We had a few days last month where the weather allowed us to open up most of the canvas siding on our house - usually it's windy, rainy or both and so we only have 2 to 3 open at one time. It was SO beautiful to have a picture-perfect day and sit inside our house looking out at all the incredible views.
This is the "low" setting on our stove. Jason is my simmering helper ... holding the pan 6" off the stove whenever we need to simmer something!
I think I've been up now for 3 or 4 sunrises and just love them ... even though I don't really LOVE being up quite that early!
We live on the East side of the island and I didn't expect to be able to see many sunsets ... we've been really pleasantly surprised at the glorious sunset colors we do get to see. The first sunset below has Jason fishing off the point.
This first month we were here we were completely amazed at just how BRIGHT the moon is here! I have no idea if it is because there are no lights, so the moon seems brigher or what, but even when it's half full, it just lights up everything. This is the first time we saw the moon rise over the ocean ... incredibly beautiful to me.
Given where we currently are living, our holiday celebrations have tended to be a little more subdued than they might normally be ... and without the constant barage of the media telling us about all the things we "need," I generally do not mind our simpiler celebrations. Although, I do occassionally feel a little helpless as it is just not possible to make things as special as I might usually...
My Mom has been wonderful at sending us a few things to cheer up our holidays, Valentine's Day was no different. In the box she sent last month, she'd included a few 'Valentine's Day in a Box' items, including cupcake tins and a great cupcake hand towel! Yay!
So, we did a bake in our outdoor fire/oven and actually had cupcakes for Valentine's Day!!! So much fun! I got to show off my new outdoor cooking skills when a group of Seventh Day Adventists teachers from Koror came by for a tour of our island home. I won't deny it, I did feel pretty good that I was able to treat them to a cupcake that I'd made over a fire pit!
I still vividly remember our first Saturday in Tonga, when we went to the home of a Returned Volunteer to learn how to make some local foods ... I was amazed that coconuts had husks or shells, I thought they just grew on the trees exactly how they looked in a store at home. Not so. Below is a little show of how the look to begin with and after having the husk removed.
I also thought that coconut milk was the liquid inside the coconut when it was cracked open. This was definitely not the case! In fact, the coconut meat has to be grated (Jason is grating the split coconuts in the photo below), then a small amount of water added to it, then squeezed (either between your hands or in a small towel) and the liquid that comes out is the "milk." It is quite a process and ends up being a lot of hard work anytime we want to make some Thai curry, but well worth the effort and one of the activities that reminds me the most of where I am living, which I love!
This is Rufino, he's dragging a 4 foot long Monitor Lizard by the tail with his right hand, holding a can of beer in his left and riding his bike down the road. Apparently, some of the Filipinos workers who live here like to eat the lizards, so he's taking it to them. Nice guy!
And, this is on the trash can lid in the computer lab at the school - apparently with all the Betel Nut chewing and spitting, it's necessary to remind the staff that not to spit here!
In Palau, shoes are not worn inside, so inevitably, there is a pile of flip flops outside ones house whenever people are over. We had a potluck at our house last week and I loved seeing everyone's shoes outside our door...realizing that it means we have friends here.
Jason asked me this question as we were preparing to leave for our 35 minute walk church last Sunday morning, just as heavy rain had started to pour from the sky. I quickly realized that we'd left them at a friends house in the village the day before. A walk through the downpour to church wasn't too appealing ... luckily, Jason remembered that we had brought some emergency rain gear with us. Here's a photo of us before we left. Pretty cute, right??
Jason and I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to be very involved in the Palauan funeral process. The mother of one of the men from our church had passed. We felt really glad to have the chance to be this involved in what is a very incredible feat -- spending 5 days preparing food for 400 people, using only food grown on Angaur or caught in the sea and cooking it all over outdoor fires! Simply unreal!
There were many moments when I looked around me at what was happening and at what I was working on and was SO glad to be here, experiencing this life, in this moment and realizing this is why we came.
To begin with if we learned anything from our Peace Corps Tonga experience, it was that a feast is not complete without: A LOT of root crop ... and ... a bunch of slaughtered pigs!
This yellow taro has been ground up and mixed with a little sugar and coconut. A scoopful is placed into these leaves and tied up for cooking. These women were kind enough (or patient enough) to teach me how to do this.
The woman in the purple shirt is wrapping soem of the whole taro roots for boiling so they wouldn't fall apart...
All of the food was cooked in these huge pots over fires that were constantly being tended. Elephant ear leaves were used as a sort of lid for the pots.
These women are tying up a bunch of tapioca which was prepared in a similar way to the yellow taro - ground up, then placed in some young coconut fronds, tied up and boiled. After boiling, they are tied together so that they can be hung up to dry.
And finally! The finished product - this is one of the many tables covered with the packaged food. Each funeral attendee would receive one of these packages which contains two to-go boxes packed with food, with taro & tapioca on top. Of course, as it came time to serve the food, it started to POUR, so all of us who were serving were drenched, but at least it's a warm rain.
The day of the funeral, we were up at 5:30 am (after getting home from helping after 10 pm the day before) in order to get over to the village to help with the final preparations ... we were given a special treat for being up so early - this beautiful sunrise.
Ever since we arrived in Palau, I have been intrigued with the cultural custom of chewing Betel Nut. I must admit, I’ve also been pretty disgusted with the visible consequences to those that chew regularly. Many people here have significant dental damage, orange & black teeth, receding gums, numerous teeth broken or missing. I’ve found myself wondering why in the world anyone would do this to themselves, while at the same time seeing how it is simply part of the culture in which we are living.
For those of you who don’t know what Betel Nut is … it is the seed/nut of a type of palm tree. Once taken from the tree, the nut is split in half (usually by biting on it, but some Palauans carry a small knife with them in their Betel Nut bag). Once split, a white powder is poured inside (the white powder is made from clam shells that have been burned and then turned to powder). Some people add a piece of a cigarette also. Then, either half of the nut or the whole nut (depending on your mouth size) is rolled up in a leaf and put into the mouth for chewing. All the saliva/juice from chewing this is spit out … on the ground or into any old water bottle or soda can. The spit is a bright orange color (I’m told the leaves give it this color). I have to admit that some of the ladies here have pretty impressive spitting abilities!!
I’ve known that I would not be able to leave here without at least trying it once to see what it was really like … this past Sunday was apparently the day. Here are the photos of my first Betel Nut chew (thanks Sarah for being a great photographer of this moment!)
I LOVE Secu's expression in this picture! So the initial few chews are a little tough, but after that, it’s pretty easy to chew. I chewed it for maybe 15 minutes or so – spitting every 3 – 4 minutes. It made me feel kind of dizzy and hot for several minutes and gave me heart palpitations for several hours afterwards (this part makes me a little hesitant to chew very often). We’ve also learned that if you rinse your mouth with water afterwards, your teeth don’t end up nearly as stained, so I was pretty diligent in that area!
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How we got here ... with a couple babies!
We first met on July 7, 2006. We'd both quit our jobs and gotten rid of nearly all our possessions. We had joined the Peace Corps and were heading to the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific. We thought we were prepared for whatever lay ahead ... neither of us had a clue.
Just over 10 months after we first met, we were MARRIED! Since then our adventures have included:
- a year in New York City, living in a Harlem brownstone apartment - going off-the-grid & into a tent-cabin on tiny Angaur island in Palau - living with a bunch of teenagers in Shanghai, China while working as dormitory parents
- off-the-grid again & into a barn on 400 forested acres in Vermont
- at the base of volcanos in beautiful Panajachel, Guatemala
And now ... on the hunt for a new career, we find ourselves in IDAHO!
We love to experience this great big world and hope you will join us for the journey!