21 July 2012

Mise en scène

So now we are in Yap - and, as it happens, will be here for the next eight years. This is possibly a daunting prospect to Susan. Well, you know what Yap is like ... what? You don't?? Hmm... Perhaps I had better give you a little background first.
OK, well, perhaps you want a little more information than just that satellite photo.  Is it more or less the size of the North Island of New Zealand?  Or perhaps just a patch of mud in a puddle in my backyard?

Yap is about 26Km long, tip to tip, and about 11 Km wide at the widest point.  It comprises about 100 square Kilometres in area. It is located at approximately 9.5 degrees North, 138 degrees East.  There.  Does that clarify things for you?
Oh, I see - you want to know what it is like.

Not so easy to say, in a way.  Try saying what your home is like.

And that, in a way, is my problem.  When we moved to Yap in March, 1976, I think I fully believed it would be my home for the rest of my life - mine, and therefore, I presumed, Susan's.  I don't suppose I gave much thought to my children.

Writing this post brings back a flood of memories.  Our house, up on the hill above the police station and the prison - the latter a wooden building with an iron roof, under the eaves of which the prisoners would occasionally crawl when they wanted to go home for a while.  The coconut trees and other trees around the house, with the moon shining through them, and the sound of the sea at all times.  The sound of the violent rain shower marching through the trees for our house.  The stone-paved paths through Keeng, and the ones up behind Fanoowaay's store - in the village that would look like raw bush to those who didn't know it was a village.  All these and hundreds more images crowd in when I think of those years in Yap.

There were roads to many parts of Yap when we lived there, but I was never on most of them.  One thing difficult for non-Yapese to appreciate is that, except for the 'town' part of Yap - the dozen or so government office buildings, the hundred or so town dwellings around the estuary called locally 'Beenjoo Bay' - 'beenjoo' being borrowed from the Japanese word for 'toilet' - there being so many privies over-hanging the estuary - except for these buildings and a handful of small stores, as well as YCA - the Yap Cooperative Association - all the rest of Yap is 'village.'  And 'village' is not 'public.'  Each 'village' - each binaew - is that binaew's land.  You don't go into another village unless you have business there - and someone there - usually the chief - knows it.  And every bit of Yap is part of some village (even 'town' which is the village called Doonguch - but long given up as really public).

So in a way, Yap is, to me, very large.  Just as I have been in only a relatively small percentage of the states of California and Hawai'i, and the North Island of New Zealand, I have not been in most of Yap.  But I know it well.  It is - was - home.

We lived in a house owned by the government.  It was up a little hill, on the way to the Education Department, where I worked.  The house was very large - before us, I think it was lived in by half a dozen government workers.  There were, more or less, six bedrooms - one of them very small.  Two of those rooms eventually became workrooms for me - one for my amateur radio gear, one as an office.  By the time we left, when we had four children, one slept in each room - and Sue and I on a futon on the living room floor.  We had overhead fans installed in each room - at government expense.

Government expense.  Reflecting back, I think of what a large amount of government money was spent on us.  We had numerous modifications done on the house.  One central room eventually had air-conditioning.  Twice - or perhaps three times? - all the internal woodwork was replaced, the previous having been eaten to nothing by termites.  We had electric power - which often actually worked - though most village areas had none (and ours was free).  We had piped water, which, during the rainy season, usually had water in it - though, prudently, we boiled it before drinking it.  We also had a luxury that most government houses lacked: a water tank next the house that connected into the water system.  During the onset of the dry season - roughly December to June - when the water was on only a couple of hours morning and evening - we could refill the tank (of course at the heart of the dry season that was unavailable; it was hauling water in 20-litre jerry cans three times a week and flush once a day).  But, all in all, the house had what we wanted.

On the other hand, things were not always so convenient for Susan.

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