Team of Rivals

Visiting Pohnpei with (from left) Ambassador Tony deBrum, myself, and President Peter Christian.

?Here are your favorite enemies,? someone said before the photo above was snapped. Right he was. The two are my favorite duelists: Tony DeBrum and Peter Christian. One of them is a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize for the work he has done on calling attention to climate change in this part of the world. The other is a former student who is now President of FSM. Both sharpened their debating skills at Xavier High School a few decades ago, and have practiced on me over the years.

They weren?t the only ones I met on my recent visit to Pohnpei last week. As I pulled up to the site of the semi-annual meeting between FSM and US government representatives, people poured out of the building. I had the pleasure of meeting not just the two longtime jousting opponents shown above, but others as well. Ambassador Doria Rosen, who is just finishing her term in FSM, was there. So was Nik Pula, Director of the Office of Insular Affairs at Interior Department, and some of the people who work under him: Tom Bussanich, Steve Savage, and Ryan Edgar, among others.

Over the years I?ve had the opportunity to work closely with them all, and I wouldn?t think of turning down a dinner invitation from any of them. But, oddly enough, I would be just as pleased to spend time with my ?favorite enemies.? That?s one of the wonderful things about the islands, I?ve learned over the years?rivals and opponents may abound, but real enemies are hard to come by. It?s a lesson that Democrats and Republicans, especially in heated political campaigns, might profitably take to heart.

My week in Pohnpei was mostly spent completing the research for our project on mental illness, suicide and drug/alcohol use, but there was time for seeing old friends as well. Maggie and Merlynn, Bryan and Tasha, Arnel with his family and Tess and Rene, and so many others. You can see them on my Facebook page. They, along with my ?rivals,? are what makes this place so special.

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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.