Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I got a headache, and my insurance company caused it

I have thought very hard about the following post for a few reasons, chief among them that because Guåhan is small, the concept of burning bridges is not merely a cute anecdote but one that, in my opinion from my first two months here, can have very serious ramifications career-wise and personally. The fact that Guåhan is small exacerbates the niceties and drawbacks of close relationships, which themselves entail intimacy, gossip, nepotism, reciprocity, and lots of other facets too numerous to name here.

But the current debacle That Boyfriend and I are facing is one not unique to us nor lots of other people in Sanlågu, so I feel it’s worth sharing and trying to create some space for people to offer advice/receive information. This was written as a very long post and I’m going to split it up into sections for easier web reading. But this information is essential for any civilian who intends to relocate to Guåhan—or indeed, anyone who already lives here.

Essentially, I want to start posts that relate to health care on Guåhan. It’s certainly an ongoing challenge here, where Pacific Islanders’ health outcomes are some of the worst in the U.S.: high rates of diabetes, cancer (some of which are certainly related to environmental abuse perpetuated by the U.S. government), obesity, and heart disease. Additionally, from what I’ve observed so far, a high birth rate, meth epidemic, and culture of alcohol consumption stresses the health care system here in a unique way.

Our situation so far: we are part-time workers, currently on school group rate health insurance based in Sanlågu. We are looking for employment and think that our employment options are very good; we will get jobs (we’re very lucky in that way) but most likely our employment situation will most closely resemble that of a consultant or independent contractor. My coverage runs out this week, and so I’m currently shopping around for individual plans—which I expect to be more expensive than insurance through employers. I’m a very healthy young person under 30 years of age.

There are essentially four insurance companies on Guåhan, only two of them offering individual health care plans. One company would not give me a range of possible estimates for monthly payments for an 80/20 payment plan without me first paying $50. The $50 is a reasonable fee to research my medical history, but the fact that this company wouldn’t even give me an estimate for coverage prior to paying out this $50 strikes me as fishy. I essentially did, however, manage to beg out an estimate from an employee, who quoted me around $390 a month.

The second insurance company has an upfront estimate of individual monthly payments for a plan that offers similar benefits to the first company. The monthly estimate? $485 a month.

These benefits are generous, and probably too much so for the kind of coverage I need. For someone in my health and age, for example, I would probably want to pursue catastrophic health insurance, which has a high deductible (like $5,000) but low monthly rates (when I was in California I paid about $100-120 a month a few years ago). Yeah, I couldn't get basic doctors' visits covered, but if I got into a car accident (one of the leading causes of death for young people), at least my hospital stay would (maybe?) be covered. And I could pay up to $5,000--it's a lot, but manageable on a credit card if it came down to it.

The next post will delineate a little bit as to why these rates are so high. Some of the reasons are similar to those in Sanlågu (poor community health outcomes) and others are those specific to small markets. Any comments are very much appreciated, unless you’re just going to accuse me of being a communist because right now my gut reaction is to loudly proclaim love for single payer health insurance.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Gollai kalamasa (pumpkin tips)

In the interest of trying to eat a little more locally due to our lack of refrigerator space (most of the shelves are consumed by the rice and baking supplies to prevent mildew and rancidity), rising food prices, and a generally dismal state of imported produce quality, I bought some gollai kalamasa. I had never actually eaten this green before, but assumed that it would be okay in one of my favorite local dishes, gollai appan suni--otherwise known as taro leaves in coconut milk.

You can get a sense of how big the cut tips are here:

Before preparing gollai kalamasa, you first have to peel the slightly prickly skin from the stems.

As you can see from the thin threads that result from this peeling, you can imagine that this process takes a really long time. I think in the future I'll just cut off the stems since I didn't think they were particularly flavorful anyway.

The leaves are pretty large, so I would also suggest cutting them to quicken the cooking process and make eating easier.

The actual cooking process, according to Chamorro.com, is fairly simple. Essentially you boil the leaves with coconut milk, lemon juice, onion, ginger, and fresh hot peppers. You can find the gollai appan suni recipe here.

It was only after I had cooked the gollai kalamasa that I found out from locals that the tips are usually cooked in soups with chicken. Since it's a relatively tough vegetable with leaves that are a slightly furrier version of kale leaves, that would make perfect sense--but in my defense, I still think this version of gollai appan suni turned out pretty mannge'!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wishful thinking

Ha ha! Just kidding... turns out that this little pop-up thing-y window allows me to upload pictures after all and I can return to my irregularly scheduled posts.

On the recommendation of The Boyfriend, I checked out this website, which allows you to create your own avatar. I then wasted two hours of my life making avatars of various friends, family members, and, of course, myself. This is the avatar I made to represent me:

This is the avatar he made of me:

I guess I should be happy that he at least got the glasses right.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Technical issues

Blech. I have some pictures but Blogger is being very uncooperative, which is unfortunate since the idea behind this specific post is picture-centric. Hopefully this will get resolved within the next few days.

We signed up for phone line-based internet service a little more than a month ago once we realized that Marianas Cable Vision's advertised Internet 10.0 is a little slower than we were willing to pay $90 a month for. (Note: the speed test on the MCV website runs at least three times faster than it should, compared to other speed tests available. Also, MCV apparently knows this but doesn't really tell you that when you sign for service.) The Boyfriend started interrogating various workers at GTA Teleguam around July 10, and we have yet to successfully switch over to our hopefully awesomely fast internet connection. This is due in part to the previous tenants who ripped out the phone box--which required GTA to install both a new box and dig up part of the yard to install a new line--and also due in part to a general sort of slowness. On the plus side, only on Guam would the customer service rep who's been assigned to you after various complaints actually invite you to barbecue and a hike at Talofo'fo Falls.

We also called the local NBC affiliate and as of two fifty-something a.m. this morning, Guåhan officially has internet access to the Olympics. We missed all of goldenboy Phelps' shenanigans, obviously, but I guess our newfound participation in NBC's digital monopoly on the Olympics allows us to sit and enjoy synchronized swimming with my grandma. I can't wait.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

This is one way to sum up the Guam Experience

First of all, while that submarine in the previous post did leak radiation in Guåhan's waters, according to the U.S. government, the amount was a "weepage" as opposed to an actual leak. You can read about it here.

And in other news, of course the Olympics is happening. We don't have a working television (we do have one--it's on loan from an aunt, and it's in the closet) and decided that the internet is itself enough of a time-suck and so didn't get cable either. Consequently we're going to watch some Olympic events on the internets.

But we can't. Because we're not attached to servers in the stateside "U.S."/Sånlagu (according to NBC), we can't access Olympics coverage on the internet. (NBC has exclusive Olympics distribution rights in the U.S., so any coverage via the internet goes through NBC, so to speak.) But because the server we use on Guam is also not "international," we can't access Olympic coverage on YouTube, which has the international distribution rights.

So between the nuclear leak from a military vessel and this internet purgatory of between-international/U.S., you can pretty much deduce a significant bit about the relationship of Guam to the rest of the world.

Note: And yes, I used the term "Guam" here intentionally as opposed to my usual invocation of Guåhan.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Is this why Guåhan's waters are warm?

I went swimming today a mere few hours after reading this article in the Guam Pacific Daily News:

"Submarine leaks radiation: Navy says risk minimal; Guam tests due Tuesday."

I still get substantially fewer rashes here than I did when I swam in California.

Essentially, a nuclear submarine that is home-docked in Guåhan went to Hawaii for maintenance and was found to leak nuclear material-containing water. The leak could have been undetected for the past five months.

It is possible that the amount of water leaked contains "negligible" amounts of radiation, but I wonder what kinds of formal responsibilities the U.S. military has towards Guåhan's land and people when (and I write when, not if) more of these accidents occur.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Decorating an office

I swear I'll be able to get (more) photos up eventually. For now, however, you'll have to envision the design aesthetic I'm attempting to force on this island house--or, at least, the room where the bills get paid, my internet procrastinating happens, and the work is supposed to get done. I was inspired by a place in Los Angeles where I used to get my haircut, and various tattoo shops I've visited over the years.

So far, the paint job is awesome. It's purple. It might be a good sign that the paint store guy took one look and said, "That's kind of the color we painted my kid's room." Then again, it could also mean that I have an office fit for a 7-year-old girl who likes unicorn
s (nothing wrong with that, just not exactly the look I was going for).

But it would take a very special 7-year-old indeed who wants Fred on her walls. Who's Fred?

This is Fred.

The Boyfriend thinks Fred is scary, so he (Fred, not The Boyfriend) is officially banned from the bedroom and his office. Also, this is the picture that I want front and center. It's a lithograph (maybe?) of Magellan getting killed by the natives.

And, yes, by the way, that is the super amazing vintage vinyl floor tile from the eighties that runs throughout the entire house. I've decided to call it faux neo-Spanish colonial.

In the meantime, I'm trying to figure out how to cover the gnarly air conditioner. There's an article here that describes some cover-up techniques. This should at least confirm that I do indeed have dumb yuppie concerns like figuring out how to incorporate the window box into a coherent design vision.

I have decided to go with a custom-painted big screen painted by yours truly, something like six feet tall and about four feet wide, with a giant freehand paint job of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. Or the Santa Maria Kamalen, which in this case requires me to paint Santa Maria coming towards Guåhan accompanied by two giant crabs with votive candles on their backs. You can read about that legend here. I better start working on sketches of crustaceans. Life drawing class only covered naked chicks and dudes, inconveniently NOT posed on the backs of crabs. Useless!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why did the chicken cross the road?

I still can't answer that, despite watching all of the roosters and hens do so every day in our village.

But tonight I almost ran over a crab in the parking lot of the Hågatña pool (I know--why a pool when I'm on an island? I'm working on technique). My mom says that when she was a little kid they used to hang out by the road during full moons--during which time the crabs would go nuts and just crowd the streets, so much so that eventually you would just crush bunches under the car tires. I think this weekend is supposed to bode well for a big full moon, so I better get the boiling water and cocktail sauce ready.

(As for the cocktail sauce, I don't have a mortar and pestle yet, so I guess the cement on our new driveway will have to do.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Liberation Day

Two things:

1. Today Guåhan (maybe) made some headlines in Sanlågu--naturally for something related to the military. You can read about it here and here.

2. And according to the Guam Pacific Daily News, there is a plaque donated to Guåhan that honors one of the (many) days the U.S. military landed here:

"On July 21, 1944, two groups of people came together to liberate Guam from its Japanese oppressors. The United States military came in from the sea, armed with the latest weapons of war while the Chamorros in rags came down from the hills, armed only with the simplest of tools to join in battle. One liberated the island from without while the other liberate the island from within. Together forever they will be known as 'The Liberators of Guam.'"

I have no idea where this plaque is or under what circumstances it was dedicated here, but this is the last time I'm going to write about Liberation Day. One newscaster came up to me and asked me if I thought it was important to celebrate Liberation Day. I told her that is was important to celebrate the liberation of people worldwide, but I should have said that day's not coming.

Mood: not great.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Radon is not a comic book nemesis

...but apparently it does increase the likelihood of one's developing lung cancer. It's the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. You can read about this fantastic inert gas here.

The gas results from uranium depleting in the soil and is naturally occurring. Especially in central and northen Guåhan. (But not in southern Guåhan thanks to erosion--needless to say, that environmental nightmare is for another post.)

Thanks to the helpful folks at the Guam EPA and the free radon test the department gives out, we now know that our house contains dangerous levels of radon, which can either be mitigated by a) Leaving windows open 24/7 (impossible with the electronic equipment we have) or 2) Installing a $3,000 fan that circulates air from the foundation. In the meantime, I guess we're inhaling the approximate equivalent of 135 cigarettes a day.

The one interesting thing to come out of all this is that it's gotten me to thinking about how lifestyles change over time. Apparently, radon has always existed on Guåhan (and in most parts of the world), but it has not presented a problem in societies where people live in the open air or have adequately ventilated houses (i.e. like huts, or houses with open terraces). It has only been the advent of earthquake and typhoon-proof building, in conjunction with a move towards indoor living on Guåhan, which has necessitated the check on radon.

In the meantime, I guess I'll have to put off asking the landlords for new cabinets and a bathroom sink. Stay tuned for more info on exactly what other mini Superfund sites the inhabitants of Guåhan live. There are lots.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

How do you say "ibuprofen" in Chamoru?

Sage' i tåttalo'-ku yan i apåga-ku. Santa Maria, I'm not going paddling for a while. Beginner's and novice group, i doggon-mu!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Håfa na ga'ga?

We found this thing sitting on the inside of our screen door and weren't sure what it was (still aren't). At first I thought it might be a big piece of mold, but we realized that despite our less-than-perfect housekeeping skills, we would have certainly picked up on this thing growing on the door. It's about as long as my index finger.

We took the thing outside to inspect and photograph it a little more.

It didn't move and we threw it out into the side yard. When we came back a few hours later it was gone. Maybe the chickens got it or maybe it moved of its own volition, but if you happen to know what it is, then let us know, put fabot!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Geckos, roaches, and ants (and something else)

Thankfully it wasn't in the house.
And I'm very happy that if we had to see one, it was in the road, as opposed to wrapped around my grandfather.

This is the gem from family folklore:

My grandma awoke one time to find the 8-foot long colubrid wrapped around Grandpa. Being the tough lady that she is, she promptly went out back to get the machete and chopped it into a few pieces. The kicker is that she did it without waking up Grandpa.

I guess I could tell The Boyfriend that I would also kill the snake, but that I couldn't guarantee that 1) He wouldn't wake up, and 2) I wouldn't miss any vital extremities.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

He who tells you owning a home is awesome is LYING

We don't own a home, but after doing this house thing, we sure aren't going to. Two die-hard apartment dwellers are we, and we have yet to see the advantages of living the American dream. House maintenance nightmare is more like it.

Some of things are particular to living in a tropical climate, but we've so far learned that living in this house (and this is a 1200 sq. ft. two bedroom, one bath, one story house) requires the following:

1. Waterblasting twice a year to prevent mildew on the outside of the house,

2. Gutter cleaning (don't know how many times a year), especially important during the rainy season,

3. Cutting the grass every two weeks (but you can't do it when the grass is wet, and since it's rainy reasons, that's all the time),

4. Cutting out this thorny vine thing called Chains of Love, which is an invasive plant species that chokes off the banana trees and pretty much anything else that is native to Guåhan,

5. Planting/maintaining a bunch of greenery around the driveway to prevent the driveway from washing away during the rainy season,

6. Caulking all holes to prevent ants,

7. Weatherproofing the areas directly around the air conditioners and windows to lessen the geckos and bugs getting in,

8. Replacing or repairing a few busted window screens (also, the termites have no compunction whatsoever about trying to get through the screens even though they lose their wings in the process--as we were horrified to find out),

9. Running the air conditioners in every room at least an hour every day to prevent mildew,

10. Cleaning out the air conditioner filters,

11. Going through the house at least once a week to brush/dust away gecko droppings on the windowsills,

12. Sweeping/mopping every two weeks (and we're being pretty chill here, considering that it's muddy out and we don't wear shoes inside),

13. And my personal favorite, waiting around the few times a year for when the sinks or toilet back up a little... because we're not connected to the sewer, and apparently septic tanks don't come with a little dial that says "75% full, you better make an appointment with Todu Maolek Plumbing for next Monday or you're in trouble, pal." (Todu Maolek = All Good in Chamoru.)

All of this, of course, is not that bad in the grand scheme of things and we're glad to be learning how to do it. (I don't want to bitch: it's not physically hard to put on the air conditioner--it's just something I have to remember now). But I really don't see how--given that suburban populations are aging--these kinds of lifestyles are possible.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

This was probably unnecessary, but...

I really hate cockroaches, and I really hate the crunchy sounds they make when you stomp on them. To make your own roach bat, take the end of a broom and cover it in newspaper. Bash away (recommended only for vinyl and tile floors).

Friday, July 4, 2008

Things to do in Guåhan when the power goes out

Drive to K-Mart. Get drenched in the rain because there are no close spots in the parking lot. Obsess about the number of flashlights available (I now know that Mag-Lites are to flashlights what Nalgeen bottles are to water bottles) and play with the wind-up ones. Get a Slurpee. Go back home and sleep.

This is my first, and probably not last, power outage since we got here. When I was a kid visiting the water and power would go out pretty consistently, but given that we've been here three weeks, and last year I was here for one month, I'm optimistic!

Sunday, June 29, 2008


There's a publication I found here called OOG, which stands for "Only on Guam." This mag purports to get military personnel used to Guåhan by providing some cultural and historical info, a business directory, maps, and other miscellaneous information for the deployed personnel here.

Here's my OOG experience for today.

We bought this shelf that was pretty big, but given that we've been so far able to stuff lots of crap into our Toyota Matrix, we were optimistic that at least we'd be able to put the shelf into the back with the seats down, tie it in, and just roll back home with the back trunk open. Well, naturally the stupid shelf didn't fit, and in the process we ripped one 40-pound bag of rock salt we had previously bought for my auntie's water softening system... all over the floor of the car.


We're standing there with a bunch of salt pellets at our feet, filthy from the dust on the shelf which we had carried laboriously throughout the Micronesia Mall, and pretty pissed at each other after a long day hashing out this grant proposal due on Tuesday. But some random guy comes up to us, offers his truck (as in, "We got a truck. Let us help you" as opposed to, "Do you need help?"), and drives the shelf to our house--and also helps us get it in the house. We're taking him and his wife (who was also in their truck with their four kids) to dinner. No word yet as to if the kids are with the babysitter, but even if we end up springing for four kids' meals, we'd be overjoyed to pay back the favor.

And so while some might bitch about OOG in the context of, "The power don't work" and "The government can't do anything right"--I want to emphasize the Chamoru concept of generosity, which has pretty much saved our butts for the past three weeks.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Actually, here's one

At the risk of dwelling too much on that dominant narrative of "look at the natives!", I still thought it was charming to see cows at the bus stop. Look closely for the calf actually in the bus stop.

Åhe, you can't see

I still need to get a digital camera, because looking at walls of text is undoubtedly boring. There are certainly lots of opportunities here in Guåhan, despite the fact that rainy season just started and every day entails a decent amount of foreboding skies.

Two awesome developments on the project front:

1. My project partner and I are nearly at the end of completing the first round of our project. Basically, our kids were able to interview an elderly person about her time during World War II with a minimum of boredom-showing (they are ranging in age from 4-10 years, after all, and a certain amount of fidgety-ness should be expected) for nearly 40 minutes, and they loved every minute of it. Most of all, I am really proud that I took the interview--done entirely in Chamoru--to my mother, and she listened to the whole thing in a wholehearted way. I don't think I've ever seen her be so interested in a strictly auditory thing, including my old radio show.

2. My project partner and I are trying to write another grant due July 1. I think this brings the total number of grants I've ever written up to three. I am seriously questioning, however, at what rate it is prudent to grow. Specifically, we're considering expanding our project's budget by nearly threefold, and only after about two months of in-depth planning and two weeks of actual implementation. My great fear is to devolve the way of other rapidly grown businesses and nonprofits, their capacities having been exhausted far too fast.

But then again, I'm not a huge business/financial/educational risk-taker. I do want to iterate, however, that I don't think conservatism (regarding risk) and innovation are mutually exclusive.

Bleh. Well, that was another stupendously interesting post. I gotta get some pictures.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

First day on the project and I wasn't totally traumatized!

I got up at 5:30 this morning to take a few breaths before reporting for duty at 7am.

Keep in mind that the youngest person I've ever taught was 16 years old, and a fairly mature 16 at that. I approached this day with a fair amount of trepidation--both because I just don't have that much experience with kids and I'm deathly afraid of getting sick (from what I understand, schools are hothouses of disease--and this probably only slightly an overstatement).

However, I did learn today that kids are actually not that different than adults. Teaching them requires a slightly simpler vocabulary and attention to how long individual activities take. But kids have essentially the same sorts of issues that adults have--needing a teacher who smiles a lot, projects lots of energy and enthusiasm, and is constantly monitoring for feedback. In many ways, I think kids have a greater potential to pay attention because they don't have cell phones or Blackberries to distract them.

So, in short, it was a real pleasure to work with 9-year-olds and above!

And on the project development front itself, learning to work with someone new is always challenging, but I'm really optimistic that my project partner and I are going to come to agreement about how to develop curricula.

I wish I had a funny little story about teaching today, as this post is more "technical" than I would like, but as it were, no kid threw up, cried (during our lesson, anyway), or got punished... so I'll take that.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Beginning Chamoru

I need to start incorporating more Chamoru words into my everyday usage, even if most of my day language is English. It's pretty amazing--I started this blog not too long ago, and it is now reflexive for me to refer to the continental 48 as Sanlågu. I'm going to start using that term more frequently around my family and friends to see if it catches on. It's weird how normalizing a term like Sanlågu has so shifted my sense of how I perceive (and become aware of other peoples' perceptions of) that beast called here in Guåhan the United States, the States, Stateside, and the Mainland (that's used more frequently in Hawaii, but I've heard it here, too).

Anyway, I'm trying to get my project partner to start incorporating some Chamoru, too. He's half Iranian, so we'll probably end up with some weird private language between us that's a mishmash of Farsi and Chamoru--Farsimoru or Chamarsi, if you will.

He's learning:
Manana si Yu'os = Good morning, as in, "Manana si Yu'os, you're stinking up the bed, so please get up now."
Hunggan = Yes, as in, "Hunggan, whatever you say is right."
Åhe = No, as in, well, I haven't really taught him this one yet.
Doggon = Butt. I haven't used it in context yet but it's still probably a useful word for him to know.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Ñalang has landed

It's official. I live in Guåhan. And there is enough gecko sh*t on the windowsills to prove it.

My project partner and I will also be going into hyper planning mode this weekend, in addition to finishing painting the living room, looking at some furniture, going to the flea market (for food), going to a Chamoru comedy show, drinking beers/playing trivial pursuit/listening to bluegrass (?!) at the mermaid tavern, Sunday breakfast with i familia, and getting the house ready for my mom, who is coming in three days--not to stay with us, but help out with family stuff.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

En route foodstuffs

I'm in Hawai'i now marrying off my best che'lu (friend). The wedding is done (thankfully without me throwing up during the ceremony, as I was officiating it) and tonight I got to eat at Ono Hawaiian Food on Kapahulu.

When I go back to somewhere I've loved or had people whom I've loved, I always have a list of food that I have to eat. For Hawai'i, it's going to Zippy's and eating ox-tail soup (my popo's standard lunch order), poi, pipikaula, lau lau, and lomi salmon. The only things I'm going to write are that 1) Proust, with his dry-ass butter cookies, ain't got nothing on lomi salmon, and 2) tonight was the closest I've ever actually come to weeping while shoveling mouthfuls of rice, taro, and lomi salmon into my craw. It's perfect transition food... I ate my last piece of New York pizza almost three and a half weeks ago.

If any of you have recipes for the following, please let me know: lau lau, poi, haupia that's not too sweet, and something interesting to do with taro bread.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Another hiccup

The great thing about going to Guåhan is, naturally, that as I pursue this project (about which eventually I'll elaborate its specific purposes and methods), I get to learn Chamoru.

Unfortunately/fortunately, in the meantime I'll make lots of mistakes.

Our first one has to do with our name, which is a pain because we already bought the domain name for our future website. Basically, there are lots of different kinds of pronouns in Chamoru, and while I didn't use the wrong one, it's not quite a smooth translation. It's the difference, apparently, between saying "Hi! Our name is..." and "Hi! Us name is..." You'd get the idea from the second one, but a native speaker probably wouldn't use it.

Obviously, this raises the first issue if you're going to name your project/business in a language you're learning: be sure you've thoroughly vetted your linguistic stuff. We knew we should have, but seeing as everything hit at the same time (major deadlines for school, moving, thesis due, general nervous breakdowns), I guess a protracted conversation with native speakers didn't quite make the priority list.

In the meantime, I'm soliciting some ideas for a new project name for any Chamoru speakers who might read this thing (at this point, one of you). The next post will give you an idea of what I'm looking for.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A slight hiccup

Last week I spent approximately two full days actually using the Internet for work--namely, trying to figure out activities to engage the teenagers our project targets. Specifically, our project targets younger teenagers (like 13+) and develops communication skills, like listening, asking questions, and engaging in deep inquiry about complex concepts like history and truth.

My partner and I might be in for a slight curriculum adjustment, however, because we just got word that we're working with 8 to 12-year-olds. There are no words with which I can express the bone-crushing, nerve-rending trepidation now pulsing through my body.

1. We're working with expensive audio equipment. And we're checking it out to individual kids or groups of kids. Or at least we were. But I guess being a teacher is all about adjusting, eh?

2. I have never, ever, ever worked with children, except for the few months where I babysat a 9-year-old and his mouthy 11-year-old brother. But that gig didn't entail teaching and working with kids. It required me to have McDonald's on speed dial for delivery (yes, you can get McDonald's delivered in Manhattan) and say repeatedly, "No, not until your homework is done."

Oh. My. God.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Activists have conferences (too)

Apparently it's not just the corporate leeches who get together to strategize. Of course, it is the rare plumbing supplies trade show or military contracts bidding session that would end with an open mic/poetry reading.

I spent my Memorial Day weekend going to this conference in San Diego.

Si Yu'os ma'ase for a great time, Famoksaiyan!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The desk post-thesis

Unfortunately, the camera couldn't capture all of the trash that was piled up to the desk, next to the desk, and under it. Grad school is a public health hazard.

Monday, May 5, 2008

When I leave Sanlågu New York

I Will Miss
Events like this
First days of spring when everyone is super-friendly and forgiving
Soul food
Taking the subway
Running by the Hudson River and seeing people walking their dogs
Specialty food shops like this one, as absurd as selling such simple comfort food is

but I will also

Definitely Not Miss
Walking by homeless people while eating $7 frozen yogurt
$10 sandwiches (it’s a grilled cheese whether it’s damn fontina or cheddar)
The stomach i got from eating soul food
Taking the subway at rush hour and late nights, especially when I have to use the bathroom
Running by the Hudson River and being forced to smell it
Plastic take-out containers

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Life after thesis-ing

I can see now how blogging can be a pain in the ass. It's not that nothing has happened to me over the past two weeks--it's that upholding the enthusiasm in regards to writing about aforementioned things is difficult to do.

Regardless, a major milestone has been accomplished. I finally finished my thesis on nationalism and education, and can now begin doing things like regularly cleaning my room, riding my bike, and doing laundry.

On the project front, my partner and I had a good meeting on equipment purchases and curricula development last Thursday. By this Friday we intend to get all of the necessary tech supplies for the project. Our collaboration on-island has coalesced a bit more. Today we also have another meeting with the head of his department who was interested in potentially publicizing our work. We are definitely going to hit the ground running when we arrive in Guåhan.

Last but not least, I've downloaded a copy of Genius in order to work on developing my Chamoru language skills. You can read all about the program, which utilizes an algorithm to maximize individuals' memorization skills, here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Guam Cribs

I am generally offended by all that I see on MTV, and the show "Cribs" is no exception. The show, does, however, encourage me to discount the aesthetics of the nouveau and not-so nouveau riche, in particular their decisions to paint Chinese characters on the walls of their dining rooms (way to go, white people with no idea what that stuff means) and employ "dungeon" as a legitimate interior style.

For those of you not in the know, "Cribs" is an MTV-style "Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous," except in this case the rich and famous are the 15-minute kids of fame who had the right look and the right hook at the right time to get exploited.

However, I do love this send-up of the show by a kid on Guam. I can't wait to move.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The people you meet

One of the things I do love about temping (other than the requirements that 1. I have to ask to use the bathroom, 2. I get abused by at least one office worker each time, and 2. I get abused by one caller at least once each time) are the other temps I meet.

I was a mid-level apparel company yesterday. When I say mid-level, this company owns a lot of other labels and tends to sell them in stores like Sears, JC Penny, and select outlets. One of the guy temps who covered my desk while I took my bathroom break I found out had escaped from L.A., where he had written for a prominent comedienne's TV show for five years, her subsequent talk show afterwards for three, and bought a house with the residuals and income earned from selling drugs. Oh, and he was a dressmaker for the studios. He's been here for a year.

The other great thing about temping is the mythology that you get to pick up. He told me about this other temp who got hired at a legal firm even though this gig hadn't been open for ten years, and the woman vacated it because she was getting married. This new temp is currently pulling in $110,000 a year as a legal secretary. I guess that is the Holy Grail of temps.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

According to the dictionary...

Sanlågu = Continental United States
San- = Directional prefix, used with locatives. Gasgas sanhalom-mu. Your insides are clean.
Lagu = North (in Guåhan and Luta), west (in Saipan).
Lagu = type of fish-gaterin diagrammus, also known as sweetlips.

Thanks, Chamorro-English dictionary (Topping, D., Ogo, P. & Dungca, D. [1975].)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Oh dear

As if donor suspicion regarding nonprofits weren't enough.

The New York Times Report Sketches Crime Costing Billions: Theft from Charities

And on the project front, I had a really excellent meeting without someone who had worked for foundations before and is now in the academic machine. He essentially told me to take my project for-profit if possible, equating the nature of nonprofit organizations to slavery. Strong words, but given his stance on nonprofits as an extension of the service industry, not necessarily a stretch, either. When I was an undergrad way back in the late 90s I was expecting to maybe swing around $23,000 for a starting position at a New York nonprofit--and this was after I had already donated nine months worth of time (about 540 hours) to one museum.

His advice regarding my ongoing problem of figuring out how to network with other nonprofits and gain informal kinds of technical assistance? Be straight up, transparent, and if worse comes to worse, play the student card and pretend I'm researching the organization.

Future topic: Founder's Syndrome. He apparently had tried to write a grant for an organization, and it turned into a tortuous process (I assume, given his facial expression) because of the founder's inability to cede control (and perhaps rhetoric) in order to persuade rich people to give the organization money.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cell phones

I've tried to do some reading on cell phone etiquette since last night after I got into a protracted discussion with someone about my perceived lack of the existence of such etiquette. I was mainly annoyed that I was in a restaurant with this individual, and he answered the phone. The phone call was from a friend of ours calling because she needed to get a hairdryer from someone else.

I generally don't like cell phones but have never really sat down and thought about why that was so. Initially my distaste for them grew out of my work colleagues' tendencies to contact people outside of work--there was no way I wanted to be that "in touch" when I was officially off the clock.

Nor am I the Luddite that people try to make me out to be. I love washing machines, my computer (except for the time that the hard drive crashed and I lost a year's of grad school--but that's another post targeted towards you Mac evangelists), portable recorded music, fast internet connections, and antibiotics. I don't want to get into a conversation bashing cell phones, because there are obvious pros and cons for any given technology. It's not worth enumerating here.

But I do think that it is worthwhile to think about how technology has changed interactions between people, as trite as this sentiment has played out.

My initial thoughts coalesce around how cell phone usage potentially changes the prioritization of time, expressed through the "granting" of time to company and those trying to get through on the cell phone. This goes for call waiting, too. I was trying to figure out how being interrupted by a cell phone is fundamentally different than being interrupted by a live human. I wouldn't be so annoyed by the latter if we (my friend and I) were out. I think that the former bothers me more by the sheer inability for a tripartite interaction to occur. But then, speaker phone answers that. But then, why the f*ck would I want to be on speaker phone in public? Tacky.

I also welcome any suggestions as to how to articulate the scheduling flexibility that cell phones seem to promote. I say "seem" because I think that they promote flexibility for one individual, but not necessarily for another. More than once have I arrived somewhere at an appointed time, only to be called by that person with a request to cancel, change the time, or change the location because it's more convenient for the other person.

I do also love the following scenarios:

1. Sitting with someone else, chatting. Other's cell rings.
O: "Oh, hi, I'm out with Ñalang. Can I call you back?"
First off, if it's not dire for you answer your stupid phone initially, then why couldn't your voicemail have picked up until after we left the restaurant? The requisite response is that the person calling could have had an emergency. I can't argue with that, but I don't buy it entirely either--especially since no one in my immediate circle does brain surgery, delivers babies, or had an incapacitated parent/child/dog.

2. In a movie. Jerk answers cell.
J: "I'm in a movie. Can I call you back?" Protracted conversation might ensue, revolving around when the movie might end and what the phone call is about.

I take it back. I loathe cell phones. I think they turn people into pathologically dependent individuals.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Competition, nonprofit style 2

In this week's previous post, I asked a general question regarding nonprofit organizations' abilities to patent and sue on behalf of innovations they make. In also used "nonprofit organization" interchangeably with "social justice movements" and will be more careful in this post to make the distinction.

I haven't read INCITE's The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (yet), but did read Gerard Alexander's (2007, April 23) "The Nonprofit Industrial Complex" from the Weekly Standard. Alexander's conservative orientations lead him to critique nonprofits (or otherwise termed the independent sector) for their left-wing tendencies, but he makes some salient points, namely:

  • Nonprofit endowments or foundations invest around $1 trillion annually
  • Nonprofits are largely unregulated, either by government or stakeholders in the organizations, like clients or government (this critique coming from a neoconservative, no less!)
  • Nonprofits can become unofficial extensions of government agencies
  • Foundational influence can decrease over time given newfound corporate influx in philanthropic giving and changes in the nonprofit sector itself, with specific transitions for hospitals and educational institutions into profitable enterprises (i.e. Blue Shield, University of Phoenix)

I'm going to exclude universities from my discussion of nonprofits and intellectual property as it should be self-evident what that relationship is.

But I will still open discussion regarding intellectual property rights for the nonprofits I am especially interested in, like those involved in youth social programs. Tangentially, here's a good case study.

Other countries, for example, were able to replicate the core business model of this agency. The core business model, however—a marketplace-style mode of matching donors and project proposals—was contingent on software that could produce matches and facilitate the proposal fulfillment process. I have no idea how sophisticated or expensive this software was to develop, but I am sure that the donation by Yahoo! of technical assistance (months of volunteering by engineers) amounts to a significant outlay of time, expertise, and would have been completely inviable without the donation. This agency, modelled as the primo example of social entrepreneurship, seeks to become self-sufficient through a user's fee paid out by donors, but I am not sure to what extent the agency currently is self-sufficient. I will be interested as the woes of this recession play out.

Indeed, anyone in the nonprofit world should be so concerned.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Competition, nonprofit style

The program planning took a backseat role this weekend as I rushed the first draft of my thesis to a self-imposed deadline today. The good news, as far that headache is concerned, is that I have a lot data and ideas with which to work. The bad news is that I'm at 70 pages, I have a few more ideas to develop, and the department sets an approximate page limit of 50 pages. Part of me wants to continue just to see if it's possible to get an honorary doctorate for being prolific--but then again, I guess every lame-ass blogger would be eligible as well.

On the program front, I did have an awesome meeting with a program director today, seeking answers to questions about curriculum development. But here's the issue: given the funder limitations out there, how do nonprofits compete with each other?

The first answer is that those who do not write enough grants or who suck at programs/management just fade out.

The second answer is that some nonprofits (like those modelled on emerging social entrepreneurial frameworks) have innovative programming and therefore have some sort of first-mover advantage in securing funding.

The third answer is that some successful nonprofits are able to outsource their work through subcontracts to sustain other nonprofits that are not yet as "developed" or even incorporate smaller nonprofits to grow.

The answer I'm interested in, however, relates to the innovation and the intellectual property rights that a successful nonprofit might have. Since I do curriculum development, I want to get some ideas from organizations that are already established. Some of these orgs are set to publish their curricula and sell them, either to sustain programming or offset print costs. But at the same time, for a pilot project that simply does not have the start-up capital to gain technical assistance, I am really shy to ask, "Can I look at your work and take a few ideas?"

Culturally speaking, within the nonprofit world my first reaction is that workers are generous with their knowledge and skills given the lack of profit incentive. But philanthropy is increasingly directed by donors and competitive. Additionally, with the professionalization of grassroots movements and the exponentially growing field of "consultancy," is it possible that those involved in social justice movements will become just as assertive in claiming ownership of their methods as those in the corporate world? Could it be possible to patent and sue on behalf of a movement's techniques?

Friday, March 21, 2008

The start of March madness (not basketball)

Having secured that aforementioned grant, now is the time to not only finish this master’s thesis which has been dogging me for at least six months now, but also to start program planning. I intend for this project to be a full-fledged program—partially because my inherently neurotic nature demands a pretty organized and logical follow-through and partially because I’m terrified to land in Guåhan and flail around physically, emotionally, and professionally.

So from here on out a few of my posts are going to be related to the maturity of my project and my reflections on the coming challenges.

To date: I’ve had one meeting with my project partner and we’re working on a logic model and mission statement. Today I wrote three emails outlining our current needs (lesson plans for listening, interpersonal skills development, leadership training) and hoping to schedule appointments with other organizations who either share our social justice goals, target populations, and/or mediums of projects (i.e. video, the web).

What’s a logic model? This is a chart that project planners use. Let’s say you want to start a project that addresses a social problem, like poverty. A logic model compartmentalizes the ways that you’ll tackle this problem. It shows you what kinds of resources/INPUTS you already have (money, facilities, staff), the ACTIVITIES you'll do to attack an aspect of the problem (provide social worker counseling sessions), some ways you'll measure the scope of what you're doing (listing how many sessions a social worker might have in a month and with how many clients), and some OUTCOMES (clients get hooked up to health and food pantry services). There's another box for IMPACT, which measures the long-term success of a project. An example of an appropriate impact here would be the eradication of poverty. Logic models show how a process works and where there might be problems in the implementation of that process, as well as reveal inconsistencies in the process and problem.

Here's an example of a logic model.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Good news, boring delivery

I have to say: having friends in a time zone three hours behind mine is very convenient, particularly if it is 3 in the morning on the Eastern seaboard and I am suffering from mad insomnia/anxiety/general restlessness.

Got some excellent news recently about a grant request fulfilled, which means that I immediately go into a work mode that has not yet been challenged in the past two years at grad school. This is not to say that I have not done a significant amount of work. Grad school work, however, has been of the ideological labor kind as opposed to the kind that involves intense planning, administrative fortune-telling, and behavior (i.e. DIPLOMACY) that I normally associate with a paycheck and not reading books with “discourse” in the title.

Man, I really hope this blog gets more interesting to read with time.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sanlågu: What does it mean?

Both of my parents come from islands (one being a U.S. territory, the other being a U.S. state). Frequently islanders will refer to the continguous 48 U.S. states as The Mainland.

In the previous post I translated Sanlågu to mean “continental 48,” but I think from now on I might just use Sanlågu exclusively.

Why is this important?

Many an academic career have been predicated on defining boundaries around groups, who makes up those groups, and what those groups should be named. Political projects have also revolved around these kinds of categorizations, and often to the detriment of specific groups within a given territory. Apartheid and the Holocaust, to take the most extreme examples, capitalized on these categorizations to advance pretty horrific state agendas. Alternatively, these categorizations have also served to ensure that some groups continue or will live lives of privilege, and perhaps at the expense of other groups' basic human rights.

I am very interested in processes of decolonization and how they pertain to Guåhan. Decolonization is a complex concept and I’ll get to it over the next week or so. But just to start out the conversation, decolonization seeks to empower historically oppressed groups to look at themselves and ask, Who has defined us so far? How have those individuals (or states) defined us? Is that who are? Is that who we want to be?

When islanders refer to The Mainland, this might be an unconscious reflex. Habits are hard to break. But it’s worthwhile to ask, “Why should
Sanlågu be called ‘The Mainland,’ when where I live, and where my family lives, and where most of my life’s important changes take place is here, on this island?”

Etymologically speaking, I’m also going to investigate the more specific meaning of Sanlågu, since the Chamoru dictionary helpfully points out that san and lågu mean directions.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Desnek yu'!/Surprise!

I’ve got three months to go in my grad school career. During this time, I’ve spent most of it studying Chamoru sovereignty issues—thanks mostly in part to a fortuitous meeting with members of Famoksaiyan.

As part of this quest to learn more about my family and my family’s history, I also began taking Chamoru lessons. Alas, in the continental 48 I don’t know anyone else with whom to practice, and talking on the phone with my mom can be frustrating without seeing her gesture for me. So part of this blog will also record the trajectory of my language learning and challenges. Please excuse the mistakes.

And lucky me! I’m leaving here soon enough to live in Guåhan for the first time in my life. While I’m there I hope to do and learn a lot of things, not least of which includes raising chickens, husking a coconut, and fishing.

Håfa adai! Ma'pos na fanomñagan estudia yu' i fino' Chamoru gi i Unibetsedat Guåhan. Gi i sanlagu ti guaha yu' i taotao Chamoru para praktika. Malago yu' komprende sa' put fabot dispensa yu' i lachi siha.

Hi! Last summer I studied Chamoru at the University of Guåhan. On the continental 48, I have no Chamoru people to practice with. I want to learn so please excuse the mistakes.