In which I pet one dog too many

Not going to lie, as awesome as Moldova (one of my other PC site options) sounded, I am SO happy I chose to go to Micronesia. Life is great. The sun shines almost every day. I don’t have to suffer through any miserable winters. I made the right choice.


Time is still racing by. My older sister celebrated her birthday a week ago so I took her out to lunch on Sunday and went to a party at her house the other night. She is about 6 months pregnant now and all she talks about is how she craves salty snacks so instead of baking her a cake, I bought her about 10 different brands of chips. She seemed to really like it, as did all of the small children who opened them up throughout the evening, so I called it a success as a good gift.

This past weekend had us mostly in Pikusrik, a village about 10 minute’s drive from mine. My sister’s grandmother-in-law’s sister had died on Friday so the family went to her house to pay our respects and help out. We spent the day there on Saturday, serving food and entertaining the guests, and then Sunday night we returned for another party- this one dealing with my sister’s grandmother-in-law leaving for Hawai’i on Monday. Both parties were great fun, despite them both being engendered from goodbyes and departures, and I wish my sister’s grandmother-in-law all the best in the U.S.

In other news, I am currently combating what I think is scabies but about that, I no longer know. To get your mind out of the gutter, while yes, scabies in the western world is most commonly an STD, for the rest of us it is much more frequently spread amongst small children and animals than it is sexual partners. As to no longer knowing whether or not I have it, I am showing the symptoms: the tiny bumps on my hands, the itchiness, etc; and I’ve certainly done nothing to avoid it: petting every dog that will let me and brooking children with all sorts of bumps and rashes to hold my hand, play with my hair and touch my belongings; but the itchiness does not get worse at night and it isn’t unbearable (as it should be). All the same, I’ve gone to the doctor to get the treatment, gone to the store to buy enough laundry detergent to wash every article of clothing everyday for a week and readied myself for battle. Unfortunately, either the treatment has a delayed effect or it didn’t work (i.e., what I thought was scabies is not scabies), because the bumps haven’t totally vanished and those that remain still itch. I’ll see in a week what happens and go back to the doctor if necessary. Wish me luck!

That is just about all I have to share with you this week, but please do keep in touch! Until then, I love and miss you dearly!

Update: It was scabies and the treatment did completely eradicate the bumps within the week the doctors said it might take. My sister also no longer has scabies so that’s nice.



In which I don’t get fired

One of the PC staff has spent the past week here to help our VSS perform site evaluations. They interviewed my family, my principal and my co-teachers, and they were supposed to observe me teach one of my classes but ran out of time. Due to all of the recent drama, I was most nervous about my family interview, but it turns out everyone is very happy with my presence and my work here. So I can stay! Yay! About halfway through the week, I also had a language proficiency test for which I had been practicing and studying for months and I passed that too! All in all, it’s been a great week for me in the PC.

In laying low for the past couple of weeks, my sister and I have been watching a good amount of TV (as much as I’d love to spend my time doing other things, the options are severely limited). We have a channel here that shows only videotaped events on Kosrae. Most days, it only plays Christmas celebrations and we just glance right over it before moving on to other shows. On one particular night, however, they were playing a recording of the island’s most recent variety show, which featured a performance put on by 10 of our guy friends. It was a Pacific Beauty Pageant parody and to watch all of them come out wearing mini-skirts, wigs and purses; dance around the gym and then answer a question by the orator made my night. I wish I’d been there to see it in person and I cannot wait for the next show to roll around.

My sister, in us watching so many movies and shows that feature Superman and the Flash, seemed a little irked by one of the scenes in Man of Steel. I honestly don’t what prompted the question, but at one point, she turned to me and clarified, “So wait, you’re telling me these people can move faster than the speed of light? That’s not physically possible. Why do they make these shows so unbelievable?” Mind you, this man is flying around the screen while we are having this conversation, he had just finished rescuing a ton of people by ripping a rocket off of an airplane with his bare hands, we had just finished watching an episode of The Flash that featured Barry Allen running so quickly he travelled through time, and the show before starred a zombie that solved mysteries by eating the brains of her victims. My sister had accepted all of these as a matter of fact, but as soon as Superman started moving too fast, oh no! He’d gone too far and it was no longer realistic. Apparently that’s where she draws the line.

In checking for reading comprehension, I gave my 6th graders a quiz on the chapters they’d read for Matilda. In this particular chapter, Matilda has just finished reading through all of the books in the children’s section of her local library and has asked the librarian for more advanced recommendations. The librarian gives her books by Dickens, Kipling, Hemingway, Steinbeck, etc., and sends Matilda home quite happily. Later in the chapter, Matilda decides that she is sick and tired of hearing about how her father uses chicanery on his customers so that they buy his cars for more than they’re worth and decides to do something about it by exacting revenge. One of my quiz questions asked the class: On whom did Matilda decide to take revenge first? Most of my students correctly answered “her father”, but one student responded, “Matilda first takes revenge on Charles Dickens” and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud in the middle of my class.

One of my cousins likes to hang out with me in our library while she and her classmates are at lunch and I have a break between classes. Every day holds a different game, but on this particular day, she decided to perform “magic” for me. The tricks were very similar to one another and all went along the lines of, “Look! In a second, I will disappear…. close your eyes”. It was very cute and made me smile every time she did it.

That’s all I have for you now, but I truly do hope you are doing well back home. Please send my love to everyone and don’t hesitate to shoot me an email, or even better, a letter some time. I love and miss you dearly!

In which I celebrate Christmas… again

This post begins with an anecdote that would make Maury’s show guests seem tame. If you are reading this out loud in front of the faint of heart/small children, you may want to stop. My tutor has very quickly become my best friend here, inviting me places, introducing me to her friends and family, teaching me everything she feels worthy of our time (i.e., Kosraean dirty words) and using “real-world” examples to keep me in the loop of island gossip. She is the definition of a fun loving, single, 20-something enjoying her life to the fullest, and we get along swimmingly. Unfortunately for her, however, she was born and raised on Kosrae, an island that does not appreciate 20-something women “living life to the fullest”. So much for carpe diem. To make matters more interesting, she has two, adorable children (a daughter, 6, and a son, 4) for whom she cares and provides. Neither kid has the same father, and neither father bothered to stick around to watch them grow. Thankfully, her cousins stepped up to adopt the younger one, and her parents help her raise the older one. Every time we hang out, the daughter tags along. This includes our walks on the beach for tutoring, our excursions around the island with the Red Cross, and our occasional trips to the swimming pool and to basketball games. Regrettably, this also includes our days spent cruising, which tend to include just about every vice one can have on this island. Again, for fun loving, single, 20-somethings like our friends and me, this poses no problem. But for a 28 year-old mother of two, with both children at VERY impressionable ages, what she does around her daughter is worthy of jail time. And to see the daughter’s reaction to her mother’s escapades makes me want to cry. Her mother is her life, to the point that she doesn’t like spending too much time at our house with her best friend because she worries what her mom is doing. Thus, watching her witness every time her mother drunkenly stumbles and nearly falls down a flight of stairs at the gym, locks her out of the car so she can be alone with her boyfriend, and leaves us to babysit her while she disappears for hours on end kills me. All of these actions finally came to a head two weekends ago when my tutor got caught. To provide a little back-story, on Kosrae, the expectation is that if a man loves a woman enough, he will propose and marry her without having even dated her. Marriages aren’t arranged, but if the church had its way, no dating would happen regardless. And people wonder why infidelity is such an issue here. Any way, not only did her parents find out that she had a boyfriend, they also learned that he was her married cousin who has a pregnant wife. The wife found out, called my tutor’s parents, the parents kicked my tutor out, she moved in with her aunt two villages away, and the boyfriend found out and proceeded to beat his wife so badly that, fearing for her life, she moved to her sister’s house in another village and hasn’t gone home since. I wish I were making this up. Needless to say, I haven’t seen any of them since and don’t really plan to. As it turns out, even if I did want to see my tutor again, I wouldn’t be able to. Instead of facing the consequences of her actions and taking responsibility for all of the trouble she’s caused, she is buying a plane ticket to the U.S. and moving in with a different cousin, and the boyfriend is hoping to follow her over later this year (he has a court date in August for the night he crashed his car while drunk driving). With the exception of her daughter, my sister and myself, no one knows she is going, and none of us (herself included) knows when she is going, but we’re all (with the exception of her daughter) hoping it will be soon. I have decided to remain as much a part of the daughter’s life as I can with this next year and a half, and offer her an opportunity to see that life doesn’t have to be the way it has been thus far for her. I’m so sorry for vomiting this all on you, but it’s been weighing on my mind for about 2 weeks now and I needed to share with others who have a similar definition of “normal” as mine.

This past weekend saw my brother’s 2nd birthday party and a Christmas party (as it turns out, we’re about a month and some hours behind you all, not 19 hours ahead). My family, taking full advantage of their ability to host 30+ people, invited 30+ guests to attend the birthday celebration. I helped with prepping the food and washing the dishes, and we all stayed up very late into the night enjoying each other’s company, singing songs and eating a gluttonous amount of food. The next day’s Christmas gathering could have been a continuation of the birthday party it was so similar. We all went to Lelu Marina in the mid-morning and helped prep ~100 containers of food for the guests, everyone sang songs and threw goodies at the spectators, and we all passed the day having a grand ol’ time.

That is the end of this letter, but I want to apologize to you all again for sharing so much with you about this woman and her exploits (sexploits?). As you all know, the Peace Corps is not always butterflies and rainbows. It truly is the toughest job I’ve ever loved, but believe me when I tell you, I do love it. The happy times spent with my friends and family here greatly outweigh the trials and tribulations; and while I wish for a different life for the daughter, I do not wish for a different experience for myself. I cannot wait to see what drama comes my way next, what fresh hell my next letter will entail, but until that day comes, I love and miss you all dearly!

In which I get caught doing nothing wrong

Things are going super well here on the island of the sleeping lady. I have almost nothing to talk about, which is unfortunate and banal for all parties reading this, but I guess that means my routine has finally been established!

My friend group is slowly expanding, helped along by my spending time with the friends I already have and meeting their friends as a result. Last week was my tutor’s birthday and when asked what she wanted to do, her immediate reply was “Let’s go cruising”. I rented us the car and we spent the day going around and picking up her friends. The next day, word got out that she had been involved in a very scandalous series of events and she was forced to miss out on the night’s cruising sequel. I had even more fun than the night prior, what with it not being a school night and having to get up early for work in the morning, and once again, I got to see a whole new part of the island I hadn’t experienced before. It had been raining off and on all day (as is wont to occur in Kosrae), but the songs playing on our CD were so catchy, we stopped multiple times to get out and dance in the rain. It was all so much fun I can only hope that we can do it again this weekend.

The next morning, while I was still sleeping, my parents received a phone call from Anonymous telling them all about the things I had done the night before and a few weekends prior. Mind you, this is not the first time Anonymous has taken it upon herself to talk about me to my parents, but the crimes I was accused of this time were so disreputable, my parents felt it necessary to confront me about them. Here is a list of everything Anonymous said I did, along with my rebuttal:

  • I had been cruising.- This is true but everyone here cruises and its not a big deal. It is a part of every major event here in Kosrae, and my parents themselves do it so why it suddenly became a crime for me to partake in it, I don’t know.
  • I had been drinking.- Also true, but again, not even considered a crime by Peace Corps’ standards (the more restrictive ones which actually matter to me for the sake of my job).
  • I had been alone with a boy.- Ok, first of all, had I actually been “alone” with anyone at all, someone else being there to see it would completely negate the argument. Second of all, only once have I been alone with said boy and it was to drive a car to a house in a nearby village in broad daylight. Nothing vaguely incriminating happened and anyone who saw us together (i.e., anyone on the road) could attest to that. We are just friends, he has a girlfriend and I respect that, nothing happened.
  • I had been driving.- If I am caught driving, I will lose my job. As I do not wish to lose my job, I’m sure you can make the smart assumption of the truth.

I, of course, told my parents everything I could of what had ACTUALLY happened, but as the lies of others seem to matter more here than the truths spoken by the source, they now seem much more hesitant to let me go about my ways as I have been. In need of some advice, I reached out to a former PCV who had lived with the family for her service a while ago. She told me that she, too, bore the brunt of many apocryphal rumors during her service and that, unfortunately, as long as you hang out with Kosraeans, you will have to be prepared for completely uninformed people to talk about you. Rumors and gossip are an unfortunate part of all small-town life, and to combat it, you either must stop the actions about which people are talking or do them with more… chicanery. I’ll let you decide which option I’ve elected. Wish me luck!

In which I begin reading 4 books simultaneously, taking classes and studying for the GRE… i.e., relive college all over again

We have just finished the first week of our third quarter here and it has been a blast so far. I am teaching the same students I was last quarter, but I am with a new co-teacher and am now teaching reading instead of writing. So far, my partner is great. He is involved in the planning and keeps the class engaged and upbeat, something not too easily done when your first class consists of 20 exhausted 13-year-olds. We only have 2 class sets of books, both of which the 7th and 8th graders have studied already, but words cannot express how excited I am to be teaching our 5th and 6th graders Roald Dahl’s Matilda and The Witches. I remember loving those books, and just about everything else I read by Dahl when I was their age so this should be really fun! I also spent many hours in our school’s library over winter break sorting out which books are actually reading-level appropriate for our students and which need to be donated to the high school and college. Unfortunately for us, about half of our books here were wildly above our students’ abilities, but that still leaves about 350 books still within their grasps. Because I spent so much time weeding out and then organizing our books, to know that my time had been wasted by children not reading would have displeased me greatly. To ensure that this wouldn’t happen, I have started a reading contest for all of my classes. The class that reads the most pages wins a class party and a field trip at the end of the quarter. The student that reads the most pages gets to eat lunch on my dime with 2 of their friends at the restaurant of their choice. To prove that they have, in fact, read the book, they are required to submit a summary along with the book upon completing it. I’m proud to say that even after just one week of the contest, I have never seen so much activity in our library. My worry is that students may try to cheat by reading book summaries online or on the back of the book and submit plagiarized work (a huge problem in a society that loves to “help” one another by letting others copy and cheat off of them), but so far I’ve been able to catch all of the students that have tried and penalized them accordingly.

We had a three-day weekend this past weekend, and because I didn’t get to partake in any of the island’s regular New Year’s traditions (both my sister and her best friend were born on January 1st), my friend here decided to rent a car with me and spend a couple of days cruising around the island, picking people up along the way, going to the beach, attending parties and picnics, and watching a basketball game or two. It was so much fun getting to see parts of the island I hadn’t seen before and all of the Kosraean being spoken around me definitely boosted my language comprehension abilities. I feel as though I’ve made a marked improvement since first arriving to the island, and my sisters and friends have all commented that I have. I just hope it’s enough to score higher on the next Language Proficiency test coming up in early February. Wish me luck!

On top of teaching here, I have begun my GRE Prep and am also taking a couple of courses online to help boost my résumé. It hasn’t been long since my last graduation, but it feels as though ages have passed and all of the rust I feel I need to shake off is intimidating me. We’ll see what happens when grad school rolls around in the future. Who knows? Maybe I’ll change my mind and just be a Peace Corps Volunteer for the rest of my life. I certainly love it enough here that I would do it again if I could be guaranteed to have a similar experience in future posts. I wonder what my family would think if I never came home…

I hope the winter is not treating you all too terribly. To be honest, I can’t say I miss the cold and all the hassles that accompany it. Hopefully things will warm up soon. Until then, I love and miss you all dearly!

In which I accidentally march into uncharted territory

Happy holidays and a happy new year! Do you have any resolutions worth sharing? I think mine this year will involve finishing books more frequently than I have been. I’ve all but stopped reading and I’m not too proud of that. Reading definitely affects my writing for the better, and motivates me to write. I haven’t been sending nearly enough letters home lately and I think it is partly due to the fact that I’ve stopped reading and therefore stopped inspiring myself to write. Such a pity!

I reached the 6-month mark about 2 weeks ago and cannot believe it. I think it’s because I’ve only been at my site for 4 months now, but this time is flying by and I feel like I’ll be returning home in no time. I was pretty sick last week so I didn’t get to send a letter home for the week before, so please forgive this short novella you are about to read!

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, my family invited my dad’s brothers and sisters and my sister’s new in-laws over to our house for a big family dinner. According to my other sister, this was still part of the wedding festivities, but my mom said that this big dinner happens every year. Regardless, there was turkey, gravy, stuffing, corn and potatoes and I was happy. Hopefully my mom is right and I’ll be enjoying this meal with my family next year, as well.

Sometime during the next week, my youngest sister tricked my family into letting her skip school. On top of having TERRIBLE dental hygiene, she lies to the family pretty frequently, so my parents didn’t believe her until they called her best friend’s mom and, because her best friend had told her mom the same lie, the conversation ended with my parents letting my sister skip school. I had been absent for the discussion and found out about it the next morning when, upon hearing the lie (“My teacher isn’t going and she said we didn’t have to go either”), laughed hysterically and said, “She’s lying”. It was too late to rouse her, though, so off we went to school sans 6-year-old. I filled my other sister in on the details on our drive and told her that Y had been lying through her teeth. My sister burst out laughing and said, “Notwe, she doesn’t even have teeth to lie through”. Sad but true, it made my day all the same.

I like to do Zumba as often as I can every week to dance with the ladies and get some semblance of a workout in for the day. As only women attend, and it is- after all- a workout, I don’t feel guilty about wearing the most casual clothes I brought here: my boxer shorts. One night, the women with whom I had gotten a ride asked if we could make a quick stop somewhere afterwards. I, of course, told them I had nowhere to be and would happily go along with them. What I didn’t realize was that we were stopping at a banquet for a conference the driver’s workplace was hosting. Officials from all over Micronesia had come, and as this was the final night of the conference, they were having a huge celebration dinner to finish off the week’s events. Everyone climbed out of the car, heading towards the food and leaving me sitting there in my boxers. My friend soon noticed my absence and returned to ask what was wrong. I told her that I wasn’t even remotely properly dressed for the occasion and therefore wouldn’t be attending. She laughed and said, “You’re an aset. It’s alright”. Ok, first of all, no. Just because I’m obviously a foreigner does not make it acceptable for me to blatantly break every cultural rule and norm your island has in existence. Second of all, if you honestly think it would be acceptable for me to attend a work dinner in men’s underwear back home, your perceptions of the U.S. are built from extremely limited sources of information (most likely chick flicks and/or porn). Bottom line, I was not getting out of that car until I was wearing something more appropriate. Luckily, we found an old piece of cloth that I could tie around my waist to make a makeshift skirt and I was able to join the fun and grab a bite to eat with the rest of them.

The Thursday after Thanksgiving was the last dinner cruise the Australian volunteers attended before leaving on Saturday. The mom had worked with the Kosraean Dept. of Education to develop a curriculum for 3rd and 4th graders and had been a huge help to all of us in the elementary schools. She had come here in January with her family to volunteer and had stockpiled her sick/vacation days so that she and her family could end her yearlong service a month early and return to Australia in time to get the kids settled and ready for the new school year in January. They were all so kind and funny; they will definitely be missed. The dinner cruise itself was rather eventful, as well. The boat’s engine died about 15ft. from our halfway point so we spent a good bit of time enjoying our meal as we drifted around Lelu Harbor. When we finished eating, two of the WorldTeach volunteers got bored and decided to jump in and try swim-pushing the boat to our destination. It didn’t work, but it was plenty fun to watch them try. Eventually it all worked out and we made it back to the dock safe and sound.

The Utwe PC volunteer’s uncle recently got promoted within the church so her family hosted a party to celebrate his achievements and invited us all over to join. Once again, the food was served on baking trays and piled so high, it was hard to walk it all back to where we were sitting. The Lelu volunteer and I decided to have an eating contest and I got about 75% through my tray before caving and admitting defeat. The girl is thinner than I am and she didn’t throw in the towel for another 10 minutes of eating. I have no idea where all that food went but it was disgustingly impressive to watch her eat it.

Last Monday, I got sick and missed school on Tuesday to recover. The fever dreams I had were incredible. They featured a lot of people from home and it was really nice to see them all again. Wednesday morning, I woke up cuddling my ukulele and I honestly don’t know how that happened as it had been across the room when I had fallen asleep. My co-teacher, being the awesome father that he is, took one look at me on Wednesday morning and told me to sit in a corner of the classroom and not do anything because I was still definitely too sick to be up and moving around. I graciously collapsed into my chair and went home early that day to take another nap and eat my first meal in over 48 hours. I returned to school the next day feeling much more like myself and thanked him for understanding.

I attended singing practice for Christmas for the first time on Friday and was trying my hardest to learn the new songs and melodies when we all finished singing, stood up and went outside. I asked my mom why we were leaving practice after only having been there for about 30 minutes and she told me it was time to practice marching. Apparently putting on a recital isn’t special enough, we all need to march to the beat and make shapes and stuff, as well. I accepted it and found a place in the crowd. I had been standing there for less than a minute when the group leader pointed to my sister and me and told us to come front and center. We had been selected to lead the group and hold the group’s star-pole things. I thought, “Cool! Fine by me. Now when do they teach us where to…” “Go!” shouted the group leader and suddenly we were marching and singing. I frantically asked my sister, while keeping in step and trying to sing, where we were supposed to be going. She told me we would eventually be making a star and to just follow her for the moment. When we reached the end of the church, she turned and as I went to turn with her, she said, “No! You go over there”. I was then leading my line completely blind and laughing hysterically with how ridiculous it all was. At one point, I heard someone whisper, “Notwe!” as loud as she could through clenched teeth and I turned to see that I was the only one in the section of church I was in. The 2nd person in my line had stopped about 20 paces back, where I was supposed to have stopped, and had been calling my name as I had boldly marched on to where no man was supposed to go. By the end of the song, I was doubled over I was laughing so hard, neither even remotely singing nor marching in time with everyone else. The ordeal ended, and my sister turned to me and asked if I had memorized the steps, to which I replied, “BAHAHAHAHA”. Unfortunately she was serious, but I didn’t realize it until the group leader shouted, “Go!” again and off we went into the next song and next set of steps that I didn’t know. This exact sequence of events repeated itself for two more songs and routines and I can honestly say that this was the hardest I have laughed since arriving on this island. Hopefully it will all come together better than it began because if not, I will most likely be laughing to the point of peeing my pants on Christmas.

Yesterday, instead of going to church, my sister dropped me off at Trade Winds so I could make food for the WorldTeach volunteers. What started as pasta with cheese sauce very quickly became chili with homemade tortilla chips and the dish turned out amazing, if I do say so myself. I really do miss cooking. When I get home, I think we need to make a night called the “Marisa cooks for everyone” night because if not, I might go insane. Let me know what you think!

Until then, I love and miss you dearly!