Today was UNREAL. We started the day with class (of course), and we talked about the importance of different politics and political systems in globalization. It was interesting because, as anthropology students (and as a budding anthropologist myself), politics is just another part of studying cultures.
After class, we all piled into our two vans (we’ve now dubbed them the Red Baron and the Green Hornet) and headed back up near Ngerchelong to where the Ngardmau waterfall is located. We got there, and it was a short hike down into the falls. It was so beautiful. We had the chance to zipline while we were there, and about 6 students did that. I got some great pictures of them, they looked like they had so much fun even though they were all pretty scared!
We continued the hike down, and it was a little terrifying. A bunch of people kept slipping and sliding on the rocks down into the falls. We found a really cool swimming hole with a mini waterfall, so we took a break there to swim around a bit before we made it to the big waterfall. Once we did make it (across a scary bridge!)…it was amazing. My mind was so blown. There were rocks to sit on underneath the water and we all just hung out (of course, had a photo shoot), and got to lie in the sun.
One the way up from the waterfalls, a few of us rode this monorail. It was so weird! It was this little mini train that literally moved slower than the others who were walking to the top! It was cute, though, and fun to be able to take some cool pictures.
After the waterfall, we drove what’s called the “Ring Road” on the way to the Palauan capitol. It was beautiful! They views of the tropical jungles and ocean were so amazing. The capitol was incredible, too. We got to walk around and it was so strange how there was no security or anything. We just roamed the grounds and checked everything out. The building was huge, and had domes and columns reminiscent of the typical U.S. capitol building, and yet had tiles with intricate tribal designs and traditional ideas.
Today was so fun. After reflection, we were all so exhausted! We all got together in Morgan and my room to play some more Mafia together, but then we all couldn’t wait to pass out.
Tomorrow is our free day. We have Sundays off from class and work and stuff, so half the group is going on a guided kayak tour through the Rock Islands. The rest of us are going to one of the local resorts. It has a beach and a pool and a Jacuzzi, so we’re pretty excited to check it out and relax.
Still loving every second of being here!
Today started off perfectly. As many of you are dying to know, I’m sure, Morgan and I found real coffee! We went to Best Coffee and Donut House, a place off the main road that was scoped by our comrades earlier in the week. We begged them to show us and of course, they obliged. It was delicious. We had great coffee and there were so many donuts and bagels to choose from.
While we waited for Chad to return from his radio interview (they organized a chat about nutrition and food security and had Chad on there with three local high school students to talk about the work we’re doing here…so now he’s famous), we all sat outside and played this game called Mafia. Even Kelly was into it! It sounds really weird (because it is), but basically people get killed and we have to figure out who did it. It’s really fun and involves a lot of story telling, which is great for an outrageous group like this.
After that, it was time for class. Our readings for the day were mostly about interviewing techniques. Since next Wednesday and Thursday will consist of going into randomly selected homes in our two study sites (Ngerchelong, the one we mapped a couple days ago, and Ngerbeched, which you’ll read more on in a bit), we clearly need to make sure we’re all on the same page and well trained to conduct the interview using the instrument that Chad and his URAP scholar Nathan (who is also on the trip) constructed. We also read an interesting piece about expired foods that are being sent to Palau (this is more a thing of the past few decades, but still happens today). I’m getting really excited about the interviews; I think everyone else is, too.
Once class was over, it was time for a meeting with the executive director of Ulkerruil A Klengar (UAK) about Palauan life and traditional culture. He was extremely knowledgeable and fielded our questions effortlessly. He talked to us about what he believed was the key to maintaining the Palauan identity: language. I found it interesting to note, however, that he also said it was one of the main cultural elements being lost among Palauan youth. He discussed some of the ways he was trying to combat this as well.
During the discussion, another man who was a teacher at the local high school came to ask/answer some questions with us. He said he had some questions he wanted to ask, and he said, “those burning words…the declaration of independence…is that still important to you?” Woah. Talk about critical thinking. I immediately started to tear up, and our group all had a lot of varied but well thought out responses. Honestly though, I had never really been forced to think of things this way.
“We want to embrace the U.S.’ level of idealism, these are supposed to be your burning, guiding principles. Do you still feel this way?” he asked. He also forced us to answer even more tough questions, about American individualism vs. nationalism and asked us what preoccupies us as Americans. Seriously? My brain hurt, but in a good way.
I came here to experience another culture, and help people, and get experience that I can’t get in the states, and already, less that halfway through the trip, I feel like I’ve been helped more than I could ever have imagined. I feel like I have so much more to bring back to the states with me than I could ever have brought here.
He also had some interesting things to say about our research. He said that within a country, often what unifies people is a common enemy. “We have a real enemy,” he said, “our unifying element in Palau is NCD [noncommunicable disease]”. He said that Palau was a collective society. “I don’t have a position in my clan—I have the clan’s position”. He was an extremely interesting guy, as was the executive director of UAK, and I feel so blown away by their comments and ideas.
After the meeting we had to map our second study site, a neighborhood in Koror called Ngerbeched. The weather was beautiful (not quite as wet as last time), so it went pretty quickly. So many locals were coming out of their houses and asking us about the work we were doing, and they seemed really excited to meet us. A lot of them had a lot of things to say when we mentioned we were looking at nutrition and NCD’s. I think the interviews will yield a lot of insight; people seem anxious to share their thoughts.
After dinner, a group of us went to a new Italian restaurant for dinner. The food was great, but the coolest thing happened as we were leaving. The restaurant was staffed almost entirely by people about our age, and as we were leaving, one of the waiters, Adrian, approached us. “Excuse me,” he asked nervously. “Are you guys the college students from that school in the U.S.?” We told him we were, and he absolutely lit up. “I’m so excited to meet you!” He was a student at Palau Community College, and he was genuinely thrilled to talk to us. He told us he had a lot of questions for us and asked us if he could come talk to us at PCC sometime. I hope he does!
Now, more readings and prep for tomorrow. Tomorrow we hike up to Ngardmau waterfall, which is supposed to be beautiful. I can’t wait to swim and sit in the sunshine!
Read more about our amazing visit with the ambassador! She was such a wonderful woman!
So, after being without internet for two days (the horror!), I posted Day 3 earlier, and now here’s Day 4. I slept through the night last night, and woke up at 7am instead of 4am, so I feel pretty good about that!
The day started early with us hopping on a boat to the island of Peleliu. The boat ride was about an hour long, and was absolutely beautiful. We rode through the electric blue ocean and all of our jaws were dropped. “I think we all died on the plane to Tokyo and this is actually heaven, because no way this is real”, remarked Dustin during the trip. Definitely one of the more accurate ways I’ve heard to describe how amazing it is here. We rode past the Rock Islands, the famously beautiful group of islands in the middle of the Pacific ocean that make Palau such a wonderful destination for divers.
We also got to see where they filmed season 10 of Survivor, which took place in Palau. Once the boat reached Peleliu, we where whisked away in a tour bus. Our tour guides, Botto (I may be spelling that wrong) and Tangie, were absolutely wonderful. As I mentioned, Peleliu is famous for its historic battle sites, as the Americans stormed the beach of Peleliu in an attempt to attack the Japanese, who were dug in there for quite some time at that point. There were old tanks everywhere, and we were able to climb all over them and hop in them an everything (our tour guide even told Marshall to sit INSIDE the tank. Who does that?!). Definitely not something you’d be able to do at any historic site in the states.
We saw all these old Japanese bunkers, many with huge holes blasted through them. It was really incredible. Tangie is the foremost expert on all things Peleliu, so it was so fortunate that we could have him with us. He told us so much about Palauan culture before and after WWII, and shared all sorts of stories with us about the war. We visited Orange Beach, the beach that the Americans came in on. We also saw the 1st Marine Corps Division memorial site, where there were wonderful monuments, ruins of a chapel, and beautiful plants spelling out “USA”.
Thousands and thousands of lives were lost in this engagement, both Japanese and American. It was amazing to see how they respected and were so appreciative of the Americans for coming in during the war. “The Americans are our heroes,” said Botto. It made me feel pretty “slimey”, as Chad would say, that they are so conscious and aware and reverent of America, while the insane majority of Americans have never even heard of Palau or have any idea about the battle of Peleliu.
After visiting countless wonderful battle sites, it was time for swimming. We were going to go snorkeling, but we’re doing that in 11 days and permits are only good for 10, so it wasn’t worth it. Instead, we pulled up to this incredible swimming hole. It looked small and not very promising at first, but when we walked up to it and looked down the 10 foot drop to the cool, blue water, we knew we had struck gold.
Once down inside the whole, there were caves with stalactites and stalagmites that we could explore and goof off in (something this group of people is extremely good at). It was amazing. I was terrified to jump at first, but I was so glad I did. The water was perfect and salty and we had so much fun. Definitely my favorite memory of the trip so far (and it’s only day 4!).
After all of the excitement, we embarked on the boat trip back home, which of course was just as breathtaking as the trip out. We headed back to the hotel for class, where we talked about our assigned readings on globalization and its effects on global and local economies, etc. I learned that Palau’s GDP is about 170 million dollars a year, and their debt is about 12.7% of that. Not great, but certainly not as bad as other countries. With a projected 150,000 people coming into the country each year as tourists (literally over 7 times the country’s population), the Palauan economy is sufficient but not ideal. Minimum wage here is about $2.50 (Palau uses the U.S. dollar for currency). Then, we headed to Rock Island Café for dinner, and Morgan and I stocked up on more water and canned coffee, which we can never have enough of. On deck is more reading for tomorrow’s class.
Tomorrow is going to be another jam packed day; we’ll be up in the morning for class time, followed by more community mapping of our other study location (a neighborhood very close by to the hotel). Then we have a meeting with a wonderful dude about Palauan culture. I’m super excited.
Hopefully we’ll have a little downtime in the afternoon; I’m starting to feel like a Palau robot. It’d be great to have awhile to nap and watch TV (weird Australian versions of TLC and the Style Network, but still).