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!