Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Running Out of Water

Early last week there was a report in the Okinawan newspaper that Zamami has enough water left behind its dam to support the village for 40 more days. Aka has 30 days. We are ten days into those estimates with little rain to replenish the losses. We've been on rationing for at least 4-5 months, which means the water is shut off every day from 8pm to 8am. But most people have tanks installed on their roofs that fill up with water when it's on, then allow usage when it's off. As far as I can tell, rationing only affects a few households, some public facilities, and leaks in the system.

Aka has two dams and one was rumored to be empty so I kayaked over yesterday to take a look. I was surprised to find construction workers with lots of heavy equipment (that they must have brought in off a barge onto the beach, then built a road from the beach to the dam). It was really smart what they were doing, dredging out the floor of the dam while it's empty.

[the rear end of the dam - mostly dry]

I don't know what the plan is when we get closer to death. I've heard trucks full of water will come out on our ferry to be emptied behind the dam. We'd need a lot of trucks every day to support 600 people and tourists. On Aka they experimented with a 36-hour water turnoff last Thursday/Friday. This is the typhoon season (with no typhoons yet), so I think the main strategy is just to hope for rain.

[Zamami's dam - not much left]

[the floodplain below Zamami's dam, the village is around the corner to the left]

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Visit Up North

I was finally able to string together a few days away from my busy life of fishing and running on Zamami to go visit Cliff and Vaughn in northern Okinawa. The goal of the trip was to see their houses and lives in their semi-remote villages. But the alternative - and ultimately successful - goal of the long weekend was to hang out with some Japanese girls who are friends of Cliff.

[Cliff's getting hungry again]

We never made it to their villages, but I did get plenty of fodder to re-ignite thinking about women in my life. In an attempt to avoid falling into a life of comfortable monotony I often consider how well my life is set up now: most of my hobbies are satisfied and I've got a beautiful location, a fun job, and a good network of people around me. But the nature of an island with 600 people leaves a small population of women to choose from. I've never been dependent on a girlfriend, but I will usually admit that having a gal around would be nice.

[me, Cliff, Vaughn]

So it was after spending a couple days with three great girls that I found myself pondering whether a move to a city would increase my chances. And then I progressed to the next natural thought: would I give up the life I have now (of which 90% of its greatness is because on the remote location) to move to a place with greater population density to increase my girl chances? Of course the answer is "no". But that doesn't solve my singleness, it only affirms that my priorities lie with the rest of my life. I don't know what will make me happier in the long run?

(I realize I am drawing a line in the sand between 'living in a remote, beautiful place' and 'girls', as though they can't be in the same place. But for the ten years of my adult life that's the only way it's been.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mella's Ngasech, Part Three

[this belt is made of Hawksbill turtle shell]

Friday, September 18, 2009

"Centenarians Club Now At Record Levels"

[Edit: typo fixed. Thanks Vaughn.]

Okinawa is known for old people. When a 115-year-old woman in L.A. died last week, an Okinawan stepped into "oldest living person" status (I checked Wikipedia and she leads second place by seven days!). Here is a news story I found on today about Okinawa's centenarians:

The oldest woman in the world is 114, and she lives in Okinawa, one of 928 who’ve achieved entry to the Centenarians Club.

It’s a record number, says the Okinawa Prefecture Aged People Welfare Nursing Care section, adding that the number has been growing every year since 1972. Not only is the world’s longest living person an Okinawan, but the oldest living man in Okinawa is Makachi Nakanishi, a 107-year-old living in Urasoe City.

Another two people are 111; they live in Okinawa City and Yonabaru Town. Another three are 110, five are 109, five are 108. Interestingly, says the prefecture, all are women. Governor Hirokazu Nakaima plans to hold a ceremony honoring all centenarians, presenting both awards and presents. The activities are slated during next week’s Respect for the Aged national Japanese holiday.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Geruma Undokai (Sports Day), 2009

When I started learning eisa drumming 1.5 years ago, I had a goal of eventually participating in Geruma's Undokai. Geruma is such a small school that the teachers are required to do the eisa dancing so there are enough people to make it meaningful. There's something to be said for learning the songs and participating with the school, but there's also something to be said for not sitting on the sidelines during all the practices and rehearsals. The experience was great and I am glad I spent all the extra time - the last week of my summer vacation and nights in my apartment practicing along to videos - to be a real member of Geruma's Undokai this year.

The videos below show the four songs we performed, including the entrance at the beginning. Unfortunately the memory card filled up during the last song. There's a lot of video here and I don't recommend watching it all unless you are my parents or you really like this stuff. I recommend videos two and/or three as my favorite songs.

During video two I'm in the center position. In video three I move to the camera-right side of the circle and work towards the camera. In video four I'm the adult closest to the camera.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Coconut Crab (やしがに)

Learning to handle crabs during my stint in Peace Corps turned out to be a pretty valuable life skill. I've since used it in the Caribbean and here in Japan, as well as during this most recent trip back to Palau. During that trip I learned something I didn't pick up the first time around: how to handle coconut crabs. Coconut crabs are sort of a different ballgame because their pincers can actually take your finger off (I mean break it, then pull it off). Their name is derived from one of their sources of food: they'll climb a coconut tree, snip off the coconut, climb back down, find the coconut, bore a hole into it, then eat it.

So yesterday I was at the beach and I happened to be looking under a big log when I saw this guy. We both realized simultaneously that he was not in optimal positioning and we each reacted quickly. I went over the log and swiped the brush out of the way while grabbing a stick to use for distraction. He tried and failed to back up against something which would keep his pincers between me and his back. I intended to just reach in and grab him, but he got ahold of my 'distraction stick' and I just lifted him up and out.

I only wanted a picture of him at the time, but when I took my camera out the memory card was full with undeletable material. So I figured I better bring him home. I showed him around the school and to all the people who would think it was cool before taking him back to the same beach and releasing him today.

He's really a big crab and I did contemplate eating him. But I ate the last big coconut crab I caught on Zamami (two years ago) and felt a little bad afterwards. After some internet research I found out that crabs this size are probably 6-7 years old. And the meat provided isn't even enough for one meal. It's good, but not worth the time it took him to get that big.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mella's Ngasech, Part Two

I will cover Mella's Ngasech, but I will try not to duplicate most of the things you learned two weeks ago with the posts about Emadch's ceremony.

[This was Mella's baby, only three weeks old. It often had that 'deer in headlights' look]

[the raw materials for skirt-making]

[the young girls made their own skirts]

I think this was a block of dried ginger that the ladies used to mix with coconut oil to get the final oil product that is spread on the mother and girls. While ginger and coconut oil are used all nine days of the ceremony, I think this block (which took a lot of work to make) was only used on the actual day of the ngasech. And it might have been used only in the oil which was applied to the mother.

[mixing the oil]

[one of many varieties of Bird of Paradise flowers in Palau]


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mella's Ngasech

Mella is another member of Emadch's family and it just happened that she also had her first baby during the past couple months. Since many relatives were coming in from New York for Emadch's ceremony, the family decided to do the ngasechs on back-to-back weekends. Vaughn and I timed our tickets perfectly to catch them both.

Every morning for the nine days of baths, the 20-25 people helping with the ceremony preparations get a nicely prepared breakfast. Vaughn and I thought it our best opportunity to make a contribution, so we purchased lots of ingredients to make vanilla French toast, melon, and a vegetable/ham/egg scramble. Everything went pretty stress-free, helped a lot by the women who make the breakfast every day and know what needs to be done when and where they can chip in. It was actually quite fun.

[the ladies eating our breakfast and telling us it was good]

Here's a video I took of these guys husking coconuts. I mentioned during the kayak trip that it can be hard to get into a coconut if you don't have the right tools. This is an example of how easy it can be if you do have the right tool: (45 seconds)

Storyboards are Palau's signature souvenir. They each tell a traditional Palauan story from start to finish on one board (without panels). Storyboards have really turned into a big business, complete with a staffed store at the jail. Prisoners have lots of time on their hands, so they have cultured this business into a real money-maker. (No, the irony of giving prisoners access to wood-cutting machinery and hand tools is not lost on me.) Small storyboards go for $50 while big ones will easily go into the thousands. The boards pictured here would be in the $100-200 range.

When I was in Palau five years ago I needed to have some storyboards made as wedding presents. I asked around and this family recommended one of their family members who was in jail for life after a murder conviction. He did a great job for me and I never thought much more of him.
But then I saw him walking around the house during preparations for the ceremony. I wasn't sure of the questioning etiquette, so I just went forth with it to my friend Emadch: "Isn't Sam supposed to be serving a life sentence for murder?"
Emadch: "yes, but he got pardoned by the last president."
Ah yes, pardons!

[completed, just needs to be stained]