My time in Washington consisted of two relaxed evenings with friends in shorts and sport shirts, and a formal lunch at the posh Army-Navy Club at Farragut Square. For the latter I had to borrow button-down shirt, tie and sports jacket. (They never even noticed that I was wearing sandals without socks.)
The first of the relaxed evenings was dinner with Emil Friberg, his wife and a couple friends. From his porch we enjoyed a great view of the Mall, Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol. Even so, it was easier (and much more satisfying) to ignore what was going on there and turn our attention to island affairs. All of them were working in government jobs that brought them in regular contact with Micronesia.
The following evening I was invited to dinner with Joe Gomes, his wife Laura, and Brendan Walsh at Joe’s home in suburban Falls Church, Virginia. Brendan and Joe were former Jesuit Volunteers separated by ten years and 400 miles. Joe served in Chuuk in the late 1980s, while Brendan was on Pohnpei in the late 1990s. Both are now married, Joe only for a year or two.
The sister of Joe’s wife, Shelly Pennefather, was a basketball star at Villanova, where she went into the records as the all-time highest scorer in either men’s or women’s basketball. Instead of going pro, she entered the Poor Clares after college and took vows as a cloistered nun. As Sister Rose Marie, she sees her family three or four times a year through a screen, and only gets to hug her mother and sisters once every 25 years. Tears were everywhere when she celebrated her 25th anniversary this past year. Now the count begins on the next 25.
Laura’s sister might be restricted in her show of affection, but there were plenty of hugs in our little group before the night was over.
Then there was the formal lunch, with more then two hours of friendly but serious discussion on Micronesian matters. I was invited to join Mike Senko, former US ambassador to the Marshall Islands; Peter Prahar, former US ambassador to FSM; and Al Short, who was the chief negotiator just before the Compact of Free Association was finalized. Alex Gray, from Defense Department, had hoped to join us, but he was off in Micronesia accompanying Secretary of State Pompeo on his visit through the islands. This was certainly a group of men who knew a thing or two about the islands and have kept their interest alive.
“Thank you, China” (for drawing attention to the forgotten island nations) was one theme of our discussion. But we also talked about certain premises that should be discarded–-for instance, the assumption that island nations in the Pacific can be economically self-reliant. We discussed the need for a cartel in the northern Pacific made up of island leaders, and the importance of a broad vision extending into the future.
In all, the food at the club was more than satisfying, but the time was far too short for the discussion we were having.