26 August 2012


It is somewhat of a surprise to me to reflect on the obvious: that, despite my love for the Yapese language, and for my experience generally in Yap, there is no slightest possibility of my ever genuinely 'going native' - not only living permanently in Yap (which might have happened under some circumstances), but living essentially a Yapese way of life.  This is something that others we know have done - Margie Fal'anruw, Russian Alex - but as I contemplated writing something today, and talking about the relationships we had in Yap, I come across the fact that all were with ex-patriates.  Until this moment, I do not think I had thought of the implications of this.

When, in 1972, I spent three months in Yap, I immediately made myself acquainted with the Protestant mission there.

It would be literally accurate to say that the thought of my attending Catholic services was unthinkable.  When people say something is unthinkable, they generally mean that they do think about it - and find it impossibly abhorrent.  I do not think that I could ever even have thought of the Catholic church as a place to go to church.  Had Yap been mostly Muslim, the idea would not have been more impossible for me to conceive.

Yet until 1967 - two years before my first stay in the island - no non-Catholic presence was possible in Yap.  Under the influence of the then-priest, the government forbade any missionary presence whatever.  Yap was Catholic - and was going to stay that way (a shipment of condoms somehow arrived there sometime in the 1960s.  The priest seized it and destroyed it.  There was no action against him for this.)

The German Liebenzellermission had worked in Palau for some years before this, to produce a thriving Palauan evangelical presence - and a translation of the Bible into Palauan.  In 1972, the mission in Yap was five years old.  Under Ed Kalau a thriving nucleus of evangelical Yapese existed.  They had their own church building.  Sister (their term) Hildegarde Thieme had nearly finished the first draught of a translation of the New Testament and major parts of the Old.  It was this church I attended from January to March of 1972.  It was this church that Susan and I attended from March, 1976 to May, 1984.

Nevertheless, we never joined.  I was definitely convinced of the duty of a Christian to be in submission to the properly-constituted elders of the Church.  Joining would have been a definite act of submission.  Our home church was the Reformed Church of Avondale - and remained so during the eight years we lived in Yap.  We were friends of the new pastor, Heinz Hengstler, his wife Erika, Sister Doris.  I often translated from English to Yapese for visiting English-only preachers.  But we never joined.  I was convinced of the rightness of Reformed worship.  Perhaps there were other reasons, but baptism was one.  The Yap Evangelical Church would not baptise infants.

During our eight years in Yap we became close friends with a few others.  Don Evans was one - a dear friend, and who still lives in Yap.  This is his hotel.

Our even closer friend was Father Paul Horgan, SJ.  Father Horgan quickly adopted the practice of coming to our house once a week - perhaps on Fridays? - for socialisation, ice cream, eventually a glass of sherry (which we brought in from Guam, duty-free).

I was always somewhat uncomfortably aware that we never ever mentioned religion with Father Horgan.  Perhaps the eight years we spent in Yap began to bring the idea of Catholics as persons, not just an idea, to a bit more reality in my mind.  How it was, I do not know, but Father Horgan became, I think, our dearest friend.  Our later relation with him makes this clear.

By sometime in late August or early September, Susan was pregnant.

12 August 2012

Real life

Well, yes, there was a bit more to our life in Yap than my working context.  In particular, you may wonder what things were like for Susan.

When we first moved to Auckland, Susan was terribly lonely, and suffered considerably from what might be termed 'culture shock.'

Yap, one would suppose, must have made the adustment to New Zealand seem a doddle.

Perhaps only more or less.

I will try and persuade Susan to add something to this post, and she may well contradict what I say.  It seems to me, however, that some things were distinctly harder to get used to:
  • the Yapese - naturally, Susan didn't speak Yapese.  By the time we left, she had picked up enough, both from talking with people and from reading my book, to be able to get along roughly.  Nevertheless, they were, at the start, a completely foreign people to her.
  • the climate - it is somewhat hotter than Honolulu, where she had lived for six years, and somewhat more humid
  • supplies of western goods - distinctly limited by contrast both with Honolulu and with Auckland
  • being without motor transport
On the other hand, it has seemed to me - I mean, thinking in retrospect; I doubt whether I was sufficiently unselfish even to wonder about it at the time - that in some respects, Yap was easier for Susan, culturally, than Auckland:
  • Susan's acquaintances - the friends she soon made were, naturally, expatriates - and most of these were Americans.  How much difference did this make?  Possibly a fair bit.  New Zealanders - particularly those whom we knew in the 1970s - were a fairly homogeneous lot, sharing a common background of assumptions - and ones that we had not grown up with.  Susan quickly became close friends with Verna Curtis, who ran the YCA - Yap Cooperative Association - general store; and we both made friends with Father Paul Horgan, SJ, one of the two local priests - despite, I should say, his Catholicism!
  • American goods - well, perhaps this made less difference.  Quite a lot of our supplies had been imported from ... New Zealand!  Nevertheless, there was a considerable degree of familiarity that she had not had in Auckland.  Our first day in Auckland, Bruce Biggs' wife Joy had taken her shopping; she finished that day completely bewildered.  When we had left Auckland to move to Yap, I had told her there would be no fresh goods whatever available in Yap.  The day we arrived she went to YCA and there was plenty there - that day had been the first air-freigh shipment of such things!
  • the Yapese - of course she had not before dwelt in a place with lots of Yapese people.  She had, however, lived six years in Honolulu, where we haole (white people - pakeha) were a minority.  Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos comprise the bulk of the population.  Susan was not unused to such a situation.
  • the climate - again, she had lived in the tropics for six years.  In Honolulu we had not had air-conditioning.  It is true that Yap was hotter, and more humid.  It was, nevertheless, a climate she was used to.
All of which may well be rubbish, from Susan's point of view.  I have thought, as I say, that adjusting to Yap would have had elements of familiarity for her, as well as dissimularity.  I wonder what she thinks.


Okay - all of the above is right but one of the hardest things about Yap was that very few people who we met had the intention of staying there.  Most of the people were on some type of contract - usually a two year one - and then they would leave.  Things were often unsettled - but I was young and change seemed to be fine so bring on the "characters" that entered our life out there and there were many of those.

There was also the paradox of life on a "remote" island.  Our friends not living there thought we were living in island luxury, rather like living in Fiji.  It wasn't.  There were mangrove swamps at many points near the shore so there was no easy swimming access.  The roads to the villages outside of the main town were not good, horrid or horrible - depending on the time of year.  One time - only once - in eight years, I took the kids with a friend out to the end of the island for a swim.  My friend had a very big truck that had four wheel drive.  By the time we got there, the kids were sick and there was no running water to clean up various messes - plus the swimming area wasn't safe for young children.  It was very deep, there was coral on the rocks that could cause injury - We left after an hour and never returned.


Susan's daily life, however, she has not talked about - yet.

11 August 2012

Routine failure

I must, last week-end, have been genuinely ill.  Not only did I take the Friday off on sick leave - a rarity for me - but only on Tuesday of this week did I remember that I had not written my weekly post.

And nor am I going to be able to do so this week-end - and probably not next, either.  I had some sort of 'flu from late Thursday - fever being the principal symptom.  I missed the first rehearsal for the August concert - and I think this is the first time I have ever missed a rehearsal for illness.  I had hoped to write something this morning, but I think it will not happen.  Possibly tomorrow, but not too likely.  Next Saturday is the concert, and on the Sunday we will be with Eddie and Eveline.

So...  in case I don't produce the next thrilling episode in "The Jensens vs Yap" until 25 or 26 August, I have at least now made my excuses, such as they are.