Saturday, November 22, 2014

Petri

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...

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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! ;)

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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!

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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.

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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. https://aswwu.com/collegian/voluntourism-more-harm-than-good/



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!