Sapwuahfik atoll was amazing. The largest island, Ngatik, where we stayed was tiny, but one of the largest outer-islands of Pohnpei. The island of Ngatik has an area of about 0.35 sq mi (0.91 km²), though I have to say is still large enough for us to get lost on it.
Ngatik seemed like the type of beautiful Pacific islands that one finds in calendars of "exotic" places. The island has beautiful white sandy beaches, clear warm (warm bathwater temperature) ocean water, and thousands of coconut palm trees.
Kristin and I stayed with a wonderful family in a nice two storey concrete building with tin sheet/ply wood walls and thatch roof. The family cooked for us everyday, showed us around the island (or rather islet), and helped me find people to work with. There were both very patient and worked with me for several hours in elicitation sessions.
Life on the outer-islands is quite different from the high islands like Pohnpei. People on the outer-islands have to be self-sufficient. They grow, catch or raise all of their own food (taro, breadfruit, bananas, pandanus, coconuts, sugarcane, fish/seafood, chickens, and pigs). The ship from Pohnpei only comes about 2-3 times per year so imported food like rice, sugar, flour, salt, and canned meats only last for a short time. They also have to use water catchments to collect rain water for drinking and cooking. Building supplies are also in short supply, so most buildings are a mix of imported building supplies and traditional building techniques. Since gasoline is also expensive and it short supply, traditional out-rigger canoe production has been increasingly popular and many men use them to fish or sail to the islands on the other side of the lagoon about 8 mi (13km) away. It is great to see that local technologies are more cost-effective than imported ones.
The island also does not a constant source of electricity. There are a few relatively large solar panels on the island for the dispensary (local medical building), elementary school, and municipal government office to provide electricity for lights, computer, and radio. Many houses also have a small solar panel that they can connect to a car battery to use for lights at night or for CD players and radios to provide a bit of entertainment. The only also only has one radio that is used to contact Pohnpei. It is the only source of outside communication (except for letters that are transported via plane about once a week). The island also has a satellite dish that was used to provide a satellite internet hook up via Pohnpei but was too expensive for the Pohnpei telecom shut it off since they did not pay the bill. They are hoping to have service reconnected in the fall, since many people used it to email friends and family members living all over the world. Though Sapwuahfik is so small, remote (80 mi/ 130km) from Pohnpei, and with limit access to the outside world, its residents are in no way isolated. They seem just as connect to the outside world as I am, despite all the apparent difficulties.
The people of Sapwuahfik were very helpful with my research and most were very happy to help in any way that they could. I was able to make many hours of recordings and was even able to record traditional stories, songs, and dances. Doing this kind of research allowed me to connect with people in ways that I would not normally have been able to. It allowed them to share some very intimate things like songs and stories they learned as children many years ago but do not share often today. It let them think about their language and culture and ask questions they would not normally have done. It allowed them to talk about culture and the way things used to be. It gave them space to share their local skills like farming, canoe making, and fishing and to feel proud about them and their island. It also allowed me to form new friendships and bonds that I hope will last for many years. My research allowed me to be present to many people on Sapwuahfik and to listen and receive whatever part of themselves they wanted to share. It has been a very humbling experience to receive so many of those gifts and I will cherish them forever. I hope that somehow I can reciprocate these gifts. I hope that I am able to return soon.