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.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Jungle Trekking

Sorry for the 2 week respite, I've been teaching, sleeping, and grading during the week and adventuring by the weekend. My life motto is to "Work hard, play harder." I definitely have fully embraced that thus far, it's just the photos of working are not as exciting!

2 weeks ago (9/23) after potluck, our day was open and we were eager to find something to do. Many of our staff wanted to sleep, but a few of us wanted to find the ocean. From the principal's house there is a great view of a mangrove bay (you can see it in the distance) and while it looks a ways away, it appears attainable. We set our sights on the bay, GoPros in one hand, machetes in the other and began the trek. Joe knew of a dirt road nearby that led in the general direction and we planned to cut our way through whatever stood between us and the ocean.
The road didn't get us nearly as close as we hoped, so we cut into the jungle and within the first three steps, a couple of the girls decided it was a little much for them, took their selfies and got out quick! Joe Mixon, Andrew Ugalde, and myself carried on taking turns taking the lead and blazing the trail. I felt that Joe's shirt, MACHO MEN, was fitting for the day.
  The jungle turned to swamp, to mangroves, and then to 8' ferns. They were so intertwined and tangled that we fell a couple times and sank into the growth. We have a few videos of the intense fern thrashing that took place, but until I hit the mainland this photo will have to do- the ferns swallowed me whole. PS I stole a few photos from my buddy Andrew's GoPro.
PC: Andrew Ugalde
 On top of one of the ridge lines a couple hours into the trip. Unintentionally we posed like a boy band?
Right after this we climbed a tree to see where we were and whether it was practical to make it to the ocean before nightfall- Unfortunately it wasn't.
PC: Andrew Ugalde

So we continued onto the next ridge line, about half way between our starting point and called it a day so that we could make it back home before sunset.

I hope to post a couple more times this weekend so keep an eye out!
PC: Andrew Ugalde