Four Cultural Observations in the Island Workplace

  • Don’t stay at work late, go home, be with your family and eat.
  • Also, never bring work home, again enjoy time with family and eat.
  • Don’t make plans or even work deadlines, take work as it comes. This is mostly because you can never predict a death of a loved (death rates are high here). Participation in the event of a funeral is vital and can last months.
  • Set your watch to island time and show up 1-1.5 hours later to any meeting, especially work meetings and community gatherings. But, show up early if the gathering is Christmas or Thanksgiving related!
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Recap: Micronesia Teachers Education Conference 2016

Lelu Elementary School in Kosrae, hosted the 16th Annual Micronesia Teachers Education Conference, last week. Educators from with in the Federated Sates of Micronesia and surrounding Polynesia islands attended the three-day event. The theme for the conference was “Navigating Together Towards a Common Destiny.” Yes, the language of the theme doesn’t make sense but don’t worry it was clear by the talks and presentations that these educators came together to find a way to provide quality education in the Pacific Islands.

A fifth grade boy wearing a traditional grass skirt opened the first day of the conference. He held a large conch shell and standing next to him was the elementary school principle who held a microphone for him. The boy put the conch shell to his lips and made a long drawn blow, which was followed by a yell into the microphone. I was startled by the amplified voice. This was my first time seeing a “cultural” opening for an event in Kosrae. From my previous observations, Protestant prayers and songs open events. It was difficult to tell if the boy and his conch were a true (pre-missionaries) Kosraean tradition or a show for the other islands. (I later asked my host family about the conch shell tradition and they did not know the origin or meaning of it).

The opening ceremony was then followed by a variety of workshops hosted by educators and research professionals. In one of the workshops that I attended I was interested to learn that data management is a huge problem for schools in the Federated States of Micronesia. For example consistent student records are almost nonexistent, because many students write their names differently from one year to the next, allowing multiple records to be created, if any records at all. Some of the questions that were asked in this workshop include; How do we know what data is important and who should keep the data? Another workshop taught teachers how to use manipulatives in the classroom. The attendees where grouped off and told to come up with a lesson about the “Three Little Pigs” using the presented manipulative ideas. My group was quick to create a drama, which we then performed to the class and it was hilarious.

After three full days of workshops, the event closed with a farewell dinner. This dinner was by far the best part of the entire event. Long tables lined to about 30 feet were filled with local foods like pig, lobsters and fahfah ( similar to poi, pounded soft taro topped with a sweet coconut sauce) and so much more. Once everyone sat down to enjoy dinner, the Vice Principal of Kosrae High School began to MC. She announced gifts to the keynote speakers and gave thanks to government officials. Dancers from the high school then performed and sang. One of the high school songs was quite catchy the lyrics were “give it up for Micronesia, give it up, give it up,” It also included some rap solos performed by the students.

It as a beautiful opportunity to see teachers from all four FSM states come together. Each state has its own native language, however to communicate at the conference English was spoken. It was interesting to see how important English is for the FSM to communicate with each other and become a successful nation. I’m thankful to have had the chance to participate in this event as a foreigner and witness the islands, each with a unique culture, embracing the need for a stronger education system in their country.

 

 

 

Camp G.L.O.W June 29 – 30, 2016

 

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Camp G.L.O.W Kosrae 2016, 8th Grade Class of 2016

 

Last week the Kosrae Peace Corps team held a successful two-day Camp G.L.O.W (Girls Leading Our World).

Twenty-three 8th grade graduate girls attend the camp. Throughout the two days the girls participated in leadership games, education panels and hands on trainings.

Kosrean girls don’t have opportunities to feel empowered in their patriarchal  society. The purpose of our camp was to provide the recent 8th grade grads with the opportunity to build a  support system with their fellow female classmates while also learning that they can be leaders in the communities.

Throughout the camp the girls heard success stories from working women in their communities, learned about reproductive health and CPR. They also participated in fitness activities and learned how to be leaders and also work in teams.

The most difficult part I found in organizing the camp was funding. Our Let Girls Learn grant application had fallen through at the last minute, so our team scrambled to find 100 percent community contributions. We were able to gain financial support from the Kosrae Utility Authority and the Kosrae State Youth Council. This support was more than enough to provide food and materials for our camp. We also had generous help from the Bank of Guam, which paid for our venue and shelter for the campers. The Department of Education was also very generous in providing tables and chairs. We were so thankful to have all of this last minute support from the community.

With everything in place, at the end of the camp the girls gave us positive feedback on the camp. Marisa (M81) and I look forward to making the next Camp G.L.O.W bigger and better with in incoming M82s.

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Girls learn to work together in the game ‘Coke and Pepsi’.

A Tooth and a Banana Tree

One day, my host sister, 10, and I were eating lunch after school when she told me that her tooth was hurting. She used her fingers to pull up her lip and show off the hole in gums where a new tooth was growing in. I quickly reminisced about kid-life, waiting for the tooth fairy to exchange my baby tooth for cash. But, as it turns out the tooth fairy does not make stops on the tiny island of Kosrae.

In a few questions I asked her what she did with the missing tooth, did she give it to her ninac (mother) or did she throw it away? “No, no, no,” she shook her head and laughed at my questions. She explained to me that her tooth was outside in the yard. She had pressed her tooth into the trunk of one of many banana trees. After she put the lone tooth into the tree she sang a song in Kosraean. The song is a message for the sea snakes. The song asks the sea snakes to come take the tooth in exchange for one of their own durable and sharp teeth. Since the day my host sister’s tooth fell out, she has been going to the banana tree to check and see if the tooth had disappeared. If the tooth is gone from the tree, then a sea snake was able to successfully retrieve the tooth.

On the second day she noticed that her tooth disappeared from the trunk of the banana tree. Success! The a sea snake was able to find her tooth. She said it all made sense, hence, the pain of her new tooth growing in, a gift from the sea snakes.

My Personal Packing List

 

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My airplane seat view of an atoll, my first impression of Micronesia.

After I accepted my Peace Corps. invitation last June, the idea of limiting the start-of-my-new -life to two suitcases equal to 100 pounds seemed impossible. I wanted to be prepared for everything. Did I need solar panels to charge my electronics? What about waterproof…everything?

I  began packing by slowly accumulating things beginning from  my invitation date through my departure date of June 1, 2015. Slowly packing throughout the six months put me at ease. I spent plenty of time investigating the packing lists of former and current Peace Corps. Volunteers and can say that I felt over-prepared for the start of my service (also thanks to a successful GoFund Me campaign.)

I hope you find my list helpful and feel free to message me for any tips related to your Peace Corps. service!

Jasmin’s  Packing List (Secondary TESL Teacher in Micronesia):

Electronics
•Macbook Laptop (3 years old)
•IPhone (2 years old)
•Nikon Cybershot Waterproof Camera (I left my Nikon D3100 at home, it was a good call. I know that the lens and body would have been damaged by the dampness and the case/bag would have become molded over. The Cybershot takes amazing pictures underwater and on ground, most of the photos on my Flicker are from the Cybershot.)
•Goal Zero portable speaker has come in handy for playing music in my classroom or when I show videos from my laptop.)
•Small analog clock, with a back light (When the power goes out and your phone dies.)
•Flash light/Head lamp (Good for power outages and going pee at night when your host family  has an outhouse.)
•Extra batteries AAA and AA
• Hard Drive 1TB (Great for collecting movies from other trainees and volunteers and storing pictures.)

Food and Drink
•A zip lock bag of granola bars (So great for the first two months of training. The training site in Pohnpei is isolated with hardly any stores in site. It was great to have some of my favorite Cliff bars and banana bread breakfast bars to munch on during long training hours and in between meals.)
•A few bottles of mini alcohol. (Or your preferred emotional coping food or drink.)
•Individual packets of my favorite teas and those little water flavoring liquids.

Clothing
•Knee length skirtsI (It is difficult to find cute over the knee, loose fitting skirts in the states. I found some long light weight skater style skirts at Nordstrom Rack last May, which seem to be the most comfortable. I packed a few maxi skirts but they were two hot to wear. Do what you can to find at least a few. I felt like I didn’t have many clothing options  for few weeks but there ended up being plenty of opportunities to buy local skirts.)
•Slips (Necessary to wear under skirts so that your silhouette is unseen.)
•Two weeks worth of plain v-neck/crew neck t-shirts
•Pj’s ( I’m happy that I brought yoga pants and light weight pajama pants and loose long sleeve top for cold rainy nights.)
•Rash guard and board shorts (Females cannot show shoulders or thighs while swimming.)
•Quick Dry towel, two regular towels
•Water shoes (reef walkers, necessary for beaches, there are tons of sharp coral everywhere.)
•Rain jacket (Welcome to the rainiest place in the world.)
•Tevas (They tend to get stinky fast, Chacos seem to be a good alternative, a few pairs of flip flops, one cheep pair to wear in the shower)
•Sunglasses, prescription and regular

Bags/Travel Cases
•I came with two large suitcases, one a hard case,  one fabric material and a Jansport backpack. My Jansport became completely molded over, a lot of volunteers also had mold problems in Pohnpei. I washed it a few times and it ripped in my host families washing machine, I ended up throwing it away. I wish I had brought two hardcase suitcases. My fabric one is constantly molding over, (I clean it with bleach wipes every other week).
•Dry bag (I wish I had brought a backpack style dry bag, but I do like to use my 20L Dry bag when I go on a boat or to the beach, it really does keep everything dry! During training my dry bag doubled and my school bag since it rained so often.)
• Large Vera Bradley Tote (I love using this for school, if I bring my laptop to school I like to use my small hiking backpack)
• Small hiking backpack with rain cover

Bedding
•Cute flat sheet and a homemade pillow case from my mom (added a personal touch to my ugly dorm bed during training)
•Yoga mat (Dorm beds during training are made of a single piece of ply wood on top of a metal frame, I’m so thankful I packed my yoga mat, it made all of the difference.)

Lady Stuff
•Diva cup (It’s difficult to find trash cans in Pohnpei so I was thankful that I learned to use the Diva cup before leaving the states)
•2 boxes of Costco Tampons (It’s difficult to find tampons here and if you do they are the cardboard Dollar Tree kind.)
•Large ziplock bag of panty liners and pads.

Other
•Snorkel and Mask
•Pictures books of my friends and family (Your host family and fellow PCV will love seeing your family and your sense of style back in the states.)
•Extra Ziplock bags ( Great for protecting opened snacks from roaches and ants.)
• A roll of duct tape (Helps fix the unexpected.)
•Cute stationary

Mailed Later
Classroom supplies (You won’t need them during the three months of training.)
More comfort food
More shirts
Small Umbrella (So handy to keep on me at all times.)

 ***Tip For  Micronesia 2-year volunteers*** You will not know your permanent site until a month into training, you may be sent somewhere remote or modern. Pack neutral and  don’t worry too much about solar powered and survival type gear. You can always have things shipped from Amazon or your family via USPS. 

 

 

Status Update 2: My home in Kosrae, Micronesia

Hello! I’ve been living at my permanent site in the state of Kosrae for a little more than one month now. Kosrae is one of the four states that make up the Federated States of Micronesia, in the Northern Pacific Ocean. The state is about 2,476 miles from Hawaii. Its island is 8 by 10 miles, a little bigger than the place I left my heart, San Francisco. There are about 8,000 people that currently call the island home.

DSC00472Along with myself, there are three other Peace Corps. Volunteers and two Peace Corps. Response Volunteers that reside in Kosrae. I live in the second most outer village called Utwe; it’s about 30-mintues driving from the next volunteer and 40-mintues from town. Utwe is very secluded from the rest of the villages. The asphalt road that leads to town ends halfway through my village. When I am in town it’s  common for people to seem surprised to see me and ask how I got to town that day, Utwe seems extremely far when you live on a small island.

The elementary school where I teach is a close walking distance from my home-stay. I have been helping teach third grade oral communication and reading, as well as fifth grade writing. The English language is introduced in the classroom in third grade. One challenge that I have faced is the variety of English skill levels my students have. Some of the students come from families who have connection in the states especially Hawaii; these students have English levels that exceed the Department of Educations expectations while many others are far behind. I have had a lot of fun teaching so far. My students have become my best friends. (Most of the 20 something’s in my village, and Kosrae are married with children.) So, when I go for a walk to the beach or store, I’m bound to be accompanied by one of my fellow students, they always help me practice my Kosraean language on the way.

I look forward to posting more updates now that I have stable internet connection, however, photos uploaded to my Flickr page will take longer, sislouh kolu (sorry).

Until next time or kuht faht osun (Goodbye)!

How to Make and Drink Sakau

Sakau 1Sakau is an herb drink that is harvested from a shrub, Kava or Piper Methysticum, which grows in the South Sea islands. The drink has a numbing and relaxing effect on the body and is commonly used throughout the week in place of alcohol, but, traditionally used to celebrate special occasions.

Kava originated in the Kosrae state of Micronesia. One version of the oral history says the plant was brought to the main island by a Kosrean woman who carried the Kava seeds in her “downstairs” to avoid agriculture inspection when she arrived at her destination of Pohnpei. Sakau in Kosrae is odorless while Sakau in Pohnpei has a strong oder, for the reason stated in the previous sentence. Therefore, when you drink Sakau in Phonpei, it has become tradition to close your eyes when you take a sip in order to prevent the smell from burning your eyes.


Preparation:
5-10 men for labor
1 Traditional pounding stone
4 People (preferably men)  to sit at the pounding stone located in the nahs (a traditional outdoor space where ceremonies and gatherings take place. )
1 Set of sphere pounding rocks

Ingredients
Kava Plant Roots
1 bucket of clean water
Hibiscus Bark

Instructions as told by my friend Mason, a local 12th grade student in Pohnpei.

Step 1:
Drive to up the mountains, ( 1-2 hour drive), Park car/truck below the mountain. Then hike up mountain and look for the kava plants that have the oldest branches. When you locate them begin digging up the roots, which will come up easily when using a shovel.

Step 2: Carry Sakau branches from the site to the car. The Sakau is extremely heavy, each person carries one Sakau plant. With 5-10 people carrying the sakau plants only one trip up and down the mountain is needed.

Step 3: Drive home with Sakau plants in the trunk.

Step 4: Arrive at home and unload Sakau plants near the nahs. Begin washing the dirt from the roots, it is important to insure that it is thoroughly cleaned. Then, take a machete and cut off the branches leaving only the roots.

Step 5: Wash the traditional pounding stone then put washed roots onto the stone.

Step 6: Two-four of the men take a sphere shaped pounding rock and then begin to pound the Sakau roots on the stone in order to break up the roots into smaller pieces.

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Step 7: Take the hibiscus bark and use the machete and shave off a long strip.

Step 8: As the roots are being pounded  begin adding water in the amount of a half  coconut shell to the crushed Sakau roots.

Step 9: Begin using hands to kneed the water and Sakau mixture together.

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Step 10:  Lie the hibiscus strip flat on the pounding stone and place Sakau root mixture evenly inside.

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11: Twist up the hibiscus while your partner holds the coconut cup underneath the hibiscus strip, as you twist the Sakau drink will leak from the hibiscus into the cup.

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Now you have Sakau.

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Drinking Rules:
First cup goes to the chief
Second cup goes to the next highest title
Third cup goes to the woman with the highest title
…And remember when in Phonpei close your eyes when you drink Sakau in order to prevent your eyes from burning.