Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sinlaku's Curse

Wednesday after work, I went with Joanna down to Utwe. On the Finkol River bridge we met Salik who was to guide us on an afternoon hike.

Our destination was the Menka Ruins: the ancient home of the goddess Sinlaku. In the 1850's Sinlaku had a preminition of the missionaries arrival and left for Yap. That is why the missionaries had a relatively easy time converting the whole island to Christianity.

Anyways, in the middle of Kosrae lie the Menka ruins where everyone went to worship. They are now overgrown by mold and jungle, but you can still see the square-shaped structures each with a small or large pile of rocks inside. The structures vary in size, but are approximately 40 feet on each side, I guess.

We only saw four of the structures, but Salik said that there were hundreds(!) of them. He said that long ago, the area was cleared of trees. He also thought that no one lived there (since there are no known graves), but people only went there to worship.

It was an eerie spot within the dark shadows of the jungle, and we spent some time just sitting there drinking coconuts before beginning the hour-long hike back.

The hike is quite breathtaking. We followed the Finkol River under the towering trees. Salik pointed out various flowers and plants and their uses. He even pulled up a plant that has poisonous roots which people put in the water so fish will eat it and die. A lazy way to fish!

But the most memorable moment of the trip was when I began feeling sick. Hiking with an upset stomach ain't fun. I almost made it back to the car, but lost my lunch about a half-mile short of the destination. No one saw or heard me, and that's the important thing.

It was a long trip home and when I got home, I went right to bed. I was sick all night and all day Thursday. Today I'm feeling a little better, but still a little unstable. I'm at work, though. We'll see how my class goes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Joanna and the Birthday Miracle

I turned 40 yesterday.

My students surprised me after class by singing happy birthday and presenting me with a card that they had all signed.

In the evening I hosted a barbeque in the hut by my house.

Thank goodness Ben and Joanna are visiting from Pohnpei, because they worked a culinary miracle.

Ben and I brought home two skipjack tuna when I got home from work.

Joanna filleted them and turned them into tuna steaks and burger patties that we grilled. She also made four loaves of bread to eat the burgers on ... AND made three pizzas from scratch, crust and all.

About ten people showed up for the barbeque. It was nice to have a mellow get-together after the hubbub of last night's pre-birthday celebration at the Island Cafe.

Monday, June 25, 2007

What's Going On

Whew, it's been a while since I've written, so here is an update on my Kosraean life.

Thursday, June 21: Played tennis with Semeon, an old friend of mine and current State Senator. I did rather poorly, but the highlights of the game were:

1. Searching for a ball in the jungle and meeting a three-foot-long monitor lizard.
2. Hitting a ball that landed on top of a palm tree. THAT'S a challenge for you!

Friday, June 22: My friends Ben and Joanna came to visit from Pohnpei. Their flight was six hours late, so they missed happy hour, but they got here eventually. YEA!

Saturday, June 23: Ran the Olympic Day 5K race. It was a relaxed thing; it was even held seven days after Olympic Day. Eighteen runners/walkers participated and I ran the whole thing with Adam, one of the local Peace Corps volunteers. We tied for first place.

Sunday, June 24: Went to church in Malem to hear the singing, which is amazing as usual. In the afternoon we snuck in an illegal snorkeling trip near the airport (there are very strict laws of what can and cannot be done on Sunday). In the evening we played Scrabble by the ocean and went out for cheap pizza at Nautilus Resort.

Monday, June 25: My friend Milt flew in from North Carolina! I put him right to work teaching a guitar workshop at the college campus. Then in the evening I arranged for him to perform at Island Cafe as part of my "Birthday Eve" celebration. We drew in a huge crowd - about 50 people! - for the performance at the Cafe. It was perfect. We stayed up till early morning remembering the old days and ringing in my new decade.

Tuesday, June 26: I woke up 40 years old.

Monday, June 18, 2007

How a Drivers Licence Changed My Life

Both my Maryland and my Pohnpei drivers licences expire next week. So last week I went to the police station here in Kosrae to get a new one.

It took about 15 minutes for them to type it up, and when they gave it to me I was thrilled to see that my weight has not changed in the last five years! How did they know that without weighing me?
However, my eye color has changed from blue to brown.
Thanks to my new drivers licence, I have also learned that my "Racial Extraction" is USA.
I feel like a new man.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Weekend on Kosrae

Saturday afternoon I went out hiking with two of the local Peace Corps volunteers. We went up the "mountain" on Lelu Island and explored the caves that the Japanese dug in preparation for Allied attack during World War Two.

When we got back down, we were going to explore the Lelu Ruins (similar to Nan Madol), but it was raining too hard, so we went to the Tree Lodge and ate fish burgers instead.

Sunday I went to church in Tafunsak. That is the nearest church to my house, and I wasn't sure if bicycle riding is allowed on Sunday, so I walked there. Forty-five minutes.

Tafunsak church was where I spend Christmas 16 or 17 years ago. Those painful pews were a reminder of the 8 hours I spent in there listening to choir after choir.

Yesterday they had a guest choir from Utwe. I got a kick out of them. It is as if the sopranos want to show off by singing as high as they can. Before the song begins, they hum the first phrase at a stratispheric pitch. Then they stop and do it even higher! Then the song begins and there is no way they can maintain such a high key, so the key descends until by the second verse they are singing at a comfortable level.

But it is beautiful music, no denying that. Always such a powerful sound.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

On the Road

I have the most beautiful commute in the world. Every morning I ride my bicycle in the shade of the palm trees on a road along the sandy beach of the Pacific Ocean. It is about a 20 minute bike ride.

Yesterday morning as I rode in to work, I was repeatedly passed by the two ambulances (actually just vans with sirens and flashers) going back and forth down the road with their sirens blaring. There were also a bunch of pick-up trucks that kept passing me with people on stretchers in the back.

I assumed that there must have been a horrible accident since so many people were being brought to the hospital. I often see pickup trucks with dozens of people riding in the back and I was having visions of two such trucks hitting head-on.

In Pohnpei they have a helmet law for motorcycle riders, but no limit to the number of people you can legally transport in the back of your pickup truck without any protection. I don't know if the same holds true here in Pohnpei.

Yesterday evening I went out on the Sunset Cruise in Lelu Harbor and mentioned the emergency vehicles to another boat passenger. He informed me that the airport was doing a drill and those "victims" I saw were just pretending to be injured in an airline crash.

It's comforting to know that if Continental Airlines crashes in Kosrae, the passengers will have the opportunity to wait for a ride to the hospital in the back of a van or pickup truck.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Life Is Good

I love teaching here in Kosrae.

My music class has 29 students - pretty big. And it has been a lesson in flexibility.

In my six days of teaching, I have taught in four different places: two conference rooms, a science lab and a kitchen.

The instruments that I ordered never showed up, so I've had to adapt my syllabus and make the emphasis on choral music instead.

Nevertheless, the students are what make it great. You should hear them sing. It's wonderful.

The rest of my life is pretty great, too. Living across the street from the beach, bicycling along the ocean to get to and from work, lots of coconuts, bananas, tangerines and other local foods...

Speaking of local foods, have you ever heard of "square beans"? They taste just like green beans, but they are square with a line of leafiness along the edges of the square. Funny looking, but delicious.

Yesterday I saw the green flash for the first time since I lived on Guam 15 years ago. The green flash is really more of a green "blip" that you see right when the sun goes below the horizon. This is truly a place fit for princes and kings.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Dan vs. the Pacific

Saturday morning I went out on a boat with three friends for a day of snorkelling.

Kosrae's reef is very near the shore, so the lagoon is quite small. Therefore, you have to go outside the reef to get around the island.

The waves were pretty big out there on the open ocean, but we made it to Walung and snorkelled for about an hour or so.

Then we came up and had lunch on the boat, during which it started to rain.

The rain got worse and worse and the wind began to pick up. We pulled away and started heading back to port, but the waves became monsterous.

I was sitting on the bottom of the boat holding on to the side. When I looked over the edge, sometimes I would see the trough of the wave 20 feet below me and sometimes I would look up and see it towering 20 feet above me.

After about an hour on this trackless roller coaster, we pulled into the village of Utwe. It didn't seem safe to return to Lelu harbor. We sat in Utwe for a couple of hours waiting for a taxi to bring us home: wet and cold, but alive.


On Sunday morning I returned to the church in Malem for the final day of their village celebration. Choirs came from all over the island: Walung, Utwe, Tafunsak and Lelu, not to mention the Malem choirs. It was a huge celebration of music and the church was full.

Nothing beats the power of Kosraean choral music. No accompaniment, all a cappella. A friend of mine compared it to bagpipes, and there are some similarities: the power of the sound and the lack of subtlty being two of them.

Even the hymn singing during church is a cappella, and when I was surrounded by the sound of singing on every side, it rumbled through my insides like being in the middle of a hurricane. What a wonderful experience.

The Malem church building is massive, as large as a gymnasium, but beautifully decorated and maintained. The seating is moveable so the choirs can perform up front. Behind the pulpit there is a clock instead of a cross (I've noticed this in several Kosraean churches I've been to). The women sit on one side of the church and the men on the other.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Those Parts of the Sleeping Lady

Kosrae is known as the "Island of the Sleeping Lady." The profile of the island does look like a woman laying on her back.

Her features become fuzzy below her waist, but above that, you cannot mistake her for anything but a woman.

When I leave my office here at the Kosrae Campus of the College of Micronesia and turn to the right, I am confronted with the two massive and most conspicuous parts of her anatomy.

It makes me a little uncomfortable and I have often diverted my eyes. I know they are only a pair of mountains, but it's hard to see them as anything but parts of that lady.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Most Appropriate Title

A foreigner on Kosrae is called an asiht. I probably spelled that wrong, but that's how it sounds. We got that name way back in the beachcombing days of the 1800's when a beachcomber tripped while walking on Kosrae and shouted "Ah Shit!"

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Len Wo

Here I am on the island of Kosrae.

My new house is in the former US Army Camp Driscoll. Right across the street from the beach. Yes, there are BEACHES! Unlike Pohnpei.

Yesterday I drove down to the church in Malem. They are commemorating the time during World War II when the Japanese evacuated their village and sent everyone to Tafunsak.

After the church service they had a choir festival which will continue next Sunday too.

There is nothing in the world like Kosraean choral singing. It is filled with overwhelming enthusiasm (although they don't all LOOK enthusiastic) and constant key shifting. During church I tried to sing along to a familiar hymn, but found myself incapable of singing because as soon as I determined what key we were in, it would change.

Oh well, it does sound beautiful. I'll be content to listen for a while rather than singing along.

Today I begin teaching at the Kosrae Campus of the College of Micronesia.