Last I posted was the first day of staging. The next morning we had our staging which finished around 5 pm. An hour or so later we were out on the beach. It was a beautiful place to spend our last evening in the states. The next morning around 2:30 am we all got in line at the airport. Takeoff was sometime around 5, and that is where our 10.5-hour flight began. We stopped in Majuro, one of the Marshall islands, Kosrae, and finally Pohnpei. After we deplaned, our aircraft was bound for (I think) Paulau, Chuk, and finally Guam. It’s called the “island hopper flight.”
I was one of the first PCT’s to deplane and make my way through customs. I handed my brand new Peace Corps passport to the immigrations officer, and he inspected it suspiciously. “Heather Bright?” “Yep” “You’re Peace Corps?” “Yeah” “Do you know your host family?” “Not yet, we’re staying at a hotel for a few days and then we find out” “Ok. You can go” As I made my way to the large room with a conveyor belt sitting a foot off the ground, I couldn’t help but think of what a bizarre experience I’d just had. I shared it a with a few people and eventually passed it off as “one of those Peace Corps things”.
After retrieving my luggage, I made my way over to the Peace Corps Staff. “As soon as you have your luggage,” they told us, “go through those doors and there will be people waiting for you.” Little did us unsuspecting Trainees know that behind those automatic doors was a wild, yelling, and eager crowd of current PCV’s waiting to greet us. Holding giant welcome signs, the PCVs jumped up and down, yelling “YAAAAAAAAAAAY PEEEEEEEAAACCCCCCEEEEE CORRRRRRRRRRRRPPPPPPSSSS!” and ran over to me to put a mwar mwar (Pohnpeiian version of a Hawaiian lei) on my head.
We arrived on Saturday and spent the next two nights at Yvonne’s hotel. The first few days in Pohnpei reminded me a LOT of my first few days in Italy. The first parallel to Italy was drawn Saturday evening when we had dinner with the M77’s- the current volunteers that had welcomed us at the airport. It was nice to get to an unfamiliar place and have new friends to let us know how things had been going before our arrival- similar to what the early lifeguards had done for my group in Aviano. Just as Taylor and I had wandered around Aviano our first night, my roommate Melody and I explored the streets of Kolonia- Pohnpei and FSM’s capital city Sunday morning. Much of the weekend was also spent in anticipation of our host family introductions.
Monday around 5 pm, all of our host families came to pick us up from the hotel. Instead of introducing families to trainees, our thoughtful staff decided it would be much more entertaining to just get everyone in the same room and have us find our host families that way. [Does anyone remember that Dr. Seuss book “Are You My Mother?”] My Nohno (host mom) thankfully called my name (“Ayther!”) rather quickly and we were able to opt out of the social experiment. We made our way to the luggage room and as I got ready to haul both my pieces plus backpack, my Nohno insisted that I leave the heaviest one for her son to take care of. This specific brother is no older than 9 or so.
Upon arriving at my new home, I was introduced to a multitude of relatives. Whether most of them live with us is still debatable- there are always a lot of people going in and out of the house. One of them, however, I immediately recognized. “This is my sisters husband, Wayne” I look over and the man next to her smiles and casually recalls, “Yeah, we met at the airport.” Wayne and Nohno then introduced me to my cousin (or aunt?), “This is Rose. Jack is on his way and will be here soon,” and they all start cracking up. It took about 10 seconds for the Titanic reference to register. “Of course,” I said, “Just don’t let go! Never let go!” Hilarity ensued and I was in.
Soon after, I was invited outside to enjoy the local brew with the adults. And by local brew, of course, I mean sakau (suh-kow). I’m not entirely clear on the semantics of it, but I know it has something to do with hibiscus roots. [Someone should google that and let me know. In fact, google it on your smartphone. I remember those… ]
Most of the preconceptions I had of sakau came from the current volunteers and their blogs. I knew it was a brownish liquid, at times a little thick and syrupy, that pretty much no one enjoys the taste of. Seriously, no one. As Rose and I got comfortable in the backyard, she asked what I knew of sakau. “Uhh, not much. But I hear it tastes like mud…?” Rose was instantly doubled over in laughter. Pohnpeiian language was exchanged among the adults and my Nohno came over to pat my back while she laughed along too. I must have been asked literally 10 times over the course of the next few hours, some sort of variation of, “How is the mud?” It wasn’t awful, but definitely not a Widmer Hef. I sat in the backyard and soaked it up to the best of my ability. The stars were fantastic, the air was thick and humid, and though I couldn’t understand 99% of the conversation, there was a lot of laughing involved- never a bad thing.
Tuesday evening we went to the local “fast food” spot for dinner, Angie’s. My brother Jaysean was asking for pizza, so I said I’d have the same. My Nohno was more than happy to oblige, “How many pieces?” “Oh, just one.” Wayne piped in, “When it comes to pizza, one is never enough.” I laughed but confirmed one was plenty. Nohno bought me two. On our way home from Angie’s, Jaysean and I each ate our pizza. We get home, and my Nohno hands me a whole new plate of food, “If you want to rest, you can go eat your dinner in your room.” How silly of me to assume that my two pieces of pizza had been anything but an appetizer. I get to my room, unwrap the plate, and there sit 3 pieces of fried chicken with rice. Ah Nohno… I don’t think I’ve ever been so consistently full in my entire life.
That night we had sakau again, this time about 30 people gathered in our backyard. Wayne provided some good narration for me. “This is why we drink sakau. It gives everyone a chance to come together and catch up on the things that have happened in our lives. Right now everyone is chatty, you see, but as they get drunk, everyone gets tired and quiets down. When there’s a lot of silence- that’s when you know people will be going home soon.”
We got a lot of rain that night, making it very difficult to sleep. The next day in class I had a fever and spent most of the morning in the sick bay sleeping off my exhaustion in air-conditioned bliss. By the end of lunch I’d gotten some much-need rest, and my fever had gone down enough to participate in afternoon workshops. For dinner Nohno supplied me with way too much food as always, and as usual I tried to find the balance between not making myself sick and making her believe I’d eaten enough. Around 6pm I made my way to my room to get some homework done. I didn’t get that much homework done that night, but I did get a solid 12 hours of sleep. On the way to school I told them about how tired I’d been. Laughter commenced. “Too much sakau Tuesday”.