For starters, Yap is one of the states in the Federated States of Micronesia in the South Pacific. This beautiful, practically untouched island is unlike any other place I’ve visited in my life. Look it up on Google maps to give yourself an idea of just how tiny it is. You might be thinking, “Maggie, what could possibly have brought you to Yap?” Well, I needed a good dose of Scranton/Jesuit love and Yap was a great place to find all that I had been missing.
Two of my classmates and friends from the University of Scranton, Michael and Caitlin, are currently teaching at Yap Catholic High School. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to see them while also experiencing a truly unique place that I may never get to again. I’ve had over a week to think about and process my trip, but I’m still generally at a loss for words in terms of describing this trip. I’ll try my best.
Upon my arrival, I stepped off the plane and as Michael had instructed, immediately began taking in my surroundings. The airport isn’t so much of a building as it is a pavilion. I headed over to the 2 booths for customs/immigration and was asked for the address of where I would be staying. I did not have an answer for this other than I was staying with friends and the woman asked me the names of my friends. “Michael and Caitlin, the Catholic volunteers” I replied. She nodded and wrote in their address. This is when I knew they hadn’t exaggerated how small this island was. I continued on where I was stopped by a woman who had “gone local” which meant she was in the traditional clothing. This means a skirts of sorts, a nu-nu (flower crown), and a lei. She welcomed me to Yap and put a lei around my neck as well. I looked up to see Michael and Caitlin waiting for me in the small crowd waiting patiently and enjoying my reaction to all that was happening. Things that just months ago had taken them by surprise as well, but now are their version of normal.
After a few hours of sitting and chatting, Michael and I both decided it was time to get some sleep even though we were giddy and still in disbelief that I was actually in Yap. We were up bright and early to head to mass with Jane, a 2nd year volunteer from Arkansas. They gave me my own handmade basket to carry around for the week. On Yap, you typically carry around a basket or leaf when you are in someone else’s village to show you are not carrying a weapon or looking to start trouble. We spent the late morning and afternoon driving around the island to give me a sort of comprehensive tour of the island. This included a stop at the government building to visit Bob, another ex-pat on the island who surprised us both when he greeted me in Korean. (His abilities were better than mine!) We stopped by the Jesuit residence to meet and chat with Fr. Corcoran who started the school with the other Jesuit on the island, Fr. Mulraney. We had a great chat about the education system of Yap as well as in the US and Korea. Afterwards, Michael and I posted up at the pool at Trader’s dive resort (they kindly let the ex-pats use their facilities for free) for a bit before checking out one of the restaurants for dinner.
Monday morning was a normal school day for the 4 volunteers so I accompanied them to see the grounds, meet their students, and see them in action. Many of the kids took it upon themselves to introduce themselves and welcome me to Yap before Fr. Corcoran and Michael introduced me at the school’s morning meeting. I sat in on all of Michael’s classes and spoke to each class for a bit if time permitted. My favorite class to sit in on was his freshmen religion class because that was the time I truly saw him in his element. The Scranton in him truly shone through and it was amazing to see how well the students responded to him and how engaged they were. All week I kept saying how impressed I was by the students at YCHS between their hard work, faith, and their welcoming nature.
Tuesday was my day “off”, so I ventured into town to explore a little on my own. I went for lunch and a swim at Trader’s again before heading back to them after school. Michael took me on a short hike up to the radio tower, but first we stopped at his neighbor’s so he could show me his newly acquired tree climbing skills. His little ‘brother’ Thafarad showed off a little too and Mary agreed to make me some local food to try out. Along the hike, we wandered off the path a bit to check out an old Japanese cannon from WWII. Yap has been occupied by several other nations including Japan and the US which have left remnants of times gone by in various spots on the island. We continued up the mountain and stayed to catch one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The views of the different parts of the island, the different shades of blue in the water, and the lush vegetation that makes up this “Island of Stone Money” was breathtaking. It was one of those moments when you lose all sense of time and just enjoy being present exactly where you are.