Saturday, January 31, 2009


Sakau is not alcohol. It is a liquid extracted from the sakau plant, Piper methysticum. The chemical that gives you the high is found in the roots. All that needs to be done is to get that chemical from the roots into your blood stream.

The process of drinking sakau in Pohnpei is very elaborate. It involves a lot of custom and a lot of ceremony. There is a hierarchy involved. I don’t profess to have a full understanding of the sakau ceremony, but I think I know the basics.

Removing the sakau plant from the ground. Only the roots are used in the drink.
Sakau is made from the roots of the sakau plant. When it is ready for harvesting the plant is removed from the ground and the roots are cut up into individual stalks. When I saw it being prepared the Pohnpeian men were cutting the trunk about an inch above the root stalk and cleaning soil from the roots using coconut husks. I’m not sure what is done with the rest of the plant. Firewood, perhaps?

The roots are cut away from the rest of the plant.
The drug is squeezed out of the pulp using water and strips of hibiscus bark. The species I saw them using, Hibiscus tiliaceus, is a plant we use in some of our plantings on Saipan, so I recognized it.

Piper methysticum
Cleaning the roots with coconut husks.
Several two-inch wide strips were peeled from an eight-foot length of wood and tied together at the center. The strips were folded over on each other and then soaked in water.

Stripping hibiscus bark to be used for squeezing the sakau.
Once a large enough amount of roots are prepared they are piled onto a sakau stone, a coffee table sized slab of granite placed on the ground.

Prepared roots piled on a sakau stone.
Men remove their shirts and sit around the stone systematically pounding the roots into pulp. It looked to me like most of the men started by banging away at the thickest end of the root and moved down towards the thinner end. Soon the roots were  nothing more than a big pile of brown pulp, slightly moist from the water inside the fresh roots.

The sakau pulp is pulverized with stones.
I had a hard time distinguishing the smell, but I think it is a sort of musky peppermint. It may also have been the variety we were drinking. I’m sure not all sakau smells the same.

sakau stone
The banging of the pulp goes on for a long time.
When the sakau pulp was ready to be squeezed, the strips of hibiscus bark were laid out on the sakau stone and filled with some of the sakau pulp.

The sakau master then folded and twisted the bark with the sakau inside, sort of like someone squeezing water out of a towel, until a goopy brown substance started dripping out of the pulp.

pohnpei sakau
The sakau is wrapped in the hibiscus bark and then squeezed like a wet towel.
At first the goop was thick and slow, but after consecutive wrappings and squeezings, it started to ooze out faster and thinner.

sakau ceremony
The sakau mixes with some slimy liquid from the hibiscus to make the drink.
When it was the proper consistency for drinking, it was captured in a coconut shell and passed around.

sakau drink
The sakau is then scraped out of the hibiscus bark and the process is repeated over and over.
The most important person drank first and then other important people followed, one after another, after which the sakau was offered to everyone.

angelo villagomez
Taking a drink with my eyes open. Bad form, Mr. Villagomez.
When the coconut shell containing the sakau is handed to you it is expected that you will take a gulp and hand it off to the person next to you. The cup eventually makes its way back to where the sakau is being prepared, is refilled, and is passed around again. This is repeated over and over until the drinking session ends. Depending on where you sit and how aggressive you are in letting it be known that you want to drink, you can expect a drink every ten minutes or so.

The Pohnpeian men I watched drink sakau all made an ugly face as they prepared to drink. They closed their eyes, threw back the coconut shell with flourish, and grimaced like they had just ingested something very disagreeable, which of course they just had.

When the cup was handed to me I looked down at the odorous pool of liquid with the consistency somewhere between heavy cream and snot (some of the sakau I would try was so thick that I felt I almost had to bite down to stop drinking it), I put the drink to my lips and swallowed.

It takes about two seconds for the sakau to take effect. At first your tongue and lips go numb, then your throat. It feels good.

Taking a gulp when the cup came around the second time was much easier. You are already a little numb and your sensibilities that tell you something that looks, tastes, and feels like sakau shouldn’t be ingested have dulled.

With the second gulp comes more numbness, more relaxation. I became very talkative.

As the minutes passed into hours your mind remains clear, but your body gets slower. When I stood up I felt clumsy. My motor skills were impaired, but my cognitive ability felt the same, if but a little relaxed.

I was not hung over the next morning on the nights I drank sakau. On the contrary, I felt like I slept more soundly and felt well rested when I woke up.

Having tried sakau three times on this trip I can now spend the rest of my life not drinking it ever again.

Bacon Wrapped Conservation

What could be better than having a Marianas Trench Marine National Monument? How about a Marianas Trench Marine National Monument wrapped in bacon?

You can also have bacon wrapped Saipan Blog. Bacon wrapped Must Be the Humidity. White sneakers wrapped in bacon. Bacon wrapped fish wrap.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Membership has its benefits

The 11th Micronesians in Island Conservation Retreat ended last night with a farewell dinner at the Village attended by the Governor of Pohnpei, John Ehsa.

john ehsa pohnpeiThat's Governor Ehsa in the middle. I did take a picture of him with his eyes open, but I'm not in that picture. Hopefully he'll forgive me for posting this one.

In our last session of the retreat I was nominated and voted onto the MIC steering committee for a second consecutive term. That means some extra travel and more opportunities to spend time working with other conservation leaders in Micronesia. Not that being on the steering committee is all about my own professional development, but I can point to a conversation last January I had as a result of my participation on the steering committee that helped guide me through the entire Marianas Trench Marine National Monument process.

Being on the steering committee is a good thing. I enjoy the work.

As practically our first order of business, I was nominated by the other steering committee members to become the MIC blog blogmaster. I don't have access to it yet, but stay tuned for some changes.

We also decided where our next meeting will be held. Looks like I'll be traveling to Palau soon.

Here are some random photos from the retreat. Several posts are to follow.

mary rose nakayamaOn the second day of the hike, Bill Raynor led us on a hike to a waterfall and facilitated a talk on leadership. A picture of the waterfall is in my last post. A full blog post on the discussion is forthcoming. This photo of Mary Rose Nakayama and her daughter was taken at the base of said waterfall. Mary Rose is on the steering committee.

Cheryl Calaustro lives on Guam.  She's finishing up a RARE campaign there.  She's on the steering committee, too.

Fran Castro is an MIC member and Pete was a guest of the retreat. In this photo we are on the raft near the Nahtik marine protected area on the south end of the island. We are about to feast on mangrove crab and parrot fish in this photo. More photos of the food to follow.

In this photo are Wisney Nakayama from Chuuk and Entuyah Oidov from Mongolia at sakau ceremony held by the community of Enpein. The community members served us piles upon piles of food. This was MIC fatty day.  It would have been fun to weight everyone at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day.

Most of my readers know Laurie Peterka, my partner on the campaign to build local support for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. You might not know Mae, the MIC Coordinator.


In a few hours I'll finish with the 11th Micronesians in Island Conservation Retreat. You'll notice that I'm not in this photo. That's because I was holding the camera. More to come.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A prayer for Ruth Tighe

I'll let Ruth speak for herself.
On My Mind

To those of you who might be wondering what has happened to this column, the answer is it is in limbo - and will, in all likelihood, remain there for at least the next two months.

The reason: I am in Honolulu undergoing radiation and imminently, chemo, for a squamous non-small-cell cancer in the upper lobe of my right lung. The bad news is that the cancer is not operable. The good news is that it has not spread, and has not yet affected the lymph glands.

The situation is not conducive to the writing of political commentary (or any other kind). It is taking all my energy just to cope with the unexpectedness, the shock, of it all.

As of now, after a week of radiation treatment, I still feel quite well. They tell me that probably won't last..............

I do have a stream of family coming to help me - my son for a week, my brother for a week, my younger daughter for a week, my sister for two weeks (my older daughter was here for the first two weeks), and the Medical Referral Service staff has been wonderfully helpful, supportive, obliging.

I do have my computer with me, but would ask that well-meant but large files - of funnies, pictures, stories, what-have-you - NOT be sent, since I am connected to the web by slow-speed dial up, and it gets painful to wait for them to download.

Wish me well!

Two Week Break

I am going off island tomorrow morning.

I won't have Internet or email or telephone access until the second week of February.

See you in two weeks.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

More Inauguration Photos

There it is, the front of the line, the envy of 2 million other Inauguration viewers.

Despite the cold and the large crowds, people were generally in a cheery mood. People even started singing at around 7 AM.

I snapped this photo as I rushed through security. About 7 of us got through security before they closed the line for a few more minutes, giving me ample time to find the perfect spot to watch the inauguration.

My view was blocked by two media stands. I wonder how many media outlets were in DC covering this story. All of them?

inauguration day photoMy co-Inauguration viewers. The people next to me were from Idaho, Florida and Virginia.

inauguration crowdsAnother picture of the crowds.

This is a photo of the same area taken exactly 49 minutes later.

Another picture of the crowds.

Tuskegee AirmenSome of the remaining Tuskegee Airmen were sitting right in front of my standing only section. They are the pilots who helped desegregate the United States Military. I think there was a movie about them starring Lawrence Fishburne.

Nominate your favorite environmentalist!

SAN FRANCISCO-The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is encouraging citizens in California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands to nominate a friend, peer or organization for this year’s U.S. EPA Environmental Awards program.

Nominations can be submitted online beginning Jan. 7 and ending Feb. 8.

The program seeks to recognize individuals and groups outside of the U.S. EPA who made significant contributions to improve the environment in the year 2008. Anyone can be nominated, such as scientists, teachers, journalists, citizen activists, young people, organizations, business representatives, public officials and others committed to protecting public health and preserving our natural surroundings.

Entries will be judged on the following criteria:

* promotion of innovative ideas, techniques, and/or technologies

* ability to address an environmental problem or need

* accomplishment of stated goals

* ability of the program/activity to be replicated or widely shared

* collaboration with others

* clarity and effectiveness of the presentation

* long term benefits for the environment

The deadline to submit nominations online is Feb. 8. An EPA panel will review all of the applications and select this year’s winners, who will be notified by mid-March. Winners will then be recognized at a ceremony to be held in San Francisco mid-April.

For more information and to submit a nomination online, visit: For questions regarding the program, call the Environmental Information Center toll-free at (866) EPA-WEST or Wendy Chavez at (415) 947-4248.

I am a poet

skinny asian girl
fat white guy at Godfathers
I hear wedding bells

I won first place! This haiku was in no way inspired by personal experience, by the way.

Good Luck, Lynn

Angelo VillagomezAndrew Salas and Laurie PeterkaEd Arriola and Lynn KnightLynn is leaving Saipan with the girls soon. I wish them the best of luck.

Lynn was one of the key people in helping to build support for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. She spearheaded the endorsement by the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands and had a hand in the endorsement by the Saipan Tribune. She was also a big supporter of Beautify CNMI. She will be missed.

Dong Bang Shin Ki in Saipan

There is a boy band staying at Pacific Islands Club this week:
TVXQ (often stylized TVXQ! or TVfXQ), an acronym for Tong Vfang Xien Qi (東方神起), is a quintet South Korean boy band formed under SM Entertainment in 2003. In South Korea they are known as Dong Bang Shin Ki or Dong Bang Shin Gi (동방신기). They were later introduced in Japan as Tōhōshinki (東方神起?) under Avex sub label, Rhythm Zone in 2005. Their name roughly translates as "Rising Gods of the East". TVXQ, the acronym based on the Chinese counterpart of their name, is the abbreviation officially used on all products and advertisements outside of Japan.

Since their debut, TVXQ has become one of the most popular singing groups in East Asia, gaining great popularity in such countries as China, Singapore, Thailand, and other East Asian regions.
After all the trouble we went through to get the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument in over 1000 newspapers and other news outlets, who knew that all we had to do was bring some crappy boy band to Saipan for tons of free press?

Twitter Me This

I just joined Twitter.

I joined Hi5 back in 2004. I used it for about a week before I decided it sucked.

I joined Myspace in 2005. I used it until my profile was hacked. Some jerk changed my email and password so now I can't access my account.

I joined Facebook in 2006. Facebook rocks. I still use it and have 800+ friends.

Rick McPherson says that Twitter is the hot new thing. I guess I'll give it a try. If you join, my username is Saipanblogger. Let's see how it goes.

Silver Elite

Watch out world, I just got upgraded to Northwest Airlines WorldPerks Silver Elite status.

What does that mean? Practically nothing!

Actually, I have a question for my readers out there. Please help me answer this in the comments section.

Continental, Northwest, and Delta all have separate frequent flyer programs, but they are partner airlines, meaning that I can use my frequent flyer card from one airline on the other. I have a Northwest WorldPerks card and a Continental Airlines OnePass card. I've always used the WorldPerks card when I fly Northwest and the OnePass card when I fly Continental.

Additionally, I earn OnePass miles every time I buy gas from Mobil. When I had SaipanCell, which is now DoCoMo, I would get miles for every dollar I spent. And although I do not have one, if I had a credit card from First Hawaiian Bank, I could get a WorldPerks mile for every dollar I spent.

So is it better to have both cards, or should I try to put all my miles on one card? Or is it possible to use both cards whenever I fly or can you only use one? What do you do? How do you manage your airline miles?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Western Inaugural Ball

Delegate Kilili gave me two tickets to the Western Ball. The ticket said it was a black tie event, so instead of renting a tuxedo, I just borrowed a black tie.

I took one of his staffers, Becky Cruz Lizama, as my date. I think some of my readers know her, but I had only met her briefly at a coed soccer game last summer and during a meeting about the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument back in December (I also invited her to the LCV reunion).

The food at the ball was terrible, but the drinks weren't too expensive. A beer was $6 and a glass of wine was $9. The bartenders were really slow, which was annoying and made for a lot of standing in line.

There were two stages, one on either side of the ballroom. The main stage is where Marc Anthony sang and where Joe Biden and Barack Obama appeared. On the other end was where the cheesy Mickey Mouse Club-esque band played a bunch of cover songs.

We ran into Madeleine Bordallo. She told us that the Governor of Guam Felix Camacho was there, but we didn't see him.

Ron HowardRon Howard was there.  We didn't talk to him.

jennifer lopez and marc anthonyMarc Anthony provided some of the entertainment. He surprised everyone by bringing his wife, Jennifer Lopez, out on stage to sing a duet for his last number. I was really far away and this is the best picture I could get.  I saw on a magazine cover that the smooch he gave her after the song was proof that their marriage was on the mend.  Whatever.

sir richard bransomI saw Sir Richard Branson walking out of the VIP area.  We also saw Tyra Banks, but I only managed to get a picture of the back of her head.  No need to post that one.

Joe BidenJoe Biden showed up at around 11 PM. I tried to get closer, but this is the best I could do.

I didn't try shooting any pictures of Barack Obama when he showed up around midnight because I wanted to get him on video. Oh well.  Not like there isn't a few pictures of him elsewhere on the Internet.

LCV Reunion

My old boss tried to set up a reunion of sorts for former League of Conservation Voters staff and volunteers from the 2004 Environmental Victory Project. Naturally, she didn't show up. Others did, including a few who didn't work for LCV. Here are the photos.

Tara, Riley, and Tabitha.

Becky, Angelo, and Claudio.

These drinks are called O-bama Bombs. They are Bacardi O and Red Bull.

empty glassesOutstanding. I liked them.

claudio and tara

President Barack Obama at the Western Ball

I was right up against stage right when Barack Obama addressed the crowd at the Western Ball on Inauguration night.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Inauguration of President Barack Obama

All weekend I wrestled with how early I wanted to get in line for the Inauguration. I wanted to strike the perfect balance between finding a great location and not freezing my tushie off.

The United States is a place where people camp in front of movie theaters in order to be the first person to see a new Star Wars movie or to be the first person to get an iPhone. I was worried that by midnight the night before the inauguration, hundreds, if not thousands, of people would be lined up for their chance to witness history.

My apprehension increased during the nightly news. Well past 11 PM the live broadcasts from the National Mall showed hundreds of people braving the sub-zero temperatures.

I knew the most important thing was to beat the first metro trains coming into the city. Those would start arriving around 4:30 AM and every few minutes after that several thousand people could be expected to pour out from an endless stream of filled-to-the-capacity trains.

I wanted to get there well before that first train.  I decided to leave the apartment at 2 AM.

The temperature outside when I left was 21 degrees Fahrenheit, but with the wind chill it was barely over zero. Without a wink of sleep I bundled up and found a cab out on the street.

I asked the driver to get me as close to Union Station as he could. That is where the yellow ticket holders were supposed to line up.

I was convinced that the area would be too busy for the driver to take me all the way, and although there was still a bit of traffic so late at night, he surprised me and took me right to where I needed to be. 

I went straight for the yellow ticket holder entrance. I followed the signs that led me to the grassy area just north of the Capitol and the start of the yellow ticket line.

Hardcore Inauguration Fan: This lady was the first person in line at the yellow ticket gate for the Inauguration. She arrived at 9 PM Monday.
Three people were standing at the ticket gate. I was the fourth person (technically the seventh person, since they were holding spaces for a few of their friends). It was 2:30 AM and the temperature was still in the low 20's.

For the next five hours my toes got progressively number and the line got increasingly longer, wider and rowdier. There was no more than 30 of us up until 4 AM, but as soon as the metro trains started arriving people were simply everywhere.

Many people did not have tickets.

Now I’d planned this day for months. From getting to DC, to getting tickets, to where I was going to stay, what I was going to wear and who I was going to see, I was well prepared. Most other people weren’t.

I can appreciate their optimism, walking right up to the entrance to the hottest event of the decade and expecting to be just let in, but it was pathetic watching the Capital Police turn away would be attendees every three minutes. The most pathetic were the people who had purchased commemorative tickets out on the streets and expected to be let into the front row. Commemorative tickets? Seriously? Do they not teach students the difference between “commemorative” tickets and “admission” tickets in schools these days?

In those 5 hours I got to know my neighbors really well. The lady who was first in line had been there since 9 PM the night before. Like me, she had been turned away from the reflecting pool area during the We Are One concert and was determined to not have that happen again. She went to Wal-Mart the day before and bought herself an Iron Man facemask with matching mittens (the other option was Spider Man) and a sleeping bag and got in line early in the afternoon. Nobody else was there in the afternoon, so she went to a restaurant to eat, but was back by 9 PM.

Despite the cold and the crowds, everyone was in a good mood, unless of course somebody tried to cut in line, which turned otherwise friendly people into line cutting vigilantes of justice. Line cutters were treated like Yankees fans at Fenway Park cheering A-Rod for trying to slap the ball out of Jason Varitek’s glove.

And we’re back.

Like I said, everyone was in a good mood. In between sharing stories of life on the campaign trail (everyone at the front of the line was a die-hard politico) we sang gospel songs and told jokes. 

There were people from all over the country in line with me.

I didn’t find anyone else from the Northern Mariana Islands, but it was fun watching everyone else discover people from their home states. Utah? I live in Salt Lake City! California? My son lives in San Diego! Virginia? Why the hell is it so damn cold today!

empty seatsAt about 7:40 the police started letting people in. I was the fourth person through the gate. After maybe 7 people had gone through, a yell came from the direction of the officers manning the metal detectors in the security check point, “We’re not ready yet!”

empty chairsThey closed the gate, but allowed those of us who already had access to continue. As a result, for about 10 minutes I was one of just a handful of people inside the secure area. I was able to pick the perfect spot in my section.

I was in the standing only section to the north of the seated area. The area was angled such that I could either get a close up view of Barack and miss out on all of the people behind him, or I could get a less close view of Barack, with a full view of all the dignitaries and officials behind him. I chose to be closer to Barack.

From where I stood, Barack was right in front of me, about 100 meters away. To my right was a seated section for Medal of Honor winners and the surviving Tuskegee Airmen. To my left was a giant video screen. Behind me was the mall, where over a million people could be heard chanting and singing.

I didn’t move from that spot until the inauguration ceremony was over about five hours late.

For the next few hours over a quarter of a million people poured into the secure area on the Capitol lawn. I didn't move from my spot once.

Don KingThere were a number of celebrities. Don King and Dustin Hoffman were two of the celebs to walk right by my section.

Almost every person who holds a title in Washington, DC was announced. Their names were read as they appeared walking onto the platform set up in front of the Capitol.

Ted Kennedy was cheered.

Lieberman was booed.

Colin Powell was cheered.

The entrance of George W. Bush resulted in a few minutes of “na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye!” Nobody threw a shoe.

Sasha and Malia got the loudest applause when they entered. 

aretha franklinThere was entertainment from a children's choir, Yo-Yo Ma, and Aretha Franklin.  Some lady read a poem and two pastors read prayers.  I didn't realize Aretha was so short.  It was a lot easier to watch her on the video screen.

joe biden vice presidentBiden was sworn in as Vice President first. My initial thought after he finished taking the oath of office was, “that’s it?” It happened so fast.

president barack obama swearing inThen Barack took the oath of office.

It is a moment I will never forget. When I'm 110 I'll tell my great-great grand children that I was there (assuming I ever have kids, of course).

barack obama addresses the crowdWhen it all ended at 1 PM, I had been standing in the cold for almost 11 hours. I was cold, hungry, dehydrated, cold, and tired.

After a stop for some nourishment and de-thawing at a Thai restaurant, I walked the 36 blocks to get back to Claudio's apartment. Every minute of that day was worth it.

When I got back I took a nap and then got ready for the Western States Inaugural Ball.