Monday, July 28, 2014

NickH1 Best Week Ever

This will be my last post on Pohnpei.  When you say finalizing things like that, it hits you hard.  Real hard.

Tomorrow afternoon I'll hop on United for the Island Hopper to Hawaii. I don't know if Island Hopper deserves capitalization because I wouldn't call it a "proper" noun. It's more like a freezing cold air-conditioned time warp from hell. Here's the route: Guam->Chuuk->Pohnpei->Kosrae->Kwajalein->Marshalls->Honolulu.  At each stop you have to get out of the plane, move your stuff (so they can check for contraband), step out into humidity and scorching heat, and then re-assume your ascent/descent pattern into the depths of the "friendly" skies.  Last time I got on United it was to Guam, and they hooked it up with some nice free champagne.  I hope the same courtesy shall be extended again.

So there's that.  I'm leaving.  Blah.

But last week has been amazing.  By amazing, I mean golden.  By golden, I mean seven golds.  7.  SEVEN!!!  But not only that.  Call within the next five minutes, and you'll receive three silvers.  3.  THAT'S RIGHT! THREE SILVER MEDALS!  And as a bonus, we'll even throw in a handy bronze medal, perfect for those family dinner parties.  If you haven't caught on by now, I'm not the ghost of Billy Mays trying to sell you Olympic medals.  What I'm trying to say is that my long distance track team completely kicked ass at the Microgames.  For every event, EVERY EVENT, we won a medal.  It was ridiculous.  I was screaming and jumping on the side of the track like a lunatic.  By the end of the week, I'd lost my voice and gained even more notoriety throughout Pohnpei.  On the radio, they described me as, "... there's a white guy jumping and screaming on the sideline.  I think he's their coach."  At one point during the games, I had to go say goodbye to my best friend on the island.  That sucked, but on my way to the airport in the taxi, the taxi driver told the base that the track coach was leaving to the airport.  The base was like, "What?  He's leaving!?"  Now this was gossip that would spread like wildfire.  I quelled it pretty quickly by telling the guy to pick me up in a couple of hours.  Oh how I'll miss the coconut wireless...  In other words, my runners did extremely well during the games.  800m, 1500m, 5k, 10k, and half marathon.  My athletes really proved to me that working with them for the past six months was totally worth it.  Not a second of my time was wasted.  It was definitely the best secondary project I've done during Peace Corps, and it's probably my biggest accomplishment throughout my life along with completing Peace Corps.

My last Upward Bound high school summer class was last Thursday.  This summer I taught Geometry, but let me just say this at the start.  I'm a math nerd.  I always have been.  [I was always in the top 99% on every national math assessment throughout elementary and high school.  I scored a 5 on the AP Calculus Exam and a 30 on the ACT math portion.  <---- All of these are ego boosters.  But you know what's funny?  I stopped taking math after Calculus.  You'd think that someone who did derivative calculus for fun to figure out daily things should be like a scientist in a trench coat.  Something nerdy at least with thick glasses.  But no.  I was wasted talent.]  So teaching Geometry was my schiznit.  I tried to jazz up some math concepts like parallel lines by describing them as two students who agreed to stay the same distance away from each other at all times.  I described equilateral triangles as the perfect love triangle.  My students ate it up, or at least they didn't fall asleep on me.  So I gave them their final exam on Thursday, and they all smoked it.  My average grade for the class was like a 88%, and I'm not an easy teacher.  For the final, I made them prove the Pythagorean theorem to me, FROM SCRATCH.  Ya, I'm that kind of evil.  But they did it, and they proved to me that UB students are the best on Pohnpei.  We also just had a goodbye dinner last night for Ben and me, and the UB staff was very nice by allowing us to run up the restaurant bill. They have always been a great resource great people to work with.  I will definitely miss them and keep in touch.

Everyone keeps asking me if I'm ready to leave.  I am.  I'm not.  Everyone keeps asking me if I'll come back to Pohnpei.  I might if I get a job offer.  It's a lot of things to consider, but no matter what the future holds for me (cue the soppy ending), here's what I do know:

I have had the adventure of a lifetime here on Pohnpei, and nothing can change that.

Would I choose to do Peace Corps again if I could go back and talk to myself?  Yes.  
Am I glad I did Peace Corps? Yes.
Am I ready to come home?  For a bit!

Here's to the amazing adventure and many more to come.  Drink up, and stay thirsty my friends.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

I am a Man With Some Short Pants and a Shoooooooort Jacket

Bum.  Bum, bum bum bum.  Bom bim bim do bom bom do.  If you're not singing Cake's "Short Skirt Long Jacket" by now, you're not my friend anymore.

As for the title, it's referring to my unusually short warm-ups that I'll be wearing for the Microgames.  Now although I won't be running, I will be coaching in style! Preparing for the flood style.  Damn my long leg genes!

The entire track team is now staying at one of the elementary schools on Pohnpei in order to create some team bonding before the Microgames start.  It's called "so-pene" which means to come together.  I've been asked if I'd like to "so-pene" with them, but Peace Corps rules and the desire to spend my last weeks with my host family are keeping the ball and chain still on my legs; my unusually long legs for Pohnpeian clothing standards...  Anyhow.  The team is still in good shape.  We're practicing two times per day: one easy stretching workout in the morning accompanied by a more hardcore long or short distance run in the evening.  But I, being the lazy coach out of the two (a very helpful Australian lady named Kerry is helping me coach), have decided and decreed out into the land that I shall not wake up at 5 a.m. to workout.  That, my friends, has been delegated to the woman who is more motivated and closer geographically to the elementary school.  For that, I owe her my life and probably my alarm clock.

I suspect that we'll perform well, but like everyone else, we're worried about the quality of athletes that will be landing from Guam.  I've heard the Herculean stories.  They've been to the real Olympics.  However, Coach Canfield don't give a damn!  Coach Canfield's athletes are going to rock the house.  Coach Canfield's story will be sold for movie rights to MGM soon after his journey!

Third person narration, done.  We're going to have a fun time representing Team Pohnpei.

Last night I got a glimpse into what life could/will be like in China.  My Chinese teacher invited me over to her family's apartment for food and drinks, more drinks than food to be quite honest.  The food was great, but the lesson in Chinese eating culture was even greater.  As I have done with every other first cultural eating encounter, I watch first, then eat.  [Side story: One time I went over to my friends house in Denver whose family is from Mexico.  I didn't know the proper eating etiquette, so I wanted to observe before making a fool of myself.  So my friend starts out by putting a tortilla into his left hand and just holding it there.  It idled for like 2 minutes.  So.... I did the same thing.  I held the tortilla, but I didn't do anything with it.  I my elbow started to hurt from it just resting on the table holding up that warm flat bread.  Finally, my friend asked me what the hell was I doing holding the tortilla.  I asked, "Isn't that what you were just doing?!"  He countered with a, "Yes, because I was preparing stuff to put into it."  In all, I thought I'd avoid making a fool of myself, but instead I tripped on the cultural rug and severely dented a "bozo" imprint into my forehead.]  Sometimes it ends up biting me in the ass, but this time it went well.  The part that was really interesting was the drinking.  They served me a type of liquor made from soga that went down smooth like a friendly vodka, if there ever was such a thing.  I thought the bottle would run out sooner, but it didn't.  I didn't get too sloshed, but let's say my Chinese was flowing pretty fluidly, and by fluidly I mean the words were bashing into each other quite un-respectfully of grammar.  So it was fun, and I came home reaking of delicious Chinese food and Culture; that's Culture with a Capital "C" for Crunk!  {ref: 2008}.

As my time on Pohnpei comes to a close, I tend to think back on all the experiences I've had.  I know that I have many stories and anecdotes to tell, but I keep forgetting them because a story isn't a story if it seems normal.  I feel that once I return to the U.S. and recognize how my life has been a girl named Abby Normal, I'll be able to appropriate reflect on my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I can't wait for that moment when I realize, "Wow.  I made it through, and what a Space Mountain it was."

16 days left, and every one of them is going to be a bittersweet goodbye.  (Note: I prefer milk chocolate.)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Guo lai ba!


Sort of.  I can feel the start of worrying about my trip back home.  It's like a crying baby at the back of an airplane when I'm sitting at the front.  I can't faintly hear its annoyance, but I'm able to put on my headphones and rock through the flight.  Soon enough though, that baby is going to be screaming and sitting in the seat right next to me.

It's only eventual, but for now I'm basking in the ignorant bliss of not thinking about July 30th.

How am I basking?  Well, literally this summer is going to be the hottest Pohnpei has seen in a while, so I'm partially cooking my beautiful pasty skin.  I'm also working for Upward Bound as a geometry teacher for high school juniors, and I must say I'm probably the coolest math teacher there ever was.

Ex. Did your teacher ever explain parallel lines to you like this:  a boyfriend and a girlfriend just broke up and they never want to see each other again.  So they make an agreement to always stay the same distance from each other on their lines they walk through town.  Hence, PARALLEL LINES!

Nothing can keep high school students more awake than faint references of dating the opposite sex; I use this to my advantage.

I'm also trying to crunch down on learning Chinese before I leave go in September, and I'm slowly improving.  Watching t.v. shows is going to hopefully boost my skills and increase my knowledge of soap operas.  Wo bu ai ni!

For now, this is all I can write.  Zai zhen, and I'll see you all soon!

Friday, June 20, 2014

30 Days Has September, April, June, and November

I keep having to sing that song to myself.  It reminds me, as it did in school, that June and many other months are too weak to have thirty-one days.  It reminds me that somewhere after June there's that dirty month of July, creeping and hiding behind.  In a way, the song reminds me of this: use your time wisely Nick.

Let's step into the looking glass for a second.  1/10 of a score and 12 days ago, my fore-self brought forth myself onto Pohnpei.  I can remember training as only a clear blur.  A clear and shitty blur; however, I made it though.

Yesterday I just had the opportunity to be an "Expert" on starting secondary sports activities.  The Peace Corps Trainees were eager to learn more about how to start their own sports journeys.  I presented my travels of flailing my way through my sports career here on Pohnpei while trying to play down the "Expert" title during the speech.  However much I would have loved to attach the Ex. onto the end of my name (I assume that's the "formal" abbreviated way.  Also, why am I using "quotations"?  Who knows?), I found myself utterly surprised by two things yesterday.  

One - I have become the Peace Corps Volunteers who I saw during training.  I give the same advice or what I hope to give: the lack thereof.  Being a Peace Corps Volunteer has been all about going the journey by myself [OF COURSE with the help of some nice care packages (:].  It has been about finding out about myself through trial and too much error.  It has been about learning culture by making cultural mistakes.  It has been about me throwing myself out there and seeing what sticks.

Two - I have thrown myself out there and seen what sticks.  I didn't practice my sports presentation before giving it, so I had NO idea of how it was going to go.  Some key comedic Power Point graphics were going to be mistimed.  Most of my dry sense of humor was going to be misunderstood.  Anyhow, I presented, and what I found myself saying a lot was something like this:
So I walked into the (insert place) looking to do (insert so-and-so activity) and I talked to (so-and-so person).  When I walked out, I was doing different than planned (so-and-so activity) with a new friend of (so-and-so person).
Yea.  That's basically how my Peace Corps service has gone.  Whatever I've expected to do has led me to a completely and totally unexpected place.

A totally awesome place.

Question: Have you read the book Yes Man?  If you've read the book, I hope you said, "YES!"  Although I'm no character to be played by Jim Carey, I was partially inspired by the book, and more importantly, I figured out that this whole Peace Corps thing has been a big Yes.  It's been a Yes that has opened a lot of doors through which I'll soon be walking, preferably with a beautiful asian girl waiting on the other side.  Oh dreams.... But, enough about asian girls.  The Yes to Peace Corps has then lead to a Yes to creating children's books, a Yes to learning a new language, a Yes to helping children, a Yes to some culturally scarring things, a Yes to a mind opening experience (other than LSD), and most importantly a Yes to a new me.

An intercultural bastard who's got the fever for more.

So enough with the liberal hippy conspiracy plot to make you join Peace Corps.  Let's get into what I've been doing.  If you're lucky, I might even drop you a bunch of pictures with cute foreign kids because let's be honest, that's really what you read my blog for right???  What's that Yes Man?


Zhongguo.  Chinese.  Tis' been a big topic for me in the past month.  Again, how did I get into this?

  1. I wanted to teach in Thailand.
  2. Couldn't because of timing.
  3. Went to the coconut processing plant on Pohnpei and met a Chinese woman.
  4. Started exchanging English for Chinese lessons.
  5. Her husband hooked me up with a job at a Chinese university, to which I declined, to which I found a new job.
  6. Started learning Chinese not for fun, but rather for future survival.
See the theme of throwing myself at things and getting not the expected result comes back again.  Damn.  So... Chinese has been fun.  I'm so lucky to have learned Pohnpeian before Chinese because, wow, it could not be any more different from English.  Four tones.  Very short one syllable words.  Pohnpeian has been like a middle step towards learning Chinese.  Oh, and also the intercultural exchange is great between the Chinese lady and me.  She's a university professor, and because of this we have very in depth intercultural discussion about our two countries.  She's planning to move to the U.S. with her family, so she wants to know everything about America before she goes.  Don't worry.  She now knows how to pronounce correctly

uh-MER-ih-cuh!  Or in shorthand, MER-cuh

My elementary school 6th graders just graduated.  They threw me a going away party filled with more sugar than Chris Christy's dialysis machine.  (Sorry.  It was the first celebrity fat person I thought of.  I sincerely apologize if Mr. Christy is not a type-2 dialysis patient.)  It was so sweet.  They gave me necklaces, fruits, and plenty of pictures to share.  Seeing them all speak English to me was getting me teary-eyed because at the start of the year that wouldn't have been the case.  Now, they smile when they speak English to me.  I'm going to miss my students, especially the good ones who made me things like comic books that I didn't ask for, who sang Aladdin's "A Whole New World" probably 100 times without cringing, and who smiled at my stupid English grammar jokes.

Student - "Teacher I'm finish!"     
Me - "Class, we have a brand new exchange student from Finland.  Please welcome him to the class!"
Student (smiling realizing he needs to say finished) - "I'm finishED." 

But now, whenever I ask them if they're done, they reply without me having to do the Finnish joke.  It's as if magically, through some spell, they've learned.

And seeing that on 100 little letters addressed to me on the last day of school melted my heart.

I'll post soon enough.  Until then, zai zhen, and here are some pictures

Holding my "beautiful" local basket.
Camp GLOW swimming time.
Camp GLOW girls hanging around.
But first, let me take a selfie.
8th grade graduation practice.  They literally practice for two weeks every day.
Ms. Sophia and Dina
One of these girls will rule the F.S.M. in the future.  I know it.
My students gave me three plates full of chips, donuts, and ice cream.  Diabetes anyone?
Island style.

Here's the cute kids pictures.
Told ya.  :)

Friday, May 2, 2014

90 Days and Airbags

I always thought starting something would be the hardest part.  Finishing should easy, right?  It's kind of like when you're on a bike; the initial force you put into the bike will transfer into inertia and carry you across the finish.  You'll look back on that start and laugh a little.  At the finish, you'll be laughing at the amount of sweat resting on your brow and drenching your socks.  Fun, sweaty, and a hell of a ride.  Similar to other activities.  [That's what she said.]

Well.  Peace Corps must be like trying to stop a moving bike going 100 miles per hour down a hill.

I can not imagine being paid for work anymore.  I can't imagine getting a "real job", 9-5, grinding away for GDP/capita stats.  I can't imagine scarfing down a Chick Fil A sandwich in Denver when I land.  I am scared of Americans joking about my eyebrows when they fly upwards to answer a "yes/no" question.  I abhor the thought of finding myself drowning in a sea of Iphones.  Nightmares of paying sales taxes swim in and out of my daydreams.  Food choices, in their multitude of options, I feel, will cause me to clam up in grocery stores.  My volunteer spirit is flying at 100 mph through multiple projects trying to find somewhere of meaning to stick to before I leave.  These things, and many more, are officially starting to cause excrement to end up in my hypothetical pants.

I'm starting to send the signal to my hands to slam on the brakes, but I somewhat feel it might be better to fly over the handle bars and back broken, a new man, into the non-Peace Corps life. 


I've been attempting to find ways to brace for the crash coming on July 31st.  I've come up with some air bags to cushion my fall.

1. Detachment - I'm hesitant to say I want to detach, because seriously, what empathetic person wants to detach from others?  Well, here's my logic: the more attached I am to my life and locals here the more it's going to hurt when I leave.  My strategy: slowly ease my way down to less social activities as my plane flight gets closer.  It's partially a stupid plan, but I think it's a partially necessary one.

2. Goodbyes - I plan to save these for the last two days.  Avoiding awkward quadruple goodbyes has always been a high priority in my life.  Two, maximum.  Anymore and I feel like I'm saving coupons for food I'm never going to purchase.  <- see #3

3. Failing to use sarcasm again - Sarcasm is the language of love.  I miss that shit.  Being here in Pohnpei has caused my vocabulary, and hence my plethora of puns, to fade into the void between the couch cushions.  They're hard to find, especially when you've had some nasty guests siting on and stinking up the fabric.   So, as to not be hitting a handicap when I tee off at the American Sarcasm Open, I'm trying to work that sense of humor back into my everyday life.  This post is not an exception.  If you look hard, and trust me I know you will, you'll find a heaping pus load of literary Easter eggs.

4. Using Pohnpeian as if it were a Digipet in 2001 - I'm trying to make sure I've got this language down.  My hope one day, if possible, is to have a secret language with my children.  Advantages: I can scold them in public with little social consequence.  Disadvantages: children screaming "OHSA" down the cereal isle.  Meh... I can deal with cereal killers.  Also I believe that once my beautiful children have become trilingual by the time they're 10, learned all of Mozart's concertos on the recorder by heart, successfully contemplated the Iraq War, and found Carmin Sandiego (take a breath here, there's more sentence to come) they will truly be ready for a more globalized world.  And, maybe, just maybe, I'll have a beautiful personal connection with my children that only we will share.  :)

5. Slowly deploying for employment - China is a freshly plucked chicken waiting to be cooked.  I intend to woo the chicken into the pot, make it give me approximately $1200/month (plus apartment), teach me Chinese, and not scream too much in the process.  It will be a wonderful relationship, chicken and I. Reference - Chinese Chicken song.  Go ahead.  Have a drumstick and your brain starts __________.

6. Tickling my students vocal chords - It's not what you think.  I promise!  But seriously, and slightly connected to this subtitle, I have been teaching my students how to stumble through Disney songs.  I just made the boys and girls do a duet to "Whole New World".  Let's just say my life has taken on a new fantastic point of view listening to my students rock these songs.

7. Enjoying every sunrise, every sunset, and every moment.

90 days.  Wasn't there a movie about changing your life or something in 90 days? 

Well.  Here's to making sure this life, this awesome volunteering life I'm cherishing right now, will never escape the cytoplasm of my cerebellum. 

Life is good.

Enjoy the pictures.

 Movie night with the fam.  Happiness included.

 Our group was not complete without the wooden shark on the airplane.

 Ran Annim (Hello)

 You're not official til' you're got shirts.

 Receiving my COS certificate.
 The track seems ready for the Microgames in 80 days, right?  Socchi anyone?


Saturday, March 22, 2014

In My Mind I'm Gone to Southeast Asia (Sorry James Taylor for ripping your song)

I'm applying for jobs; not just any old jobs.  Jobs that are filled with noodles, nice people, and beautiful women.  Yep.  I'm going to Southeast Asia.  When?  Hopefully sometime in September.  I want to have a little bit of relaxing/cool down from a two year stint here, but after about a month I'm going to get wanderlust again.  I believe working in Asia will cool down the lust, for a while... 

Schoolwise it's like I've been a hotel.  I've checked out.  I still care about the kids, but I've definitely noticed that the amount of effort I'm willing to put into the school has decreased.  Maybe I'm just lazy.  Maybe I'm full of teaching kids again and again the difference between P and B.  Who knows...  

COS (Close of Service) conference is coming in one month.  It'll be good to see all the volunteers from all across Micronesia before we all go our separate ways.  

I recently (just today actually) started taking Chinese lessons from a friend I met on the island.  She's from the northern part of China, and she's willing to exchange Chinese lessons for English lessons.  So today I got schooled in the 4 tones of Chinese, and holy crap it's tough.  She wants her son to learn better English, so his lessons will be playing sessions with me and the two American kids from down the street.  Pretty sweet deal, right?

This post is pretty boring.  Shit.  How do I make it better?  

Photo bomb.
This is our new ping pong table.  It's pretty tight.

Dunkin Donuts coffee, donuts, and cake.  Healthy dohlul!

Teacher Joe working.

The horrible bluegrass vocalist Christian DVD that I've seen thousands of times here.

Kill me now...

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sweat. A Sting Ray. The Final Stretch.

Holy (insert your religious person's name here)!  It's hot.  I've come up with a new measuring system for hot it is.  I measure by the ounces of sweat I produce in a given time.  It's called the Nickiometer.  Let's say I sweat 2 ounces in 30 minutes.  2/30 = .067ounces/minute, or for the international people out there 1.98mL/minute.  The more sweat/minute, the hotter it is.  I've created this scale to emphasize how damn hot it is.  95 degrees Fahrenheit doesn't do it justice.  Sweat/minute does.

The latest news has been my changing host families in the past two weeks.  I changed host families due to some recent incidents at my house and because I believed it would be the best for me, and my old host family, to go our separate ways.  I love them, but the situation is better now that we've gone apart.  My new host family is amazing.  There's five of us (plus the extras who pop in all the time :)  ).  I play ping pong with my new thirteen year old host brother, and we're also planning to do a lot more fishing in the months to come; 5 months to be exact.  Last time we went on Sunday, a sting ray, yes, like the one that killed Steve Irwin, went right under our bamboo raft; mind you, we're directly in the water as in our raft barely separates our butts from the water.  Soo cool though to see a deadly animal just gracefully fly under your unprotected feet.  Subject change.  There's also two adorable half Pohnpeian half American kids who live next door who frequent our house.  At first they were very shy, but now they're asking me soooo many questions and wanting to play ping pong.  It's really cool how they're both fluent in English and Pohnpeian, so it's cool to be able to use both with them interchangeably and them not miss a beat.  My Nohno and Pahpa are really good people.  They love their movies, and we chit chat all the time.  Pahpa was a carpenter before he had a stroke, and Nohno has been the upkeeper of the apartment that they rent out, which by the way is my new home.

My new place is so cool.  It's out of this world.  I have an entire building to myself.  TO.  MY.  SELF.  Pants are entirely optional.  Singing embarrasing songs is required.  It's kind of amazing to have my own place but at the same time be right next door to my family.  It couldn't be a better set up.  BathroomS (yes, capital S for multiple bathrooms).  Kitchen.  Dining room.  Living room.  Balcony.  It's real life, and it's amazing.

This is the part where the song quiets down a bit after that pretty upbeat chorus right there.  We'll call this part the bridge of my blog post.  5 months.  I have 5 months until I leave Pohnpei.  August 19th is the day I hop on the plane.  I can't believe I've been here for only a year and seven months.  It sometimes feels like it's been longer, and very few times it feels too short.  I'm starting to look for jobs/experiences to do after Peace Corps, and my eyes are glued to Asian (mostly Thailand/China/Phillipines.  You know... Jobs.  Food.  Women.  They've got all my favorite types of each. (oh, long parenthesis exert you say?  How about I blow your mind (By really blowing your mind!) ) )  <-- I bet you've never been triple parenthesisied before, have you?

You're welcome.

In all, the next 5 months I hope will be nothing but amazing.  School is going great.  Secondary projects like coaching are hopping.  Job hunting is just about to commence.  Sweat to be sweated.

It's the Final Stretch.  Cue the Final Countdown Song.

Wo hai ni men.

- Nick

My private bathroom.

Living room.

Working those triceps.

Marbles has taken Pohnpei by storm.  Every boy plays it now.

My morning view does not suck.

Molly and the story she made for me personally.

Apparently I can't be Nick AND and an English teacher.  I don't mind.  I'll take either one.

She caught the men wai!  My host sister.

Apparently she doesn't like my bait.

Yes, I watched the Letter Factory video.  We made some pretty good "S"s.


Watch out!

Imagine a deadly sting ray flying underneath this.  Would you pee your pants?  Would you be greatful that your pants were already in the water so that you could pee in them?