Malem Kosrae

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Spring Break 1996 In Kosrae

Waiting for the moon to rise out of the ocean on the darkening reef shelf, wind whipping salt off the warm tropical waves. Each wave is a waterfall for and instant, disappearing into the folds and cracks of the rugged reef. Single puffballs of clouds roll across the surface of the sea, each supported by a column of solid rain.

The moon rises blood red out of the surface of the sea, climbs orange behind distant clouds, ascending an amber yellow in the salt haze. To stand out on the reef shelf is to feel exposed. Tropical rain forest islands are not places of open spaces. The prehistoric forest shields the sight of the horizon, forbidding any distant view. Out on the reef shelf with the shoreline distant, the horizon surrounds and engulfs. The sound of waves from the vast Pacific thundering onto the reef fills the air. The immense span of starry sky a reminder of the insignificance of self. Aerial shot of reef in Kosrae

The moon is a night shy of full as the Mormon missionary boys slide by the Malem bridge. Their discussion is of the day's efforts, who's ready to turn, newly revealed potential converts, and backsliders.

The surf was odd today, outside shifting singleton boomers banged the reef line randomly. The waves I missed catching thumped me mercilessly. I did my time rocketing along the reef in underwater whitewater tumbles.

Young girls with long ebony hair pass the bridge in pairs on the way to the store; not walking, no, osmosing. Only more work faces them at home; stretching the trip to the store is stretching a piece of freedom. No motion, just a tendency to move in the direction of a store and then back home.

Cars splash their way past through random puddles, children spilling out the windows, sacks of coconuts and piles of taro in the back. Dogs wander amidst the cars and people, looking for food, running from thrown rocks.

Under the new cement bridge flows the rain muddied waters of the Malem stream, in no hurry to spill out onto the reef shelf and into the ocean. The mud rolls off the reef out through the rip channel and settles onto the reef. The roll of the waves onto the reef shelf is a continuous rush of sound that is the backdrop for all other sounds in Malem. Malem, the village of the moon, is only beautiful under the light of the full moon. The cold light that hides the faded paint, the rusted steel, the perpetual decay of the tropics.

Under the moonlight the women of Malem are the Pacific island sirens of legend and lore. Where in the other villages the women are known for specific physical attributes; long hair, skilled hands, large feet; the women of Malem are said to be beautiful in the moonlight, strangely vague, tantalizing.

Boys, always loaded four to a car, cruise past playing tapes copied from tapes copied from tapes until all that is left is the "tska tska" sound of electronic cymbals. Boys looking for anything to break the utter sameness of life on a small island. Beer, brawls, and babes on their brains, in roughly that order.

Older church going Malemites pass by on the way to choir practice, exchanging the greetings and small messages of daily life. Always the sound of the waves filling in the silences between people and cars.

The children gather along the newly paved road to play marbles, chase each other, and play singing clapping games. Malem is a village of children, little children. A four year old walks a three year old home down the road. Despite the recent paving of the road, Malem is still a town accustomed to a potholed, coralline road with slow traffic. Malem is a community where everyone watches the children, where everyone knows everyone else's name, business, and gossip. A community of families and of care and concern for neighbors, a good place in which to grow up. Seshrue in Christmas dress
Seshrue in her Christmas '96 marching choir dress

K'sru sisters
Christmas time marchers in Malem