Friday, December 23, 2011

X-mas Island

The week leading up to Christmas was predictably hot and sunny, broken only by long stretches of rain. I’d sometimes look out the window at the blue sky and everything baking in the heat under it, and have to remind myself that, oh yeah, it’s December. Far from the winter wonderland back in the States, on Yap the most I could hope for was the relief from an early return of the cool trade winds.

Even though the weather felt like summer, all across the island were visible signs of Christmas cheer.

The first hint of Christmas I noticed was several weeks back, in the little area behind the administration building where people often eat lunch.These little woven pyramids mysteriously appeared every so often, hung on the ends of a palm tree.


One day, I went back there and found a gentleman carefully weaving strips of palm fronds around his closed fist. He lashed the strips together in an easy, practiced manner, and in a few short minutes, popped the completed pyramid off his fist. As he tied it to the end of the tree, I asked him whether those were traditional Christmas ornaments. He laughed when he told me that they were for cooking rice! He said that people fill them about halfway with rice, and then boil the entire thing. The rice expands as it cooks, and once the wrapping is removed, you’re left with a pyramid-shaped portion of rice. Before he left, he also mentioned they make nice decorations. I absolutely agreed.

I took a drive around the lagoon one night, and saw that many businesses and even some private homes were decorated with Christmas lights.

While none of the homes matched the insanity of Chevy Chases’ elaborate display in my second-favorite Christmas movie, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (my favorite being “A Christmas Story”), the owners of this place surely tried. You could see this blinking, twinkling lighthouse of Christmas cheer from all the way across the lagoon!


I seriously thought about buying lights for the house this year. I wasn’t surprised when all the lights at the store sold out within a day or two. I went to “Aces Mart”, a typical multi-purpose housewares store, because I’d heard they maybe still had some. They were sold out too, but as I was leaving, I noticed possibly why. The entire front of the store was covered in Christmas lights, and not just the small twinkling variety, but the old-style kind with actual bulbs! I tried to take a picture for the blog, but it was so glaringly bright, every one turned out too blurry.

photo 1Many government workers also got into the spirit of the season by putting up all sorts of decorations around their offices. In the administration building, some people put up a Christmas tree, fully decked out with lights and ornaments. Even though there are no lots with people selling imported, overpriced trees, there is a type of evergreen tree that grows on Yap. The branches strong enough to hold even the biggest ornaments. I was told that the tree pictured here was cut in the northern part of the island, and trucked  down just for the occasion.


As you can see, everyone in the office was very proud of their decorating skills!

photo 2

Here’s another Christmas tree that was put up at work, in the Office of Planning and Budget.

One Saturday, Santa decided to visit one of the local stores so kids could come and get their picture taken with him. Miranda was hoping that one of our Yapese friends would be dressed up as Saint Nick. When she arrived, it turned out that the guy in the costume er… Santa’s regional deputy, kids… was another American ex-pat! Even though Miranda didn’t get a picture, hopefully Santa will still know what she wanted for Christmas.

On the day of Christmas Eve, I woke up at around 9am to two unpleasant, but not unfamiliar sounds: The shrill shrieking of a pig being killed, likely for Christmas dinner, and the blaring blasts from a fire truck horn.

In an amusing coincidence, these sounds synched up perfectly, dueling for the title of Most Annoying. Each increasingly frenzied “Sqeeeeeel!” was answered with a correspondingly loud “Blaaammmfff!” from the horn as the fire truck inched closer and closer.

Still groggy, my first thought was, “Are these two related?”

Did the Christmas pig escape and get hit by the fire truck? Did a bonfire to cook the Christmas pig get out of control, threatening to burn down my neighborhood? Visions of liability danced in my head, as I imagined what a hassle it would be to unravel these scenarios back at work after the holidays.

Thankfully, I then remembered that the Bank of Guam was sponsoring a Christmas parade. It turned out that the fire truck was just chauffeuring Santa around the lagoon! I’m sure it was similar to last years’ parade for Constitution Day, but likely with different signs.

The Christmas pig was still for dinner.

Maybe next year I’ll try to inject a little of my New Mexico-raised heritage into the island Christmas by putting out some luminarias. These are the traditional Christmas decorations from where I grew up in Albuquerque. They’re made by filling a brown paper lunch bag with sand, and putting a candle in it. Given the minimal requirements, it might be feasible here on Yap. Of course, after a good rainstorm, those soggy bags would lose their decorative effect!

Miranda did decorate around the house a little, and unpacked our mini-Christmas tree from the box where it sleeps for the rest of the year. Even so far from family and friends back home, all these signs of holiday spirit made it feel more festive during this Christmas season.


Friday, December 9, 2011

D-Day: The War on Dengue Fever

Dateline: December 09, 2011

               Government Qtr. #37, Talguw, Rull Municipality, Yap State

DSCN2200Today Yap went to war.

After over 600 reported cases of Dengue Fever, the government declared a state of emergency, and organized an island-wide cleanup effort to destroy the breeding grounds of Dengue spreading mosquitoes . Each community across the island was instructed to form cleaning parties to remove trash, fill in pits of standing water, and trim back shady jungle growth from around their homes. Schools were shut down so students and teachers could participate, and government offices were closed. It was war, against an enemy so small, but with vastly greater numbers and on its home turf.

Miranda and I mobilized at 09:00 hours. Completely lathered in mosquito repellant, iPods fully charged, and machete and lawnmower locked and loaded, we surveyed the battlefield: our front yard. Untouched by human hands for nearly a month, the yard had begun its inevitable return to the jungle. Vines slithered up the remains of a once proud fence, and snaked across the ground towards patches of tall weeds. A perfect breeding areas for mosquitoes. It had to go.

Over the next several hours (cue action scene montage, preferably to “Eye of the Tiger”), we mowed and chopped and hacked away at foliage so tough and resistant it must have been some new form of superplant.

DSCN2207Peanut supervised from a safe distance, curious but wary of the strange machine we were walking up and down the yard. Even with a relatively new push-mower, it was a slow and tiring process to carve away at a small section of ground, and then to go over that same section several times to cut weeds that refused to go down. Then again, the mower was designed for cutting grass, on an actual lawn, not overgrown jungle scattered with coconut husks, termite infested tree branches, and jagged chunks of coral. Miranda also filled bucket after bucket full of rocks of various sizes. She used these to fill in a rather muddy spot in our yard.

Miranda and I switched off with the raking and mowing. After gathering up a huge mound of cut vegetation, I shoveled it in back into the jungle, fueling the fire of growth at least away from the front yard. At one point, I raked so furiously that the handle broke in two. This was highly amusing for several neighbors who were intently watching my every move from the comfort of hammocks stretched as close to the property line as possible. Peanut ran to the edge of the yard, intermittently barking a warning of “back off”. They stood their ground, finding Peanut’s attempt at bravery also pretty amusing. With half a rake, I went back to my labors under the critical gaze of a nine-year old in a thuw.

After a little while, I noticed that my neighbor had ordered his family to clean up their yard, which they did in record time due to their rather large workforce.

DSCN2196Eventually, the yard began to retake its usual shape. It wasn’t perfect, but we made a good faith effort. Near the end, Miranda and I were both drenched in sweat and thoroughly exhausted. We retreated back inside, and drank as much water as we could. The shower, with its temperature varying between chilly and arctic, actually felt good.

Resting for a moment on the couch, we heard the telltale plinking of raindrops hitting the roof. It got steadily louder until everything was drowned out by the sound of rushing water. As it often happens here, the rain continued for several hours, sometimes in a downpour hard enough you can’t see more than a few feet in front of you. The kind of rain that hurts when it hits you. It’s still raining as a write this, and it doesn’t appear to be letting up any time soon.

DSCN2199Even though D-day may have been affected by the weather, that’s just the way it goes sometimes. Now we can rest guilt-free inside for the rest of the day, getting a little down time out of this D-day. Let’s just hope the enemy mosquitoes aren’t using this as an opportunity to increase their numbers in the fresh rain water. We did our best to fight the good fight.