Fetan Non Tong / Walk with Love
by Tess Hart, Mau Piailug House, Chuuk, FSM 13
As the remaining days I am JV in Chuuk are disappearing, I have felt a sense of urgency in finding some profound meaning in my experience. Thus, when a community mate suggested that we take a day to walk around the entire island in silence, I jumped at the opportunity. Instead of getting out of my own head, I would force myself to work through my confusion and anxiety about the transition ahead, while filling my adventure quota. The island of Weno is 15 square miles and the road (or footpath at some points) follows the shore for a 12 mile trek.
We embarked on a Sunday morning and as I prepared to retreat within myself, I was jolted by a question from a passer-by. In true Chuukese fashion, we were asked, “Kopwe na ia?” (Where are you going?) followed by “ka na ia?” (where are you coming from?). At first I answered cheerily, but my patience waned as I was repeatedly asked these questions by everyone who passed. I was starting to have an unwarranted irritation at the friendly greeting. I heard it again, “Kopwe na ia?” NOWHERE, I wanted to scream, why does it matter where I am going? Can you leave me alone?! Then I realized that the question was the perfect reminder of what I was supposed to be figuring out- where am I going? Sure, on that day, I was walking around Weno, but where was I actually going? Where am I being called or led? Am I responding to a call or just going on a path all my own? Equally apropos was the follow up question, “where are you coming from?” The literal answer rolls of the tongue, “Xavier High School” and the typical response, “Ahh Sensi Xavier” with a nod of approval. But really where am I from, Xavier? JVC? How am I entering each day? Each experience? What am I bringing with me?
A five hour walk was not going to be enough time to sort that out. And instead of a moment of clarity at the summit of a hill or at the end of the eleventh mile, the hike presented a series of routine occurrences that seem to summarize the lessons I have learned in Chuuk.
Our walk started two hours later than we had planned because of a torrential downpour that swept across the island. As we sat on the porch of the Xavier faculty lounge, drinking our coffee and looking for signs of clouds dissipating, I was struck by Lesson 1: There is a time for everything. Learning to be comfortable with “island time” is something I have slowly come to embrace. It has its own special way of allowing events to unfold as they occur, without grave concern for specifics or definite times. “When?” you ask. “Soon.” “What time?” “Morning.” These are now appropriate answers that I have come to value. People before schedules. Patience and flexibility. During my time here, I have come to accept that I am not in control of everything. In fact, I am not in control of most things; so I can enjoy the rain, sip my coffee, and contently wait, because there is a time for everything.
In due time, the rain left and we began our journey. As we walked along the first leg of our trek, I regretted my lack of foresight in failing to pack bug spray. Not a minute later, Mary walking a few feet in front of me, pulled bug spray out of her backpack. Nice, I thought, but I can’t ask her for it without breaking our silence. Then without any eye contact or signal her hand reached back over her shoulder to pass me the bug spray. Sometimes others know us better than we know ourselves. Lesson 2: Close friendships are worth everything. Sometimes you have to rely on others and that is okay. During my time as a JV, I have shared the full range of emotions with my community mates and have leaned on them for support on countless occasions. For the stubborn and independent side of me, this has been both humbling and gratifying. Chuuk has taught me that right relationships are vital to happiness.
Onward we marched, until we reached the part of the island where land disputes have prevented any sort of road or permanent trail from being created. Having walked this path only twice before, I had little confidence in my ability to navigate us through the maze of overgrown footpaths that diverge at seemingly random points. I didn’t want to steer us wrong, but with no way to communicate for a second opinion, I was forced to make a choice at each fork in the trail. Lesson 3: Trust. Every time I started to panic, I have led us wrong, we are lost, I don’t remember this at all, the next marker I was looking for would appear. Little by little, I realized I did in fact know what the way, I just didn’t believe in myself. Being a JV, though at times has caused me to question my ability to do anything, has also forced me to think for myself, discern what is right, and be willing for follow that path with confidence.
During the course of the hike I managed to get my skirt caught on barbed wire, get my hair caught in a tree branch, walk into 15 spiderwebs, and step in about 25 sinkhole mud puddles. Lesson 4: Life will sometimes knock you down. During my time in Chuuk, I have been bruised by disappointment, work stress, bad news, and tough situations beyond my control. I’ve doubted, gotten angry, gotten lost; I’ve questioned my experience, my beliefs, my purpose, but in doing so I have learned to ask for help, to detach, to “sit with” questions and discomfort; in the end, I have grown. I am more of myself because of this.
In Chuuk, even where there is a road, it is not paved in most areas, and the rock/coral/mud gravel that constitutes the rest of it is riddled with “pot holes” that stretch its entire width. After a storm, these craters form lakes and ponds and make foot travel a maze full of zig zags. Lesson 5: Sometimes going backwards is progress. At times I would take the wrong path and could either forge ahead into a mess of sludge or I could back up and re-evaluate. On the walk and in life, I have certainly done both. But in my JV experience, I have come to value the importance of taking time to reflect, to revisit actions, to wait. Whether that comes in the form of reviewing the same lesson in the classroom, practicing the Ignatian repetition at spirituality night, or revisiting a conversation to strengthen a relationship, sometimes the first shot is not enough.
Multiple times during the course of our journey, we were asked if we needed a ride –by friends and strangers. Though on this occasion, we passed up their hospitality, I still felt grateful for their openness. Lesson 6: We are all people of good will. From the students who always offer to clean the chalkboard to the community mates who never fail to bring me coffee, I have experienced the fruits of kindness. That expression of helpfulness by acquaintances and strangers alike caused me to remember how full compassion humanity can be.
So “Ka na ia?” (“Where have I been?”) – I’ve been “ruined for life.” I’ve learned to love freely and authentically, and I have chosen to seek again and again. “Kopwe na ia?” (“where am I going?”) The physical place I may not be sure of, but I am going with the help of others and with trust in what I do not control. I am going to leave with the lessons I have learned. I carry with me my friends, my belief, my patience, my humility. Because of this experience, I will continue to “fetan non tong” to “walk with love.” So I ask you the same question, Kopwe na ia? Where are you going?
Assess, Evaluate and Listen
Offered as spoken word during the DisOrientation talent show.
Michael Enich, Oscar Romero House, Newark 14
I am here to educate
but I am not a teacher.
You see, a teacher knows their place
at the front of the classroom they pace
back and forth, to and fro
to till seeds of wisdom shape each of their students minds.
Knowledge sprouts like corn stalks.
Each produces a single ear to listen from.
Me, I’m not a teacher
I go to Covenant House to check people
for no pay.
Day in and out I weave threads of insight—Complex patterns of legal jargon into their narrative blanket
My job is to help them navigate the shuttle-beats.
Get untangled from whatever $15 dollar weave that got them there in the first place.
I do legal and education assessments.
And I wish there was a better way to say I learned more from a homeless kid— young person experiencing homelessness, mental illness, listlessness, identiylessness, youthfullness— than I teach them
Because my degree is Religion and Biomedical Studies
I am a Bachelor who knows the art of BS
who cares about the complexities of examining an inter religious meta-dialogue on the ethics of justice
who gives a crap about PEP-carboxylase in step 7 of glycolysis.
Because I know Daniel guided me in planting trees,
Lets others dig holes for the first time then guides them into placing it.
Nathan can’t take care of his addiction
shoots up hoops with a 7 year old, crushes them in points but never their spirit.
Emily giggles. Giggles because being birthed in a different tongue makes the world funny.
And hell, weed does too. And if you can’t make sense at least make an escape.
I am NOT one for clichés
which makes it even worse when I see them taking care of me and not vice-versa.
“Mr. Michael, we said Charlie is ashy because that’s the color his skin turns when it’s dry”
“Mr. Michael, if you’re going to get Willfredo Ortiz’ attention at the board of end you’re going to have to let me act a little ratchet.”
“Michael, you have to bring the progress note to my DCPP court date and tell them how well I’m doing”
“Mike, of course I was arrested, I’m a young black man.”
The cafeteria is their classroom
I eat up their slang along with a side of booty Cov rice.
I feel them, gassin me up because I think I get them- word,
I throw the shade, dish the tea— do you believe me ‘er naw?
And while a lesson on pea plants is completely lost on my GED students
Using their lessons— asking “Do you feel me”? After showing how two homozygous tall parent pea plants will produce all homozygous tall F1 generation offspring helps them get it
I won’t blaming piss-poor attitudes, laziness or lack of gratitude
Because I wouldn’t want to sit through my lectures either.
And they’re at least leaning here.
So I’ll leave corn kernels in car rides instead.
Let the humming of the engine coax their mental ground open.
Let them pop when the heat of their life is just right.
Let TJ believe he can get a second chance in the town that sent him to prison in the first place.
Ask Lewis if finding a new girlfriend during the placement test for his school is the best academic choice.
And of course, the streets we’re bumpin’ down run two ways
Fran lets me know what Feddy means when he’s talking about the trap.
and Chris tells me that I don’t want my car to break down in East Orange on my own.
But he’s scared too.
I am here to educate, but I am not a teacher. And I’ve learned more: assess, evaluate and listen.
And I pray that if I do, they will too.