Roughly a month after landing, I showed up outside of Salvador Tellames’ home and asked if he was looking for someone to work at his new radio station. It wasn’t anything planned or even really thought out. (I had met Sadoi, Kambes Kesolei and Ngirmang Moses Uludong at my first Palauan Night Market and they had all made mention of possible media work– and it sounded fun. )
So there I was, Miss Ngdiak-a-Rengul, knocking on the door of someone I’d only met once so that I could ask for a job. Sadoi proceeded to take me to the station, show me where everything was and I started working at Palau Wave Radio the very next morning.
[Hilarious note: My training consisted of being told which computer had music files and which button on the mixer would turn on my microphone. Other than that, everything I’ve done at Palau Wave has been mostly intuitive… Or trial-and-error, as is the case with me reading subed on-air.]
Around the same time, Ngirmang Moses Uludong and Kambes Kesolei offered me a chance to write a weekly column for Tia Belau Newspaper— which was frickin’ awesome to an American-born kid like me, who grew up reading old issues of TBN that relatives would send us.
That’s when the Native Ex-Pat was born.
My professional life in Palau, since then, has been a complete surprise to most people– but especially to me!
If anyone had told me that I’d be writing my own newspaper column, hosting my own radio show, running an entire radio station and being a guest on television talk shows…
I would’ve probably peed myself from the intense fit of laughter that ensued because this simply isn’t the life I imagined for myself.
That’s not a complaint, though. It’s more about how I see myself: Not particularly exciting, a little bit of a #NerdBird and striving to just be average.
IÂ know that what I’ve accomplished professionally in Palau could’ve been accomplished by anyone else here, if they possess the right combination of motive and kldidaierreng. My motivations have been a little more eclectic (or should I say erratic?) than average, but I think the point still gets made.
My List of Motivations (December 2011):
- Learn about Palau
- Learn how to be Palauan
- Learn to swim
- Become a productive member of Palauan society
- Encourage other American-born Palauans to move to Palau
- Prove THE POINT
My List of Motivations (December 2013):
- Learn more about Palau
- Relish being a different kind of Palauan
- Learn to swim
- Find more ways to continue being a productive member of Palauan society
- Encourage other American-born Palauans to move to Palau
- Prove THE POINT (Again, more on this a little further into the narrative…)
- Become the most heavily (and neo-traditionally) tattooed professional on the island
As for the kldidaierreng, anyone who’s spent enough time with me knows that I am just disgustingly stubborn and I can hold a grudge longer than I remember what it was about in the first place! (It’s not an endearing trait, but one should be honest about these things…)
I’m told that I’ve accomplished a lot– though I don’t necessarily feel that way about my past two years. What I do feel and know about my two years of living in Palau is that I am tremendously blessed.
On a tiny island where the biggest employer is the government and where employment in the private sector is limited and difficult to come by– I’ve survived and sometimes even thrived.
I am incredibly fortunate to work with and be able to learn from the group I like to called Rubekul a Palau Wave. Showing up in Palau with NO CLUE about the back-history of anything means constantly scrambling to learn the kind of detailed and sometimes hush-hush type of stories that you won’t find in history books.
Working with the likes of Salvador Tellames, Kambes Kesolei, Ngirmang Moses Uludong, Belhaim “Bena” Sakuma and Santy Asanuma means I always have someone to ask when I (as usual) have no clue what’s going on around me. And being the amazing advisors/teachers/mentors that they are– they tolerate my sometimes inane questions with grace and a good laugh.
They’ve encouraged me to discard the box that Palauans so-typically dwell inside mentally and allowed me the freedom to learn and operate in my own quirky way. That’s a blessing that’s incredibly hard to come by in Palau, or so I’ve observed.
Most of all, everything the Rubekul a Palau Wave have allowed me to do/learn/investigate/attempt has been instrumental in helping me prove THE POINT.
[Quick disclaimer: People who’ve followed the Native Ex-Pat column in TBN or who’ve followed any of my multitude of blogs know that I tend to be quite open– typically more-so than the average Palauan. What follows is a personal story that some people may take offense to me publishing. That’s fine by me. I like to believe that talking about one’s own hardships is an opportunity to help someone, somewhere, who may be going through something similar. But that’s just me. A rechad a kakerous. That said, feel free to continue reading.]
While my professional life in Palau has been all kinds of amazing, my personal life in Palau had a bit of a rough start that has since affected my relationships (or lack thereof) with entire segments of my family.
I’m nothing near being an angel nor do I hold any claim to innocence in my life prior to Palau– and some of my poor decision-making from my early-20s followed me here. So while waiting for my flight to Palau from Guam– I’d already been informed on the telephone, by people that I’d grown-up loving and adoring, that I was kebelung and chelsensang!
I’m not going to lie. That shit hurt. A lot.
But somehow, I still had the emotional fortitude to make the last leg of my journey and still go directly to these people.
Not only did the situation not improve for me, it actually grew increasingly worse until I literally ran away.
My first year living in Palau involved some incredibly painful decisions, about removing toxic people from my life– even though they were really the only people I knew here. These decisions resulted in me basically removing myself from the only people I had been close to up until that point.
And again, that shit frickin’ hurt. More than I know how to describe.
I heard all kinds of things about myself from various fringe members of the family– mutual relatives who could move freely between my Black Sheep Realm and The Other.
The word most commonly used to describe me, besides kebelung and chelsensang, was omekrur. For those reading who aren’t familiar with Palauan words– it means EMBARRASSING.
As in “I, Charlene Merirei Ongelungel, was deemed an embarrassment to my family.”
I will accept that I made incredibly poor decisions, particularly between the ages of 19-24… WHO DOESN’T??
But what I would not accept was them not accepting me. If you’ve never paid close attention to my columns inÂ TBN or frequented the “Palau 2012” forum, this might sound confusing. So let me have my Mother, who so graciously and loving posted it online, explain:
(And yes, my Mom really did post that on Palau 2012. Because she’s a bad ass like that. And because she’s my Mom, yo!)
Long story short– because I realize this post is WELL over 1,000 words long now– is that a particularly close segment of my family finds me incredibly embarrassing. Partly because I refused all efforts they made to have me become more like them (as that would be insulting to my parents), but mostly because I’ve been with my girlfriend for nearly two years and have every intention of someday marrying her.
My Dad taught me (indoctrinated me?) with the belief that one should live their life honestly and openly.
So I do.
If anything, they’re damn proud of me for living by the principles they taught me. They would be insulted, offended, disappointed beyond words if I let someone’s ignorance dictate how I live my adult life.
So I don’t.
I removed the toxic people from my life, as scary and hurtful as it was, and chose to be honest with myself and with everyone who encountered me.
And here is THE POINT:
My name is Charlene â€œShaâ€ Merirei Ongelungel. My father is Hans Ongelungel and my mother is Hannah Ongrung. At the time of this writing, I am thirty years old and am celebrating the second anniversary of my arrival in the Republic of Palau. I am thoroughly tattooed and adore indigenous tattoo revivals. I manage the Palau Wave radio station, had my own column in Tia Belau Newspaper and was a guest on various television and radio talk showsâ€”typically discussing mental health issues and entrepreneurship. Iâ€™ve had an online presence since 1996, run lots of websites and do decent work in multimedia production. I still donâ€™t know how to swim, have never seen a ker-uos, date women, enjoy chelbakl with ureker el uasech and I do not eat rice.
I have lots more quirks, but thatâ€™s all they are. Quriks, parts, detailsâ€¦ I am not defined by any single one. Those whoâ€™ve chosen to let any particular facet of my being define me in their eyesâ€¦ Thereâ€™s really nothing I can do about it, besides removing them from my life.
The people I love, the people closest to meâ€”they enrich my life and love me just because. They loved me before I was â€œOH SHA!â€ and the â€œNative Ex-Patâ€ and they love me even when my bank account is in the red. Their love, like my Momâ€™s, is unconditional. They loved me even before I ever learned to love myself.
And at the end of the day, when I go to my own home, I can take comfort in knowing that I lived and loved and learned more today than the day beforeâ€”and thatâ€™s all I really need.