by Pam Mount
In August 1967, Gary and I headed off for Micronesia and a three-year adventure in the newly formed US Peace Corps. It was the height of the Vietnam War. We were newly married and graduated and anxious to make peace.
We really didn’t know anything about Micronesia except that it was an American trust territory monitored by the United Nations and consisted of a small bunch of islands stretching 3,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. If one compressed the land mass, it would fill up one-half of Rhode Island.
We started our Peace Corps experience by training for three months on an island in Truk Lagoon. We then moved to Yap Island, the administrative center for Yap District and the home of stone money. We lived in the jungle in a tiny house — 6 feet by 20 feet — with two doors and two windows. I taught school and Gary worked out of the agricultural station. After eight months, Gary took a field trip ship to all of the Outer Islands (a chain of small islands stretching over 500 miles of ocean). The trip took two weeks.
When Gary returned, he raved about Satawal. It was an island, one by one-half miles, with a population of 400 people. But, to Gary, it looked like paradise! They needed a teacher and agricultural help, and they desperately wanted to host the Peace Corps. So off we went, learned a new language, and read the sky.
It was like moving into the pages of the National Geographic Magazine. Men wearing loin cloths sailed the open ocean in hand-made canoes, which they navigated using the directions passed down orally from father to son. It was based on stars, currents, and intuition. The women tended the taro patch and wove skirts from fiber made from barren trees. Everyone lived outdoors and had small thatched sleeping houses.
I and two other teachers taught 100 children from ages six to fourteen. The head teacher had three years of schooling under the Japanese, so we did lots of teacher training, too.
Everything on Satawal was done communally – everyone helped everyone. Tuesday and Thursday were island work days, when projects that benefited everyone were done; for example, replanting the coconut groves, and building new canoes, houses, or a huge covered water catchment. I learned how to teach, not through competition that separated people from each other, but through group action and concerns. The students helped each other, and they all learned quickly.
We were warmly welcomed, given a house, and provided with food every day. It was a joyous time. I helped deliver 30 babies (three were named Pam), learned to dance and weave, and how to cook on an open fire. This was a learning experience for us, too.
Since those days, we have dreamed of visiting our island. We learned so much about community, caring, love, and respect there. But it takes three to four months to visit. The field trip ship schedule has not improved in 30 years. Every two to three months, one ship makes it to Satawal, stays only a few hours because there is no anchorage.
Then, in April of this year, we got an e-mail from one of my former students, who is now Lieutenant Governor of the island chain. He invited us to a huge celebration. Another one of my students has been studying for the priesthood and is to be ordained on his home island. So the Government had arranged for a ship to take visitors from Truk (now called Chuuk) out to Satawal (a two-day trip) and return two days later to pick us up. Tannwen will join us. Having grown up with all of our stories, it will be a treat for her to see it for herself.
This is a year of world travel for the Mount family and June 10 is the day it all begins – this is so exciting! Reuwai and Mike head off for two months of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Kenya Peaks in Africa; Mark and Melissa leave for Germany with the US Army; and Mom, Dad, and Tannwen are traveling to Micronesia â€“ all on the same day! Bon voyage to us all!
Luckily, the capable Terhune Orchards staff will hold everything together on Cold Soil Road until we return on June 23.