Book Excerpt: The Oleai Teacher’s Walk

Posted On: October 19, 2017

Book Excerpt: The Oleai Teachers’ Walk


From Chapter 6, Moving On (page 125):


With Saipan’s random unannounced power outages, electric clocks were not a reliable way to tell time. But within the Micronesian perception of time, stopped clocks were of little concern. The rhythm of their unhurried pace was a clear cultural message I sometimes struggled to keep time with.

Four of the teachers at Oleai school were Carolinian women who lived in the village. Every day after school, they walked out under the portico and the spreading Poinciana tree and down the crushed coral driveway of the school to their homes. One Friday during the dry season, I found myself heading home at the same time as these colleagues. I understood a pitifully small amount of the Carolinian language, but I began walking with them, listening, and trying to follow the gist of their conversation. I was walking as slowly as I knew how, yet I kept getting ahead of them. I’d stop and wait for them to catch up but in another couple minutes, found that I had again gotten ahead of them.

If “keeping up” means not lagging behind, my problem was that I could not seem to “keep down.” I looked at their zori-clad feet in the dusty driveway. It occurred to me that I was walking with a group of people who were so unfocused on a destination that they actually seemed to be lingering on each step, all the while chatting away. Though the words they spoke were still somewhat mystifying to me, the message in their lingering footsteps was clear. I think of the lesson I learned that day—on the Oleai Teachers’ Walk— as simply: How you get where you’re going is often more important than where you wind up.