Columnist Corner: Ng Soak a Beluak
About the title. That’s Palauan, like me. The “Ng” is an article or can mean “it.” Also, it is hummed to get people’s attention that you are going to say something or you are thinking of what to say. The Beluu is where people live. The –ak suffix indicates first person possessive. Altogether it means “I Love my home.”
I love the white noise of the surf when I go to sleep on the waterbed. The owls hoot at night. I wake to the roosters’ crows and the twitter of morning birds. Rain birds whistle warnings of showers. That precipitation keeps everything verdant. A short stroll past the taro patch leads to the beach for a soak or swim in the warm tropical Pacific Ocean, the world’s biggest bathtub.
Breakfast is of fish that the Rubak—a respected, elderly, male leader—caught in the back yard, papaya from the tree by the house and rainwater collected from the roof into a tank on the star gazing deck. Or we can use the beluu water treated and pumped from Lake Ngerdok, the largest freshwater lake in Micronesia. While Koror suffered with water rationing in the drought of early 2016, here in Melekeok we always enjoyed running water 24/7.
Rubak was once interviewed and asked, “How many people can you count on to babysit your children at the drop of a hat?” “One hundred,” he said.
We have an island mentality, that demands we always help each other. We must hang together or we shall certainly hang separately, to borrow from American history. Whenever there is a funeral, first child ceremony, medical evacuation, house party, wedding or someone traveling off-island, everybody chips in and helps out. No one goes hungry.
The downside of course is that every weekend someone is asking for help, making it hard to put any money in the bank. This is the true meaning of Karl Marx’s doctrine, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
Communism may not work well on an international level because folks resent the government taking their hard earned rewards, distributing them to strangers and providing them no chance as producers to get ahead. Human nature means we work harder to benefit from our efforts. But here on the island, we are all related so we volunteer to share.
When I was a girl, I did my homework by kerosene lamp. Electricity was a luxury that we enjoyed when the gasoline powered generator was run to light the evenings when food preparation for a funeral was underway. The only way to get to the hospital or grocery store was a two hour expedition on the diesel powered wooden boat at high tide. It took twice as long to get to town at low tide, chugging along outside the reef. We wrote paper letters to communicate with relatives stateside. Later on, the local two mile strip became paved and power poles lined the street, delivering rationed electricity first for just a few hours in the evening, then from six p.m. to six a.m. and then finally, there was full time power.
Five years later, the first telephones were introduced to my village and everyone had an encyclopedic record of everyone else’s phone number. It is a wonderful thing to live in a community where everyone cares for the well-being of everyone else, even if it means your business is everyone else’s business too.
I left my home village to go to high school and four years later left the Palau for college. It took me more than nine years to return home. Sometimes I wish I had returned sooner to help contribute to the change in my homeland. I invite young Palauans everywhere to consider coming back. Believe it or not, Palau does need its future back.
Of course there is no Paradise on Earth. We have rats, mosquitoes and flies. People suffer from obesity, addiction to tobacco, betel nut, alcohol and worse. The internet, electricity and water supply are intermittent. But dedicated people are working on all these issues, so there is reasonable hope that things will improve.
There is lots of space to build a home in Babeldaob and there is a big need for experienced young Palauan professionals to return home and make a difference. I hope that in the coming years I will have more peers here at home who returned to help move Palau in a positive direction. Just the presence on the island of more young Palauans is having a lasting impact and I hope to see more arrivals than departures of Palauan young people very soon. We always hear people say that the “youth are the future” but we seem to be sending them off on every other flight. The Palau I painted above might remind you of the life you had as a youth in Palau. It’s transformed quite a bit. There’s only one way to see what’s changed, come back home and embrace it, sweaty days, fish soup, mosquitos, white sandy beaches and all! Jus’ sayin’.
Souang Inez Benedict Tellei is an undergraduate student at the College of Forestry, Oregon State University. She is passionate about protecting nature and keeping the Palauan culture alive. Send feedback firstname.lastname@example.org