Micronesian Diary
Felicia R. Beardsley
Pohnpei State, FSM - September to October 1998


September 21 - 23, 1998

We finally arrived. But what an arrival. All through our transit, I was lugging our many bags around, while Teresa (bless her heart) tried to haul more than her own backpack and our underwear bag by taking the bag with my files in it; unfortunately, it would throw her off balance, so I usually ended up taking that bag as well. By the end of it all, my shoulders and back were very sore.

One last effort of carrying them around was had in the baggage area of the Pohnpei Airport --- up to and through Immigration. I was afraid I would have a difficult time at the immigration desk. Like the rest of this trip, I had thought there was no reason for that experience to be any different, and I would likely be grilled by immigration. "Why are you here?" "Where are your entry permits?" "No one informed us of your arrival," and so on. But to my surprise, I was greeted with a smiling face, and a very nice man who said, "You must be Dr. Felicia, I have something for you." He handed me a folder with copies of the email conversations between Truman and E.B. He then told me he had my entry permits ready, and why don't we just take care of them right now. I was shocked! It was so easy. It seems he also works for the Immigration office and processed our paperwork.

Yvonne's Apartments are central to just about everything. They are essentially in the middle of Kolonia, within walking distance to just about all the stores. So, they are in a good location in that respect. They are even a couple of blocks from the Pohnpei State HPO. Teresa and I have walked all over the place. That kid has stamina!

I also check in with the U.S. Embassy here, just so they know we are here. The new ambassador hasn't arrived. It seems her nomination and review was delayed because of the Monica Lewinsky affair --- that seems to take precedence over everything else in the world.

Teresa started school this morning (Sept. 23rd) --- at the Catholic School.

As for Nan Madol and Lelu --- one of the things I have been thinking about is World Heritage status. They really should have that status. So, I think I am going to look into what it takes for such a designation.

Truman is having a computer problem and he may actually be calling on E.B. via email. The computer Rufino uses won't start up. For all intents and purposes it is dead in the water.

September 24, 1998

This place desperately needs a computer guy, just to keep things running and organized!

September 26, 1998

We spent last night at a pizza party for the Peace Corps volunteers. I ran into the Chief Medical Officer for the Peace Corps, who had been told to look me up because I was new on-island and needed some introductions. He was a very nice man who has been here five years. He let Teresa decorate one of the pizzas; the Peace Corps people did the others. It was his way of boosting their spirits. We met a lot of different sorts of people --- among them, one of the Jesuits from the Seminar. It has a library I am dying to get into; he said I could mosey on by anytime I wanted, even weekends. Both he and Fran Hezel were there most of the time. I was thinking what a deal these Jesuits have --- they don't have to do much of anything except research. This guy is a marine biologist.

He was describing trying to give mass with a sakau hangover. It was pretty funny. He gave us a ride back to our place and noted how quiet the streets were. He said everyone must be sakauing; it is a big weekend for that, as it was payday for the state government.

The Jesuit and the Chief Medical guy for the Peace Corps here convinced me that if I get anything done here I should feel good about it. I'm hoping for more, of course.

September 27, 1998

The FSM is a paradise, but it has some rough spots. For one thing there is too much bureaucracy and far too much paperwork for my taste. On the other hand, people here are quite nice and very shy. They smile at you on the street, while asking one another who these new strangers are in their community. We are a curiosity to them; two new people showing up on the downtown streets lugging bags of groceries hither and yon, running from one place to the next going through the various shops just to see what is on hand.

Life here requires accommodations with the ants and cockroaches that are our constant roommates. The ants are absolutely everywhere and constantly in search for food and water. Well, water there is plenty of because it rains so much. Food is found everywhere, too. These guys devour dead flies, any little piece of food that lands on the floor or anywhere else for that matter. In Palau, I recall leaving an empty (or so I thought) envelope of yeast on the counter. (It had a recipe I wanted to save for some reason or another.) The ants arrived promptly and cleaned out that envelope in no time at all, and left it absolutely sanitary; not a drop of food or yeast anywhere in that thing. Well, they do the same thing here. In fact, I just saw one running around my computer screen. Not that there is any food here; I think it is a scout.

September 28, 1998

I am slowly learning Pohnpeian, one word at a time. And, we should be getting a phone today or tomorrow --- it is supposed to be processed, inspected and installed within that time. So, we'll see about email. They are also supposed to be getting me a car or truck --- their truck is apparently in the shop, but with work completed on it. I've been told that they don't have the money in their budget to get it out of the shop, although they do have a budget for me to have some sort of transportation.

September 29, 1998

Dionis SaimonFor the last couple of days my mornings have been filled with language lessons. Dionis Saimon is the grant administrator in the Pohnpei HPO, and is also a survival language teacher at the College of Micronesia. He has been giving me informal lessons on how to say this or that, and why something is said a certain way. Even its derivative. Like the phrase "I am sick" --- I soumwahw. Literally translated it means "I am not good [or not feeling good]". I can't remember the word for "flu" or "to have a cold", but it is derived from the term used to refer to Europeans from the days of the sea traders. Literally, it is "something that sneaks in."

Mr. and Mrs. Kim are Koreans. They have an apartment in Yvonne's. Mr. Kim is the second owner of Marianas Communication Service. They are the group that put the telephone lines into the ground in Palau. Now they are over here putting fiber-optic lines all over the place. I first met Mr. Kim in Palau. He is the nicest man you could find. His English is not very good, but he always makes an effort. In Palau, every time we would see him in the field, we used to say that Mr. Kim has broken out of the office again. He doesn't like to be cooped up in the office; he much prefers to be outside helping out the crews. His wife is with him this trip. Teresa took an instant liking to her because she smiles and laughs.

Along with Mr. Kim are some of the same Filipinos who worked in Palau --- Lisa, Ellie, even Arnolo (though I haven't seen him yet). All of them are staying in the barracks around Yvonne's, so we see them in the morning, and usually wave hello.

Over the weekend, Teresa and I went to the beach at the fancy hotel by the airport. (I don't remember the name of the place, but you have to pay $1 to get in and use the beach.) We ran into Mr. Kim on our way out the door, and he gave us a ride to the place. The beach was an experience for Teresa. This one is part of the lagoon, so the waves are not very high, and the ground is kind of mushy because of the insufficient water flow --- also, I think because ships dump lots of stuff in the water, which naturally accumulates in the sediments and facilitates the growth of algae and such. She was surprised at how warm the water was, but didn't particularly like walking on the slimy surface, and especially did not like to cross the coral that had accumulated with the small wakes that wash ashore.

October 2, 1998

The cab rides here are $1 for adults and 50 cents for kids. Many kids take cabs to school, or have them pick them up after school. It is the normal routine here, especially for many people who don't have cars, and in a place where there is no other public transportation. Apparently, some cabs will actually pick up a couple of fares at a time. This was the case when Teresa and I had gone to store to pick up some things. They sell things in bulk, so they are way too heavy to lug home. On that day, we called a cab to take us back to the apartment. It arrived, and was already full of people. There were three other women in it who were chatting away, laughing, and just having a good time. Teresa and I got in, with Teresa on my lap. We were the first to be dropped off. It was really rather fun, as the ladies were so very happy.

Buying fresh fish --- the guy opened his cooler of reef fish to show us beautiful fish, many different colors from orange to blue to pink to black. Teresa loved looking at them. She wanted us to buy a big blue one, but all I could imagine was who would eat the whole thing and how would we cook it. Instead, we bought two smaller fish --- black leathery skin with orange dots at their tail (where their tail joins their body). I ended up baking these (after cleaning them; a job I do not like!), and Teresa ate all of her fish and half of mine.

October 5, 1998

The geckos are speaking tonight. Retty Lawrence, the field technician for the Pohnpei HPO, has told me a great many stories about the oral history of Pohnpei. They are fascinating and kept me bound to my seat for hours.

One of the stories was about geckos, and how in the early days of Pohnpei a woman gave birth to children: half were human, and the other half geckos. That is why today geckos are treated as members of a family. They are also among the most knowledgeable and therefore most respected animals because they can tell the weather, or if someone is talking about you, or if someone has died, or if someone is coming, or if there are ghosts nearby --- and they do all this by their patterns of movement and speaking. When it comes to weather, other animals can also tell if there is a big storm coming. Spiders, for example, get very busy either anchoring their web or drawing in the center of it; birds have different vocalizations and flight patterns, even the chicken. And, chickens alert people when a person has just died by crowing out of sync with the other chickens.

There is, for example, a lolong (stone tomb) dedicated to the little people.

According to Retty, these are real people, or rather were real, because surely they are all dead now. But they sometimes appear to go underground. They can do horrible things, and come out mostly in the early hours of the day and the late hours of the afternoon. So, you don't want to cross their paths at this time or you will get very sick.

There is also a story about a very deformed guy.

He was magical, and one day changed himself into a very handsome guy. He went to Nan Madol and wooed the sister of the Saudelaur, and subsequently married her. On their way back to his place he changed himself back into his horrid form. She saw him thus and regretted what she had done. He, for his part, put her in a cave, then went off to call other spirits to come have a feast. In the meantime, his sister let the girl out of the cave and told her to run away, but to be mindful and polite to all plants that she passed. She did so, and when the ugly guy discovered the girl was gone, he went after her. But every plant he passed and asked if she had gone this way would not speak, except for one. This was a little bush that she had gone to the bathroom on and forgotten to ask its forgiveness. The bush told the ugly guy that the girl had passed by and gone in a certain direction. When the girl came to the river, she met two old ladies who liked to play with ashes. She said she was trying to escape the ugly guy, and asked their assistance. They told her not to worry, as they would protect her. When he came to them and asked where the girl was, the old ladies told him they would tell him only if he would open his eyes. Part of his ugliness was that his eyelids were inside out. So, he opened his eyes and the old ladies threw hot ashes into them. His eyes began to burn so he tried to wash them out in the river, but the ladies went upriver and muddied the waters. The ugly guy died, and to this day, there are rocks nearby one of the rivers that are said to be the parts of this ugly guy.

Micronesian Seminar --- Fran Hezel set up the bibliographic system, apparently, at least according to the librarian, Judy Caldwell. This is a nice, quiet place with many references that are difficult to find elsewhere.

I was able to find two references that were not in the Pacific Collection at the College of Micronesia. Both refer to archaeological reconnaissances of Pingelap, a small atoll that we will be going to this coming weekend. Our task there will be to do some ethnographic work (that's Retty's job) and a cursory archaeological reconnaissance (me). From what I can find in the files in either the Pohnpei or the FSM historic preservation offices, this atoll and others are not well documented. These places have received some preliminary reviews, it seems. Pingelap, for example, was visited by Janet Davidson, who likened it to Nukuoro, suggesting it might have a similar cultural sequence. She spent only a couple of hours there, waiting for her ship to move on to the next atoll. Paul Rosendahl also spent about a day there as well. He identified one site, inland of the village, almost to the taro patches. He gave it a number and described it as having a few surface artifacts with potential for depth. He said that in the trashpits dug in the area, there is evidence of buried cultural layers. My guess is that in order to find anything it will take a long series of shovel probes and a piecing together of the stratigraphy; much like the sand road in Ngiwal, Palau. There I was able to identify a very intensive occupation. I was the lone voice in the wilderness, though, as the others saw nothing. But, pointing to a thick midden that suggested an intensive occupation, there it was --- a good and proper site that included burials, many in fact.

It looks like I will be spending most of my time in Pohnpei reviewing and writing state legislation and setting up some sort of site registration program. They just are not prepared for a full-blown archaeological agenda. I will try to survey as much as possible, but there is also no vehicle provided (obviously, you can't get around without a vehicle).

October 15, 1998

It's Friday, the last day for Dionis. He has accepted another job with the national government, working on population studies or something. It is a UN-funded program, and sounds like a good thing to do. I will miss him, as he has been teaching me Pohnpeian, and is able to explain terms and phrases I hear about the office. This office will definitely miss him, as he has been the one to do most all the administrative stuff.

I had Teresa photograph and document the sakau-making at the party for Dionis given by Emensio Epenam. She did a good job, and Dionis allowed her to assist.

Peeling barkCleaning kavaPreparing inner bark
Dionis peeling bark from the hibiscus tree -- cleaning the kava -- preparing the inner bark of the hibiscus for the sakau wrap. They let me help prepare the bark.

Preparing rootsPreparing for poundingRolling kava
Preparing and cleaning the roots of the kava plant -- preparing for pounding -- rolling kava into hibiscus wrap.

Pounding kavaPreparing sakau
Preparing for pounding -- pounding the kava -- preparing the sakau.

Preparing sakauSqueezing into cup
Preparing the sakau -- squeezing the sakau into a cup. I'm not allowed to try it, though. Only grown-ups drink sakau. My mother asked what it tastes like, and someone said "It tastes like it tastes."

October 17, 1998

I went to the government gas station with one of the secretaries the other day. It is interesting. It consists of two somewhat rusted barrels (large) situated on top of concrete pillars that are shaped at the top to hold the barrels. One barrel is gas, the other diesel. Both run on gravity. I am assuming there is an automatic stop on the nozzle to prevent gas from spilling over from the car gas tank. There is an attendant who does the filling up, and before you can get gas you have to get a little accounting slip. There is paperwork for everything here!

October 20, 1998

I am now starting to concentrate on writing the legislation. It has been sitting around for over ten years in a sort of simplified form; my goal is to get something drafted out that has a little more punch to it and hand it off to a legislator or two, and make it a bill "from the people" instead of being handed down from above. There is great prestige in being able to introduce something for the first time, especially something everyone has already been talking about.

Teresa just walked in so very proud of herself. She did it all herself --- called the taxi (actually, the lady at the store called, but Teresa initiated it!), told the cab where to go, paid for it by herself, and, well, just did everything herself. She has run off to Jean's house now. But as she went running by I heard her shouting, "I made it, I made it". You could practically hear her skipping.

October 21, 1998

There are only a couple of cab companies I have allowed her to call. Even the HPO secretary (Roster) was proud of Teresa, and got a big kick out of her independence. She was even impressed that Teresa was speaking a little Pohnpeian, and made a point of telling the other secretaries about it. Roster is a wonderful person. She is kind and gentle, and very funny. I think she is quite sharp too.

We are supposed to attend and document a traditional feast --- the ritual presentation of the yam (and opening of yam season) to the Nahnmwarki by one of the villages in Kitti Municipality. That should be interesting. Like the sakau pounding, I think I will get a roll of film for Teresa to take her own pictures. I felt like a mother anthropologist training her daughter the techniques of the trade during the sakau pounding. She had to take her own pictures, frame them and get all the relevant information into the picture.

Interesting note: Youser Anson, Chief of Division of Lands, was noting how attendance at funerals was changing --- a change that has been brought about by roads and improved transportation. Now, he says, more people are attending funerals. In the past, families would send representatives to these things, and the representatives would simply bring sufficient food to feed themselves along with some sort of tribute item, depending on the rank of the deceased. For example, if it was a high-ranked person, you would bring a very old yam or a very old pig --- as if to say, see, I grew these things for so long and cherished them over these many years, but with your passing I hand them over to you. Now, though, people bring tons of food, big pigs (not necessarily old), yams are passé since canned food is now considered a higher prestige item, as well as sacks of rice. These are then distributed to those who come to the funeral. People now, Youser said, mostly use funerals as a way of getting out of work.

Next: Nan Madol