Micronesia: Day 1

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Retrieved from Wikimedia commons

Started 7:24 A.M.

Greetings from Micronesia! My plan for these blog posts while I’m here is to have a summary of each day. I’ll write things at different times as the day goes on and I will post various pictures. After 6 P.M. Micronesia time, we generally have the evening off, and I’ll try to write a more detailed summary of the day with perhaps an interesting blogging topic about some aspect of Micronesia. Just a little background: The Federated States of Micronesia contains four island-states. From east to west, these are Kosrae, Pohnpei (where we are staying at), Chuuk, and Yap. In addition to these four states, there are hundreds of little islands: around 607 (including the four states) that compromise Micronesia.

The population of the entire country is 106,104 (2013 estimate), and the land area is 702 square kilometers (271 square miles). The population density is 158.1 people per square kilometer (409.6 people per square mile). The official currency is the U.S. dollar, and the GDP (PPP) is 3,000 dollars. The population is almost exclusively Pacific Islander with a small Asian minority, but it is important to break the “Pacific Islander” label into the individual ethnicities of the population. There’s a whole bunch of useful information on the Wikipedia page, so if you want a more in-depth discussion of the country, check it out. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federated_States_of_Micronesia

Breakfast is at 8! See ya later!

Finished 7:57 A.M.

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Started 8:50 A.M.

Breakfast was pretty good. We had a salad mixed with bananas, oranges, some leafy vegetable that is found on the island (it tastes like spinich), eggs with a little pepper and milk, and toast on white bread with a little bit of butter. I had some soy juice, which isn’t too bad.

There is a Catholic Church service that I am leaving for at 9:15, and the actual service starts at 9:30. It will be interesting to see the service. I’m wearing the nicest clothes I brought (a Hawaiian shirt and some very thin, waterproof pants, whose only redeeming factor for church clothing is that they are not shorts). It has rained intermittently at time this morning, but it was raining constantly yesterday afternoon when we got here, heavy at times. By the way, I am counting this as “day 1” because it is the first full day we have spent here.

We left the Seattle airport at noon on Thursday the 20th, and we got here at ~4 pm on Sunday the 23rd. We flew from Seattle to Los Angeles, then had a two or three hour layover before flying to Honolulu. Then, we had a seven hour layover and tried to sleep in the airport (I might have gotten 30 minutes of sleep, for which I feel very thankful) and then embarked on our 11 hour flight to Pohnpei.

There were some sobering health moments on the plane. Before we boarded the plane from Honolulu to Majuro or Kwajalein (I can’t remember which… the plane went to several small islands before reaching Pohnpei), an elderly woman was moaning at the Honolulu airport and was in a great deal of distress with her daughter by her side trying to comfort her. Close to when we were getting off the plane, the one flight attendant asked the daughter if her mother had moved at all during the flight, and the daughter said she hadn’t. She had just assumed she was sleeping and extremely tired, which was a perfectly reasonable assumption given her physical state. The daughter then tried to wake her up, but she did not wake up. When we landed, a local ambulance was called and she was taken on the tarmac where the medics performed CPR. That’s all I know, but unfortunately she likely passed away. Another elderly man was picked up from Kwajalein (I think, but it could be Majuro). The only consoling fact was that the woman who died was in an enormous amount of pain and misery before she passed away, so I hope she is in a better place, and the man was on the way to get some assistance. I got to go to church now. Goodbye.

Finished 9:02 A.M.

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Started 10:45 A.M.

I just got back from church. What an amazing experience. I’m not religious or atheist (I actually consider atheism a type of theism because you believe in the absence of supernatural things), I’m just open to all interpretations (society labels this as agnostic, but I feel as though agnosticism is highly individualized by nature, so I don’t like using ‘agnostic’ as a generalized label), and I think this was one of the most spiritually fulfilling events of my life. I’ll have to take some time to think about it, and I’ll write more about it this evening after we eat dinner. For now, I’m headed to a class on the history of Pohnpei, then lunch, then a hike, then some science review stuff, then some government review stuff, and then we got dinner.

Here are some pictures that I’ve uploaded at 9:49 P.M. These pictures are not of the church… they are outside. There was a cool monument that was built that I took pictures of. I think this was built by the Spanish, but I’m not sure.

Looking at the monument

Some of the students on our trip
Our group! (minus Julian Sachs, the group leader and a professor of chemical oceanography at the UW)

Finished 10:51 A.M.

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Started 2:11 P.M.

Goin on a hike. Deuces.

Finished 2:11 P.M.

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Started 4:12 P.M.

Finished the hike. Absolutely amazing. I have a class about the Pohnpei government in 18 minutes, which will last from 4:30 to 6. Right after that, I have dinner, and after that we have some free time. It’s pretty rainy here, but the rain has been relatively light. Yesterday, the rain was moderate to heavy at times… although nothing I haven’t seen before. I’m hoping to see a crazy intense rainstorm sometime while I’m here.

Here are some pictures, which I uploaded at 9:04 P.M.

An awesome waterfall

A weird kid
A dog (there are TONS of dogs on this island)
A miniature figure of Jesus
A beautiful flower. There were lots of these on the trip. I haven’t identified it yet… hopefully I can do that soon.

Ended 4:14 P.M.

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Started 9:55 P.M.
The pictures all took an enormously long time to load. It’s getting late and I’m getting tired, but before I go to bed, I’ll write about my thoughts on the church service. Just a warning beforehand… I might not be the best at articulating these thoughts right now, but I think they are very important.
The entire service was in Pohnpeian, so I didn’t understand any of it, although I heard one of the priests (there were two) say “Jesus” a couple times, so I was able to catch on to that. The church was very simple and was not ornate in any way. There were plenty of fans to help keep people cool, and the doors were open for the entire service. The service was fairly long… I didn’t time it, but I would guess that it lasted close to an hour and a half. 
When I was in this church, I was very observant, and since there wasn’t much to see architecture-wise, I focused on the people. When I saw these people… everybody from the little kids walking down the aisle dressed up in Catholic attire (I don’t know what else to call it) to the people in the audience of all ages, I saw a sort of humbleness and calmness that is unlike anything I have ever seen in the states. The priests gave special recognition to us, and the audience gave us a big round of applause.
I’ve always said I’m a minimalist, but seeing these people took it one step further. Many Americans would classify their standard of living as poor and unfortunate. But I did not see any frowns on the faces of the Micronesians throughout the service or when we exited the church. They all seemed to be happy and humble, like they had nothing to prove and were so thankful for our participation in their service. This made me think about the U.S. and the things we do to make ourselves happy. Some people buy huge houses because they love the luxury of living in a beautiful home, and if it’s situated on the waterfront or has a great view, all the better. Others buy super nice cars. Others take pride in scientific research, some have hobbies like skiing or football or fishing. But looking at these Micronesians, I noticed how happy they seemed with so little money. I haven’t noticed any significant difference in the well-being and happiness of people who own expensive things. I have witnessed people experience joy from research, teaching, or their hobbies. But even these things take resources. Skiing is very expensive, people always want to get the best fishing rods, reels, and boats possible, and for watching football you need a huge flat-screen t.v. and ridiculous amounts of Coors Light. 
I realized that you can live a fulfilling life out of very few resources. It’d be cool to be a professional athlete, an incredible jazz saxophonist, or an esteemed lecturer at a prestigious university, but these are not things you need to be happy. Living in a community where you can simply be with and help other people could be perfectly satisfying. I’m very ambitious, but ambition and accomplishment do NOT always equal a sense of fulfillment. Don’t stress if you fail a class or go through a difficult breakup. Even if you’ve lost everything in your life, you haven’t lost your human nature for love and companionship. Be with people, grow from them, love them, help them. There’s nothing more you need.
Time to hit the sack for another great day tomorrow!
Finished 10:22 P.M.
Charlie
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