It’s hard to believe I am already more than 1/4 of the way done with my commitment in Yap. Daily life here is fairly mundane, and that is surprisingly enjoyable as it allows me to savor all the small things, particularly the cultural differences - more on them coming up as soon as I find a way to write it in a p.c. manner...
Time flies, especially when you are in a routine. When I say my life is routine, I mean I can tell you what I will be doing within a 5 minute window. Being so regimented is a strange feeling, but not wholly unwelcome. I suppose it is a necessity in a place with not much else to do. You may be wondering what my daily routine is here on Yap... even if you’re not, I am about to tell you anyways…
Every morning I wake up and text friends and family back in the Western Hemisphere.
I begrudgingly get out of bed and workout with my two roommates (MWF). It should be noted that even after 10 weeks of this training, I still cannot do a push up.
The forty minutes before leaving for school are some of the most hectic of the day. In the morning the entire region is using the water at the same time so water pressure drops from a sprinkle to a trickle. Additionally, there are three females trying to shower, change, and eat breakfast with only 1 bathroom… we always leave at 7:33.
We drive to school. It’s a peaceful drive full of philosophical debates all to the tune of the Moana sound track... it’s been a few months and we are still not over it. However, recently the CD has been scratched and much to my chagrin may have to be replaced… I suppose its near enough to the holidays now that ‘Christmastime In Ireland’ will soon be appropriate.
School time.... everyday is a new and frustrating but exhaustingly enlightening experience. I am a homeroom teacher for the junior class. They are unquestionably the most ‘difficult’ class in the school. Over course of the past few months I have tried, with moderate success, to get them inline. Now when they are out of line I just have to look at them and raise my eyebrow and they will typically cut it out.
One of the more interesting challenges at school has been the complete lack of critical thinking skills. The elementary school system here seems to rely heavily on rote memorization, and it is failing the students as they get older. It is one thing to teach a man a topic, it is a whole other beast to teach him how to think. However, we are all making great progress and this challenge is slowly becoming half the fun.
15:57-16:10 (assuming we don’t get stuck behind the bus)
We drive towards town and stop by the ‘vegetable woman’, a friendly Chuukese lady who runs a fruit and vegetable stall, for our fixing of eggplants, pineapples, bananas and coconuts. Most people on the island maintain a ‘garden’ or a part of the jungle where they can cultivate their foodstuffs. However, as expats, we are not entitled to such things. We have a small garden with three pepper bushes and a recently acquired cabbage. Occasionally we convince our next-door neighbors to climb a coconut tree if we need some rehydration after a late night at Oceania, but in general we have to buy our own ‘freshies’. Our arms are always full of island produce and our typical bill runs ~1-3$.
After filling our car with freshies, we trek out to the fish market out past the hospital (the one at pine bar, a bar/restaurant/fish-market near our house, smells like the streets of Chinatown on a hot summer day). This fish market is typically operated by Todd and TJ. When they see
us pull up they head over to the sink and begin to scrub their arms like they are prepping for surgery - aka fillet the fish for us. What heroes. We pick our fish of the day (I prefer bottom fish and parrot fish to the other reef fish) and those boys trim it up for us. Helen and Natalie once got a parrot fish at Pine Bar and brought it home with the head and guts in the bag...never again... (it should be noted, we only have one knife - my Norwegian camping knife - in the kitchen so filleting a fish at home is a no go). After paying ~3-6$ depending on the size of the fish, we cruise on home... again wailing Moana.
Upon returning home one of my roommates puts away the dry dishes from breakfast and washes the containers from lunch. I normally begin to prepare dinner. Dinner typically consists of fish and vegetables. Occasionally we will pair it with rice or switch it up and have fish cutlets and pasta with lemon and butter. A month ago my father sent me a cast iron skillet and it makes all the difference for the cooking of the fish. Truly. Have you ever tried to cook fish in a flimsy pan? It just turns gross and gray. Now pan seared reef fish is one of my favorite meals, especially when dipped in a mixture of rice vinegar, local peppers (similar to piri piri), honey, and garlic. *I would like to add that the fish here truly tastes like chicken and I would never eat fish that is more than a day old, so don’t expect me to be ordering the fish when I return to the western world. It’s just not the same.
17:30-19:00 (Monday, Wednesday)
On Mondays and Wednesdays I join the Yap paddling team for an evening paddle in the outrigger canoes. Rain or shine this is always a great time. Being out on the water, feeling the sticky humid sea air and watching the setting sun illuminating the omnipresent towers of clouds just beyond the reef, is my favorite time of the day. We started at a measly mile, but are slowly working our endurance up to 10+ miles (to be paddled on weekends). The canoes are surprisingly heavy and require at least 5 adults to launch. Being out on the water, stroking the water in sync, I am constantly brought back to the years on my high school crew team.
If the weather is nice on Tuesday evenings, the three of us go for a stroll around the lagoon, or for a hike up past the old WWII Japanese bunker to the windmills (the highest point on the island) to watch the sunset over the Pacific.
On Thursday evenings, our neighbor comes over for Nunuw lessons. These hours are some of my most cherished on the island. We sit on the floor learning about the different flowers, leaves, and strings. Yet it is not the weaving of our hands that concerns us the most, but rather the conversation. Aggie used to live in Hawaii, so she has a familiarity with our American outlook on life. She has been an invaluable navigator for the sticky nuances of life here on Yap, especially the changes during its metamorphosis into modernity. She is always joking that we should not be spending time with her, because she is a ‘bad girl’…aka she is not afraid to critique her society. Her ability to reflect upon the Yapese culture in such a way has provided us yet another lens with which to compare and contrast this place.
19:00 - 20:30 (if we make it that far)
It gets dark nearly instantaneously after the 18:45 sunset. Around here there are certain social rules dictating what one can or cannot do after dark, so in general we all usually end up sunken into a chair with a good book. My current read is a biography of Captain James Cook, and the best book thus far has been The Goldfinch.
Bedtime. Since there is not much else to do in the evening, why not get 9-10 hours of sleep?
17:30 - who knows when… (Fridays)
We typically head to the Mnuw, a Phinisi schooner turned restaurant, anchored at Manta Ray Dive Resort. We grab a pint or two of the local microbrew from the Stone Money Brewery. This is a spectacular locale to watch the sunset over the island. As the clock approaches 9 we migrate over to Oceania, unquestioningly the best restaurant on the island, for a bite (breadfruit chips are life), a whiskey, and good conversation. The island has been pretty dead in recent weeks, as the number of tourists seems to range between 0-10 at any given point in time. The only time there have a sizable group of tourists (maybe 40?) was during Manta Fest*.
*There has also been one cruise ship, but those ~100 people were here for less than a day.
Most weekend mornings I wake up between 6:00 or 7:00 am, do my laundry, wash either the floors, the kitchen or the bathroom, and go for a walk all before 9 am. Afterwards, weather depending, we go to the beach. If it is a monsoon out (its been a rough typhoon season with storms passing to the north most weekends) we invite our neighbors (ages 3-12) over to join for a movie or baking day. Somewhere in there we find lots of time for reading books, grading papers, calling family back home (internet works best on Saturdays because all of yap is out doing village work - similar to Norwegian dugnad- and not at home downloading TV shows).