White Ribbon Day

The White Ribbon campaign participants mustered at Spanish Wall at 9:00 in the morning. I arrived a little late at 9:30 A.M due to my having participated in the Green Steps run that morning at 7:00 A.M. Green Steps had been from PICS track to Spanish Wall and back, about three kilometers. I ran an easy joggle knowing what lay ahead in the afternoon.

Although White Ribbon day was Sunday 25 November, Pohnpei chose to observe on Saturday as that is logistically easier than a Sunday.

The core transport vehicles were two buses from the college. Ensuring that money was released to fuel the buses prior to the event proved to be challenging. Ultimately the day was a resounding success, had planning work started a tad earlier things might not had to be sorted out in two in the morning emails.

Opening directives were given by Geof, Lululeen, and Baron. The campaigners split into two groups. One took a bus down through Kitti, one down through Madolehnihmw. On the way they picked up additional participants.

At 11:21 the Madolehnihmw bus appeared at Wapar in Madolehnihmw. The Kitti bus was already in at Wapar.

At 11:39 Susanna "Luwain" Sohs spoke to the gathering.

By 11:52 the west group was off and walking. A decision was made almost immediately to board the bus and move the campaigners to Rohi in Kitti. In this stretch of Madolehnihmw and Kitti there are no houses, the hills are steep, and the sun was almost directly overhead. Heat and early exhaustion were twin concerns.

By 12:29 the group was on the ground walking in Rohi. There were few people actually outside in Rohi. Some were surely off at their farms, others might have been eating lunch. A decision was taken to reboard the buses before crossing the final hills of Rohi and to move to the Sohngoro river that marks the start of Wone, Kitti.

The college provided two film crews, here Darsy is on camera while Karleen drives at 12:42.

1:09 P.M.

The concept had been for women's groups to meet us along the road and provide coconuts. The campaigners were carrying only water. Both Dr. Perman and I became concerned about the need to replace electrolytes and the risk of hyponatremia. While walking in Wone a decision was made to stop for lunch at Wone-Luak, home of Cipriano Pablo. The group was carrying lunches provided by the women's groups. The lunches were wonderful, but the roadside coconuts component did not occur.

As a runner I am keenly aware that hyponatremia has caused more deaths in marathons since 2000 than heat stroke. The greater risk in walking and running under the sun all day is loss of critical electrolytes such as sodium and potassium.

The group was met by Senator Panuelo and by the Director of Social Affairs at Wone-Luak. I expressed my concern about electrolytes to him and he swung into action. He went out and purchased cases of Gatorade, meeting us up near Sehnwahr with the critically needed electrolytes. The ability of the walkers to finish strong owes a large component of that retained strength to the Senator and Director - a huge thanks to David and Janet!

At lunch the group learned of a funeral in Enipein and decided to skip Enipein and Pohk. The group was told that the Diadi women's group might be providing road side support, so a decision was made to drive to the Lehn Mesi and to walk into Diadi. There are also more homes along the road once one crosses the Lehn Mesi.

1:50 P.M.

Prior to reaching Diadi the group had spread back out along the road, the front getting way out in front. The tail was slow and some were tiring in the tail - problems develop first in the tail. I ran ahead to the head end and told the head to hold up at Diadi. Thus Diadi, specifically Joss' store, became an accidental rest stop. Sebastian Tairwipey, recognizing that the group could not walk on water alone, bought a case of orange drink that was wonderfully salty and sweet at the same time. Minus a straw, I learned to bite a hole in the drink pack and suck the juice out. I also grabbed one for my son.

1:53 P.M.

The banners were a tad odd - although the White Ribbon logo was fully appropriate, the Lien in Naniwel simply means "women of Naniwel (Nahnpohnmal, Nett). The banners were carried by the women's groups last year and made sense as each group marched behind their banner. This year the banner's were often carried by men, often Yapese men, and this caused looks of consternation, puzzlement, and in at least one case, shock on the faces of passing motorists.

The banners did prove very useful, however. At Diadi Jaefry Ioanis ordered everyone to remain behind the banner carriers, and this helped more than anything else in keeping the group together. We still had a few who would consistently go out in front of the banner, and the banner carriers themselves had to be told to slow down a few times, but in general the concept of using the banner to hold the group together worked.

2:02 P.M.

Still, the group became increasingly spread out as the campaigners moved through Sehnwahr and into Pwudoi. During this portion of the walk the two groups on the two sides of the island were unable to contact each other - no cellular signal. The Kitti students noted that we would not get a signal again until we reached Sehnwahr.

At 2:48 Bernolina reporting passing Lukop, this message was the first sign we had a cell signal again. My logic was that Lukop is not half way up Madolehnihmw. I also knew that they had likely skipped the long empty stretches near Sahpwalap, but might be likely to walk the heavily populated U and Nett legs. Thus in terms of population along the route, Lukop was not close to half-way.

3:03 P.M.

The spread in the group was potentially problematic as it put walkers alone along the road - exposed to greater risk from cars and dogs. The Kitti police did a fantastic job out in the front of the group ahead of the banner carriers, and the state police had the tail of the convoy covered - the bus followed the tail to pick up tiring stragglers, but as the group spread out, the middle became "exposed" to being along.

At 15:07 Berno reported leaving Arew over in Madolehnihmw.

The target time was 6:00 P.M. arrival in Kolonia. With a noon start, my own logic was "half-way" up by 3:00. My mental map put Sehnwahr at half-way, so passing through Sehnwahr at just past three seemed about right. By 3:11 I was shooting images in Pwudoi proper.

At 3:14 Berno reported rain in Madolehnihmw. I could glimpse rain towards Palikir.

In Pwudoi a decision was taken to skip the Pwudoi to Pehleng hills, so at the top of the hill past Pwudoi the bus collected all of the campaigners. By 15:22 all were on buses or in pick-up trucks.

3:32 P.M.

Although I had intended to disembark at the top of the small rise before Pehleng, the bus stopped in Kapkap, so everyone started walking in Kapkap. After consultation, I gave directions that everyone would hold up at the Pehleng church. I wanted to assess the location of the other group and possibly transport our group by vehicle over the hills between Pehleng and Palikir.

Berno reported Ipwtek at 15:33 while rain started to fall on the Kitti side. I was informed that this put them at the start of the straight stretches in Madolehnihmw, a long way out from Kolonia.

My son at 3:34 in Pehleng. I suggested he ride for a stretch, but he insisted on remaining on the road walking whenever anyone else was walking. The Gatorade was one of those purchased by Senator Panuelo. By 3:41 we were passing Midar market.

We stopped at Pehleng church where I used the top of the stairs to the church to snag a cell signal. Rain was coming down steadily and moderately heavily at this point. We took buses to the college, passing Welianter Samuel's place in Dien at 15:56. By 16:08 we were at the college. I knew that college students could actually walk from the college to town in under two hours on fresh legs, so I felt comfortable in taking a needed break at the college.

Karleen had keys that permitted a much desired bathroom break for many of the campaigners. Many also went to the store to find snacks. My son and I indulged in some very salty shoestring potatoes. My left calf was wanting to cramp up, I could feel the twinges. That would go away after I had gotten the shoestring potatoes into my system - I was simply low on salts.

Initially I thought we might walk to the turn for Palikir, but the break was longer than anticipated, so a decision was collaboratively made to bus over to the first Pentecostal church in Sekere, putting the last mountain behind us. Then the group would walk to Sokeh's Shopping Center to make decisions on what to do.

At 16:27 Berno reported walking in Awak at the Catholic church. This caught me off guard as that meant the Madolehnihmw team had moved from inside Madolehnihmw to Awak in what seemed a scant hour. I also knew that at running pace - if they were indeed doing relay running - they were on pace to enter Kolonia around 1800 hours.

The concept had been that one, two, or three would run a stretch, hop on a vehicle, while others hopped down to continue the run. A rolling relay. This did not happen on the Kitti side. The bus made such hop on and hop off difficult if not impossible, and everyone wanted to walk, sing, chant, and enjoy the sights. So our group only ever walked. The continuously running relay would require something like a bunch of low rise, no sides flat bed trucks moving at a jogging pace, something like that.

At 16:39 the group was disembarking in the rain in Sekere. The Sokeh's police had not sent out a squad car, maybe they did not know about the group, but the Kitti police stayed with the convoy on lead. Thanks are due to them going beyond their borders, beyond what was required to help protect the walkers.

16:51 P.M.

In Sekere was the group's only close call with traffic. Cars had been very patient and courteous, passing with care and due diligence. At Sekere school an older gray pick-up truck with jacked up suspension from Dolihner literally roared around the group in a rough manner. I could not see the driver, but I knew the truck well and suspected who the driver might be. He must have gotten bottled up behind the group and been in a hurry to get somewhere to do something. Maybe he had an emergency, but then again maybe not. Either way, that was the only instance of impatience by a driver in the six hours we were on the road. In any case, I like the fellow and hope he learns to relax and take life easier as this Chicagoan has gradually learned to do. One lives longer by letting go of impatience and he too is a good man.

Just after 4:51 P.M. the group reached Sokeh's Shopping Center. Although the lead vehicles pulled in, the walkers refused to stop. At this point they decided they were walking the rest of the way in. As one said, "I am already wet, I am walking." There were also about five walkers out well in front of the banner. They seemed to be picking up the pace, sensing that the end of the effort was near.

5:03 P.M. and Janice is walking bare foot. Not sure if that felt better or she did not want to flip water up onto her skirt. Rain was falling steadily at this point.

At 5:06 Berno reported Green Bay, also faster that I expected. I realized that Green Bay put them about four to five kilometers out from Spanish wall, and that we were probably a hair farther out.

Coming into Panasang I received word that the east team was across the Dausokele and headed on up towards Kolonia. My sense was that they were now ahead of us. At some point in this stretch five of the men on the west team took off running for Kolonia, displaying a lot of reserve energy.

At the public libary Senator Panuelo and the Director of Social Affairs again provided much needed electrolytes in the form of Gatorade, replenishing the marching crew's depleted energy stocks as well. This meant that they had stepped in three times to provide much needed support. That final boost of sugar was to prove useful. I reached the public library at 5:43 P.M. Geof was reporting by phone that he could hear the Madolehnihmw sirens coming up to his position at Kaselehlie and Elenieng.

At the stroke of 17:51 we were headed down to the intersection. The blue light is the police escort for the east team. I could not believe that we were actually arriving on time. Before we had begun the walk I had visions of coming in way early or way late, and having no idea how to steer between those two possibilities. Even when we were walking in Rohi I was thinking, where do we ride and where do we walk to end up at Kas-El intersection at 1800? As I walked this stretch I realized that there was no way I could have planned an arrival at 5:51 - no plan could possibly have landed us as closely as the blind decisions that had been made by the team along the road.

When the group refused to board vehicles in Sekere, I had thought we might roll in a few minutes late. I was not all that concerned - at this point I was happy that the walkers had the strength to want to push on through on the ground. I was surprised to see us come in ahead of 6:00. I think the rain ultimately helped, cooling down the walkers and refreshing them.

I think one participant put it best when commenting on us arriving within mere minutes of each other and of 6:00 when they said it was simply a prayer answered.

5:52 P.M. Geof on bagpipes.

I was caught off guard by the explosion of energy that happened as the two teams met. I felt the surge too - we had doubled in size, we were near the end, and we were back together. The group took over the northbound lane, and even pushed cars over in the southbound lane. The walkers were jubilant.

Some had the energy to dance at the end, but ultimately the dancing energy faded and most took to chairs. All were hungry and the light meals were devoured eagerly once passed out.

A debt of thanks is owed to many. First and foremost thanks to Geof Hart-Davies for his leadership. Thanks too to the women's clubs of Pohnpei and especially the Pohnpei Women's Advisory Council. Thanks to Sister Christina Elias both for her participation and her most effective prayers. Thanks to Susanna "Luwain" Sohs, when I saw she was with us, I knew we would succeed. Thanks to Cipriano Pablo for welcoming us to his place and letting us rest there. Without the intervention of Senator David Panuelo and Director of Social Affairs Janet Semes Panuelo the west side team would have gotten into electrolyte difficulties. My thanks to Dr. Perman for being with us, he helped us sort out whether a tired walker who had had a headache and some chest pain was in need of medical attention. She was not, and she returned to walking by the end of the trek. My cell partner on the other side, Berno, was a critical link that made it possible to make decisions on the Kitti side. Berno Hedson and Lululeen Santos were also the heavy lifters on organizing the campaign. Thanks are due to Baron Mendiola, the state and national police, and the Kitti police. None of this might have happened without the funding support of the Australian embassy, thanks are due to them as well. I thank the college especially Joe Saimon, Darsy, Karleen, Luciano, and the drivers. Many of the stop point/start point decisions were made in consultation with the team in the tail medical truck, my thanks to them for their advice and for the sharing.  I owe a personal debt of thanks to "Limad" for taking the lead and inspiring me to dig deeper on the road. She was indefatigable, never willing to ride when she could walk. Finally I thank all of those who joined in on the ground walking, singing, chanting, and running. I apologize if I have inadvertently omitted anyone.

Having started with a morning three kilometer joggle at 7:00 A.M., my legs were fading, so just after 18:28 I slipped out and walked up a main street that had returned to normal Saturday evening traffic.

195 images from this day are on line in a FaceBook photo album with privacy set to public, those images also provide some insight into the day's events.

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