Well, in a blink of an eye 3 weeks have passed! This small island and every person we have encountered has given us an experience and adventure to remember. In a final dinner with our new friends they told us how we have made a difference to them and all those on Yap. However, I don’t think they realize the impact they have had on all of us. We have definitely gained a greater appreciation for our environment, our world and our lives in a mere 3 weeks. Yesterday we left Yap and at the moment we are enjoying a nice lengthy layover in Hawaii. It’s amazing how you adjust and adapt in 3 weeks. As we (and I) checked into our hotel in Hawaii I couldn’t help but reflect on the last three weeks. Although I won’t share my entire reflection, below are a few topics I haven’t covered in my previous posts or are simply topics that I feel are particularly important to understand our experience.
Living on Yap
Unlike most of the other JBIP trips at Queens we do not stay at a hotel and nor do we move around every few days. As my colleague Reed explains it, “We live deeply rather than broadly”. We live with locals, we eat and work with the locals and we socialize with the locals. However, not everyone is cut out for island life as we experience it. First, we live in an old “community house” originally built for the Palauan community. It has one main room were we all sleep on cots and one “side” room which is our kitchen. The kitchen has a range of pots, plates and utensils that we have purchased over the years. Additionally, we have a fridge (loaned to us by Land Resources) a small water cooler and for cooking a small toaster oven and a two burner hot plate.
That’s it! No stove or oven. Sealed food is fine setting out on the counter but anything has been opened has to either be eaten or placed in the fridge to deter ants and other bugs. There is one bathroom accessible from our back porch (you can tell the bathroom was added on after the house was first built). The bathroom has two toilets and one shower with no hot water or mirrors. As you can imagine, living under these conditions with 15 people (12 students and 3 professors) can be a challenge. For the trip to be successful we have to get along and have to be a community. We do a lot of work (though, we could probably do more) building a solid community in our Spring prep course. Additionally, during our trip we have
several house meetings to discuss group food purchases, any issues or concerns and simply to catch-up and hear how everyone is doing. Although at times living with a large group can be tough in the end it is extremely rewarding. I can honestly say that in my time at Queens the students with which I have formed the closest bonds are those that I travel with in May and the John Belk International Program (from Italy to Vietnam and Yap).
Paddling the Canoe ……
The above is in reference to another statement by my colleague Reed Perkins. In our work we simply paddle the canoe as the locals steer. Although we travel to Yap to work on answering a number of scientific questions it is critical to note that we have no agenda! We come as a group with a unique skill set that may be useful to local agencies in addressing a number of scientific questions and general needs on the island. All of our projects are determined by various agencies on the island. Over the years we have worked with at least a dozen different agencies. Some of the agencies we have worked with include; Land Resources, Marine Resources, Agriculture and Forestry, Yap Community Action Program (Yap CAP), the Department of Education, the Department of Community and Health Services and Police and Fire. If you search this blog for posts that involve Yap you will notice that most of them describe our “work” days. I simply LOVE our work days…. Working along side the locals and talking with them is the BEST way to see and learn about the island. I now understand how land is valued in Yap, explored cultural sites that few if any tourists EVER get to see, and have learned so much about Yapese and Micronesian agriculture. The work days vary from short to long and from easy to difficult. Regardless, I’ve now seen two groups of students (2011 and 2013) leave notes behind for the next group encouraging them to work as much as possible! Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to have a morning or afternoon off to go diving and explore the reefs, but, sitting in the house and doing nothing should really never be an option.
Exploring the Island…..
One thing that I took for granted in my first trip to Yap is just how much we get to explore the island. Almost all of Yap is privately owned. The only “public” portion of Yap is in Colonia (the closest thing to an “urban” city in Yap) and a few public roads that run from the south to the north. To enter almost any village you need to obtain permission from a chief or another local with authority. Over the years we have been blessed to visit and see so much of the island. This year was no exception. From the sea we pretty much got to see Yap from every angle as we were mapping marine protected areas. We also explored the reefs and marine life in our diving trips. There is NOTHING like diving through Yap Caverns, viewing sharks in Vertigo or coming up from a night dive to see the Micronesian night sky! On the ground we explored the island from the south all the way up to the north. We saw traditional men’s houses, stone money banks and had a chance to walk ancient stone paths. We even found Yap’s first geocache (placed a few days before we arrived) and placed one of our own (I’ll discuss this topic in a future post). For the first time some of us got to see Yap from the air!!! In a short 30 minutes from 1000 feet we get to see Yap’s unique beauty. Everything, from the reefs and mangrove forests to the taro patches and tropical jungle looks different from the sky.
I have been very blessed to go on this trip twice with two fantastic groups of students and amazing colleagues. I’ve seen and learned so much in these two trips and cannot wait for my next trip to Yap. Luckily, I don’t have to wait long as Reed and I have selected 11 students that will make up Team Yap 2014! I hope they are ready for a life altering experience.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we had an amazing group of students on this trip. In this trip, students handled every challenge and issue with ease (including an almost catastrophic 4 day internet outage). Seriously, the relationships we have built and maintained over the years is the direct result of our students and my colleague Reed Perkins. Our students represented themselves and Queens extremely well and echoing the comments made by Reed during our last house meeting, I would travel with each one of these students again in a heart beat.
So again, thank you to Team Yap 2013 for a great trip!!
(Students: If you click the “View on Slideshare” button above you can download this presentation)