Friday, May 28, 2010

Full Moon + Land Crabs = RoadKill

Full Moon tonight, and things get weird in Yap... I wrote about crabbing during a full moon a few months ago, but this month was just down-right Outer Limits weird. Even though the moon was hidden behind clouds tonight, somehow all the land crabs on Yap know that tonight is the night to go night-crawling. As we drive with high beams lighting the roadway ahead we can see creatures from TRON scurrying in front of us. We are driving slowly, so we swerve to try and avoid them, but they obviously have no idea that cars have 4 wheels and so they end up scurrying right under my back tires, and the resulting crunch is quite disturbing. As the night gets darker, the throng gets thicker and in some areas of the road they are so thick that we have little choice but to drive right over them. Roadkill is everywhere, as we are obviously not the first ones to travel the road tonight. Local citizens are all over the sides of the road scooping crabs into plastic bags. Winona is wearing flip-flops, so she is too afraid to get out and try to catch a few of these things... (she forgets that most of the locals are barefoot!!) ... as for me?? ... well, these things are just plain creepy and don't really taste all that good, so we decide that we are quite happy with the imitation Crab that is in our freezer. I am still not sure what the attraction of a full moon is to the crabs, nor how they tell, but someone should get the word out to them that its not safe out there!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ramblings... (part deux)

As you can tell from the last posting, we are settling in here. Winona is being extremely easy on me by loving what she is doing here. We are given lots of freedom to get involved in almost any sort of charitable work we want to and so we sort of stumbled into the ASL class at the high school one day. When we arrived in Yap, one of the first things we checked out was the local library. Yap actually had one, not all the smaller islands have libraries, so we were excited. However, we found the library to be poorly stocked and many of the books are old and musty smelling but we applied for a library card and Winona checked out a few books just so she could have an excuse to go back. The library consists of four or five shelves that are three levels high and some magazine racks...that's it. We also looked to find new books in the local stores but none of the stores carry books at all! We began to realize why even though most people speak pretty good English, few can read very well. Even sadder, they don't read Yapese either, because there are so few Yapese books in the world! Our church is one of the few organizations that is working hard to make all of its material available in all of the Micronesian languages.. Yapese, Pohnpeian, Chuukese, Palauan, and Kosraean. (there is little use for these languages elsewhere in the world, and so most people (including ourselves) are amazed at the amount of money the church spends in translation efforts.

You'll appreciate the process they go through to make this happen. I am assisting with getting the Yapese translation team setup to work effectively in Yap. The translators consist of 5 high school and college aged kids who are good enough in English and Yapese written skills to be able to translate, plus one middle-aged lady who is a professional teacher, and approves and/or corrects the work of the young translators before it goes for final proofreading and publication. Telephone and Internet access are a problem here, so part of my job is trying to make the computer system work as efficiently as possible, and to make sure that other capable people are being trained in the procedures involved in translation so that we always have a supply of translators available. Remember, we are training locals to translate from English into Yapese... not the other way around! No one else is doing that! It feels good to be able to help even though I don't speak the language! We recently had General Conference (a series of about 6 hours of speeches) being broadcast from Salt Lake City that needed to be translated into Yapese live, during the broadcast! Speeches were prepared ahead of time in English by the presenters, and a transcript sent via Internet to the office in Guam and then to our team. They get the transcript in Microsoft Word and it has all kinds of special embedded codes in the documents that are used later in the process. The translators get to choose which job they want and get paid almost $10US per page .. the "page" is actually only about a half page because each page is split in two, half being the original English text. If the girls are good at their jobs, they can easily produce 2 pages per hour.. easily one of the best paying jobs in Yap! (College teachers with Masters degrees get paid $18,000 per year! .. that's another story!) If they could type like professional typists.. they'd be able to hit 4 pages per hour.

This is a poster that I made of the translation team in Yap. The girl in the top right and the woman in the middle do the bulk of the translation. The girl in the bottom left is a return missionary, and does some work as well. The others are "in training".

Once they finish the translation, it gets sent back to the translation office in Guam and gets sent out for correction and initial approval by anyone of a dozen or so former missionaries or Yapese natives living elsewhere. (They have to switch back and forth between native Yapese who speak English as a second language, and native English speakers who speak Yapese as a second language to ensure that the nuances of each language have been accounted for). From there it goes to a proofreader and then finally back to Salt Lake City where they have a team of interpreters who will read the final text synchronized with the live English presenter. The embedded codes are used at this point so that during the live presentations the speakers see English on the teleprompter, and the interpreters will get a synchronized version in Yapese (or whatever other language may be being interpreted).. all at the same time. Written text is handled pretty much the same way, except audio interpreters are not needed...the material goes to a publisher instead. Finally, the broadcast is sent back to Yap via DVD.. the differences in Time Zone make Satellite live broadcasts rather useless. By the time it gets to this point, thousands of dollars have been spent just to get the Yapese translation completed accurately and on time... and then 15 or 20 of the locals get to view the "broadcast"! This is clearly an investment meant to preserve the language for the future generations. I am absolutely amazed at the translation efforts that go on when you consider that there are only about 6500 people IN THE WORLD who speak Yapese! The young missionaries that are sent here become totally comfortable with the language in less than 6 months and always impress the locals when they are able to converse with them so well. Us old missionaries??? .. not so much!

Below are a few photos of a resident of the village of Gargey using her loom to weave a lava lava. (wrap-around) She is from the island of Woleai (one of the outer islands) and now living with her family in Yap. She is sitting on the concrete floor of her home. Note how she uses her toes to assist with getting the loom ready. They do the same thing when making flower laies and baskets. Using toes and feet is just as good as having 4 hands.

The strap across her back is attached to the board on her lap so she can use her legs to provide tension on the loom as she weaves. When she gets tired of weaving, she rolls up the thread with the boards, sticks and tubes used for the separations onto the part of the frame near her feet. The pegs sticking up on the frame keep the boards and material in place while she rests.

You can see part of the Lava Lava she is wearing (black with orange stripes) underneath the sheet she has put over her legs for modesty as she works. It is easy to recognize the outer islanders because they almost always wear these lava lavas and you will never see a Yapese person wearing them. They all learn to weave their own. They are all of a similar pattern, but vary in color and width of the stripes. They are all knee length and are really very attractive. You'll rarely see them in anything else, although a few have broken from tradition and will wear other styles of clothing. Most wear T-shirts of a matching or complementary color.. or are topless. Being bare-breasted is not considered immodest, but they are very careful to cover their thighs. You will never see any of the Outer Islanders, or the Yapese women, in shorts or mini-skirts.

Anyway, back to the library thing... Winona is having a wonderful time at the High School . She learned some ASL a few years ago from a deaf couple in Nanaimo. She never got good enough to be able to keep up with a normal conversation, but she could communicate well enough with a deaf person if they signed slowly for her. When the deaf couple moved back to Baltimore, a few years ago we thought we would never see them again and that the likelihood of her ever being able to use her ASL was pretty slim. Fortunately, we were able to find them while we travelled through Baltimore last summer and the spark was rekindled. She wants to add her own blog entry so she will tell you all about her ASL adventures in our next post.

As for me, I'm becoming well known for my cooking! Can I now claim to be internationally renowned? Let's just put it this way... there is a reason that you'll never find Yapese cuisine in the US or Canada. Bland, bland, and more bland. The favorite succulent dish is Turkey Tail. (That's what my mom used to call "The Pope's Nose"... although that sounds like it is likely a totally non-politically correct name for it! I'm not sure which Pope it was that inspired the name, I am sure that he wouldn't be hard to recognize if a portrait was available...) Lets just say, that one of us had to learn to take the locally available materials and turn them into something that actually had some flavor to it...We have been to few of the local restaurants, (which are actually very reasonably priced!) but soon learned that every restaurant in town has exactly the same menu... stir fried fish, pork, or chicken; curried fish, pork or chicken; sizzling fish, pork or chicken, fish, pork or chicken in coconut sauce (which is pretty good actually) or Ramen noodles and egg, OR the worst hamburgers you've ever eaten!..Winona was busy with ASL, Yapese, and Woleaian, so I jumped into the kitchen for survival!

I (along with Winona as sous-chef) have a continual supply of Sushi rice, sushi vinegar, wasabi and Nori, crab and tuna on hand for serving up Sushi in a flash. We make our own pickled ginger, and are two of the few on the Island that can use chopsticks. I've adapted a few recipes from a cooking class I took a couple of years ago, including Salad Wraps (which are tricky with the short supply of fresh veggies here!) with homemade Thai peanut sauce. I've made the usual Stir Fry but have learned to make Lemon Chicken and the best Coconut Shrimp I've ever eaten... (using my own fresh grated coconut). Oh, and coconuts are lying on the ground everywhere, so when you want one, you just pick one up, shake it to make sure it still has juice in it, and use a machete to remove the husk (or in our case we use a friend with a machete to remove the husk!).. Because coconut is free, I try to use it in a lot of recipes. I've tried coconut syrup on French Toast and coconut. I was using coconut milk smoothies, Virgin Chi-Chi's and coconut, banana and chocolate milkshakes on a regular basis (until the blender broke...) Out of desperation when we had nothing but onions in our house I made French Onion soup from scratch... it was phenomenal - as good as any we've had even at the Keg... so we have that every few days as well.

We had the Mission President and his wife over for dinner on their last visit to the Island. They liked it! and have appointed me to be the head chef for the Couple Conference coming up in Guam in July. It means we'll have to go over a few days early in order to get everything properly "prep'd" for the event :-)

In spite of the low wages here, groceries are ridiculously expensive, and expiry dates mean nothing. A quart of whipping cream is $8.50! So, I make my own French Dressing, Creamy Italian Dressing, Coleslaw dressing, and Thousand Island. I also make large batches of a stir-fry sauce that everyone raves about. I invented it on Christmas day when I did a stir fry and needed a sauce. I started with Soy Sauce, Sugar and Vinegar and then added anything else I could find that was either hot (Sambal Oelek, garlic, ginger), tangy (lime juice), or sweet (pineapple juice)... heated it up, added corn starch and suddenly everyone was wanting the recipe... It is great on Sushi as well.

Lately I've gotten into baking bread, (imported bread is $4.50 a loaf and is frozen) local bread is the same price but is "fresh"... but the the bread is very dense, has no stretch to it, and tastes like no bread I've ever eaten before. We were lucky enough to have a great Bread Machine in the apartment, so I started by making loaves of regular white bread and whole wheat bread. The flour is suspiciously old by the time it gets here, and the yeast is also of questionable quality, the only milk we can buy is in tetra-paks with a one year shelf-life, so I was concerned about that too... but the bread turned out great, so I was encouraged. I now make about 4 loaves a week. I've made French Bread and baguettes, Italian Bread, the most awesome cinnamon buns (look up clone of a Cinnabon on Google), and then I had a dream one night about how to make hamburger and hot dog buns! (I can't believe I told you that!.. who dreams about things to bake?). Believe it or not, I do actually do some work too... but without TV, movie theatres, motorcycles, or many other distractions, I tend to be able to spend a few minutes in the kitchen (or dreaming about hamburger buns!) without interferring too much with other responsibilities.

We do have one concern and that is that we don't have a bathroom scale...

Coconut Shrimp -- made with fresh coconut! Hmmm!


Stone Money Bank... Still used as part of the "dowry" described below

Gosh, it is hard to believe that it was a year ago that we left our house behind and headed for the open road... and we have now been living on an Island in the middle of the South Pacific for six months of that! We can't believe how time has flown by, I apologize for not updating the blog for so long. I could blame it on being busy, having poor internet connections, etc.. but the reality is that time has just slipped away!

We are truly loving it here! We have become very comfortable with the customs, and the lifestyle; Surprisingly, we don't really miss the motorcycle. There are lots of places on the Island where a motorcycle would be fun to have, but the heat, the humidity, the rain and the salty air turns anything made of metal.. especially chrome... into a pile of rust in a matter of months... and besides... the island is only 15 miles long... 27 by road .. and worse yet, the speed limit is 15mph in the villages, with a top speed of 25mph on the open road! What good would a motorcycle that can travel 120mph do? I can tell you, I miss 75mph much more than I miss my motorcycle. So, to get from one end of the island to the other is about an hour and a half trip because of the twists and turns in the road and the 25mph max speed!

We've been here long enough now that we have become recognized in the community. Winona is helping with the ASL (American Sign Language) class at the High School three days a week and it constantly amazes me that she can communicate so well with these deaf kids. Education is not looked upon as being particularly important here, so there are many kids in their late teens and twenties who are still attending high school. People wave at us whereever we go, but that is so common, that we don't know if it is because we know them, or if they are just being friendly. We wave back enthusiastically, and then look at each other to ask,"do we know that person?"... and now we have the same problem as we walk around the High School and College campuses!

Though there are some aspects of the lifestyle here that are attractive, there is a general complacency about life in general that can be frustrating. The general philosophy is that there is no sense in planning because something could come up that will interrupt the plan! So it is tough to get people to make appointments ... because they might not be able to keep the appointment! A refusal to commit because they might not be able to keep the commitment. No sense in planning, because they might not be here tomorrow! .

Marriages are interesting... no dating. If a boy takes an interest in a girl, it is kept secret. Parents do not know about the 'relationships' that develop, nor do they want to. At some point the boy will approach the girls parents with a shell, and dowry of some nature and negotiate for the daughter. If the girls parents accept the shell, they are "married". If at any time the husband decides he doesn't want the responsibilities of his family any longer, he can take his wife back to her parents, get his shell back and the "marriage" is over. Women don't have that luxury, nor do they have much say in what transpires. (Not much need for divorce lawyers down here!) Kids are raised by cousins, uncles, grandparents, whoever is handy. The church rightfully insists on proof of a legally binding marriage before a couple, or either one of the couple, can join. The lack of contractual obligation to each other causes a lot of heartache in families. Legal marriages are available, but an expensive wedding is "expected" as part of the celebration, so many cannot afford that. The Church provides free weddings, which makes it a much more attractive and affordable option.

Not surprisingly, everyone knows everyone. There are no street names or addresses. This truly is jungle living although in most cases, homes do have electricity and some have telephones. Suprisingly, cell phones are horrendously expensive, but are extremely popular. When you want to tell someone where you live you just give the name of the person next door, and there will be a nod of recognition. Taxis, Police, Ambulances, utility companies, repairmen, couriers, all find you by knowing who you live beside, or who your landlord is. It is truly amazing. We had to help the young missionaries get the utility bill for their water redirected to a new apartment the other day. After nearly two weeks of trying to get in touch with the Greater Tamil Water Commission to make arrangements, they told us that we had to come out to their office where they would talk to us about the switch. We drove to the North end of the Island (that 1 and 1/2 hour trip I mentioned earlier!) where after checking with a few locals for direction, (when we ask for directions, we get a familiar nod of the chin in the general direction of where we need to head) and we ended up next to a house at the end of a long and winding dirt road. There are no signs indicating that this is an office, but as we approached the house to knock, the door opened and the fellow confirmed that this was indeed the Greater Tamil Water Commission. We didn't have to tell him who we were or what we wanted.. he recognized us. It truly felt like we were the only people to ever arrange a switch.. He knew the house that was being vacated, and was familiar with the house they were moving into, so he just confirmed the name of the landlord at the new premises and said "OK, we'll look after that!"

We had to ask ourselves.... "so we travelled all the way out there, because??...". There was no papers to fill out, no signatures... very strange. But, someone showed up the next day to read the meter and we assume that money will now come out of the correct account.

Last night, the internet went down... and I was unable to check my stocks. It was 4am, but since I was up anyway, and the NYSE closes at 6am Yap time, I thought I should head down to the FSMTC (Telecommunications office) and see if I could get internet access there. (they are "open" 24 hours). The door was open and the lights were on, so I walked in the office but no one was around. I was about to sit down and start using one of the two computers they have there for public use, when a very sleepy lady in her late 50's rose from beneath one of the desks where she had been sleeping. I apologized for waking her up, and informed her that the internet wasn't working. She shrugged and said that the technical person would be in at 8am. I left and I am pretty certain that she curled up and went back to sleep. Sure enough however, at 8am, the internet came back, and I was back online!

Food is another issue.. but I think I'll make that a future blog entry. We really are having a great time. This is a place where we truly feel we can do some good! We have met so many wonderful people. It is good to be here. Several topics I have brought up here will make good blog entries of their own.. I'll work on it!