Before my trip to Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia, I would never have been able to comprehend the beautiful experiences that I would gain from meeting the people who live on the island. As it is very small and remains relatively geographically isolated in the equatorial pacific, there is not a lot of tourism or traffic to and from the island from people other than the Kosraens. Because of this, our visit went hardly unnoticed by the locals.
As we left the airport for our first ride around the island, it seemed like every one of the island’s 6000 citizens was waving to us from the road which spans a partial perimeter of the island. The kids would run after our truck, and everyone would should a greeting (which I would become very fond of) Lwen Wo (Good afternoon)! I was initially overwhelmed with the immediate enthusiasm of the islander’s on behalf of our visit, but I soon became very used to this as I realized that they are really just that friendly all the time.
As religion is widespread among the islanders, it is very important that Sunday’s remain a day solely of rest, and no activities are permitted which may cause a person ‘to sweat’. We were warmly (no pun intended) welcomed the day after our arrival to attend a large church on the south side of the island in the village of Utwe. Group after group of men and women went to the front of the church to sing, with voices clear and melodic (they are very modest about their singing, but it is known that the islanders have a particular talent). After the service there were snacks of fresh fruit such as green tangerines and bananas set up outside for us, which was an initial taste of the generosity which we were to experience throughout our month there.
One of the goals of our class is to help promote sustainable practices and education about the mangrove forests on Kosrae. To do this, we planned a teacher workshop where we could assist the teachers in developing lesson ideas as well as providing additional knowledge about why mangroves are important to the health of the island. Although I (sadly) missed the actual workshop because I was sick, I got the opportunity to teach a couple of Kosraen women the same material, and the exchange of information that took place was very enlightening for all of us.
Throughout our scientific endeavors we began to become more acquainted with people who helped to guide us or work with us through our studies. One man in particular, named Erik, is the head forester of the island and proved to be particularly special to every one of us students. As we spent quite a bit of time visiting with him we got to know him and his family. As we were preparing to say goodbye on our last week he invited us to his house for a ‘party’. As I arrived I saw four tables full of traditional Kosraen food which he and his family had prepared for us. He had hand caught lobster, reef fish, and mangrove crabs for us, as well as catching a tuna for some fresh sashimi. The amount of effort on their part to provide us with this uniquely generous experience was one that I will remember forever.
I also got the opportunity to meet a number of people on the island through my 24 hour homestay with a family in the village of Malem. I was excited to learn that the father of my homestay family was an environmental scientist, and so it was very easy for us to become acquainted and build good conversation. However, the majority of my time was spent with his children and their cousins, who were so excited to have us stay. They showed us all of their favorite spots to play, as well as games that they enjoy and they even attempted to teach us how to speak Kosraen (I now think it was so that they could giggle at our poor pronunciation). They were absolutely adorable, and we were all sad to part ways.
During our trip the islander’s celebrated one of their biggest holidays, Liberation Day. They invited us to join in with their parades and games, and they sat us with their elders as guest of honor while we spectated. Everybody was lighthearted and having so much fun, and it was pleasant to see such a large group of people interacting with each other in such a carefree (yet at times slightly mischievous) way. As women and men participated in games, there was some playful sabotage (I am fairly sure I got hit in the back by a flying flip-flop after I passed a laughing Kosraen woman in the race)… The second Liberation Day ceremony was particularly special to us because we were joined by the Governor of Kosrae, who later made it a point to attend our final banquet.
This trip has taught me that some of the best experiences that you have in life are the ones that you don’t anticipate. I knew that I was going to ‘experience a new culture’, but I had no idea how much it would warm my heart and how important and enriching it would be for all of us collectively.
Kulo Malulap (thank you) for reading!
Link for more pictures: