By Crystal Jackson, WorldTeach Micronesia Volunteer 2015-2016
I’ve lived in Pohnpei, Micronesia since July 2015 volunteering as an Oral English teacher to five sections of seniors at the largest school on the island, PICS (Pohnpei Island Central School), and I’d like to share my thanks to this amazing country that I’ve grown to know as my home for this year. I hope my thank you’s give you a glimpse into what life as a volunteer in Pohnpei looked like for me.
The Island Pohnpei is probably one of the most amazing jungle islands on this entire planet. Although I have spent the year living in the main town, Kolonia, there have been many trips made around the island, out to villages and overnight to friends and family deep in the jungle. Thank you to this beautiful island for teaching me that bugs, even when swarming inside of a mosquito net, can’t take away from the beauty of sleeping out in the jungle with the sounds of the little jungle creatures, the amazing view of the stars, and the cool breeze blowing through the trees. There is also this amazing little spot on the island that doesn’t ever seem to be anyone’s go -to when new people on island ask where to visit. Pahntaki is not only a lovely short hike up in U (short and easy for any skill level) set into the jungle where you walk along the hillside looking out and at times seeing the ocean BUT then you get to the main attraction, a small waterfall over a huge cave where the weather is always a little cooler and there are bats doing their nocturnal thing that you can go check out if you’re so inclined. There is also an altar that you offer a leaf to and make a wish at. It’s my favourite spot on the island, and I’ve only slipped and fallen there once every time I’ve been. Thank you to the beauty of this island for being truly inspiring over the course of this year.
Island Time Back in Canada I am chronically on time for things. I worry so much about being on time that I am often early and sit in my car until someone else arrives at the same location. Pohnpeians, and I would argue most Micronesians, move at their own pace. This slow pace reminds me of other tropical places I’d visited, BUT it might be even more than I’ve seen in Belize where the locals there tell you to “slow down.” I still walk fast and often pass many students on my morning commute to work, but I’m learning to slow down. This can carry over to more than just arrival time at events, and I’ve been learning to slow down and not rush through things, but enjoy moments I may not have otherwise. Example: I want things to get done quick. Like laundry. Well, sometimes I wait at the laundromat for an hour for a machine only to have someone else just walk in and put their things in my machine. So….I calmly wait another hour. Then I bring my wet clothes home and hang them to dry on my balcony, which should work wonders as it’s hotter than all hotness here. But then it rains, a torrential downpour. And those clothes take an extra half day to dry. But….it doesn’t matter. In Canada, I would be losing my mind. Here I stop and enjoy the sights around me as I people-watch outside of the laundromat, and I just wear the sweaty laundry t-shirt for a few extra hours while my clothes finally dry.
Local Family I’ve had the most amazing local family, and I am so thankful to them for all they’ve done for me while on island. Most recently I was very sick with a fever, aches, lightheadedness, headaches and general weakness. I tried some of the medications I’d brought from home for the flu, but nothing was working. I stayed home from school for a third day and informed my nohno (mom) Race who immediately had my pahpa (father) Ringlen go pick four different types of leaves which she brought over to our apartment along with a friend who immediately started rubbing my head to rid me of my headache. They boiled the leaves, had me put myself under a heavy blanket and sweat half my body weight out with the steam from this pot. It worked. My local family basically saved my life.
I love them for so much more than just their grasp of local medicine. I’m thankful for the advice they’ve given me every time I’ve had cultural questions, the meals they’ve shared, the places they’ve randomly taken me to when they saw me on my balcony, and the bottles of sakau shared between us. To Race, Ringlen and Oyorra (my baby sister), you mean so much more to me than you’ll ever know, and I know we will see each other again.
My Students The youth of Pohnpei are truly inspiring. I have a student who had a baby during the school year and was back to class a week later. This baby has been welcome to my classroom whenever he needs (this is mostly my own baby greed showing). Students are already parents, some to multiple children. There are students who have been expelled and are back for the first, second or third time working on finally finishing high school. Students who have tough home lives, no parents, abusive parents, live with other family or live on their own. We’ve had a lot of loss and sorrow on the island this year with students dealing with family members passing, friends who committed suicide and other very stressful circumstances. At the same time I have many students who come from healthy family lives so I don’t want you to think all is bad on this beautiful island, that would be far from true. But to the students who have struggled this school year, I thank them for being strong and resilient.
I also have to thank my students for the many laughs we have shared together. This was the quickest way that I got to know my students. A recent class discussion time turned into me teaching the Cadillac Ranch (country line dance) to one of my sections. I had to demonstrate the dance first, which put me on the spot, but I was soon joined by brave students who attempted the moves. We’ve laughed with each other, at each other, and over the most ridiculous of things. Even on the worst of my worst days teaching, I can’t say there was not a laugh or two somewhere in there.
I will miss all my students so much. But I am so thankful for the opportunity to be their teacher. My five sections were each so unique and so amazing. With them this year was even that much more of an adventure.
The Adventures Whether it was an around the island road-trip with my roommates Phil and Margit and our Yapese friend Ivan, where we ended up not only seeing Kepirohi waterfall at its most amazing, but also got completely soaked or the time I was taken on a date to what I would later find out was a baby funeral or even the time I rode to a family funeral in the back of a pickup trip with sakau one one side of me and sugarcane on the other, this island has given me so many adventures. These I am beyond thankful for. Spending a night at Emerson’s jungle house with volunteers visiting from Chuuk, other WT Pohnpei and one of our local friends would not normally be considered an adventure, but mix in some sakau and a house that fills with mosquitoes and a mosquito net with a hole bigger than my head and you’ve got yourself some fun. Thanks again for letting me sleep in your room Emerson while you took the bed with the perfect net. I’ve gone to some pretty beautiful islands – Ant Atoll, Parem, Joy, Nahlap, Black Corral, Dah Rei Rei to name a few. I spent the most amazing of New Year’s in the municipality of Sokehs where the party lasts for days and people drive around in trucks banging on any metal they can find and yelling and dancing in the streets. When I’ve been sick, it’s always been local medicine for me as I said above, but my first real dealing with it came when I had a sore throat and for four days a student brought me the most disgusting green juice I’ve ever drank. It did the trick. I’ve had my eyeballs cleaned with blades of grass. And I’ve never refused the most random of local foods (although I am more than happy that I have not been offered dog).
Thank you Pohnpei for almost a full year of adventure.
I hope you all have enjoyed my thank you’s. Follow me on my own blog: www.adventuresofone.wordpress.com (I have a pretty funny blog about dating and falling in love in paradise). Or check out my instagram: crystalmicheala (although all smartphone technology died in about month four so forgive my posts for a little while).
Thank you for taking the time to read about the country I have grown to love and all the things I am so thankful for here.