backpack to become an old hunchback (as seen below). What did it was how well he played the part. He also used a bamboo pole as a staff, and hobbled and wobbled his way toward the judges. DSCN0040

Miranda thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to have some fun with her students, and always feels good when they include her in such activities.

DSCN0064Later that night we we went to a party at the Village View hotel, a quaint beachfront establishment in the northern part of the island. Considering the 45 minute drive, along a bumpy dirt road that is treacherous even under ideal conditions, we decided to play it safe, rent a room (shown here), and stay the night there.

As far as what costumes we could put together, at first we were at a total loss. Thankfully, I had brought along a T-shirt that looked like a Star Trek uniform, which I had ordered on a whim from the back of a cereal box back in Seattle, and had completely forgotten about. DSCN0052With a pair of black shorts, it made a passable, if not overtly geeky costume.  Miranda researched various possible homemade Halloween costumes on the internet until she found the perfect one. Carrying plastic pom-poms and a home-made cardboard “foam” finger, and wearing a T-shirt carefully stenciled with the words “Go Ceiling!!!” on it, she transformed herself into a “Ceiling Fan”. After some explanation, the costume was a big hit.

We arrived at Village View late in the afternoon. Several of our friends were already there, lounging on the deck of one of the rented bungalows built right next to the beach. The sun was still shining, and a breeze blew off the ocean, keeping us both relatively cool and mosquito free. We chatted for a while, until out of nowhere, a large flatbed truck pulled up, carrying a very heavy-looking, solid wood ping-pong table.

After the table was unloaded, we were instructed in the rules of the game of “Beer Pong”. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Cups filled with the aforementioned beverage were set up like bowling pins on either end of the table.  Each team of two would then try to toss a ping-pong ball into their opponents’ cups. Whenever the ball landed in a cup, that team would drink down that cup of beer, which continued until all of their cups were empty. Mike at Bat 1 - CopyThe loser of any given round was also required to finish whatever cups remained in front of the winning team. I had actually played a similar game back in the dorm rooms of my college years, but learned quickly that in the decade since then, neither my dexterity nor drinking stamina had improved much. As you can imagine, after several rounds of this game, everyone was in quite the celebratory mood.

As the evening wore on, people started putting on their costumes. Of course, Miranda and I had not considered this option, and instead drove the entire way to the hotel in our Halloween gear! I’m sure we got some very amused, or confused, stares from the other motorists we passed along the way. As for our fellow American’s costumes, I was impressed at the creativity and ingenuity of them. The assortment included several basketball players, a pirate, a gypsy, a redneck, a gym coach, a Power Ranger, and Mahatma Gandhi!

The next morning, we woke up only a bit worse for wear. We sat for a while on the deck of our bungalow, watched the tide slowly come in, and chatted with some other early-morning risers. The view was incredible, as always. DSCN0063 Probably the best part about the whole weekend was the pleasant surprise we received when we turned on the shower and discovered hot running water! After almost a year of bathing in often ice-cold water (or at least that’s the way it feels at 7:30 a.m.), this simple amenity seemed like such a luxury. After our decadently long showers, we went to the nearby Moon Rize CafĂ©, and had a delicious and much needed breakfast of bacon, pancakes, and scrambled eggs. As a side note, the eggs were indeed scrambled, but then fried crepe thin on a griddle like a pancake. While it’s unclear if this is a typical Japanese style of egg cooking (Village View primarily caters to Pacific Rim diving tourists), or something particular to that restaurant, it tasted great and had a not unpleasant texture. After our meal, we packed up and headed back home, having had a thoroughly enjoyable Halloween celebration.

On October 31st, we mainly spent the afternoon relaxing and recuperating from our weekend festivities. We debated for a long while whether there would actually be kids doing any trick-or-treating, and after much discussion on the subject, decided it would be rather unlikely. As dusk darkened into evening, there was no sign of costumed kids around, and we felt sure we were in the clear. We locked up the house, and retired into our evening clothes (read: pajamas) and settled in to watch a scary movie on our television. Occasionally, we would hear the sound of scurrying around in the front yard, and we’d nervously peek out the window only to see a random neighborhood dog nosing through leaves. After the sun went down and no kids had arrived, we joked about how silly we were to think that children here would dress up and go door to door with their candy bags in hand. We remarked it was a classic example of the American mentality of simply assuming that our customs and traditions would be adopted by the Yapese, who have their own valued and fiercely protected traditions.

That’s when the kids showed up. We actually heard them long before we saw them, as what sounded like an army of laughing and loudly talking kids (who each must have been calling one another, from the weird cacophony of cell phone ringtones) grew steadily closer. We stared out the window, and to our shock and amazement, it looked like our entire dirt road was filled with every kid on the island! Also, everyone was wearing a costume. There were many witches and zombies, little girls in princess dresses, teens in a variety of professional sports jerseys, and many more elaborately costumed kids. Since we were caught totally unprepared, with no candy to spare, we made the decision to take the cowardly curmudgeon route. We turned off our lights, closed and locked the door, and tried to stay as quiet as possible. This however did not discourage the mass of candy-seekers in the slightest. Small groups of kids would come into our pitch black yard, stand there for a moment pondering whether anyone was home, yell out “Trick or Treat!”, and after a while would then dejectedly walk to the next house. At one point, we were certain that there were kids walking around our house, and looking in our windows, which was especially creepy. Sometime later, we heard our screen door open, and then some extremely loud local pop music blared for a few seconds, followed by the sound of giggling and kids running away. Our theory was this was some of Miranda’s students playing a prank on her. Thankfully, the kids here hadn’t adopted the time-honored American schoolyard tradition of throwing rolls of toilet paper in their teachers’ trees! Then, again, with toilet paper being so expensive here, we’re not surprised.

All in all, our first Halloween on the island was a good one. We plan on buying some candy to give out to the kids next year though, just in case the price of toilet paper goes down. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

It’s gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight… FIRE FIRE FIRE!!!

It is time for another Girl Scout update! (The title of the post is from a fun Girl Scout song) I have been meeting regularly with a group of girls for about four months or so now. Since taking the job at the high school I have had to reduce Girl Scouts to twice a month (first and third Wednesdays) in order to preserve my sanity, but I promised the girls that I would work very hard to make sure our time together is great! Last time I arranged a field trip to the fire station to check out the truck, and talk with Colin, the department’s lieutenant, about fire safety on Yap.

I met Colin, another American expat who came to Yap after we did, through Mike, who met Colin through his work duties. When I met him, I immediately asked if I could bring the girls by for a tour and a fire safety talk. None of the girls had ever seen the truck up close, though we all pass by it at the station regularly. They were excited to see how it works, and of course to turn on the sirens. 

When I arrived with myDSCN0020 six girls (and two boys) and a mom in tow we were shocked and saddened that the trucks weren’t there! It turns out Colin hadn’t been informed of a “live fire” practice drill that took place that day, where they set fires and extinguished them.  He assured us that the trucks were just getting water, and would hopefully return soon. Colin took us into his office and showed us around, showed us fire fighting gear, and talked about stop, drop, roll, (and newly added) cover (your face).  I was also impressed how he encouraged the girls by telling them girls can be fire fighters too! We all hoped that the trucks would soon arrive.

He gave the kids a tour of the station, explaining what different tools were for and how fire extinguishers work. He offered, that if they ever need to shoot off expired extinguishers to refill them, that he would invite us to come and learn how to actually use one! I have always wanted to do that! The kids were in awe, and listened intently to everything Colin had to say.  They asked very good questions and seemed genuinely interested in the answers. I smiled from ear to ear the entire time.

I don’t remember going to a fire station at a young age, but I am sure I did. I do remember going on my dad’s submarine and how amazed I was by that. These kids were impressed, and the trucks hadn’t even arrived yet!

Colin killed time by showing them all sorts of things such as hoses,DSCN0023 folding ladders, axes, and the like, while he and I kept looking over our shoulders for the trucks. We had pretty much exhausted all topics, and were about to call it an evening, when low and behold Andrew, our 6 year old troop mascot (and little brother or cousin to half the troop) yelled, “HERE COME THE TRUCKS!!” Their eyes lit up like it was Christmas morning! They waited as patiently as possible as the trucks were parked in the station before the kids could explore them.

Colin was amazing. DSCN0029He piled all 8 kids (Zoya and Andrew pictured here) into the cab of the truck and let them play with the sirens, horns and lights. Oh to be young again! What an exciting thing for the kids to do, and apparently a rare treat on Yap. Colin talked with me some, and mentioned that he goes to the schools and talks, but this was the first time any kids had come to see the trucks since he got here shortly after we did. Colin explained all sorts of things about the trucks, and answered the incessant questions the kids threw his way, mostly of the “what’s this? what does it do?” variety.

He talked about being a firefighter and told a story DSCN0030about how once his oxygen tank ran out of air and his mask suctioned to his face. I could tell there was more to the story, but maybe it wasn’t appropriate for such a young audience, another time perhaps. He did make the warning siren on the tank go off so we could hear it. Fire fighters have such a noisy job!

I was impressed that the kids attention was held for a little over two hours. They were so excited! I sat back with the mom who attended, Erica, my co-worker and Mike’s boss’s wife, who is the mother or aunt to all the girls (and Andrew) who regularly attend Girl Scouts, and we giggled at how impressed they were by this field trip. She has become more involved, to my relief. She even offered to arrange the activity for the next meeting.  I may have found a co-leader!

After checking out every inch of the truck, including the turret hose on the top of the truck that can shoot water 75-100 feet, we said our good-bye’s and a big unison “thank you” to Colin and his crew. But of course, we needed one last picture to remind us of our trip to the fire station!