I’m sitting in Pohnpei International Airport on June 12th 2012, about to board a plane that will eventually take me back to the ‘real world’. It’s not exactly where I thought I’d be eight years ago today, or even two years ago, but it’s where I find myself now. Goodbye was hard. Harder than I thought it would be. My last month here was filled with well wishes, promises to meet again, pleas to stay, tears, gifts, celebrations, kind words, new and potent emotions, and love…lots of love. I love this place. I love these people. I love my friends and most of all I love my family. My family became my best friends and their home became my home. Pohnpei is home for me…or at least it was. Much moreso than Arizona or Pennsylvania. I called AZ home for only a few weeks and I left PA over a year ago. I left those places to explore the world and myself, to do good things and to have a positive impact on the education and economy of Pohnpei. In those, I like to think I succeeded. But at what cost? The process of saying goodbye was more painful than I ever thought it could be…so much so that I have reconsidered doing something like this again. It’s hard to express the emotions, but I hope that in time and with distance, I’ll adjust and normalize.
I’ve said this before but I’ll restate: This has been the best year of my life. I know I said that six months ago, but the last six months were just as good, if in a different way, such that I wouldn’t trade them for anything.  Thank you Pohnpei and everyone thereon. I love you. I miss you. I pray that someday we’ll meet again. 

I’m sitting in Pohnpei International Airport on June 12th 2012, about to board a plane that will eventually take me back to the ‘real world’. It’s not exactly where I thought I’d be eight years ago today, or even two years ago, but it’s where I find myself now. Goodbye was hard. Harder than I thought it would be. My last month here was filled with well wishes, promises to meet again, pleas to stay, tears, gifts, celebrations, kind words, new and potent emotions, and love…lots of love. I love this place. I love these people. I love my friends and most of all I love my family. My family became my best friends and their home became my home. Pohnpei is home for me…or at least it was. Much moreso than Arizona or Pennsylvania. I called AZ home for only a few weeks and I left PA over a year ago. I left those places to explore the world and myself, to do good things and to have a positive impact on the education and economy of Pohnpei. In those, I like to think I succeeded. But at what cost? The process of saying goodbye was more painful than I ever thought it could be…so much so that I have reconsidered doing something like this again. It’s hard to express the emotions, but I hope that in time and with distance, I’ll adjust and normalize.

I’ve said this before but I’ll restate: This has been the best year of my life. I know I said that six months ago, but the last six months were just as good, if in a different way, such that I wouldn’t trade them for anything.  Thank you Pohnpei and everyone thereon. I love you. I miss you. I pray that someday we’ll meet again. 

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Kalahngan Pohnpei

This won’t be the first time I mention how awesome this year has been and it surely won’t be the last either. And just like at the outset of this leap of faith, I owe the quality of this year to so many who have helped me make the most of this invaluable experience. A HUGE Kalahngan and Thank You is owed to…

  • My parents…skype calls and care packages are great. But I can’t wait to hug you guys! 
  • My sister…my best friend. Really proud of and happy for you.
  • My extended family back home…it’s been too long! Miss you guys
  • Amy, NadNad, Andre and Dosko…you were my best friends and my family for a year. It’s so hard to say goodbye but you’ll be my family for life.  I love you guys!
  • The Abraham, Aldis and Finnen families…your generosity never ceased to amaze me.
  • Joyse, Marleen, and Excel…you were my introduction to Pohnpei and I can’t think of a better way.
  • My WorldTeach family, especially Ms. Troutman, Souwel and well, everybody.
  • Everyone at COM, especially Sandy
  • My students = awesome. Teaching frightened me until you taught me to love it.
  • My co-workers and clients at the PSBDC…first hand is the only way to understand the challenges of developing business in a developing economy. What a challenge!
  • My climbing buddies…I know, I’m a slacker. What can I say, I just can’t commit! haha
  • My friends from back home…thanks so much for all your love and support.

I learned so much this year, maybe more than at any time in my life to this point. But no matter how much I learn, I am still completely blown away by the kindness, support, enthusiasm, love, and generosity of people. Then again, isn’t that why we’re all here in the first place? 

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Lehn Paipohn Falls, Kitti. From Kipar, take the road to the interior, which turns into a path, which then turns left into the jungle. All in, its an hour-long easy hike through the rainforest to get here from the main island road. It’s a great place for swimming, relaxing or jumping. (guide needed)

COM Graduation was this past Tuesday and we were told it would start promptly at 10:30. Of course, it did not…it actually started EARLY! Leave it to Pohnpei to fool us, yet again. I was disappointed we didn’t get to dress in full black garb and cap and sit on the floor with the other teachers but our tardiness availed us some seats in the rafters, which was a much better picture taking location anyhow. 

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MY FAVORITE WATERFALL…ever?

I’ve wanted to go to Pahntakai falls since seeing the morning sun reflect off the hundred foot tall ribbon of water from miles away on Dehpehk island last fall. Finally, this weekend I decided to jump on my bike and take a look see. The ride there was great. It’s about an hour from Kolonia by bike and the hills are pretty mild, except for the last one. On my way, I passed through the relatively small municipalities of Kolonia, Nett and Uh.

In Uh, a group of guys hollered at me from the side of the road, so I stopped and turned around to see what they wanted. I approached, hoping to recognize someone, but I did not. They were really friendly though, having polished off half a fifth of 151 proof rum by noon on Sunday. They gave me a (non-alcoholic) coconut drink, which was exactly what my body needed in that good old equitorial noon-time sun. I mentioned I was a teacher at COM and asked if they knew one of my students from Uh. When I said my student’s name, they were in shock…so, I repeated the name. The guy I was talking to was like, “That’s my son!” I absolutely love the chance encounters here…and how everybody here is so connected. 

I chatted for a little longer and then took off again. The last ascent destroyed me within a minute, so I got off the bike and started hoofing it. What felt like 20 minutes later I was at the top of the hill, completely soaked in sweat. Some kids at the top of the hill led me to the falls. 

Pahntakai falls is definitely one of the best places in all of Pohnpei. Unlike some, this waterfall is calming. Small water tumbles in a thin curtain over a 100 foot tall overhang, falling gently on the rocks below like rain. My pictures really don’t do it justice…this is my favorite waterfall in Pohnpei….or maybe ever?

A few weeks ago, Joe and I threw a Sakau party for some friends and family members here. It was unique in a few ways. First, we used clean, filtered water instead of the ‘clean’ river or mountain water. We still got sick…but not from the water. Second, menwhai suhkasuhked (white people pounded) the Sakau roots…Joe’s first time. Lastly, I finally got a picture of Pedrus…the Sakau provider. 

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AND IN A FLASH…IT WAS OVER.

I am finished teaching. Finals are graded. Grades and myriad reports will be submitted later today. All those things seemed like such impossibilities only weeks ago. Now, before it’s even officially over, I find myself missing it all. How cliché, right? The good: I’m really really proud of my students.

Among other things, I’m a numbers guy, so let’s get raw: 96% of my students passed! That’s 9 times fewer failures than last semester. The blended average in my classes was an 83%. Sure, I provided opportunities to earn lots of extra credit and was lenient on grading non-tests/projects…but my students did the work…and I assigned a lot of that. 72% of students handed in EVERY ONE of about 18 assignments…that’s approaching 1000 assignments/projects/etc. graded from my point of view, not counting tests. As for tests, I graded about 170 of those, all of which were short answer essay questions, translating into about 1700 short essays evaluated. Numbers…mmm.

I really was committed to making positive changes to the way I taught my Entrepreneurship class and to fusing value added activities into every single one of my Marketing classes. More than anything else, that commitment on my part contributed to my successes as an instructor. Reason: my commitment to my students translated into their commitment to their work…and therein, their success. As they handed in their final exams/projects a number of students told me that I made them really want to do their best. This was the best compliment they could have possibly given me: that I motivated them.

I have so much to say but I’ll summarize for the benefit of all who happen to read this. I made some effective changes to my Entrepreneurship class: individual instead of group projects, no presentations, structured time in class to complete the business plan final project. All those changes helped students remain focused and on task.

I had a handful of students retake the class and ALL of them passed this time around, one even received an “A” after failing last semester. Did I mention I’m proud of my students? How about that I really love being a teacher? And I may strongly consider teaching again because of all this? Might I be willing to accept the inevitability of homework as a teacher because of the incalculable rewards it provides?

This was supposed to be a single-year interlude to an otherwise uninterrupted career in the corporate sector, moving onward and upward in the banking food chain. Now, who knows?

Wow, what an experience!! 

The home stretch

Since spring break, I’ve been searching for the motivation to get me through the rest of the semester, which is less than a month away. As has been the case this whole year, uplifting experiences in the classroom are paired with demoralizing ones. For instance, I get a compliment from a student, saying that he feels lucky that I’m teaching at Pohnpei Campus (since apparently most of the good ones teach at National Campus?). Yay, positive reinforcement! On the flip side, I explain an assignment three ways to Sunday to a class and every single person who hands it in (a minority already, mind you) fails to grasp the assignment’s core concept…so I make everyone redo it.

But here’s the thing: Especially this semester, as I have settled into my role as part time teacher, part time consultant, I’ve been better able to devote myself to my work, spending long hours planning lessons and activities late into the night, figuring out the very best way to have a positive impact on my students. I’ve really given my all, pushing the limits of my creativity and patience…and I can’t stop now. Despite being run down, physically, emotionally, mentally and feeling as though there simply can’t be any ideas left in my head, I am writing this now to further incentivize myself to push on. It would be unfair to me and to my students to throw in the towel at all now. 100% is what I promised myself…and them; that’s the goal.

What has and will continue to keep me going is the knowledge that people here sincerely value the contributions I’m making to their education. Even if a few students could care less what I happen to be talking about, others do and those are the ones I’m here for. 

So, I plan on completely devoting myself to work this last month and having nothing left in the tank when it’s over. I’ll probably need at least a week to just recover, but then again…I have a month here to enjoy myself after classes let out! 

More pictures from spring break on Pakin Atoll.

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Pakin = (Pingelap + Ant) ÷ 2

This was the best spring break trip I’ve ever had…sorry Tampa, you can’t compete with Pakin. Pakin Atoll is a sparsely populated coral atoll about 20 miles west of Pohnpei island. The Pakin idea was born during my Nahnalaud trek and finally became a reality about three weeks ago thanks to the Peace Corp vol stationed there. Graciously, he set me up with transportation and housing. 

The days leading up to departure were filled with questions about who’d be able to go, when we’d leave, how long we’d stay, etc. After some annoying political wrangling and a vexing absence of accountability, four Peace Corp and four WorldTeach vols ended up doing the trip.

I left Tuesday morning and after a two hour ride in a 22-foot, 40 HP skiff, arrived at Pakin’s main island, home to the elementary school where Ap, the Peace Corp vol, teaches and where I would stay for the next couple nights. After unloading my stuff, I walked around the island, went swimming and like everyone else, took a good long nap in the nahs (local house). Ap has done quite a bit for the people of Pakin, not the least of which being this basketball court. Check out that view!He also added solar panels and lights for nighttime balling, in which I indulged and then laid on the grass for a long while staring up at the nearly full moon encircled by a vivid lunar halo.   

The next day we took the boat back out to see four or five of the other islands that constitute Pakin Atoll.I came to find that some of Pakin’s islands were populated; some were not. But even the main island with the school had only homesteads, rather than a town like on Pingelap. But unlike nearby Ant Atoll, Pakin is continually populated, so I’d say it’s a pretty good cross between Pingelap and Ant. At each of Pakin’s islands, I drank coconuts and went for a walk or a swim…and took literally boatloads of pictures. Though I may think of myself as this hardened road warrior, I’m really just the proverbial kid in a candy shop when it comes to this level of island beauty. I’m still, and probably always will be, blown away by it. At one of the last islands in the chain, I found and climbed a coconut tree bent out over some deep water perfect for jumping off, very similar to the one in Pingelap. I also got to see pearls being harvested, chased some piglets, ate the fish Scott caught, snorkeled a bit, showed some kids how to skip stones, and managed to somehow not get too badly sunburned, despite running around on the equator all day sans shirt.

I snuck in a bit more snorkeling and beachcombing the next morning before heading back to Pohnpei island. The ride home was longer, bumpier, and scarier than the ride there. This time, the boat was heading against the wind, waves and current, while I struggled to remain seated on one of those old-school rectangular lifejackets as it slid and slammed all over the slick, sloping, slanted (thank you, online thesaurus) floor of the boat. Like all my other epic mini-excursions, upon return to my humble abode, I ran forthwith…to the shower.

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WorldTeach Photo Contest 2012 (by WorldTeachUSA). Mine is around 1:05…

I had the honor tonight of sitting with two village chiefs. We spoke about what a Pohnpeian title means to its holder and about the four traditional pillars of Pohnpeian culture: Courage, Wisdom, Honesty, Humility. I’m hard pressed to find four better legs to stand on than those. One chief, however, expressed his concern that some Pohnpeians are drifting away from those core values, bestowing high titles to people who do not exhibit these important attributes.

"It is a problem," he said, "but one that we will have to work diligently at to solve." I then expressed my view that there should always be a place for courage, intellect, honesty and humility in all cultures. But as societies mature, they must also collectively determine which elements of their culture remain helpful to society and which should be left to fade away. He agreed.

Here are some pictures of Micronesia Cultural Heritage Days. 

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Who says you can’t get good medical care in a developing island nation?

Not me! At least, not anymore. Granted, the medical care received by some here has not met expectations or has been shrouded in ambiguity (“travelers sickness”, what’s that?) but I just paid a visit to the Dental Wing of the Pohnpei State Hospital. Two hours and $10 later, I left with two brand spanking newcomposite (white) fillings. And no, that wasn’t a copay - I have no dental insurance. That was the total cost…$5 per filling…the exam was free too. The dentist just laughed when I told him how much my crown cost me in the States….”And it’s not even gold!” he said. 

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SOKEHS ROCK = YEEAAHH!

 

My Pohnpei to-do-list is getting shorter by the weekend, thanks to some great help from some even greater friends. This weekend: Sokehs Rock hike/climb. From the moment I found out I was coming here I’ve wanted to climb this puppy, called by some “The Diamond Head of Micronesia.” It’s a ginormous volcanic basalt outcropping that in many ways has come to define Pohnpei. From some angles it looks like a mini Half Dome; from others it just looks like a large blob of rock sticking some 300 feet out of the dense jungle at its base.

Rain had prohibited me from attempting this not-safe-when-wet ascent the previous half dozen times I planned it. Not this time. A beautiful day allowed me and some friends the opportunity to see if we had what it takes. Even though we left at 9 a.m., we were sweating bullets after only a few minutes into the steep approach…89 degrees and 90% humidity will do that to you. Lucky for us, it’s not a long hike and in about 30 minutes we were at the rock face.

The technical stuff began with a tricky rope-aided traverse along a ledge that transitioned into a nice 60-degree pitch up through the canopy. From there, we used a metal pipe bolted into the rock to guide us the rest of the way up a few more 60 to 75-degree pitches. There were certainly some problematic sections but for what it’s worth, Amy was able to do the whole thing in zorries (flip flops). Because it wasn’t super challenging, the way up was extremely fun and all told, took us about an hour. And importantly, when we got to the top, there was a small grove of trees to shade us from the blistering sun.

As expected, the view from the top of Sokehs Rock was amazing. In my opinion, it’s the best in Micronesia, beating out the likes of Sokehs Ridge (not to be confused with – cue Sean Connery voice - The Rock), Nahnalaud, and Pwisen Malek, because of its wide field of view. Just as amazing as the view of the surrounding jungle, mountains, airport, villages, lagoon, reef, moored fishing boats and ocean, were the myriad whitetailed tropicbirds soaring on thermals created by the great cliff face. These large, bright white birds with black stripes on their wings and distinctive long thin tails swooped all around us, coming so close at points that we thought it possibly they may land on our outstretched arms. It reminded me of Hawk Mountain and the Pinnacle back in SE PA.

We played around up there, taking pictures and videos, peeing off the cliff edge (with the wind, mind you), climbing on the rocks and up the warning light pole. The wind was blowing so fiercely that Amy dared me to throw my shirt over the cliff edge to see if it would blow back up. It did. As usual, the way back down was a bit more difficult than the ascent, but we made our way a kis a kis (little by little). The only sketchy part was where a section of the pipe was corroded away exposing the inner electrical wires, but I made sure to spot the whole way down just to be safe.

Afterwards, we went dock jumping and swimming at ABSCO (aka Doldrums), which is on the far side of Sokehs island, got lunch and then went wading in a river to cool down and clean off. Another great day in Pohnpei.  

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