“Culture is the intersection of people and life itself. It’s how we deal with life, love, death, birth, disappointment…all of that is expressed in culture.” – Wendell Pierce
With our Cultural Celebration Day up and coming, I asked my students to write three things they would like a visitor to know about their culture; what important ceremonies or celebrations they have; and a legend about their land. Some aspects are fascinating, others I don’t agree with, and some elements I absolutely love; their responses make for an epic guidebook to the culture of Chuuk.
For Cultural Day, students were divided into their five Chuukese Regions and participated in their traditional dances and chants along with Chuukese competitions such as basket weaving, coconut husking and fish naming. There are often moments when I really wish I knew Chuukese and could understand what was going on – there were multiple times during the celebration where things were said that had everyone laughing hysterically…and it will forever remain a mystery to me.
The Cultural Celebration was a major highlight for me! I absolutely love being able to see my students shine in their element and capture those moments for them! Track and Field Day and Cultural Day have been two of my all time favorites. After a school event where I have taken pictures, I setup my classroom projector to show each of my classes; they look forward to those slideshows and cheer quite loudly each time a picture pops up of one of their classmates. Within the next two weeks, we’ll have our final activities for the school year – the carnival and talent show, and the big track meet between all the high schools. Some Chuukese teachers and students have learned of my love for taking pictures, and have asked me to put together a showcase of photos of the seniors from the school year’s activities, which will be displayed at their first-ever senior prom.
Every once in a while, Chuuk receives foreign visitors that are seen around town. We white folks sure stick out! WWII wreck diving is a main attraction that brings outsiders here. Other than that, I’m always curious what other reasons bring visitors here and how they have heard of Chuuk, as life here often feels cut off from the rest of the world. The other day, we received an announcement at the high school that a U.S. Olympic volleyball player was putting on a clinic for the volleyball teams after school. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, I think meeting/interacting with an Olympic athlete is a rare and very exciting thing…and I was very intrigued to know how Chuuk High had connected with her.
Heather Bown, who competed in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics was the visitor with the U.S. Embassy and their international sports program. Heather towered over everyone in the gym and the students were in awe of her ability to throw a volleyball against the wall from the other side of the gym.
We recently set up a couple outdoor movies and made smores in Ben and Katlyn’s oasis of a backyard. There’s nothing like watching Captain Jack Sparrow and Moana on a white sheet tied down by Chacos, twine and clothespins…a Chuukese outdoor theater at its finest. We even had an emergency evacuation plan for our setup if/when rain came – one must be prepared for it at all times, especially when the downpour can occur with very little warning.
Last Saturday was our monthly Seminary and Institute in-service training, and I felt as though it was our best one yet. Merina, Elder Grimshaw and I each taught a portion on the objective of Seminary and how it can be accomplished by the way the teacher lives, teaches and administers. I drew a diagram on the board outlining the process that when an individual is taught true doctrine and principles, this leads to a level of understanding, which can then lead one to live the doctrines and principles, which then leads to a deeper understanding, thus motivating the individual to then teach others, ultimately preparing the individual for future Church leadership, becoming a full-time missionary, and teaching their own children one day. The cycle continues and should be a pattern for each of our lives, teacher and student. While teaching the Chuukese teachers, it struck me in a new way of the important role Seminary and Institute teachers play in students’ lives. I was again reminded of the great Seminary teachers I had in high school and the role they played in my life. A BIG thank you to Brother Seibel, Brother Fife and Brother Smith for the lessons and ways they helped make the scriptures come alive for me. Seminary is where I really began to understand the gospel! Elder Grimshaw then shared a heart-felt message of just how important Seminary teachers were from him growing up, as he did not have the opportunity of learning the gospel in his home from his parents. He explained to our Chuukese teachers that they may be the only way their youth learn about the gospel, which is a big responsibility they each hold. I had a couple teachers thank me for the concepts I had shared. One in particular, our Michitew teacher, gave me the kindest compliment on my teaching abilities. I explained that I have had great teachers and leaders in my life, and serving a mission drastically helped. She told me I stood out from the rest, had a gift for teaching and was very organized in the way I taught. Knowing how I once was – dreading public speaking, not being able to speak freely with my thoughts and always needing to write out word for word what I was going to say, and feeling very uncomfortable when the attention was on me – I am sure grateful with the progress I have made!
Susiann, one of our 9A gals recently reminded me of an important life lesson! We went to visit her at the hospital as she has been having chest pain and not been at school for the last week. She is sad to have to leave her classmates for the rest of the school year so she can go see a doctor in Hawaii. During the same week, her baby brother became very sick, was also at the hospital, unresponsive, and may not live much longer. Yes, a better medical system could most likely allow her to finish 9th grade with her classmates and possibly save her brother. Susiann’s simple and profound comment of “maybe the Lord needs to call him home,” was a reminder to me of the faith I should have, rather than frustration in systems and programs that could function better. Unfortunately, a lot of places in the world don’t have adequate training, resources, funding, and education. Fortunately, in every place, God is mindful of each person in every circumstance.
Although “Chuuk” has been a word often uttered, many times accompanied with a head shake, personal frustration levels instantly maxed out, only being left to a) laugh at the situation or b) cry about the situation, the necessity to block it all out and escape to a different place mentally, being in awe with things functioning at the level they are (good and bad), and more ambiguity, uncertainty and a lack of accountability to last a lifetime, I do have to express gratitude to it because my time here has redefined my views on international development work and clarified the factors I prefer (and sometimes need) in order to function and excel. Why is it that the formula for growth and clarity almost always include large doses of challenges?! As I try to create my own meaning for so much uncertainty, I also need to accept that many of my questions may not ever be answered…and I have to be ok with that. Sister Grimshaw recently made a comment in our Sunday School class that hit me to the core and has stayed with me: “There was a time in my life where God made me aware that I wasn’t totally healed, and He is the one that can heal me from that fear.” Chuuk has surfaced and re-surfaced disappointments in my life that I have not yet fully healed from.
I have a build up of frustration from when things should work and don’t; when I should be able to count on people and can’t; when rules, boundaries, contracts and agreements have been set but aren’t adhered to. I at times struggle knowing how to cope with so much disappointment. I understand the difference between having my own expectations and not communicating them (something I used to do, which only resulted in me suffering in silence) vs. having clear agreements between another person or organization and then having the other party completely drop the ball. What really aggravates me is when there is no accountability in place and I seem to be the one left to handle the weight of the disappointment. This fun fact of life continually reminds me of my need to be healed. There are two emotions that drive us in our lives: fear and love. There are endless reasons to and why we fear. Our fears are rooted in some untruths about ourselves, God and others that we have been conditioned to believe. Discovering, defining, dissecting and delivering those fears to the Lord is the process of healing.
There’s something about studying (and endlessly thinking about) the refugee resettlement process, principles to eliminate poverty, and ways to help others become self-reliant, while walking down a dirt road to go teach, passing by children creating games around piles of garbage. It’s almost like I need to be in that environment with those thoughts in order to feel like I’m really involved in being part of a solution. While I believe good can be done for others while working in an office, my place is on the ground, with the people, being involved in their day to day lives. For me, my ideal office is out in the world.
Growing up, I avidly tried to avoid sad things; movies, conversations, etc.; I did not like to see/hear/feel suffering of any kind. What I didn’t understand when I was younger is that I have the gift of empathy; I often feel the sadness, sorrow and heartache others experience. What I once avoided, has become the type of environment I am drawn toward – helping those who are suffering; which manifests itself in a variety of ways.
From the outside looking in on third-world countries, one might only see suffering. Being on the inside looking around, I have learned that many often see what they do have, which brings them great joy. Some of the happiest individuals I have ever met have been the ones who live on dirt floors, have very few material possessions, and a great desire to give all they have! They easily spot those with open hearts and willingly give, a characteristic that can seem more disguised in first-world countries. There’s a difference between giving something and giving of oneself that is evident to me, especially in third-world countries. My life’s work continues to become more defined, and because of what I have experienced and learned (both in positive and negative ways), for that, I thank Chuuk for the additional clarity I have received during my time here.