Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The First 24 Hours on Yap

March 13, 2011(middle of the night): Landing on Yap

As the plane slammed down on the tarmac (to the point that I was surprised the wheels could bear it) and immediately braked to the point that passengers were whip lashed forward, we knew we had arrived on Yap. Apparently, the runway is so short that the 737 is forced to take this drastic approach. As we exited the plane to walk across the runway, we noticed the lights flashing on an emergency vehicle. I joked that they anticipated a crash when they saw our abrupt landing, but sadly, I was later informed it was because a child in the “outer islands” had died and was being returned to Yap. Apparently, the very small child was flown to the Philippines in an attempt to secure medical treatment, but it was too late. As we went through customs, there was a Yapese young woman in traditional dress (bright colored grass skirt, no shirt) greeting each passenger with a lei. We were in the very back of the line which was moving very slowly. There was one line that was for locals that was soon empty. The customs official motioned for the next person to move to the “local” line. A man and I simultaneously moved to the free line. He kindly motioned me to continue and he remained in the “visitor” line. As Eric and I quickly made it through the “local” line, I realized that the leis were only given to those in the visitor line. Drat! I should have allowed the man to go first! “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Sigh . . . lesson learned! As we then waited for our luggage to be taken off the plane, I enviously eyed all the leis the guests were wearing, and tried not to stare at the men wearing “thus” (pronounced “thooz”, and
Thuw (thoo) and man's purse
 similar to what American Indians wore). Finally, luggage in tow, we meandered to the front of the air terminal, where we were greeted with beautiful flowered head leis by Pastor Ruda, his son, his daughter, and son-in-law (all graduates of PIU).

They kindly drove us the short distance to the apartment we were to stay in. I was surprised that once we arrived, even though it was about 1:00 a.m., Pastor Ruda didn’t quickly leave, though he had three church services to attend the following day. Instead, he sat down on the couch in our apartment and talked for about 30 minutes. It’s times like these that I am reminded of the stark differences between Micronesian and American culture. I’m sure Pastor Ruda was tired and concerned about all the tasks he needed to face in a matter of hours, but he was more concerned with “being” with us, people he didn’t even know. It took a while to fall asleep because of the heat, but as I eventually drifted off to sleep, I remembered I had forgotten my toothbrush……………..

March 13, 2011 (afternoon): In Search of a Toothbrush 
Once awake, I was on a mission to purchase a toothbrush and Eric recalled he had forgotten his contact lens solution. We began the short trek to a local market while I mumbled about the merits of topless dress given the extreme heat and humidity on Yap (Yes, unbelievable, it is hotter than Guam – we’re about 9 degrees north of the equator!). Searching the shelves I located a toothbrush, but certainly no contact lens solution. The proprietor had no idea what contact lenses were, let alone the solution. Eventually, we made our way to the ESA Hotel, which is owned by the parents of one of our students. We enjoyed delicious yellow fin tuna sandwiches, cabbage salad and papaya. We then dripped our way back to our accommodations and I checked to see if there was any way I could fit into the freezer. Just as we cooled off, it was time to head out and experience traditional Yap.

Yap has a cast system, and there are many social rules. One cannot simply enter a village on the island without permission from the chief or without an approved escort. Therefore, we were ecstatic when we were informed that a village on the south tip was going to present their local dance and Pastor Ruda offered to escort us. Upon our arrival, Pastor Ruda immediately tore a small limb off a tree to hold in his hand. It was then that I noticed that everyone who was not from the village was either holding a “men’s purse” (see picture) or a small leafy limb. Apparently, it is

Men's Purse
 rude to come into someone’s village without leaves or a special purse in your hand; in fact, visitors have to hold the little sapling with the broken-off part pointed forward. The dance was held in front of the men’s house (a place where village MEN gather), and was performed by the men of the

village. Interestingly, at one point, a large group of women bearing gifts circled the men multiple times, leaving gifts beside each performer. The most common gifts were beer and hard liquor. There were also gifts of candy, crackers, and homemade rolls. Some of the women even approached me and gave me a “lei” of homemade rolls and donuts. 

Notice the roll/donut lei
  Later Eric and I were both given leis for our heads and when I asked why us, it was suggested that because Pastor Ruda is considered high cast, the villagers were honoring his guests.

 March 13, 2011 (Evening): Preaching to Dogs

Sadly, Pastor Ruda is the only Protestant, full-time pastor on Yap. He pastors three churches and helps out in two others. Pastor Ruda, who is actually Chuukese, came to Yap as a missionary in 1989. He is from the outer islands of Chuuk, and his language is similar to the outer islanders of Yap—about 60% overlap. However, his language is COMPLETELY dissimilar to the main language of Yap, and he has no ability to speak the main language. Therefore, he preaches for four very distinct congregations: 1) Two Yapese congregations where someone translates his sermon into the main Yapese language. 2) An outer island Yapese congregation wherein he speaks Chuukese and the parishioners understand 60% of what he says. 3) A Palauan congregation where someone translates his sermon into Palauan. 4) A Yapese, English-speaking congregation. It is this fourth group to which Eric was asked to speak. As we gathered, mats were placed on the concrete floor for people to sit (as is traditional). To my relief, they also brought in some chairs. No sooner had the singing begun, than a stray dog entered and made itself comfortable on one of the mats. Apparently, the mongrel is a regular at this evening service! It was a joy to watch as PIU students led the singing, helped with the children, organized the service, etc. Then, as Charity drove us home, we passed a lit up building and we were surprised to see Mac, another PIU graduate, leading a Bible study. Charity informed us that Mac is the first missionary sent from Palau to work in Yap. As we lay down to sleep that night, Eric and I reflected on the joy that we both felt at being involved at PIU because we were witnessing, first-hand, the impact PIU is having throughout Micronesia.


Jo A. said...

I love those colorful mats - so pretty. Eric looks good in a flower head lei and you look stunning with those rolls around your neck! Dale and I wondered if the tsunami from Japan affected Micronesia at all. Much love to you all.

Eric and Karyn Sorenson said...

Jo, we are EXTREMELY grateful that the tsunami did not (except for the fear and preparation BEFORE the tsunami was suppose to hit) affect Guam.