Independence Day

Well, I didn’t have sufficient time, utensils, or ingredients (namely: beer brats) to prepare a usual Vodicka family Independence Day fare, but we made do with what we had: fresh pineapple, garlic-lemon shrimp, and the big winner, homemade ginger beer for an island-appropriate Dark & Stormy. After an afternoon at the Japan-Palau Friendship bridge, where we watched the Independence Day boat races–an annual event that supports the long and healthy rivalry of two of Palau’s most prominent families, who own competing grocery stores located directly across the street from one another, in addition to other business ventures–we had an apartment full of people, sang Happy 19th Birthday to Palau, blew out some candles, and waved mini Palaun flags with newfound pride.

But it was the final event of evening, when our friends Jelga and Nikkita took us out on the town for live music and dancing, Palaun-style, that really cemented my belief that Palau is the stuff of dreams, a place where any dude with a drum machine constitutes a live band, where old men ask you to dance but only so they can sway slowly, at a respectful distance a few feet away from you, and where everyone—and I mean everyone—can sing, and you’ll hear it in the streets or in the aisles of the competing grocery stores, as folks are stocking shelves or doing their daily shopping, but you can’t truly understand it until you witness the ubiquitous and sincere appreciation Palauans have for the fine art of karaoke.

Yep. It’s gonna be a good year.


Well, we did it. We packed up our lives. We sold our cars (thanks, Tim & Sally). We boarded a plane. And then another. And then another. And then we landed 16 hours in the future, in Micronesia. It was pitch dark, because most flights arriving in Palau land between the hours of 1 and 4 a.m., because Palau is an inconvenient place to get to and has to take what it can get when it comes to airplane access and so operates on other countries’ schedules. The downside for the traveler is missing a spectacular aerial view of the Rock Islands (although most Palauans–all 21,000 of them–live on a cluster of four islands, the country is made up of more than 200 volcanic isles and coral atolls scattered over 196 square miles). On the other hand, you get to spend your first night sleeping with a plane full of Palauans, which is a quick cultural immersion experience because shortly after take-off, everyone quietly disperses about the cabin with pillows and blankets, ditches their flip flops, stretches out across the rows and lets it all hang out, snoozing and snoring for the duration of the flight, so that when you get up to use the lavatory (which is often, if you’re a Vodicka), you slalom through an aisle full of bare feet.

But the real upside to a mid-night arrival is waking to view of the place from your apartment on a hill, an utterly spectacular panorama made even more breathtaking by the fact that it was shrouded in darkness when you arrived, and so you open your window blinds and squint in the sunlight and actually gasp in surprise:

View from Home

No matter that all of our kitchen utensils are lost on a slow boat to China (we’re told USPS no longer ships by sea, but I haven’t given up hope that one of these days, our cups, bowls and spoons will wash up on shore). We will suffer through and order mai tais! No matter that, technologically speaking, we’re living in the mid-1990s, those salad days of MS DOS and AOL dial-up. We will unplug! Give our brains some vacation from the screen! Show Brian’s law school professors who promised, during his first quarter of 1L year, that as a lawyer in the 21st century he would never have to use a book! And no matter that I got knocked-out-cold sick two days after we landed. There is a hammock out our front door. There is a breeze coming in off the ocean. Several boxes of books have arrived. Let the Island Time begin.