By Scott Kroeker, JCC Project Officer, PIDP
Along the southeast coast of Weno, Chuuk where myself and three others were trekking, we kept coming across quite new fire hydrants complete with four concrete posts to prevent vehicles from knocking them over. This wouldn’t be unusual except for the fact that we were trekking on a dirt footpath, the only access to this part of the island, and we had left the nearest road at least 30 minutes ago and hadn’t seen a structure of any sort. Later we found out that the fire hydrants were part of an Asian Development Bank project, which I’m sure was a relief to two of my fellow trekkers who were representatives from the U.S. Department of State and who had been fully convinced that this was another example of how badly the Department of Interior had screwed up in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).
This was only one of many fascinating experiences I had while working on an East-West Center coordinated International Election Observation Mission to the FSM. We weren’t actually trekking through the jungle looking for harebrained development projects, but instead were in search of three or four polling stations supposedly located along this roadless stretch of verdant coastline. After passing idyllic (to outsiders) and typically cliché scenes of young girls washing their laundry in the steams, young adults playing volleyball near the mangrove covered shoreline, and several beautiful churches that seems to rise out of the jungle, we finally emerged at a small village where we found the only polling station we saw that day. It was located in the open veranda part of someone’s house and the owner proudly retrieved the ballot box from its location locked in the main house. He showed us the box, which was also locked as it should be, and he told us that it would be opened at 7 a.m. the next day for the balloting to begin.
After that hour and a half trek, covered in sweat, we felt like we had accomplished our mission. We had been able to observe pre-election activities and organization. We could now retreat up the path back to our 4×4 and eventually the comfort of our air conditioned hotel for a beer. The next day would be the election and we hoped it would come off better than the fire hydrant installation project.