These island folks sure love their Kool-Aid! They have yet to experience drinking it as we know and love it. Instead, they love to eat the powder straight from the packet. Not only are many teenagers’ and adults’ fingers permanently stained red, but they also love to sprinkle Kool-Aid on ramen and papaya as a spice. #toeachtheirown
Last Friday, Andrew, a fellow American who has been here in Chuuk for four years and has since become the school’s vice principal, maintenance manager, electrician and vocational program director, blew our minds on a few aspects of the Chuuk life…
There is literally a 14-step process to getting anything done! We now have a little more understanding of why there were so many unanswered questions while we prepared to come, why our timeline changed four times and why things take so long to actually happen. For example, the process for Chuuk High School to buy something as simple as pens. First, you have to take a printed form (if you can find a printer with ink) to three different stores, compare the prices and have each store manager sign the form. At least two of the managers will most likely be visiting another island for an undetermined amount of time, so you have to try to catch them another day, week or month. On a whim, the Governor could also declare a holiday, so everything will be closed. Once you have figured out the best price and which store you would like to buy your pens from, you have to take your filled out form with all three manager’s signatures to the Department of Education’s (DOE) office. They then take your form, print and fill out their own form (if there is electricity for the printer to work, if the printer has ink and if there is paper), which contains the same information from your form and file it away. Naturally, they want to make sure they have the same information documented on their own letterhead. Usually by this time, your original form has been lost on someone’s desk so you have to start your process all over again, visiting each store to get the managers’ signatures. Next, the Education Department’s secretary takes your form to the finance department. A representative from the finance department then takes your form back to all three stores to verify that the prices you found are the actual prices. Once the finance department tracks down and talks to each of the managers in person (also pending on if they are on the island and if the store is open), he/she takes the form back to the DOE’s office and it is then given to a third office. This new office also needs to then print out their own form (also depending on the power, ink and paper situation) saying the finance representative has followed up and approves what you have already done. Occasionally, that next person will also be off the island, so the paper waits on their desk, also for an undetermined amount of time. Once this person returns and if the paper hasn’t been lost, and if their printer has ink, they will then print their own form and pass it back to the DOE’s secretary, who then passes it to another office, to do the same steps of printing and filing the form on their own letterhead. There are at least seven offices this one form has to go through. Once the form has gone through all seven people (and it hasn’t been lost) the secretary then needs to have the governor sign the original form…when he happens to be on the island. Don’t even worry that this one secretary does the processing for all 70 schools in the district (just imagine how many schools are each placing orders). The Governor just may declare a one-day to two-week holiday at any given moment, shutting down all education departments and stopping any process. Once the Governor’s signature has been obtained, the warehouse of the store where you were wanting to buy your pens will be notified, and if they can track down a truck…with gasoline, a sober driver and if it’s before sunset, your pens just may be delivered. If you’re lucky, this is only a seven-month process…to buy pens. It really makes you wonder how badly you want pens for the school. It’s a really good thing that Chuuk High School buys a years’ supply at a time of printer paper and toilet paper. Bless Andrew and his patient heart – this year he received some much needed power tools that he ordered four years ago! You shake your head and wonder how anyone has functioned this way?! We wonder who we can talk to and explain that there is a better way of becoming more efficient?! It turns out this 14-step process was put into place as multiple checkpoints in order to prevent previous corruption, as the government system is quite corrupt. Each person within this process uses their position as leverage to remind anyone else in this system just how important their role is. If someone gets offended, they just may happen to lose your order form and force the entire process to start over. My organizational mind frequently hurts. In order to mentally survive, you just have to let it go and focus on the fact that this place has some incredible views. You learn to wait an hour until you leave after no one shows up for a meeting, and waiting two to four weeks to pick up anything someone tells you will be ready soon. The opportunities to have your patience tested are overwhelmingly consistent.
Merina Francis and I had a couple more Seminary visits this week. There are four branches on our island and we have now visited three of them on our island, and two on different islands. When we show up and no one is there, even after they were made aware of our visit, it has been a process at times to track down the teacher, remind them of the importance of holding class, to have them personally invite their students to class and training the teachers how to teach and involve their students, rather than just reading straight from the manual. Every once in a while there is a branch that just really has it figured out. The Ramunam Branch really pulled through this time. They had about twelve students, with fifteen children listening from the back. The teacher really nailed it. After we watched a little guy scamper up a tree and cut down coconuts, they brought us each our own. Drinking straight from a coconut the size of a basketball is a fun experience. We brought Sisi and Sasa with us, twin sisters both waiting for their mission calls, and after class, we each shared our own thoughts on serving missions and going to Seminary.
Each of us in our group have district callings, and combined with teaching 20 high school classes each week, it sure does leave little time to enjoy the island life, especially when we have to be off the streets by 6pm. On an exciting teacher note, I have found an even more simplified teaching groove and solidified my curriculum! I teach four classes of English reading, so I have started reading Matilda to my students while we go over vocabulary they don’t understand and also asking them comprehension questions. Fun fact about me, I struggled with reading comprehension growing up. My sister sure did save me during many book reports throughout junior high when she, who has always loved to read, volunteered to read my books to me and ask me reading comprehension questions. And now, I am doing that with 12o ESL students. #fullcircle