As the end of my tenure as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Micronesia draws rapidly to a close—November 4th undergoing the miraculous process of transforming itself from long-awaited, much anticipated day, into living, breathing reality—many an hour have found me in a pensive mood, poring over volumes of long-forgotten lore…but I wax poetic.
The point is, as the end of my time here approaches, I’ve often found myself in a mood for reminiscing over all the times—the good, the bad, and the hilarious—that have befallen me here in Micronesia and Palau, and about the situations and the people to whom I am in debt for said times.
And so, without further ado, for your reading delectation, I do hereby present:
PEACE CORPS—THE OSCAR SPEECH
For the precise, fine-tuned ability to—at any locale upon the face of the earth, at any time of day or night, and in any physical condition—instantaneously locate and accurately throw a rock, within a one-inch radius of error, I wish to say…
“Thank you, canines of K----- and P----!”
Next, for the most wondrously ludicrous quotation ever…
All right, this kind of demands an explanation. So, in honor of B’s birthday back in March, we planned to take her out for a night on the town. The problem? I wasn’t exactly in the proper physical condition to do so.
When we arrived at K’s,—due to a combination of the massive, stubborn, never-receding cold sore on my face; the fact that I had [mysteriously] just thrown up everything I had eaten that day EN ROUTE to the bar; and that I was fighting (what seemed to be a losing) battle with head lice—I was feeling decidedly unsexy. T, E, and I had just sat down on our bar stools when I heard something odd.
Now, you know that whole cocktail-party-chitter-chatter effect, wherein, through the screen of ambient people/music/drinking/dancing noise, every now and again one decisive quotation will suddenly—at times for no reason at all—cut through all the static and reach your ears?
After sitting down at the bar, I could swear I heard the man seated kaddy-corner from us say, “You! Across the bar!! I KNOW you have lice.”
Infinitely disturbed, I turned and asked my friends about what I had just heard. They looked at me as if I had suddenly grown antennae, before bursting out laughing and, finally, assuring me that a complete stranger had not just commented on my oh-so-come-hither head lice across the bar.
“Thank you Heineken and head lice!”
For, by nearly killing me, somehow making me feel so very alive (o, irony!)…
“Thank you, triathlon!”
For granting me the opportunity to get in touch with my bad (coach) self, in public…
Now, I have this propensity—which works, by turns, to hilarious/insanely frustrating effect in the classroom—which is: I treat all children as if they are miniature (somewhat slow) adults. I never really saw the full effect of this tendency, however, until I oversaw a group of youth playing soccer.
When Education Awareness Week rolled around and my principal asked if I wouldn’t mind coaching a soccer team, I was thrilled. Wouldn’t mind?!? I’d love to!!
See, I played myself, from the age of 6 to about 14, but I never really did get soccer out of my system. After retiring from the field myself, I yelled so much along the sidelines of my brother’s games that my mom coolly asked if I were interested in the coaching position; I once got so intense during a college scrimmage that I sprained an ankle so badly my teammates swore it was broken. So…you get the idea. I’m a little serious about my soccer.
Anyway, back to Palau. By the time I stood face to face (well, more like face to hip, but you know…) with my squad of eight and nine year-olds, I had pre-sorted them all into positions, not to mention drawn diagrams of where each person should play.
“See,” I said, gesticulating wildly across the sea of carefully-penciled Os and Xs, “the fullbacks never cross that half line. EVER!!!! Midfield…”
And on and on I went, so drunk with my newfound power that I barely noticed the blank stares of my (intended) audience.
Of course, once the munchkins made it out onto the field, they had minds (and feet, and hands) of their own.
That, however, didn’t even dent my yelling (or cursing and covering my face when the other team scored. Or my—quite literally—jumping several feet in the air when my squad made a goal.)
All I have to say is, it’s a mighty good thing there were no chairs in attendance; I’ve never felt more Bobby Knight in my life.
“And so, thank you, Education Awareness Week, Principal F, and, of course, my oh-so-fortunate(?)understanding(?) team, for allowing me to get in touch with my inner Crazed Coach. It was invigorating.”
And, how could I forg---? [Sorry, just had to immediately run off for a few minutes.] For the constant surprises…
“Thank you, GI tract!”
Ah, my friends. You, through your amazing feats, keep alive in me an insatiable, childlike curiosity; every time we meet, you imbue me with a sense of awe about the universe, and even (where mystics, friends, foes, and world religions have all failed) convince me that, yes, indeed, there are some things in the universe that we human beings can never, ever—for all our logic and reasoning and science—comprehend.
You defy the laws of both physics and gravity, appearing (in hordes!) within the wrappers of FACTORY-SEALED energy bars; high up in the middle of the ceiling; on a bed purposely moved away from every single vertical surface in the room; inside of baskets suspended in mid-air…
“Thank you, ants!”
For the bad-ass, Rocky-esque bruise I sported above my right eye at school for several days (and let’s not forget the ensuing [instant!] cred it earned me with my students…
“Thank you, backpack full of rocks!”
[Yes, you read that correctly. I dropped a backpack filled with rocks on my own face while bench-pressing it.]
For (much-needed) reality checks…
On those days when I wander about, head planted firmly in the clouds, this person kindly yanks it back down to shoulder level.
I’m excited to sport the stylish new silk dress a Palauan friend gave me to school. In my excitement, however, I missed…
“Teacher Ngchui! You are not wearing any pants!!”
…the fact that it’s translucent.
It’s Earth Day; to celebrate, our entire student body population takes to the road to pick up trash. I’m walking along with this fourth grade girl when I find a plastic six-pack top. All my PC training flashing before my eyes at warp speed, I think to myself, ‘ hey! What a great ‘teachable moment.’’ And so, proudly brandishing the empty plastic rings, I say: “do you know how we can help the sea animals.
She pauses a moment, my little PETA activist in training. I await with baited breath. “Um…by eating them?”
The student comes up to me, in the library, and compliments my day’s choice of outfit.
“Uh, thanks,” I reply, after surreptitiously glancing down to see what I am, in fact, wearing. “I had an interview this morning, so I wore this because I wanted to feel professional.”
(I think, by the way, that I can only get away with claiming turquoise floral stretch pants as “Professional Wear” to a fourth grader, in Palau.)
“Shhhhh!” She covers my lips with her hand. “If you want to be professional, don’t talk.”
Ouch. I got told.
“Thank you, B. T.!”
And, last but not least, for inadvertently creating an amazing (and practical) style statement, and ensuing amusement…
Okay, again, there’s a story here. So, it’s been a long, lazy, cloudy day, but I’ve—as usual—waited until my designated time (5:30) to exercise. Today, I need to ask Principal F for permission to take a few days off, at the beginning of school, for a trip. Her phone, however, is disconnected.
But hey! I figure I can kill two birds with one stone by running to her house, asking permission, and running back. (This will be a couple of miles.)
I set off. At first, the weather holds. In fact, I’ve made it all the way to I—Principal’s village—when the raindrops start falling. At first, it’s just a sputtering, the sky spitting on me. Within five minutes, however, the storm has ratcheted up from sputtering to monsoon. By the time I reach my destination, I’m soaked to the skin, like, Shamu Show-soaked.
Luckily, Principal’s there, my permission’s granted. I turn out and look towards the sheets of rain falling from above.
“Um, do you have an umbrella I could borrow?”
She lent it to someone.
“Oh!” She has an idea. “I did just get this on my way back from Guam…”
She’s holding…one of those ginormous clear plastic Continental Airlines bags, the kind big enough to fully encase a piece of luggage.
I pick it up, poke my fingers through a weak spot to make a hole for my head.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay with that?” (She barely suppresses a smile.)
I nod, and run out into the downpour. It’s coming so fast and thick, I realize that I want to cover my head. So, I pull up my new “poncho” over my hair, so the hole now serves as my breathing hole in front of my face while I run.
As I jog faster and faster down the hill, I burst out in uncontrollable laughter. [I look so ridiculous right now, and I love it.] For some reason, the whole situation renders me so happy I start singing. Cake, to be specific.
Now, if you’ve listened to Cake, you know that, sans drums and guitar, it can’t really properly be called music—more like heavily drug-induced, often-witty, and occasionally socially relevant, spoken word poetry.
And so, here I run, down the road, in a downpour, wearing a giant (like, large enough to contain several minifridges giant) plastic bag as a poncho, chanting:
…and how long will the workers keep building them new ones?
AS LONG AS THEIR SODA CANS ARE RED, WHITE, AND BLUE!!
Aw, yeah, all right now…
And yet I wonder why no one’s stopped to offer me a ride back. Interesting.
“THANK YOU CONTINENTAL AIRLINES!”
And so, valued participants in my Peace Corps career—canines, head lice, Education Awareness Week, GI tract, ants, backpack full of rocks, BT, and Continental Airlines—truly, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without you, my PC experience certainly would not have been as interesting.