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  • Writer's pictureBy Alex Rhowuniong

Christmas away from home: Stranded Micronesians won't have the usual family-crowded holiday

Lorenza Perman and Thelma Perman Higgins are spending their Christmas on Guam. Photo by Alex Rhowuniong

There is no place like home, especially during the holidays.

But on Christmas eve, Englbirt Maxine Perman from Pohnpei will try to recreate a holiday-at-home experience with his older sister and their 72-year-old mom in their hotel room at the Ocean Villa Guam in Tamuning. They are still awaiting their repatriation after completing their quarantine three months ago.

“We will eat, exchange gifts and maybe relax and enjoy quality time together,” Perman said.

A cousin with his family, who are residents of Guam, will join the three of them tonight. “At least, we’ll have some relatives,” Perman said. "On Christmas day, we’re on our own— just the three of us. My cousin and his family will be at his in-laws.”

Englbirt Maxime Perman

For the Permans, Christmas celebration is typically a large family gathering at their beautiful home in Sokehs, Pohnpei, with lots of organic foods.

Perman, his sister Thelma Perman-Higgins and their mother, Lorenza Perman, are among the 423 FSM citizens stranded abroad following the closure of the Federated States of Micronesia’s borders.

They were originally scheduled to be sent home on Dec. 5 but FSM President David Panuelo has indefinitely postponed the government's planned repatriation.

Last week, the president announced a $14-million Covid-relief package that includes the expansion of assistance to the stranded citizens. They previously received $1,000 per person, or $1,500 per family application.

“Too many of our stranded citizens are having trouble paying for housing, food, and essential medications. I have instructed our Department of Finance and Administration to prioritize this effort,” Panuelo said last week.

Stranded Micronesians are now forced to celebrate the holidays on Guam due to the Covid-19 situation.

“Things will probably get emotional (for us on Christmas day),” Perman, 43, said, adding that he was already nervous just thinking about it and looking ahead to Friday.

Now that they are so close to home, yet so far, Perman said he is sure the three of them will think about their beautiful family get-together back home. They will join their families back home via Facebook messenger, thanks to advancement in technology.

But Christmas Day is weighing heavily on his heart because his mother will miss celebrating Christmas with her 12 great-grandchildren and 33 grandchildren this year.

Perman remembered fondly what it’s like to celebrate Christmas at home in Sokehs: “We’d gather at our house and make umws (underground ovens), where we’d cook butchered pigs, yams and other island delicacies.”

Gifts-exchange, Sokehs’ style, would usually follow with lots of pounded sakau to round off a festive Christmas spirit.

While members of this 400-plus stranded FSM citizens will celebrate Christmas and New Year’s differently in hotel rooms, the Permans-Higgins know they would rather be back home celebrating like many of us in the cozy and familiar settings of our own homes.

Their Christmas story should be enough, by the way, to give us an idea of how these FSMers have shifted their lives, rolled-with-the-punches, and even managed to muster up a Christmas spirit in a strange land.

Yesterday, when Pacific Island Times caught up with Perman via Messenger, he was still in his car parked on the side of the road, trying to finish up his late Christmas shopping for tonight. The father of four said his family at home in Pohnpei, wife Maxine and kids were very happy when he spoke with them earlier yesterday.

They all learned their Christmas presents will arrive on time. “They were sent a few days ago, an ice-chest.”

Prior to the Permans' arrival on Guam in October 2020, their mother Lorenza went to Hawaii to stay with their 75-year-old father, Paulus Perman, a cancer patient.

The elder Perman passed away in May 2020. Mrs. Lorenza Perman was hit the hardest. She went through a number of episodes of mild strokes after her husband’s death and, fortunately, recovered to a degree.

Englbirt Perman and Higgins did everything they could to help her through the painful, difficult times. When the chance to get her home sooner-than-he-planned knocked at the door, the younger Perman leapt to it and moved his family to Guam.

But, now in hindsight, that turned out to be a regretful move. The promised Dec. 5 repatriation flight was canceled Dec. 1 and postponed indefinitely.

“I was so down, I did not feel like eating,” Englbirt Perman said of their situation. “I cried.”

He explained he was crying for his mother, because as strong and healthy as he was, he still felt really crummy after the news, “like a hangover.”

His mother has been ill and weak all along.“I could not imagine how she felt about the whole situation,” Englbirt Perman also said.

But they try their best to make things nice and “homey” for their mother. They’ve moved her from the inland Airport Hotel in Tamuning to the Ocean Villa Guam on the beach front so she could enjoy the white sandy beach and relax.

“Me and my sister are trying to keep her happy in any way we can,” Perman said.

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