Lee Ling Family at the Circus May 2003

28 May 2003

The Magic Land circus of Samoa has returned to Pohnpei. A true traveling carnival as not seen anywhere since the high plains of Kansas in the 1930's. Led by Samoan tattooed-man "Bruno" the circus arrives by container ship rather than train or truck.

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This time the circus brought ten rides, including the trains and cars. The actual show starts today, but last night the rides were up and running.

One has to remember the utter isolation of Pohnpei. All Sharisey, Marlin, and Shanalin ever see are palm trees and the pale shadows of exotic sights flickering on cable television. The reality of Pohnpei is grey rain, green forest, and a distant blue ocean beyond the mangrove swamp.

The rides are small and quaint, reminiscent of a 1950's kiddie park. The roller coaster only gets ten feet off the ground and the loop is no bigger than a large living room. But when Sharisey and Marlin entered the rides area last night Marlin's eyes went round with wonder, his mouth falling open. On his face an expression of sheer amazement. Colored lights, spinning rides, screaming children. Martians would be less amazing.

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Sharisey and Marlin both rode the merry go-round, a tiny affair with a dozen horses not more than fifteen some feet across. But Marlin was riding Spirit, Stallion of the Simarillon, holding on to the riser pole with both hands, knuckles flashing white.

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Sharisey then tackled the crazy spin, an epicyclic device designed to induce nausea. Sharisey spun her cab as the cabs in turn spun about the center. Foreshadowing some unseen future, the boy across from her tried to keep up but passed out. Sharisey bounded out of the ride laughing and giggling and the parents of the lad carried off their son.

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Marlin then had to ride the train. The train didn't get smaller, but Marlin is bigger now. Another year and he will be too big for a baby train.

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Sharisey wanted to ride the kiddie roller coaster. Insubstantial, small, and looking rather rickety and salt-worn, I knew that my own father would have forbidden any of us from getting within a half mile of such a ride. Simply choosing to ride the roller coaster obviously constituted a waiver of any right to sue anyone for anything.

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On Pohnpei almost anything different than the daily routine constitutes an enriching experience. So on she went - there is no Six Flags within three thousand miles of Pohnpei. And all of the miles are water.

Sharisey sat on the outside, another six year old sat on the inside, and a four year old was sandwiched between them on the tiny bench seat. Sharisey was thrilled, enjoying every rough minute of the ride.

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Marlin chose the cars as a final ride of the evening. The ride was delayed as another three year old was removed, crying in fear, even before the ride started. For kids from the village without cable television and limited exposure to the world through videos, the carnival is sensory overload.

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On the way home we picked up some ice cream - the ship came earlier this week and returned ice cream to the few freezer shelves we have on island. After the ice cream two children passed out with dreams of rides in their heads.

The other evening we hit the track so dad could put in a few joggling laps. While Sharisey and Shanalin fiddled around in the long jump sand pit, Marlin ran 100 meter repeats up and back the 100 meter lanes for ten full minutes.

Shanalin goes tonight, she spent last night visiting with Palikun George's wife. Her mother passed away at the hospital here and the family is in limbo while an air shippable casket can be found to transport her home to Kosrae. Pohnpei is out, there is tell of one over on Chuuk.

The next night Sharisey, three year-old Moses, and Marlin rode the helicopter among other rides.

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30 May 2003

Friday night Shanalin Kenye and her age cohort friend Maryrose joined Sharisey and Marlin in the nightly pilgrimage to the circus.

Entering the park, the normally babbling Shanalin fell silent. All of the rides were running full bore, music blaring from each ride. Being Friday night the park was more crowded than usual. Social security checks had been issued on Friday, pouring more money into Pohnpei and in turn the circus.

Once again the park was full of family, friends, current and former students. Merlynn was there with her boys. Ten years ago she was a diminutive eighteen year old college student with no responsibilities. Benson was there with his boy. Former students Rocky and Josephine were there along with Patricia.

At one point Marlin disappeared amid the throng of parents, children, and teens. As I looked for him I could simply ask, "Seen Marlin?" and each person would reply, "Yes, he headed over in that direction." We live in a place where you can look for your lost child at a circus by name.

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Shanalin and Maryrose tackled the train first, the ride most directly aimed at the infant crowd. Shanalin rode with Marlin on their first go round and never showed any distress at being on the ride. Maryrose, put into the back of the same train with an older shirt-tail cousin, immediately began fussing and crying.

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As soon as the train started, however, Maryrose became excited and began making her happy sound. A breathy exhalative "Heh! Heh! Heh!" told us she was thrilled at the experience. Her little head never moves smoothly, but moves in sudden flicks and jerks. As she rode around watching the people around the surrounding fence her head swiveled and gyred.

Despite the crowds, the cost of tickets relative to the amount of money in pockets meant their were many more observers than riders. There was no line for the baby train, so the kids were rearranged for a second consecutive ride on the train. This time Maryrose sat with Shanalin, with Marlin behind them.

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During this second run Shanalin worked on pulling of her zoris, while Maryrose became sleepy. By the third lap of the little circular loop Maryrose was sound asleep. Each time the train would pass Serina, Serina would reach over the fence and brush Maryrose's cheek with her hand. Maryrose would startle and wake up. She would pop her head around and smile at the people along the fence in her big, exaggerated toothy kahto smile that she used whenever someone tells her she is kahto (beautiful or pretty).

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As soon as she had passed the last person along the fence line her little head would fall forward and she would instantly fall back asleep - a trick only babies seem to manage. As the train rounded the back of the circle she could be seen slumped forward, her little head bobbling with the vibration of the train. Then the train would pass Serina, Ser would brush her cheek, and Maryrose was back on stage again. I could Ricardo Montalban in Fantasy Island calling out, "Smiles, everyone!"

After the train Marlin rode the merry go round solo while Shanalin and Maryrose watched. Sharisey headed off to ride the crazy spin, her favorite ride. Marlin would later report that his horse was named Spirit, from the Disney horse movie of the same name.

Then it was Shanalin's and Maryrose's turn, with Hanna and Serina as helping, holding hands. Serina held Maryrose, but Shanalin did not want to be held. So Hanna stood next to her while Shanalin remained mounted all by herself. Shanalin has a deep dislike for anyone doing anything for her that she can do herself.

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Once the ride ended Shanalin and Maryrose refused to let go of the riser pole - neither wanted to get off of the ride.

The last ride of the evening was a car ride for all four in in a single car. Shanalin and Maryrose drove from the front, Marlin and Sharisey sat in the back. Marlin, as the other night, constantly spun his steering wheel to the left, sure that if he stopped turning the car might veer off the road.

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