Back to School

I’m still in Kosrae. This week marks the sixth month that I’ve been “marooned” on this tiny island in the South Pacific. Since arriving here in March, I’ve been volunteering on environmental projects at KIRMA, KHPO and KSCO. Now, I’m teaching Algebra, Geometry, Chemistry and Earth Sciences at Kosrae’s high school.

Here are some of my students. They’re seniors. They were all born here on Kosrae. Most have never left this island. They hope to go to college — maybe even in Hawaii or the continental United States. My job is to help them prepare for their SATs and their entrance exams.

Our school is next to Lelu’s harbor. There is no air conditioning, but we have an electric fan. The tradewinds blowing across the water give us cooling breezes in the afternoons.

Conveniently, the school is a 12-minute walk from my apartment. At low tide, I walk along this beach to get to class.

Meanwhile, I’ve been participating in all the local festivals and events. This past week, we celebrated Liberation Day. On September 2, 1945, Japan ended the War of the Pacific by surrendering to the Americans. Six days later, Kosrae received this wonderful news. (This 6-day delay is an indication of just how isolated Kosrae has always been.) Kosraeans celebrate September 8 as the anniversary of their freedom from Japanese occupation forces. To commemorate this event, all 6000 Kosraeans gather for speeches, music, picnics and games.

This year being the 75th anniversary, the island threw a two-day party. For the picnics, there were good old traditional games like musical chairs. Click the video below to see how much fun the Kosraeans had at their party. Someday, when the Coronavirus has been eradicated, maybe you can do this at your next garden party. (Only one chair was broken.)

Having academic colleagues is one of the benefits of working at a school. One of my fellow teachers, named Martin, invited me for dinner Tuesday night. He cooked a traditional Kosraean feast, including a whole pig covered in banana leaves and roasted over a bed of hot coals.

After cooking the pig for several hours, Martin pulled the tender meat off the carcass and put it into a big wooden trough. I helped him hoist our meal into the back of his pickup. We covered it with banana leaves for the drive back to the house where we had our feast.

Summer brings fewer Pacific storms and less surf in Kosrae. This means that the underwater visibility is especially good this time of year. When I walk home after class, I sometimes stop off at the reef for a quick swim to cool down. I use this time to think about what I’ll teach tomorrow.

I’ve agreed to teach for the entire fall semester, with an option to continue through the spring term. My students like me. This is satisfying and worthwhile work. I have wonderful people to work with. Given the current state of the world — and the severe limitations on travel — I’m in no hurry to leave here. It looks like Kosrae is going to be home for at least four more months, and maybe longer. I’ll keep you posted on how things go.