Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sakau Ceremony

Last Thursday afternoon I went to a sakau ceremony down in Kitti. Sakau is a mildly narcotic drink made from pounding the roots of the pepper plant. Sakau has huge significance for Pohnpeians and is used during almost every special occasion and celebration. In recent years, though, sakau has become available in bottles or even at bars.
The men are bringing the pepper plants into the nahs. Everything has to be done correctly, including for the "audience." You cannot dangle your feet off the nahs during the ceremony. Men and women sit separately.
Chopping the roots off the plant.
The guy in the center is scrubbing the dirt off the roots with a bit of coconut husk while the man on the left used his machete to separate roots from stems. Only the roots are used.
The final pile of roots ready to be pounded into sakau.
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When pounding sakau, you have to be shirtless. There is a special stone which is used and the stone is sitting on an old car tire to make it ring out during the pounding. In the olden days the rock sat on coconuts.
While pounding is going on, water is added to the sakau. After the pounding, the sakau is wrapped in strips of hibiscus bark and the muddy juice is squeezed out.
Here is more squeezing going on. The guy in the center is holding the coconut cup which the guy on the right is going to squeeze sakau into. It was first be offered to the nanmwarki (the chief) and other leaders of the community. Then it is given to special guests, which included me, since I came from a distance.
I pretty much broke every rule when I came up to drink from the cup. I was supposed to sip, and I gulped. I was supposed to kneel while drinking. I was supposed to pass the cup back over my head without looking. Didn't do.

Many people consider sakau to taste terrible, but it just tastes muddy. The aftertasted is actually quite pleasant. And it makes you a little bit numb, sort of like sucking on a Sucret (how do you spell that word?). Very pleasant and relaxing.

For more photos of this ceremony, you can look at
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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What's Going On

Tuesday was my big almost-the-end-of-the-semester concert in the Practice Gym of the China-FSM Friendship Sports Center.

The place was packed, yea!!!

My 70 music students performed music from different places around the world: Puerto Rico, USA, Melanesia, England, Africa and more. My favorite thing was a little medley I put together of an Israeli and a Palestinian song.

In January I began a community choir which has been rehearsing at the Pohnpei State campus every Tuesday evening. There are 28 singers in that group, and a good variety of folks, too; locals and expats. They performed a couple of gospel numbers ("Magnify the Light" and "Order My Steps"); folk songs from Palau, Kosrae, China and Hawai'i; Gershwin and some other stuff. They were really good!

But enough words. Here are some photos...
Last Sunday while kayaking, I discovered a mangrove channel that I had never explored. This is it.
The tide was pretty low while I was exploring, so this is where my kayak got stuck.
After I escaped from that mosquito-infested mangrove channel, I went out into the lagoon, where I discovered these baby mangrove plants growing on a tree stump.
And finally, this picture of Nina. As I write this Nina is at the veterinarian getting spayed. The vet only visits Pohnpei once every month or two, so it's now or never.
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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Life Goes On

Last Saturday night I went to The Rusty Anchor Bar to hear the band Wetter than Seattle perform.

The Rusty Anchor is a concrete room located on the ground floor of an unfinished hotel. It has a great view of Sokehs Bay.

Wetter than Seattle is the Pohnpeian expat rock band. It consists of drums, bass and guitar. The lead singers are my friends Helen and Rachel. They are a riot on stage!

I was looking at the crowd while watching the performance and it struck me that I am now in a new generation of expats than when I first moved to Pohnpei.

When I first arrived, I got to know everyone. As time has gone by, I have settled down with a smaller group of friends. In the meantime, most of the expats, including some of my friends, have left.

My Pohnpeian friends and acquaintances have more-or-less remained here on island. But as I sat at The Rusty Anchor, I kept seeing the ghosts of the people I used to go there with: Jen, Jeff, Rohaizad, Janhabi, Shaun, Felicia, Stacy, Lance, Amy and many more.

In a few weeks, I too will be just a memory at The Rusty Anchor, and within a few generations of expats, no one will remember that I was ever here. That’s life.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Chuukese Mask

I won this traditional Chuukese mask at a silent auction on Wednesday. Nina is demonstrating her appreciation for traditional handicrafts.
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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

My Vacation in Chuuk!

Last Saturday I went to Chuuk for vacation.

Before I went I asked some of my Chuukese students what I should do. One of them suggested "bring a gun."

That seems to be the general reputation of Chuuk: DANGEROUS!

Even Alonso de Arellano, the first European to visit Chuuk, said in 1562 "These people are savages and thieves who covet everything they see and never lay eyes on anything at all without calculating how they might steal it." He made a hasty exit after several of his crew were ambushed and killed.
Chuuk lagoon is huge and has many islands surrounded by a distant coral reef. It is the remains of an old volcano which is slowly sinking so only the mountaintops are showing now. In a few million years it will be an atoll. Global warming might speed that process along.
I snapped some pictures of some of the lagoon islands as the airplane was preparing to land.
A piece of another lagoon island.
Chuuk International Airport was a bit of a surprise. It's the nicest airport I've seen in any of the four states in the Federated States of Micronesia. Clean and modern. But the cleanliness and the moderness of Chuuk ends when you leave the airport.
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A Day on Tonoas

On Sunday I took a boat to Tonoas Island and then hopped in the back of a pick-up truck for a sight-see. We had to haul the gas for the truck with us in the boat, since there are no gas stations on the island.
This was my view from the back of the pick-up truck. The roads were pretty much just muddy two-tracks. We only passed one other vehicle the entire day.
A church on Tonoas.
Out of nowhere appeared this beautiful bridge!
The lock-up on Tonoas. After peeking inside, I was convinced to be a law-abiding tourist. Nothing but concrete - no windows even.
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Tonoas School

All the land on Chuuk is private property - including the land which houses the college, all the schools and the International Airport! So they all have to pay rent. Many (most? all?) of the land owners try to squeeze all the money they can get out their property.

On Tonoas, they couldn't make the rent payments on the school, so the land owner hung up this sign.

Now the school is a ghost town, with weeds everywhere, broken windows and graffiti.
Here are the remains of one classroom. I also wandered into another room which was full of wet, rotting books. It smelled like a sewer.
I found this broken record (one of many) in the courtyard weeds. I found a whole stack of decaying piano duet sheet music. I hated to leave it behind! How did this stuff get there?!
I also found this textbook in the courtyard, and it made me think that perhaps the school closing wasn't such a bad thing. Why on earth would a student on Tonoas need to learn "United States History from the First Americans to Reconstruction"?
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A Day in the City

I spent Monday discovering the island of Weno. There are many boat docks like this one where people from the other lagoon islands park their boats when they come in to work. Sort of like the municipal parking lots in the United States.
You have never seen so many pot holes in your life! Cars crawl along at about 5 miles per hours, veering back and forth to avoid the craters. But I think the pot holes are a blessing, because they keep traffic moving slowly and carefully instead of careening along.

In the distance you can see "One Tree Mountain," a landmark on Weno.
Weno has some really good restaurants. The Blue Lagoon Resort Restaurant was good, but the Truk Stop and High Tide were extraordinary! This picture doesn't show any of those restaurants, but it shows the post office on the right.
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On Tuesday I relaxed around my hotel, The Blue Lagoon Resort. I did some snorkeling and swimming at their beach, which is pictured above. While I was floating in the water, I was almost hit by a jumping fish. I think he was just as scared as I was when he jumped out of the water and saw me there, but when he landed in the water right in front of me (going pretty fast!) he barely managed to swerve and avoid me.
The hotel explains how to behave, but there were a lot of bikini swimsuits there! It always surprises me to see people sunbathing. Over the past couple of years, I have learned to avoid the sun as much as I can.
Tuesday night I went to a Mortlockese celebration of 100 years of the Liebenzel Mission on their islands. Hundreds of them gathered together after the ship arrived from the Mortlock Islands earlier in the day. I spent 5 hours listening to beautiful choral singing. Unfortunately the music was having it's soul sucked out of it by blaring Casio accompaniments. The electricity kept going out, but it never went out during a song so the keyboard could be silenced. Bummer. The photos turned out rather dark, but here is a shot of one of the choirs performing.

I arrived back at my hotel around 11:30 at night to find the gate closed and padlocked. I was a little nervous as I stood there and guys starting wandering up to me. Security arrived after about 5 stressful minutes and I returned to my maximum security resort.
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Leaving Chuuk

Wednesday morning I packed up and headed for the airport to depart.
At the Chuuk Airport, the time is always 9:35.
While flying home, we passed over Oroluk Atoll. It is a huge atoll, but the land is tiny. The only land is that little speck on the far left. Very few people live here.
Just before landing in Pohnpei, we passed over Pakin Atoll.
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