The missionary plane was scheduled to land in Woleai once every two weeks, drop off passengers and supplies, pick up passengers and immediately return to Yap. Woleai is a low chain of atolls in the outer islands of Yap and the old WWII Japanese runway was often underwater if it rained hard. When this happened it was a month or more before the missionary plane could return.
Me, the co-pilot. Luckily I didn't have to do anything.
Peter was the pilot. He had a strong accent but I never asked where he was from. What was important was that he was a great small plane pilot. Peter and I became friends with my numerous flights to the outer islands from 1992-2002. "I will try to return in two weeks to pick you up,'" Peter said as he closed the plane's door leaving me and my duffel bag standing on the runway.
The whole island would come to the runway when they hear the plane. Everyone was interested to see who and what the plane brought. This time it brought me.
The chief let me stay in one of his concrete huts near the runway. He had a government job as well which entitled him to the use of one of the two vehicles on the island, and he used his pickup often. An interesting note, the small atoll only had two vehicles but they were constantly colliding with each other. Neither vehicle had brakes. He was pretty good at judging when he needed to let off the gas in order to stop where he wanted, and everyone knew to get out of his way when they heard him coming.

Other than the two pickups and a few concrete huts, the culture of Woleai was just as it always had been. The women still wear only a lava lava and the men a thu. Also, women were not allowed to walk past a sitting man who is a close relative of theirs. Everyone on island was related but they had some way of remembering who was closely related to who. If a woman needed to pass a sitting man she would have to walk out of her way to make a wide circle around the man. This cultural trait was sure confusing with the introduction of the pickup. The man was sitting in the truck but driving past the walking women. When this happened, I notice the women related to the chief frantically ran into the jungle and sat down, and that wasn't only because the truck had no brakes.
Their traditional sailing canoes have also survived the onslaught of modernization with two exceptions. One was the modern material used for the sail. The traditional sail was extremely time consuming to make and didn't last long. The other exception was the use of the other pickup on island to pull the large sailing canoe over the beach and into the canoe hut.
The men were excellent sailors and navigators. In fact, it was their ancestors who sailed a thousand miles to Saipan 300 years ago. They also gave Saipan its name. Sai means fleet and Pan means empty place. This traditional trip is still occasionally made today.

Every morning, long before sunrise, the men set sail to go fishing. They had long sticks with the same length fishing line tied to the end. As the canoe sailed they lowered the stick to let their line drag behind. When the fish bites they simply pointed the stick straight up and the fish lands in the canoe.

No one on island was allowed to eat anything until the canoes returned. Sometimes this was late in the day and I was starving. One day they were particularly late returning. The whole island was waiting at the beach for them. Finally one person pointed to sea and said, "Here they come". I strained my eyes as much as I could but it was still another 10 minutes before I could see them. The sailors gave some signal that the catch was good and everyone on the beach was celebrating.
The canoes finally anchored and the men started carrying their catch to the beach. They threw the large tuna in a pile on the sandy beach. Back and forth they went and the pile of fish on the beach grew. I was amazed how many large fish they caught, the pile must have been five feet high. I was also amazed how many flies were on that pile.

I was starving but seeing all those flies on the fish started to make me loose my appetite. Finally the all clear sign was given and all were allowed to eat. Everyone ran to the pile of fish, picked up one fish and bit into it. I decided to waited until dinner before I ate that day.

Exploring Woleai was exciting. The island was fortified by the Japanese during WWII but the Americans never attacked. Instead, the American Navy formed a blockade around the circle of Woleai atolls and starved the Japanese to death. The local population were chased off to the remote Woleai atolls by the Japanese long before and had no problem surviving the blockade.

The Japanese fortifications were intact and undisturbed since WWII. Bottles were still on shelves in bunkers right where the Japanese soldier put it before he died. Rounds were still in anti-aircraft guns waiting for the American attack that never came. Small cannons on wheels were just inside bunker openings so they could be rolled out and used in a hurry. Bombs were near the runway waiting to be loaded on Japanese airplanes that never returned. In one of the villages there is a modern monument built by the Japanese in memory of the "tens of thousands" of Japanese soldiers that died on the Woleai atoll.
Japanese airplane.
 Portable cannon in a bunker.
 Loaded Japanese anti-aircraft gun.
The principal of the elementary school found out that I was a math instructor. One day he asked me to teach a math class. I jumped at the suggestion without any time to review, prepare my notes and handouts, review what they already learned and what they were going to learn, etc. I always taught adults in the past and never elementary school. It turned out none of that mattered. I started to teach. At first the principal was standing in the back of the room watching my every move. I thought he was there to make sure I didn't mess-up. A few minutes later another teacher joined the principal in the back of the room, then another, then another and another. By the end of class I realized that school was cancelled so that all the teachers could attend my class.
The date on the chalk board is March 25, 1996.
I spent most of the two weeks hungry. Other than that, time passed quickly and Peter returned to pick me up as scheduled. Before each flight, everything is weighed separately, every bag, box, even each person. Then all is arranged in just the right order to keep the small plane balanced. I was weighed before I got on the plane two weeks earlier, and then again before I left Woleai. Either, one of their scales was off or I actually did loose 20 pounds in two weeks.

After everything and everyone was weighed, Peter personally loaded each bag into the plane's storage area. "We are overloaded," he said to me. He took everything back off the plane. He then asked for two volunteers to wait another two weeks before going to Yap. With only 10 passengers I was surprised that he quickly found two volunteers to stay behind. It could have been as simple as: the two heaviest must volunteer.

Once all the boxes and bags and my duffle bag and the live chicken was loaded, it was time to load the passengers. I was first. He put me in the co-pilot's seat. Even though I was scared to sit there, afraid that I may accidentally touch something, I still thought that was a good choice on Peter's part. Then one-by-one the heavy men were put in alternating sides of the plane. After all the seats were full it was time for Peter to bring the women on board, one-by-one. They had to sit on the floor. The first couple of women went fine but there was a big commotion when Peter asked the third woman to sit. She refused. It turned out that one of the sitting men near the spot where she was asked to sit was a close relative.

"Everyone back off the plane," Said Peter. He turned to me and laughed, "Now I need to find out who is related to who."
Woleai airport.
 Japanese WWII runway still used today.
 Woleai lagoon.
 In front of my concrete hut next to the runway.
I have no idea what the Japanese used that big wheel for.

Big Japanese canon.
Looking at Polaroid photos of themselves that I gave them.

Read more of "My Adventures" on the top right of this page.

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