Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Our First Island Christmas & New Years Eve

Mike here, with a short post-Christmas and New Years’ wrap-up.

DSCN1276This holiday season came and went with as little fanfare as any other time of year. There was no waking up on Christmas morning to a pristine, snow-covered landscape, there were no chestnuts roasting on an open fire, no bell-ringing Santas in front of every store, and no brightly wrapped packages tied up with string nestled under an elaborately decorated Christmas tree. We did receive a ‘table-sized’ Christmas tree though, which was displayed proudly in our living room. Even with the added bit of holiday cheer, it still didn’t feel like Christmas. 

Even though a few of the houses around our neighborhood sported Christmas lights, and one of our Yapese friends did dress up as Santa for the local kids, it just felt like there was something missing. Perhaps it’s just more difficult to get into the holiday spirit when the weather is hot and sunny, and you’re sweating heavily even in front of a fan on full-blast, while wearing little more than shorts and a t-shirt.

At my work, there was no formal exchange of gifts, but I did receive a home-made present from our office administrator. She gave me a unique set of coasters and a large potholder, made entirely from cigarette packages!

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December 24th was declared a State government holiday, not on account of Christmas Eve or even a generic non-denominational “holiday”, but for Yap State Constitution Day. To celebrate, Miranda wound up participating in a parade of sorts organized by the students of the High School. The kids put together signs and banners that emphasized the various fundamental rights, and marched around the lagoon yelling chants and slogans. DSCN0029 While Miranda was marching in the parade supporting her students, I stayed at home and spent the day deep in contemplation of the Yap State Constitution. Seriously though, I spent most of the day in the hammock, reading a novel, and trying my best not to think of anything vaguely related to constitutional or legal issues.

At one point, I heard what sounded like a riot or a mob getting closer and closer to the house. I could hear the kids shouting various chants like “Freedom! Of! Individual! Rights!” (which doesn’t make much sense, if you think about it) and holding signs of dubious grammatical correctness like the one shown here.

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As it turned out, it was just the high schoolers, apparently taking full advantage of an opportunity to yell and shout at the top of their lungs. At least they were using their rights of assembly and freedom of speech!

On Christmas morning, we slept in late. We didn’t exchange any presents, primarily because shopping for gift-items is extremely limited, but also because we’ve learned to make do with less. As a treat, Miranda did make some delicious scones from a mix she’d been holding onto for a special occasion. The weather decided to give us a nice Christmas present of a cloudy, overcast, and fairly cool day. In the afternoon, we were surprised to find the movie, “A Christmas Story”, on television. For a brief while, watching that classic tale of a boy and his quest for a Red Ryder BB Gun made it actually feel a little like Christmas.

One surprise highlight of the Christmas weekend was the discovery of another unexpected and unwanted visitor in our house. We decided to go into the backyard to look at the stars, which were shining very brightly on that clear, cloudless night. We turned off most of the lights inside our house, and prepared to go outside. Miranda tried to push open the screen door, but it seemed to be stuck. With a little force she eventually got it open, and saw what appeared to be a strip of insulation or a thick piece of rope wedged in the gap between the screen door and door frame. Then, it moved. Holding the door partially open, Miranda flipped on the light, and shrieked when she realized she was standing face-to-face within arms’ length of the biggest, scariest looking centipede we’d ever seen.  The picture here doesn’t do the creature justice, but for perspective, each of the squares of the screen door is about one inch across. DSCN1274Fully stretched out, it was at least five or six inches long, with its multitude of legs grasping the edge of the door and undulating rapidly as it tried to get out of sight. Its head had giant pincers that twitched menacingly, and the other end had a two-pronged stinger that looked like it could do some real damage. Miranda called for me, and I ran over to try and dispose of the thing. At any moment, I expected the thing to jump off the door and latch onto my face. I grabbed our trusty machete and chopped at it wildly. The thing fell to the ground, but was otherwise unfazed, and made a mad dash towards the safety of the backyard. I was surprised by how quickly it moved. I stomped on it as hard as I could, but it only slowed it down a little. Eventually, after at least a dozen stomps, it stopped moving. Seeing the thing lying there motionless gave me the shivers. Even creepier, the next morning, it was gone! Sure, it was likely just eaten by a dog, a lizard, or any number of jungle inhabitants, but it still didn’t stop me wondering whether it would crawl its way back inside to terrorize us once again!

The following Monday, it was back to work, and business as usual. Miranda had a couple of relaxing weeks without having to teach classes, even though she was required to go the High School every day to work on lesson plans for the following semester. For me, it was a rather hectic week of tying up loose ends before the end of the year. Here’s a picture of me in my office, working hard as usual. 

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On New Years’ Eve, Miranda and I went to a friend’s house that was having a party for a number of the other on-island expats.  He lives about a half hour drive from Colonia, and his place is at the top of a treacherous, mud-slick road that winds up an impossibly steep hill. The drive was worth it though, as his house has wonderful view from an elevated deck in his back yard of Colonia harbor and the ocean beyond the reef. We all ate a pot-luck dinner, including some excellent barbecued chicken seasoned with a Tabasco-like hot sauce made from spicy local peppers, and spent the evening enjoying ourselves while a local band belted out rock tunes. Here’s a picture of Miranda examining the careful thatching of palm fronds that make up the little koyeng next to our friends’ house. DSCN0066

Since firearms and fireworks are illegal on Yap, there wasn’t any expectation of much fanfare at midnight. I had heard some stories of some communities setting off ‘home-made fireworks’ (i.e. crude explosives and pipe bombs), but thankfully I didn’t hear any. We counted down until midnight, but then quickly made our departure. Since there were many similar New Years’ parties that night, we hoped to avoid the expected rush-hour traffic of drunken revelers on the road. Luckily, we made it home without incident though.

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