"It is cold in Washington," says Tosiwo Nakayama, who seems to be feeling chills that register on no thermometer. "To come here, we had to buy overcoats, suits with matching ties and shoes -- many things which we will not be wearing when we go home."
He glances down at the dark, brand-new pin-stripe that fits neatly on his athletic frame: "Do you think this suit will be appropriate to visit your president -- if I am invited to visit your president?"
Like Jimmy Carter, Tosiwo Nakayama is a president -- but the population of his country, the Federated States of Micronesia, could be squeezed into the Astrodome.
Instead, they are being squeezed into the 20th century. The FSM is part of the vast Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, which has about half as much land as Rhode Island scattered through an area of ocean as large as the continental United States. Some of the islands' names still conjure up overtones from World War II and the atomic age; Bikini and Eniwetok, Saipan and Truk, they are a part of American history and are still locked in an intense, ambivalent relation with America.
Not all of the islands have been hit as hard by history as Bikini was, but all have been affected, including the FSM, which has Truk at its center and lies south of Saipan, southeast of Bikini.
"There are places on Truk where the women still go topless and the men wear loincloths, says Nakayama, "and this is true of Yap and the outer islands. On the main island, most of the women wear grass skirts as casual attire -- but when they go in town they put on a bra and a blouse, not to offend the tourists."
At home in his presidential head-quarters, which were formerly a hospital and before that a Japanese school, the president of the Federated States of Micronesia wears slacks and an open-collared shirt during working hours. He has no use for neckties and shows no signs of disapproval as he tells about a member of the Microbesian legislature who has introduced a bill to ban them. With amusement and chagrin he tells about the last time he purchased a business suit:
"Two years ago, we went on a mission to Japan -- we had to buy our suits in a big men's shop there -- and when we came home we put our suits away. When I began planning this trip to America, I went to get my suit from Japan to see whether it would be usable again -- and the cockroaches had eaten it. Now I am wondering whether the roaches will eat this suit before I have an occasion to use it again."
President Nakayama was kept in Suspense through most of his weeklong stay in Washington, wondering whether he would need the new suit to visit President Carter. But the suit was useful for visits to the Department of the Interior (which has jurisdiction over Micronesia) and to Capitol Hill, where Micronesia has several good friends. A meeting betweeen the two presidents had been expected, but arrangements were confused -- apparently because the Departments of State and Interior each thought the other was handling it.
This confusion neatly symbolizes the status of Micronesia, a U.S. protectorate that has adopted a national constitution, elected a national government, and is moving toward self-rule. The islands have been divided into four separate units. Some, like the Marianas in the north, have chosen a commonweath status something like that of Puerto Rico -- with U.S. military bases and a steady stream of American money.
Asked whether they thought the Federated States were being "punished" by America for choosing a more independentd status, Nakayama and his associates avoided a direct answer.
"We are not seeking full independence, but a free association on terms that have yet to be defined," said Bethwal Henry, speaker of the Federated States' Congress. But he added that American money for the areas has been cut back since the Federation voted for its new constitution. New funds will be needed, not only for economic development (which is still in its first stages) but also to get the new government started.
"We had hoped to be able to use the new government buildings on Saipan, which were built by the CIA," said Nakayama, "but Saipan has been taken out of the Federation." Instead, most of the government is housed in "temporary" buildings that were put up by the Army in 1947 and have long since been condemned.
A government that works in obsolete Quonset huts is only one of the marks America has left on Micronesia. Other marks can be found in the language (there are 11 major native languages besides English, which is the language used by the government).
In some parts of the islands, "Coke" is the generic name for any soft drink, including those that have an orange or a lemon flavor. Elsewhere, all soft drinks (no matter what their brand name) are called "Fanta."
Some of the Americanisms in the islands are mildly confusing to the president. "My kids are asking me to buy them disco pants and disco shirts," he says, sounding puzled. "I do not know what these things are."." His kids are 12 in number, ranging in age from a few months to 25 years. Two of them are adopted relatives who became his children with the informality of the islands: "A kid stays with you a long time, likes you and becomes your child."
Among the American legacies in Micronesia is a basically American form of government. "Our constitution is very much like yours," says Asterio Takesy, the country's representative in Washington, "except that more rights are specified in our Bill of Rights."
The impact of America on the personal lives of Micronesians was explored by the president in a bit of speculative autobiography. "If the Americans had not come, I would probably be an ordinary fisherman," said Tosiwo Nakayama, whose hobby is fishing. "I would be healthier and I would feel younger; I would be living a simpler life, with no worries."
His worry about a meeting with President Carter was resolved at the last minute, through the intervention of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). The two presidents met on Saturday, after Nakayama postponed his departure for a day.
Besides friends like Inouye and the fact that the U.N. is carefully watching American handling of Micronesia, the Federated States may have one more bit of leverage in the future. After examining satellite photos of the area, several oil companies have shown an interest in exploring for oil. Some time in the future, besides the option of joining the United Nations, the Federated States of Micronesia may have the option of joining OPEC.
But this is still speculative. Meanwhile, Asterio Takesy offered an interim solution: "Do you suppose we could get American cars to run on coconut oil?"