Saturday, November 22, 2014


In a small country like ours, news travels fast and sickness even faster. We've been fighting sickness and sleep deprivation the last few weeks; pink eye came through and took the island by storm. Everywhere we went, our gaze would meet bloodshot eyes looking back at us. The bag boys at the grocer, parents picking up their students, students themselves, and even a few of the teachers (including one of my roommates) joined in on the fun and for a while we thought we would have a never ending cycle of pink eye the whole year. It led to a fair amount of paranoia and anytime a piece of dust hit your eye you were sure you were contracting the wonderful contagion. Luckily we were wrong and after a few weeks the rosy virus seemed to find its way off island. Additional to pink eye is the never ending Gatorade and Immodium routine and recently a bad cold has been circulating. By some miracle, I haven't been getting very sick comparatively to my time at WWU (I got so sick the last few winters). Sometimes the teaching staff at the elementary gets stretched pretty thin and unless you're feeling pretty sick you're still going because there's no one to sub for you. One day I just sat down in front of my students after giving them a worksheet and just held the fan in front of myself trying to cool down. We've been up late a fair number of school nights and weekends, but it's not like I can compensate by skipping my first class in the morning like I would do at school, sorry accounting ;). The teaching staff is shifting a bit, but nothing major. We will be getting another college student to teach in junior high this January  and while we're excited for a new face, it's hard to think about adding another to our group dynamic. We all went through that extremely steep learning curve with teaching together and watched as people learned how to cohabitate with others they had never met before and to think that's starting from scratch again should prove to be interesting- I'll get the popcorn ;)

I think I can speak for the group that a large portion of our growth and new life skills aren't related to teaching or working with kids, but social skills and living with each other, rather than working with them. On paper, we're a dozen college students and a handful of very recent grads that for the most part are complete strangers, and have been put into two apartments. The variance in age and dependence on mom's cooking and cleaning varies from each to other, but somehow it works and though there was some serious beef at the beginning, it seems that most of the sm's interpersonnel problems among us that were labeled by some as irreconcilable and all of my conflicts were resolved and it's made me question the less than exceptional encounters I've had in the past that led me to dismiss the person completely with disgust as I passed them on the sidewalk. I'm sure others have done the same to me back home. That's not say that it's all blissful rainbows and butterflies, but there isn't animosity between the sm's.
I'm wondering if you give something enough time can any two people truly learn to understand each other and work together to solve a problem? Is there such a thing as irreconcilable? Obviously we often make snap judgements and there are enough other choices for friends that you can move on, but in my little petri dish of Palau, there's no room for real conflict in my life, because we are together everyday for hours on end. I truly feel weird if I go a day without seeing one of them. Anyway something to think about, and one of the most significant things I see changing in myself and those around me.

On a similar note, it's remarkable how strong some of the relationships have formed and how very brittle some others still are. I'm very intentional to make strong relationships wherever in general and that hasn't changed here though it is much harder in my fishbowl when you can't be one on one. It's also amazing that those that I consider my friends know so much and yet so little about me. Just yesterday my friend Joey was astonished we he learned I wasn't from Canada like he had been thinking for the last 4 months...

After my last little pity party, invite for one blog post, I became much more intentional about leaving campus and doing. We started to be more routine about going to the gym at the Navy outpost 5 km away. It's called Camp Katuu and the Navy, Army, and Airforce take 6 month rotations on the island being part of what's called the Civic Action Team. Essentially they help out the country in exchange for land and rights to have a military base here and the US heavily subsidizes the government here. Most of the guys are coming from combat in the Middle East, so this is a nice break for them. I've talked to them a bit as anytime you see an American or any white person it's almost an obligation to find out how they're here haha. They also brought us a water tank on a trailer to the school when the main water line between islands broke a couple months ago. The country started into a routine schedule of turning off the water to work on the underwater pipes, but the regiment soon faded and it became a guessing game to see if there was water. When we come home, checking the faucet was always the first thing we did after opening the door and then plan the day according to whether there was water for cooking and most importantly showers. Coming home from a quick salty dip in the ocean is not as fun when you have to stay salty sticky.
I did a bit of diving 2 and 3 weeks ago. It wasn't anything amazing, but it was free! Having a local work permit and drivers license lends you to the local discounts and they allow you to dive for free off their dock so I went a couple times to perfect my buoyancy and controlling my breathing so that I can use every bit of the tank when I hit blue corner and the hammerheads in a few weeks. I brought over my own dive gear, but I hadn't dove warm water in a few years and wasn't sure what weight to use so I was far over weighted at 14 lbs. and was all over the place. Each subsequent dock dive I trimmed 2 lbs off and now I'm down to 8 lbs of lead and hopefully I'll get to 6 lbs in the near future. For those that don't know-you have to strap lead weights to yourself to compensate for all the buoyant gear you're wearing-wetsuits, booties, tanks etc. and when you have too much lead, you have to add more air to float and it just makes things more difficult when you have too much of opposing forces. Anyhow after diving around the dock for 4 hours, I'm back in the flow and more than ready to see all that Palau has to offer- as soon as I can find someone to go with me.... The sm's are all amidst a 3 Sunday certification course and should finish soon. It's a super big deal for them because so many are deathly afraid of water/open ocean/sharks/fish etc. or can't swim.  I don't understand why you would come to an island if you were....but... It's been hard for me to empathize or even understand their struggle as diving represents overcoming so many fears for them and it's second nature for me. They're diving in the easiest of conditions in one of the most beautiful places in the world and still flipping out and hitting the surface when they have to remove their mask and sometimes they'll ask me questions and I have to bite my tongue since I did this open water cert. as a 10 year old kid in 90 lbs of gear in the Seattle Sound in January when it was snowing. I don't mean to pull the barefoot in the snow uphill both ways card, but empathy and sympathy is 0 and I'm scared to go diving with them. My mom made me promise I wouldn't dive alone, but I'm starting to believe that I would actually be safer than having some of them as a partner! I'm sure I'll get an ear full when someone reads this blog, but then someone else can get out the popcorn and enjoy! ;)

As the holidays approach, our Palauan church sponsors/families have been so awesome and generous bringing us food and taking us out to eat. I like to understand peoples' motivations and I try to figure out if it is cultural and they do this to everyone or just because we are volunteering and they have been tasked with helping us out from time to time, but I have to remember to just be grateful, thankful, and smile. Which reminds me of the Children's story I told at church a few weeks ago. I talked about thanksgiving and all that we have to be thankful for, especially the water (at that point the water was only on a 1/3 of the day for a few weeks) I closed with a "popcorn prayer" where each kid would say what they were thankful for. I had done these prayer exercises growing up in elementary school and I assumed they had too. After a bit of silence I opened my eyes and started pointing the older kids out to make sure I didn't get left hanging. It was a little bit awkward, but the church members thanked me and told me it was great, so maybe it was, or maybe they're just nice ;)

Thanksgiving is in a few days and many are getting homesick, if they're not already. I'm still going strong, living in the present, but emotions of loss and absence aren't fun, so I feel for them. My family doesn't really do holidays or birthdays almost at all with the exception of Christmas and Thanksgiving, but what we do, we do right. When I was getting ready to leave, my cousins and siblings didn't really express missing me for a year, but rather for Thanksgiving and Christmas and I felt the same. But I prepped myself for that and got ready to essentially skip it and hit the ground running next year. But the homesick peeps need Thanksgiving and we're putting a something together that will kind of resemble it. I hate half-assing it and would much rather skip Thanksgiving and go camping in the Rock Islands for our 4 day weekend, less we disgrace the holiday by playing football in our concrete gym and eating off Styrofoam plates with Country Time Lemonade as our drink of choice, but we're doing it... As for my family, I'll miss the lake house football from last year and hope you guys will hit the ground running with me next year!

Teaching has been a little rougher the last couple weeks as it seems that everything I've started to teach is being presented for the first time. They've never learned the difference between a pond and a river, knowing that major religions like Hinduism and Buddhism even exist, knowing how to add 1/2 + 1/2, or even the difference between a subject and a verb. And these aren't even the "slow" kids, some of my brightest students have major gaps in their education and I feel like I've been playing minesweeper the past few weeks.
I had my first falsity 3 weeks ago on a quiz that my students were so happy to point out. They thought I was infallible, but at last, I was wrong about something and they caught it, and will make sure I never forget it. Oops.
Two days ago one of my students bit me. It was Friday afternoon and the kids were packing up to leave for the weekend. I glanced over to my student tromping over with his jaw hinging and unhinging like Pac Man, I looked back to what I was doing and out of nowhere a shot of pain came from my left arm. I glanced down and there was my arm, trapped between the jaws of my student! I yelled out of surprise which caused him to bite down even more before quickly releasing realizing that he had taken it too far. Taken by surprise I didn't know what to do. I just told the kid to sit in the corner in time out! I regained my composure and investigated the bite marks on my tricep. I told him that if he was going to act like a child that he would be treated like a child and that I had a spot for him in the kindergarten classroom if he would like to which the tears came. I felt bad as this was one of my favorite students, but the kid almost pierced my skin. About half an hour later we saw him walking through town completely down trodden and utterly sad- I had ruined his day and maybe his weekend. I saw him at church the next day and tried to give him a high five to which he replied "I don't know you." School should be interesting on Monday.


As students move from classroom to classroom year after year, they become attached to their teacher and then clean break and off to the next. You did this, I did this, without much thought. Obviously looking back on elementary there are teachers who stand out in my mind as saints and whom I've kept up with through high school and college while there are other teachers I wish I would have skipped. But what I don't ever remember was continuing a relationship with a teacher during elementary school while in another grade-maybe it was just me... The kids at our school seem to keep relationships going with their old teachers and for a few students it seems like a second mom. This made me frustrated and even some parts jealous the first month of school when my kids would spend recess talking to an old teacher instead of playing knock out with the class, what made it worse is when that teacher would pull them out of what they were doing to talk to them and ask them how school was going and tell me what I needed to do about it- but that's another story. However this week something changed when I realized that these few local teachers were the only constant at the school as SM's come in and out each year not knowing at all what they're doing the first month and slaying it the second half of the year and then back on a plane. Some of the teachers promise to come back to the island for their high school graduation, but as they get older hopefully they'll realize the circumstantial falsehood.
Anyway I suddenly realized that these past teacher student relationships were healthy since even if I connected really well with some of my students I wouldn't be there for them in the near future and probably ever again. Which got me thinking about the sustainability of this model. Our school would cease to exist if they had to pay actual salaries or even US minimum wage to more than a couple teachers and very few certified and educated teachers would be willing essentially donate their time for any real amount of time and I can't blame them- it truly is not feasible.
I'm not positive on concrete numbers, but tuition is between 50-80 bucks a month for our private school in a country where minimum wage recently increased 20% to a whopping $3.00/hr.

Obviously after being a part of something so time intensive that you are not absolutely passionate about can lead you to question it a fair amount. I'm reserving a little spot for my thoughts on this several months from now, but for now I think you should read the thoughts of a classmate from WWU who served in Africa as a journalist for ADRA for the last while. We are in two very different situations, Palau sometimes just feels like a remote part of the US, but her thoughts are universal on what she calls "voluntourism"-anyway check it out and let me know what you think.

Lastly, writing my thoughts to what seems like an backless blackhole of internet is an interesting feeling. I know my first few comical blogs caught a lot of traction from strangers I don't know, but I'd like to know who's still keeping up with me, so please feel free to drop a comment from time to time!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Catch Up

I keep neglecting to write anything on the blog because so much time has passed since I wrote about something other than our Weekend Retreat. I want to give all this time an accurate portrayal and represent it correctly, but each week it gets harder as more time passes. So this is my attempt to bring it up to speed so that I can talk about current events as they happen and make sure this stuff actually gets written down and not forgotten!

Today after church I was driving home wearing my polarized lenses which cut the glare off the ocean and reveal a deeper aqua/teal tint and reef below. It was so sad looking at it, so close, yet so far away. Some of you asked why we can't swim on Sabbath and the short is SM's are held to a higher standard than everyone else. Even if church members are doing something (drinking coffee, wearing "short" shorts, swimming on Sabbath, etc.) that doesn't mean we can do it. I've grown up in the Adventist church my whole life and while it is my culture and an awesome community, it to a fault can be associated with legalist ideals-and that's just not me and it sucks.

Friends, family, and especially teachers have continually told me to go into politics. They think that my strong opinions, choleric personality, and desire for argument and opposition coincide with politics, but I've never thought that would be a good idea for me. I hate the "fishbowl effect"- It's been called a glass house and even characterized as being a poster boy. Unfortunately being an SM is all of them.

I really enjoy personality/aptitude/character tests and I take them at every opportunity. The most recent one I took for WWU said that my respect of rules was a 1 out of 10. This isn't to say I'm a hooligan who tries to get in trouble, I simply try to look at the root and reason for the rule and using good judgement decide if my decision affects anyone or anything negatively, is illegal, or brings any guilt. If not, I go for it.
Now I knew this would be a problem for this year, so I suffocated it deep within the week before I left the States and while I adjusted super well and it lay mostly dormant, it's slowly starting to come out of hibernation. It's hard to remove a core part of your personality and decision making process and simply listen to someone else's rules. What's hard is upholding others to rules you yourself don't agree with. I again am realizing I could never be in the military, ever. What makes it worse is that at the end of the day, I'm not talking about anything truly substantial. I'm not even trying to do anything crazy/bad/extreme - I'm complaining because I can't drink coffee or get in the water past my ankles on my day off and that makes it worse because it's not something bad enough worth "revolting" over.

In coinciding news, I've got the guys discussing politics and we're working towards getting everyone to take the political quiz. I take this quiz about every 4-6 months to see how my opinions change and guess what, they still are changing! I came out 82% Libertarian, 79% Conservative Party, 78% Constitution. Tell the two party system sorry for me.

The guys in the apartment started reading Wild at Heart as a group, and although I've never read it before, my thought process already coincided with the author's so it didn't seem like new information. At least in the first couple chapters. My struggle is the feeling of over-domestication. I in no way feel that teaching is a woman's job, but I feel that I am mothering a classroom of preteens all week and then following the rules like a child on the weekend. I just need to GO. Go running, go driving, go fishing, go diving, go hiking, go anything, just stop grading, cooking, and watching movies in my free time.  I just feel like chicken that's cooped; not allowed to move, but simply there to exist and drop eggs for the consumption of others- and that doesn't feel great.

This cooped feeling has only developed in the last few weeks though. Three of the guys, myself included, bought spear guns in early September and have enjoyed going out early (4:30) a few Sundays when other things have not been scheduled. Unfortunately our crude trigger set up started to malfunction. In other words, the guns fire when we don't want them to. Which makes fishing that much more exciting when a spear can release at any time! We are fixing them and hopefully we'll get back out there for some more Snappers and Parrot fish. I will say that while it is fun for me, I'm glad I don't fish purely for sustenance as I would be a hungry man.

I mentioned before that we are in the rainy season here in Palau and the rain seems to show its face in the least opportune times which is pretty much every Sunday and Holiday. Palau celebrated its 20th anniversary of independence on October 1st, which was celebrated the Sunday before as well as on Wednesday, the 1st. Both events at the Bridge and Capitol tried to continue, but the weather dampened spirits and clothing, and ultimately resulted in leaving early. Yesterday was U.N. Day and the main road was closed off for a parade. Bethlehem Park was full of booths just like the other holidays. For a country of only 18k, these guys put on a fair amount of celebration! It's just too bad the weather never agrees with them. So once again we went home early to watch a movie.

Pathfinders was a lot of fun when I was ten, eleven, and even a little bit of twelve, but now... I haven't decided how I feel about it. I'm involved with Pathfinders here which is something I didn't plan to do, at least for a couple decades. But there I am with the beret and scarf marching down the main strip of downtown Koror with the marching band for the U.N. Parade. Pathfinders here is focused on Classwork and drilling and marching which is almost polar opposite of the Pathfinders I grew up with, but I look forward to teaching these kids the safety and first aid honors as well as camping with them when the time comes!

I've found a new hobby. A way of feeling epic.
Inception- the movie was great, but the music is better because it can distort any reality into makebelieve. The way I use the internet has changed significantly since coming to Palau. I used to spend a lot of time on Facebook, Instagram, 500px, CNN, and music & photo blogs, but the dismal internet has led me to more text heavy applications such as news. CNN tries to play a video for every article you pull up, so I have begun to read the New York Times fairly often. Now the idea of sitting down on a Sunday morning with coffee in one hand and a NYTimes in the other is one of pure sophistication, a look of power. But try reading the words "embargo policy" while the eerie pulsing music of inception is ringing out in your ears and you will feel like you are in the middle of a House of Cards episode. It's awesome. So seriously next time you're doing something somewhat mundane, put on the Inception soundtrack. Who knows even washing dishes could be pretty cool with a little theme music!

I mentioned long ago that I was playing basketball in the city league. We had just lost our first game after no practices together and I hadn't touched a basketball in years. We were told that we had played one of the best teams in the country and I thought that translated to a great season ahead of us. What I didn't know is that the other team didn't have their 3 best players and we would only have a total of 6 players to depend on each game. It turned out to be very similar to the Hood View Hornets Season of '05-My first year playing organized sports at a school with its first team in history. It was a rough time. We lost every game by 20 or 30 points and I started regarding it as simply exercise. That essentially came true of our season this year. Our team was 6 teachers from the school, a couple of which had never played before. Let's just say I never thought in my wildest dreams I would ever play a full game without substitution and put up 25 points. That's just not me. The height of my career was starting 2 games in a row for the JV team at Portland Adventist haha! So it was a rough season and ended with a power outtage during the third quarter of our last game. Oh that's another thing. The power randomly goes out in the afternoons/nights about every other week. And the main pipe that brings water into the city of Koror (where the church, school, gym, everything is) sprung a big ol' leak a couple weeks ago, so the water is turned off for most of the day. Palau is weird in that it's very westernized and you get comfortable in your AC room, but the "for granteds" - the power and water still manage to throw you off guard.
Don't misunderstand this for complaining, I'm just trying to give a recount of what's happening.

Very little traveling and adventuring has happened in the past 8 weeks. It's mostly been teaching, the school grind and the whole reason I'm actually here. It unfortunately doesn't include many awesome pictures and I can't share many of the stories for the sake of privacy. What I can say is that some of my kids have gone to hell and back in just a few short years and have had to deal with more than I may ever deal with in my whole life.
I've found that having them journal has been an amazing way to connect to each of them personally and to understand them and their background so much better. One major theme that has really impressed me and gotten my attention is the general Asian philosophy of bringing honor to your family.  This week a student wrote in her journal about how she gets up at 3 am everyday to study for her memory verse quiz and spelling test and tells her mom that she'll "do my best for you because that's how much I love her and I promised her I'll always do my best no matter what." this student has along with others stayed after school everyday for the past 5 weeks to tutor and now that the quarter just ended two days ago, it looks like that with a little more hard work in second quarter, every student who is taking school for credit will pass onto 7th grade! That might sound like a joke, but that is honestly a huge accomplishment for both me and my kids who have been staying after school everyday to tutor for the past 5 weeks. It's so disheartening when your students fail, but also so encouraging when they somehow make it work.

Having favorite students is inevitable. They say you shouldn't do it, but let's face reality, it happens. The funny part is watching which students become which teacher's favorites, sometimes it catches you off guard. For me, it's my student who I'm going to call Bart because he quite frankly reminds me of the fictional character of Bart Simpson. This kid is always in trouble with one of the other teachers at the school and is always playing a prank on one of the kids. I was warned about Bart before school started as he was a "ruthless bully", but that's not true at all! He's super sweet and smart and extremely hyperactive with no focus, but he's hilarious. He has michief written all over him and he has all kinds of little gadgets for annoyance that seem to appear weekly- I've started a collection of confiscated items. About week 3 I realized the only way to make it work was to jump aboard the mischief express and try to direct it in the right direction. I started helping him plan and execute harmless funny pranks instead and it made a huge difference in how the kids interacted with him as he previously was not well received for obvious reasons. I let him hide in the cupboards where the kids put their backpacks everyday and during recess he snuck back into the classroom to hide. Then I called for the girls to get their books and wow did they ever scream! Bart rolled out onto the floor dying of laughter and the kids realizing that I was in on it didn't get mad at Bart and we all had a good laugh.

I will never understand the self infliction of pain. Sometimes I find that I laugh with the kids and other times just plain at them :). The boys learned how to throw a football this year and that has become the cool thing to do during recess. What's even better than throwing the football though is trying to catch it creatively. The guys have started jumping in the air and trying to catch the ball between the legs. Obviously male anatomy was not designed for this purpose and it often leads to many fetal positions in the middle of the gym.

Bart has a small amount of focus and I often find myself trying to get him to pay attention instead of goofing off, but this time something was different. He had scooted his chair back so that he could swing his legs out from under his desk. He twirled a wooden ruler in his hands like a rotisserie chicken and he eyed it like it was a prize jewel. Then he slowly raised it above his head, closed his eyes and swung down with all his might snapping himself right in the crotch. He yelled out in pain and rolled on the floor. I laughed so hard I started crying and the other kids sat there clueless as to what happend that their teacher was crying from the podium and their classmate was rolling around on the floor for while they were reading to themselves. I will never forget that moment. By some miracle Bart is also going to pass onto 7th grade!

The first few weeks were a little hectic but I got in the rhythm of teaching about the 6th week, but I definitely would not have made it so smooth without the help from my family. A big shout out to them for shipping me school supplies and an extra big thanks to my brother Brian who gave me such sound teaching advice, help, materials, time, everything. My kids would definitely not be learning as much as they are now if it weren't for all his help. And for all those that have been thinking of or praying for us or helped me in getting here, thank you!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ngemelis Weekend Cont.

Honestly Labor Day weekend was 6 weeks ago and I've been so busy blogging has been put on the back burner, but I’m feeling a bit guilty so I thought I would write a little content instead of watching a movie tonight!

The day after the magical stars was spent jamming on the Uke and listening to Joey freestyle about the island. We had lunch and then a double rainbow graced us! On the beach is Dave with his suntanning umbrella and to the right is the cooking building.

We then hiked around the island’s perimeter to explore. There’s absolutely no swimming for SM’s even though we’re on an uninhabited island, so it made the trek so sticky and sweaty I fogged my sunglasses. 
In the rocky shallows on the other side of Ngemelis (in a tide pool like area) was a baby eel. Joey wanted to get an up close and personal video with the eel, but he scared it and the eel straight jumped out of the water. It made my skin crawl for a split second, yikes. We continued around until we got to the Ranger Station on top of the hill so you can overlook the whole little island. From what I can tell, no one ever uses it, but rather it is there to scare people into thinking someone is there watching over the island when they see the lights that are always left on.

From the Ranger Station

 Saturday night we went out spearfishing for the first time. Joe Andrew and I grabbed a gun and a light and swam like mad. We traded off the gun, flashlight, and uselessness in rotation, but in the end I took my one shot and got myself one Boxfish. (I've also been keeping track of my shots/fish ratio and so far I'm winning amongst the SM's! But they don’t like to hear about it:)) Boxfish are kinda different looking and taste a little tough. So when we got back later about 1 am and had a fish fry, I mostly stuck to the fish that the Palauans caught- Parrotfish and Snapper. Some people got a little bold and tried livers and eyeballs and the like, but I pretty much just ate the main fillet.

Honestly I don't know exactly when I took this picture, but it's one of my favorites from the weekend. These clouds were unreal that weekend and I took full advantage both days.

The storm was coming in so I moved my hammock under the covered area and slept like a rock until the morning came and I saw that I had made the right choice. Then it was time to clean up and pack out onto the boat that would take us to the next adventure.

Next we hit the diamond of Palau and one of the most unique places on the planet – Jellyfish Lake. In this freshwater lake, jellyfish have managed to lose their ability to sting making it possible for us to touch and swim with them. Handling jellyfish is so unique-I like it. Unfortunately, it’s so dense and they’re so fragile that everyone ends up kicking a few and splitting them into tiny little pieces. Fins and scuba gear is outlawed to help compensate for this, but even casual swimming is enough to set these little guys off. 

 I wouldn't be a real tourist if I didn't get my classic GP selfie!

This was a bucket list item I hope to repeat in the near future for sure!

Unfortunately my Gopro battery died shortly after this shot and the rest of the day went undocumented, But in short we went to famous dive spots like Blue Corner and Drop Off and snorkeled in the shallows above the cliffs feeding the fish our left over rice and bread from the weekend. We boated around between the little rock islands like a video game and stopped at Paradise Island and Cemetery. After it had all come to a close, we jumped in the bow of the boat with a tarp over us and headed back to Koror. The surf was picking up and the waves were becoming a little large even for our huge dive boat. The bow bounced up and down as we bounced side to side into each other and into the gunnels hoping the next wave wouldn't do as much damage to our spines as the last. Having broken my coccyx last winter I was having an even more exciting time and yet we were laughing the whole way because somehow someone else always seemed to be experiencing more pain than us! I think we looked a little ridiculous-5 people huddled under a tarp in the bow bouncing around and yelling at the jarring,  but we didn't really care because we had just seen some of the most beautiful parts of the world.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Labor Day Weekend - Ngemelis

Four weeks ago the staff new and old took a retreat to a remote island by the name of Ngemelis. This is no ordinary island, but the Chief’s personal island. In Palau there is both a President and  also a Chief though honestly I’m not sure where their responsibilities are split. Both are important and have a few perks - like a personal tropical island!

We took an hour long boat ride out and if you've been with me on a trip you know I manage to find a way to sleep anywhere whether it’s a bus, car, plane, or apparently a boat. Thanks to Andrew for getting up close and personal.

PC Andrew Ugalde

The tide was out so we parked the first boat and hauled everything we would need for the weekend (including water) across the shore to a small encampment where the outhouses and cooking area were. [The boat in the pictures is the second boat that came later at a different tide level]

As soon as we got settled I instantly went to look for a place to hang my hammock and I could not be happier with what I found!

I should mention before I forget that I set my hammock out at low tide when the water was still 50+ feet away, but when I went to get in that night at high tide I was very surprised to find that my hammock was out over the water and only about 1.5 feet above it! It certainly made for some interesting entries and exits to remain dry!

At some point Allison said, “Am I living inside my [computer’s] wallpaper?” and I don’t know a better way to summarize the awestruck. It was truly beautiful. I had both my GoPro and Canon with two batteries, but that unfortunately would not quite make it the whole weekend. I shot some great time lapses of the sun climbing and setting with the rising tide, my hammock between two pitched palms and even a few stars which is quite a feat for my 6 year old rebel! Palau is in the middle of its rainy season now which makes for some epic skies and sunsets including these that were taken Friday night of Labor Day Weekend.

After sunset and worship we hung out and talked until everyone went to bed. At which point I was eager to shoot the stars without competing ambient flashlights and lanterns around. I tried a few angles and multiple exposures in the same spot as well as trying to set up a few panoramas that failed in the post processing section. My best shot ended up being the most simple and one of the firsts. If you know much about photography, you know it’s hard to shoot stars without a prime and better yet on a crop-sensored 5 year old rebel and yet the stars were so bright, I was able to capture a fraction of its grandeur.

 Hailing from the northwest, many of my friends are what you call “granola” in that they spend most of their time outdoors and down jackets & hiking boots are actually fashionable. Seemingly every deep conversation includes “mountaintop experiences” and it seems to be something that they all feel atop rocks, but not me.The top of a big rock provides me with a beautiful view, an excellent photo, and a feeling of accomplishment, but not much else. The buzz of “mountaintop “experiences” gets a lot of traction and while I understand the craving for that intrinsic ,insightful, spiritual, and emotional high I've never really gotten that from mountains. But that night I found where I get that feeling- 3.5 feet above sea level in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

I watched the stars both stationary and shooting until 2:30 in the morning came and I realized I was getting up in a just a few hours to shoot the sunrise. I compiled the sunrise shots into a timelapse video that our internet just can't support so until I get back to the States, so here's one frame.
I went back to bed after sunrise and breakfast and woke up to this beauty. Luckily I had fallen asleep with Gopro in hand- this is just too hard to beat.

 I took down my hammock for this shot Saturday afternoon, but you can see that Ramsey found the second most beautiful spot in the world for his hammock :)

I definitely hope to make it back to Ngemelis (nehmaleez) again sometime soon. Hope you enjoyed the pictures!

Sunday, September 14, 2014


I know it's hard to believe from this blog that I do something other than adventure on an island, but the truth is- there's a lot more.

We call it the Island Misconception-spear fishing by day star gazing by night, living on the beach, fresh mangoes and coconuts, carefree living, no responsibility-a paradise. While I definitely do get a chance to do this it certainly is not the norm (check back for pictures later this week). I see the ocean and beach everyday-from the car window while commuting an hour each day to and from school. I cut open a fresh coconut - as a break from grading to help out the cafeteria cook. I walk carefree in my boardies - from my bedroom to the kitchen, because once I leave my apartment, it's all collared shirts and slacks 6 days a week. And as for the responsibility- I'm a single dad keeping up with 17 kids and their own little quirks that make each day interesting.

It all makes sense now- why SM's continually have "visa problems" and have to go back early-it's tough. I've stayed up till 1 am grading and gotten back up at 6 the next morning a few times already and we're only a month in. Although parents, church members, and other staff know we haven't completed our education yet, we're expected to be full fledged teaching professionals and expected to know exactly what to do. I've never been more grateful for my ability to manage stress or rather not to get stressed and to take things in stride.

When education comes full circle everything makes more sense. Every story has two sides and now I'm getting the full picture. I now understand why every math teacher I've ever had has their students grade their own homework, why headings with the assignment and date are so important, why sleeping earns something interesting, why seating charts aren't actually meant to ruin your childhood, why points are given just for participation, why half points are given for attempting to write anything for an answer, and the power of positive reinforcement even when it's founded on close to nothing.
I find myself pushing my A students farther and further; grading them more harshly, encouraging them to try their hardest and reach their full potential-just as my teachers did to me. I'm slowly forgiving my teachers that gave me a B on a paper that was better than my friend's A. I'm forgiving my teachers who told me or wrote "give me more" "I expect better from you" "stop doing the minimum for an A" I always was so frustrated with my teachers when they were disappointed with me when I skated in at 93% quarter after quarter doing the absolute minimum. They wanted me to reach my full potential and I feel so hypocritical doing it to these kids haha! I can hear myself thinking "you'll thank me in 10 years" but I quickly cut that off real quick. If parenting gives me half the revelations that teaching does-it's going to get crazy.

There is little that can prepare your for teaching except well maybe... education in education.... But this business major was only prepped for making spreadsheets and graphs of test outcomes, real life applications for math, public speaking, and selling my kids on doing their homework -which are super handy and unusual in this line of work!
There is little that can prepare you to help a girl transitioning into womanhood who's parents failed to mention how things happen.  (Parents PLEASE tell your prepubescent kids what is happening. Don't leave it to whoever happens to be there.) Next time you think you had an awkward conversation, think of me and count your blessings.

There is little to prepare you to deal with parents who mother bear their cubs like you're there to hunt. And not often are you prepared to use a noun as a verb!

I had a very cool "it's not about you moment" last Tuesday. You see I consider myself pretty strong and independent, sometimes to a fault, but everyone needs a little love and physical touch is a real need.
 The taboo pressure put on opposite sex interactions leads us to often avoid or even ignore each other in public and when you see everyone everyday there is little reason to hug. I've spent the majority of the past few years at either Walla Walla or Big Lake. Both will find you a hug daily even if you're not looking for one. I definitely took it for granted and never realized the power of something so, basic. For the first time in my life I woke up last Tuesday thinking about how nice it would be to get a hug since I hadn't had one since I left, but it never crossed my mind to give one, but that third week of school threw a few curve balls my way.

It is not uncommon for a student to fail a grade and repeat, maybe even a couple times, but even though it happens, it is still cause for a bit of shame, grief, and teasing from other students. Right after school ended on Tuesday, a parent who I had not yet met walked in the door, so I greeted her with usual teacher preliminaries and shut the door. She instantly began tearing up and quickly started racing to get off all that she needed to say before the tears beat her to it. Her Filipino accent caught me off guard and I tried to keep up with what she was saying. It turns out that her daughter was not supposed to be in my class after she had failed the year before. She wasn't an A student, but she worked hard and was doing just fine. It didn't matter, she was being pulled from my class and rather than drop her to the grade below and take the criticism, the smirks, and slight bullying, they were moving back to the Phillipines to give their child a fresh start and keep their honor intact. She began to ball and I opened my arms to let her cry on my shoulder. It was deep, heartfelt, unique, and it wasn't about me. I'm here to be here for these people and I need to keep that in focus. That hug meant so much to both of us and it's going to sustain me until I see that nasty PDX carpet and my family once more :)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ice Bucket

After coming back from Dolphin Pacific, we had some ice left over from lunch that Palauan families brought us and having been nominated for the infamous Ice Bucket Challenge, destiny took its course. But a friendly wager of wits and pride came first to see who could leave their arm submerged the longest in the ice water.

It soon came down to Jazmin, Ramsey and I and to distract myself from the numb, I took some pictures.

Jazmin was next to go, Ramsey and I sat there looking at each other looking at our hands that could not longer move nor feel. We decided to call it a draw and save our limbs from frostbite.

ALS hits close to home for my family who lost my Uncle Jim 6 years ago. I know the Ice Bucket Challenge brought a lot of drama and criticism with it. Opposition said wasting water for a viral internet video was unreasonable when California was in a drought. I even saw a chart displaying the difference between deaths caused by a disease and money raised for said disease. Breast Cancer reigned number one and ALS took second for most money raised and lowest fatality rate, but this doesn't really bother me. Even for a pragmatist like myself, in the end, money was raised to help awareness of and research to eradicate or work towards an end to another disease and for that I think we can all take a second and be thankful for a viral internet video. Here's my contribution.

We filmed with one go pro and took pictures with the other. Since there isn't enough internet to support uploading video, this is the secondary angle. I nominated my new family of friends here in Palau to do the same in honor of my family back home and Uncle Jim. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dolphins Pacific

The elementary teachers drive close to an hour a day to and from school to the apartments. This gives us plenty of time to have plenty of both meaningless chit chat and meaningful discussion. One day the issue of animal rights and captivity came up and it quickly turned to a debate on the controversial documentaries Black Fish  and The Cove. Black Fish is about the danger of killer whales in captivity specifically a whale at Sea World that has a long rap sheet of curious incidents. If you spend much time on Facebook you have probably seen a repost of a Japanese bay turned red with dolphin blood and a caption of how humans are the worst. The Cove  is about said bay/cove where Japanese fishing boats round up a pods of dolphins and funnel them into a cove where the most beautiful are selected to be purchased for entertainment purposes like Sea World parks and the like. I had previously seen both movies this past year and I recommend them as an interesting watch as long as you take everything with a grain of salt acknowledging that it is a very pointed, one-sided documentary.
Anyway we conversed about the ethical treatment of all animals, and while some believe that killing any animal is wrong and cruel we all agreed that it is cruel to keep animals of high intelligence (dolphins and orcas) in captivity. Low and behold, just a few days later we found ourselves at a dolphin park.

Our Palauan families/sponsors had paid to take us out to this island piece of tourism and entertainment and provided lunch for us in order to get to know us better, but I know at least I felt a bit hypocritical considering the conversation we had just had. However that all faded quickly when we sat down on the dock a meter away and the dolphins came out to say hi.

If you've seen me wear this shirt, you know the colors are even more vibrant than this picture shows.

After the demonstration/show whatever you’d like to call it, we reconvened and reevaluated our previous statements to make ourselves feel better. There is something to be said for keeping the dolphins in an actual native environment with a full reef, current, salt water and other fish as opposed to chlorinated concrete tanks. This made us feel a bit better until I talked to one of the locals, Joy who had seen The Cove and did a little research herself. Turns out, the dolphins at this park where actually from that very cove! Yikes. Conflict of emotions-so while I feel bad for supporting the park, I also got some sweet pictures of a turtle that was swimming just outside of the netted-off dolphin area. It certainly is unauthentic to stick your GoPro off a dock, but the turtle thought it was food and came so close  and looked soooo good!

My Palauan family got me a shirt as a souvenir in one of my favorite colors which was super thoughtful, but I had to laugh at the logo. It reads – “Share the Blue Planet with our marine friends. Be environmentally friendly. Keep our oceans clean.” I don’t think capturing live animals and putting them in captivity is environmentally friendly, BUT at least they’re keeping them close to a natural habitat. In the meantime if you struggle for interesting conversation, watch Blackfish and The Cove for some controversial fuel.