Sunday, January 01, 2006

Bells will be ringing the sad, sad news

So, long time no updates. Lots has happened, including the holidays and the requisite bottom-level depression accompanying being 10,000 miles from home listening to Christmas carols on your iPod.

In answer to multiple emails, yes there is Christmas in Palau. It’s actually a very conservative and religious society in which gangs of SDA, Baptist and Mormon missionaries duke it out on the streets through a series of dance-offs and a complicated dibs-based method of conversion.

[As a side note, I was less troubled by the fact that many people assumed there would be no Christmas in Palau, and more troubled by the fact that virtually everyone who assumed there would be no Christmas also assumed without asking that there would be Thanksgiving. Gotta love that American education system. Ironically, however, there is Thanksgiving in Palau because it’s very important to Palauans to celebrate the day the Haolies took America from the Indians.]

So, Christmas is pretty huge here. The local businesses appear to compete over who can put up the largest, tackiest and/or gaudiest light displays. Even the smaller businesses get in on the act with ragtag mish-mashes of lights thrown every which way. The gas station near my house, for instance, had only one-half of a crèche (the wise men and a camel), which was put up the weekend after Thanksgiving and remains on the corner to this day. I watched the display throughout the holiday season with a sense of wonder and anticipation, wondering whether Joseph and Mary and, ultimately, the baby Jesus would appear as the actual holiday neared. I also searched the island for the missing half of the crèche, wondering whether someone had appropriated it or even whether is was part of an elaborate time-lapse display in which the wise men were actually traveling to some other part of the island, where Mary and Joseph were already stable-bound. Alas, baby Jesus never came to the Topside Mobile station, nor could I find him on the island. I fully expect Bill O’Reilly to mention this soon and declare a war on Palau’s obvious War On Christmas.

The week before Christmas, I co-chaired a rape case involving a long history of abuse between stepfather and stepdaughter. It was painful and moving and affected me in a way that makes me know I made the right decision when I decided my third year in law school not to do criminal work. But, I cross-examined a rapist until after midnight (we had a judge leaving the island and had to get done) and re-confirmed that I actually know what I’m doing with this law stuff, which was pretty cool. Then, my partner asked me to close on the morning of the last day of trial and I had a flashback to the worst closing argument ever delivered in the history of all space and time, which was delivered by me circa 1999, when I was a third-year law student in clinic. It was a terrible, stream of consciousness, rambling piece of crap that ultimatley resulted in a conviction (though I would posit that it's difficult to avoid conviction when one is found with 27 zips of crack in his tightie whities). It was bad. And, apparently, scarring. Needless to say, I was nervous about the closing.

I spent the morning of our last day obsessing and organizing and obsessing and outlining and obsessing and then obsessing a little more. And then, I just did it. I stood up and started to speak and the words just flowed and the preparation paid off and I gave the judge a path to conviction on a platter. And I LOVED it. Times like that remind me that all this debt I’m in might just be worth it.

Of course, once all of the performance is over and the lawyers have all sat down and the conviction is read into the record, you’ve still got a victim that will never be the same. And she’s got to go home and live the same life of fear and mistrust that she did before. Which makes for a very merry December 23rd indeed.

Christmas day I spent on a boat because I can. Ditto New Years day. You would think this takes the sting out of being 10,000 miles from everyone I love and you would be right. Almost. I traded drinking wine in a box and eating deviled eggs and ham in a trailer manufactured home for drinking beer from a can and eating fried chicken on the beach. The only thing missing was a large family and a rousing gift-exchange game called “Chinese Christmas.” (don’t blame me, I didn’t name it.) It would be great if everyone would just move out here already and then you can all know what it’s like to wear sandals all year long.

Since then, everything’s been a flurry of activity as the island wakes from its holiday rest and we all go about doing that work we put off in December.

And because you know you want them, here are selected pictures:

This is pretty much the island favorite for Tackiest Light Display: The Rock Island Cafe.

It should be noted that Rock Island started the holiday season with only about one third of those lights, adding more each day as Christmas approached. I think this was less advent-related and more about keeping ahead of the pack as far as gaudiness goes. Either way, it's impressive. The night after the castle went up there were two accidents.