My family has had some amazing trips over the years. Even with seven kids my parents always made an effort to plan family vacations. We have taking short road trips for hockey tournaments and other things. Trips to Duluth were frequent but we also drove to Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, North and South Dakota, Colorado.
In high school my parents took my three younger brothers and I to Canada to see Niagara falls and the hockey hall of fame, then we drove to New York for the baseball hall of fame, then to Cleveland for the Rock and Roll hall of fame. Our last stop was Chicago and then home. The next year we flew to Key West, Florida and had the best vacation of my life. Even though I say that is my favorite vacation, it is not the coolest place I’ve been. My parents took my three younger brothers and I to two more places that changed my life.
My dad took a job in The Federated States of Micronesia. You are probably thinking that I made that up, I actually didn’t.
Micronesia is made up of four islands; Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap. As the Chief Litigator for all four states of Micronesia my dad worked on all the islands, but we lived on the island of Yap. Again, I am not making this up, it’s a real place, check out this map to get a better idea!
We lived in the capital of Yap, Colonia, right next to the hospital (which turned out to be very convenient). We lived on a bay and right outside our window was a view of the ocean.
Let me explain a little bit about the island of Yap. It is the most culturally traditional island of Micronesia. While some locals wear shorts/skirts and t-shirts some, especially in the villages, wear their native dress. Men in loin cloths called a “thoo” and the women in wrapped skirts called “lava lava’s” and nothing else, yes, the women are topless. Which turned out to not be that big of an issue.
Yap has many great sights and one of them that you see all over the island is the stone money. Stone money can be anywhere from three feet tall to over six feet tall, and way several tons. Stone money is exactly that, a giant stone that was exchanged for services or products (mostly land). The money was not moved when exchanged, the villages just remember which stone belongs to which village.
Here is a picture of stone money.
My family moved to Yap in August of 2006, just before my senior year of high school. While to some that would be the worst thing in the world, to me it was pretty cool. Yes, I did have my moments of anger and I absolutely showed my 17 year old immaturity at times, but overall moving to Yap was a great experience.
I celebrated my 18th birthday on a sailboat restaurant where once the staff found out it was my birthday I was given a traditional flower headdress and free chocolate cake.
My 18th birthday at Manta Ray Resort!
We spent the first few months finding a place to live, trying to figure out how to buy groceries, how to cook meals from scratch (with limited ingredients) and basically just how to feel normal in a scary new place. My parents did everything they could to help my brothers and I feel comfortable and keep our lives as normal as possible. We went to the beach, we worked on school, we went to the sports complex daily. Apart from all of us being homesick we were doing fairly well.
In January I flew back home to Minnesota to finish my senior year at my high school…and to see my boyfriend who I had been away from for five months!
I ended up being away from my mom, dad and little brothers for exactly a year. I made the decision to go back to Yap after one semester in college to finish out the rest of my families stay there. While that decision was tough and meant leaving my boyfriend again this time for eight months, it was absolutely the best decision for me. In the year I was gone my family had made friends, gone scuba diving and truly started enjoying their time there. I had spent my time in Yap being homesick and really needed to experience the island with a better mood. I was 19 and while leaving my then boyfriend was hard, I am proud of myself for not letting our relationship hold me back. I needed to go and even though that could have ended my relationship, I was 19 and it was ok for me to be selfish. Luckily my decision did not end my relationship and I am now married to that boyfriend!
When I got back to Yap I was introduced to so many people in the Peace Corps and they became regulars at our house (especially around dinner time), I got a job at one of the resorts and was in charge of managing several events along with other office duties. I went scuba diving and saw the majestic manta ray cleaning station of Yap, went to vertigo where I saw dozens of sharks and I experienced diving with my parents and brothers. My mom and I played tennis on the regular and after she broke her arm while playing and went to have surgery in the Philippines my brothers and I managed to get along with my parents gone for three weeks.
My brother Tony and me at vertigo dive site.
In March of 2008 all of us went on vacation to Bali, Indonesia. Bali is a stunning and spectacular place full of temples, cultural statues, traditional dances and performances and what was most appealing to my brothers and I, cheeseburgers. We could eat american-ized food that we couldn’t get in Yap! We went to the monkey forest and two of my brothers took surfing lessons. I got to do some shopping and my youngest brother turned out to be a champ at haggling!
Just me hanging with a monkey in Bali!
In July we flew back to the States and quickly fell back into the American pace of life. I love to look back on my time in Yap and dream about bringing Alex and our kids there one day. I’m sure it will be so different from what I remember but I know that the smell of the ocean and the red stains of betel nut on the road will still be there. I know that no matter how long I am away I will still think of Yap as being one of my homes. A man that worked with my dad told us just before we left that we are Yapese, and that we are always welcome back.
I am so thankful to my parents for giving me the gift of seeing the world. I know I wasn’t always grateful and I know that my going back and forth from the island and the U.S. was hard on the people I love, but now eight years after being home I know that Yap is a place that I will love forever, and it will always be a part of me. My family on our private beach in Yap!