While I?ve Been Gone…

Next week I leave for Buffalo for a weekend with the family, centered around the wedding of a niece. After that, thankfully, it?s back to the islands to set up camp on Guam.? Just today I received an email confirming that I will be living at the cathedral rectory in downtown Hagatna (as it is now called).? I?ll be doing pastoral work on weekends, teaching a course at the seminary, and trying to take advantage of whatever opportunities come along to do useful things. A few projects have already been proposed by some?for instance, a short book to commemorate the Diocese of the Carolines.? I?m sure there will be others. The truth is that I haven?t found myself idling for too long at any stage of my life.

The past two years have been filled with challenging experiences?some more challenging than I might have wished!?but with other island-related work projects as well.? Please indulge me here as I boast a bit.? But then again, isn?t that what blogs are for?

At the end of my two-year stint in the US, there is a book ready for publication that tries to lay bare the cultural logic of an island society. UH Press says that the book, Making Sense of Micronesia, will be published sometime next year.? My fond hope is that it will help those who are struggling to understand why a smile?doesn’t?always signal delight in an island society. Or why outsiders have food forced on them on every visit they pay, but can?t ever seem to get the information they need at public offices.? Or why many island families can?t keep money in the bank but regard this as a provident trade off.? Possibly those who deal with the Micronesians who are migrating to the US in ever greater numbers these days will find the book of some help as they teach islanders and provide them with social and health services they need. Who knows? Maybe even a few of the old-timer expats will learn a thing or two.

Another product is a long article that attempts to analyze economic data from countries throughout the Pacific and to draw a few conclusions.? Pacific Island Nations: How Viable are Their Economies? was published as a monograph earlier this year by the East-West Center. It asks the usual economic questions about island nations but offers unusual answers. Can any island nation with clean beaches and lots of smiles become a tourist mecca?? No.? Can foreign aid serve as a means of building up the economy? Perhaps, but more often it?s used as a means of compensating for shortfall in the island economy than of remedying these shortfalls?? Might all Pacific nations become entirely self-sustaining?? Sure, but only if they fire their teachers and health aides and police and government ministers and make a collective effort to live off the land. Although the article is not as rabid as I?m presenting it here, it might move people to reconsider their premises as they prepare to discuss the tired old issue once again.? And getting people to think and talk has always been my job.

Just last week I finished the final report on the survey that Mike Levin, Herman Semes and I were doing on FSM migrants. It?s a 50-some page report along with over a hundred tables showing the data we collected on migrants on Guam, Saipan, Hawaii and mainland US. It?s in the hands of FSM National Government right now but I imagine that it will be released sometime in the near future. Let?s just say this much: Half? (25,000) of the FSM migrants are now living in the mainland. But if you think that they?re going through just the same problems that plague FSMers on Guam and Hawaii, you ought to read the report when it?s released. It?s a different world out there on the banks of the Columbia or Missouri River?no sand on the shore, but lots more money in the bank and fewer migrants behind bars. But let?s save the rest for the FSM to present.

The final product of these past two years was a one-hour video on traditional religion in the islands. We had started this before I left, but the project stalled for a while until a couple of old friends revived the project and pulled together the final video edit. Erik Steffen and Nathan Fitch, both of them former PCVs, did the tough work of editing the raw footage and laying down the narration and music. The video is called ?When Spirits Roamed? and it should be on your favorite TV channel if you?re living in the islands.? If not, you could always contact MicSem to have them make you a copy.

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About the author

Francis X. Hezel, SJ
Francis X. Hezel, SJ

Francis X. Hezel, SJ, is a Jesuit priest who has lived and worked in Micronesia since 1963. At different times he has served as high school teacher, school administrator, pastor, and regional superior to the Jesuits of Micronesia. He spent thirty years directing the Micronesian Seminar, a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Pohnpei, Micronesia. He has written and spoken widely about social change and its impact on island societies. He has also written several books on Micronesian history, including The First Taint of Civilization, Strangers in Their Own Land, and The New Shape of Old Island Cultures. His most recent book, Making Sense of Micronesia: The Logic of Pacific Island Culture, is available through University of Hawaii Press.