Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Yokwe and Happy Manit Day Everyone! Manit Day is a public holiday to celebrate traditional Marshallese Culture. At the college they did some demonstrations on how to husk a coconut (by the way, there are three varieties of coconut depending on when you pick them and each has a very distinct flavor and texture), weaving of mats, and making of baskets and bowls. I must say how clever and creative Islanders are at providing for all their needs just using coconut/palm tree products. Ni (Coconut) provides everything from pancake syrup to roofs for houses to firewood to oil for burning and cooking. The mat weaving was especially cool to watch. Marshallese women weave palm fronds together in a criss-cross pattern while they are still green and flexible, and then as they dry they become tan-brown color. I bought a mat for my office recently because the floor was extremely scratched and dirty (cleaning it didn’t help). Because my office is very small the mat covers almost the whole floor. But I never thought about what the repercussions might be until I experienced them. The problem is that as soon as I put it down on the floor, my students stopped coming into my office for help. I leave my shoes by the door and walk on it barefoot, but it’s a tradition in Marshallese culture that mats are for sleeping, not for walking on, even barefoot. It’s the Marshallese equivalent of jumping on the bed. So my students stand by the door and lean into my office, but won’t come in and sit down for some help. I’m re-thinking moving the mat to my new apartment in an effort to encourage students to visit my office more often.

Speaking of my new place: I finally got my own apartment! It’s really close to campus (about a block away) on the Oceanside of the road. It’s on the third floor of the apartment building and has a wonderful view of the sea out the front window. The windows were covered in translucent contact paper and hidden behind thick ugly blinds, so it took me quite a few hours and a lot of acetone to get them to be clear again, but now the view is fantastic! The unfortunate part is that the wall along the sea-shore side has no windows. A sliding-glass door would make for phenomenal views of the Pacific Ocean, but alas, there’s none. My mentality is typically foreign, though. Marshallese people don’t care where windows face because the sea is an ever-present part of their lives. I love it, and the sea breeze at night brings welcome relief from the heat and humidity. The walls were originally mint-chocolate-chip ice cream green, but needed repainting, so the landlord agreed to send over a painter to make them white. The only problem was that the painter had the door open all day long, so in ran the cockroaches. Yesterday morning at 5am I was awakened by something crawling on my arm. When I realized it was a 2-inch long cockroach I jumped out of bed and chased him around the apartment for a good 10 minutes before sweeping him out the door and off the third-floor balcony. I got some cockroach traps, so hopefully this will not be a problem in the future. My new place is a bit lacking in hot water in the shower. The “Hot” water handle produces at best lukewarm water on a good day (but who needs hot water here anyway?), but usually it’s a cool temperature. Well, I was perfectly happy to take cool showers because it’s usually refreshing, but then on Sunday the water in the shower stopped working altogether. So Monday morning I took my first ever bucket bath. My mother has been trying to convince me to use a washcloth for years, and I just have never had a use for one up until this point. But let me tell you, mom’s right….when bathing from a bucket a washcloth is a luxury! The water’s back on in the shower, so I’m pretty happy.

With my move to the new apartment it means that I’m now in the geographical boundaries of a new branch of my church. I’m really thankful for how friendly the people in this branch are, and how patient they are with me, because of my lack of ability to communicate in Marshallese very well. I only understand about 30% of what’s being said, but being there is good. It reminds me somewhat of my mission in South Africa, which makes me smile. I’m quite surprised to find such a strong presence of the church here. There are 7 branches and 5 chapels on this island that only has 25,000 people living on it (and 3 ¾ square miles of land area). I’m constantly running into other members, and it has really helped me feel like I’m part of the community here to be with them. I’m looking forward to having a calling and really being able to dig in and serve in the church. In addition I’ve found a few friends with whom I feel I really can relate, which is odd because we’ve grown up in very diverse parts of the world, but our lives have been parallel. What an unexpected blessing!

On Saturdays we (instructors from CMI) read books to children in front of the Alele museum for an hour. (The picture above is two of the kids that come to story hour) It’s loads of fun and the kids are always adorable. The other instructors are from the English Department, so as the Math representative, I feel that it’s my responsibility to indoctrinate the kids with as many math books as humanly possible. Last weekend I brought along “A Remainder of One”. It’s a book about a bug in the bug-infantry who is always left out because he’s the 25th soldier and when the divide into 2 rows, 3 rows, 4 rows he doesn’t fit in evenly until he figures out the dividing the troops into 5 rows would allow him to have a spot. I said to the children (in Marshallese) “What is this?” (pointing to the bug), and they all responded, “Kulu” (which means cockroach). Evidently, the cockroach is the only bug important enough to have a name in the Marshallese Language. No other words for bugs even exist. Well, the bugs in the book were certainly much cuter than cockroaches, but that name will have to do for lack of a better term.

Well, that’s all I have time for today. I’m heading out to the rural campus at the other end of the atoll to unwind, grade papers, and play a little volleyball. Hope your weekend is good too! Bar lo kom aolep!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

This is the view of the Pacific Ocean from our Marshallese Classroom at College of the Marshall Islands (Pictured are Anita and I). Can you believe how stunning the view is?!? I'm not going to write much, just wanted to share with you a "top 20 list" that I put together this last week. You might find it amusing:


20. No such thing as “Cold Water Wash” @ the laundry…the only cold water you’ll find here comes in a small bottle and costs $1.25.

19. “Shoreline” is actually the name of a specific place, as well as a good description of the whole country.

18. The combination of hot rain on the tin roof and noise from the air conditioner makes it impossible to hear anything during class at CMI.

17. Need kitchen utensils? ACE hardware has the best selection.

16. “Learn Japanese” TV shows are all voiced-over in Japanese so you can no longer hear the original English that the characters are speaking…so much for learning Japanese!

15. One FDIC Bank on the entire island. Hours: M-F 10am-3pm. Closed: mornings, evenings, weekends, and holidays. No direct deposit. How on earth are working people supposed to make a deposit?

14. Where else in the world can you watch live NFL Monday Night Football games on Tuesday at Noon? (We're about 16-19 hours ahead of people in North America, 12 hours ahead of most people in Europe, and 4 hours ahead of most of Asia).

13. Mountains & hills are a foreign concept: the highest elevation in the country is 22 feet above sea level: the Long Island bridge. Some government and office buildings are slightly taller.

12. Majuro Environmental Protection Agency’s main focus: Convince people to not throw trash on the street or in the lagoon.

11. Adorable small children hanging out the windows of cars during rush hour, “high fiving” me as I ride by them on bike. (yeah, biking to work is faster than driving)

10.$4.20 per gallon for gasoline is considered reasonable!

9. No such thing as “too many people” in a taxi…no seat belts either.

8. Checking expiration dates on everything you buy at the grocery store. Paying $8 for a box of cereal before its expiration date and $2 for a box of cereal thereafter.

7. The ice bucket at the hotel is not for ice: it’s for “flushing” the toilet by dumping tap water into the bowl when the salt water refuses to fill in the tank.

6. Two seasons: Hot & Rainy, and Hot & Kind-of Rainy.

5. Going “Out of Town” for the weekend just doesn’t exist. If you do try to go “Out of Town” it will cost you at least $1000 on Continental Airlines.

4. Hearing Bob Marley’s “Don’t Worry” translated into Marshallese on the radio (very weird!)

3. The post office in the States says airmail takes 4-10 days. Expect it to arrive in 4-10 weeks! Surface mail: 4-10 months! There’s also no postal insurance available because it’s guaranteed to be broken upon arrival.

2. 4-inch geckos and 3-inch cockroaches on walls.

1. Riding a bike in a Mu-mu. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks like fun!

Monday, September 11, 2006

This picture is Masumi (New Japanese Teacher at CMI) and I in the Hawaiian Canoe that we rented this weekend. Luckily we had the help of 4 other people to paddle it. It is made of fiberglass and weighs a TON. Luckily the tide was high, so we didn’t have too far to move it before we got it in the water.

This week has been a really good one. I’m gathering good project and activity ideas for my classes since lecturing 5 days a week gets really, really boring for them and me. One that I’m working on for my advanced algebra class is taking a look at the population growth in the Marshall Islands over the last 80 years. When plotted, the data is astounding. It’s a perfect exponential function. We’ll use quadratic regression to find a polynomial that shows the trends and then talk about what this might imply about future population statistics if the current trends continue. In 1940 there were just under 11,000 people in the country. By 2000 there were 68,000 people. The statistics indicate that the population doubling-time is 18 years, which means by 2018 there will likely be around 136,000 people living on these islands that can hardly support the current population. It really drives home the importance of all of us living cleaner, healthier lives and encouraging the government to make policies that better support the people. For example, there is no recycling here, yet people use Styrofoam and disposable plastics all the time. Where do you put the garbage? And how will we be able to provide clean drinking water for a population so big when we have to conserve fresh water during the dry months as it is right now. There are so many cars which are really unnecessary. Most people go no further than 3 miles from their houses for work, shopping, and everything else. And the salty ocean air rusts cars out so fast that they decay and then just sit here for years (car companies are happy to ship new cars out to us, but do they ever help take away the scrap metal?) There’s a lot of work to be done here, and it’s great to be able to mix together a math lesson with some discussion of what the math indicates. I’m pretty excited to try it out. This week we used the graphing calculators in class for the first time (the department owns a set of TI-84’s). Some of the students had used them before, but others were like, “Is this a remote control?” I imagine for some of my students, coming from outer islands to Majuro is quite a culture shock. In many ways their lives on the outer islands are probably a lot more healthy than life here in Majuro, although opportunities for education are very scarce there.

This week I had a funny experience in class. I had just wrapped up the lesson when I saw from the corner of my eye what I thought was a black ball rolling towards me. When it got about 2 feet from my foot I realized it was not a ball, but a cockroach (about 2 inches in length) charging me. It startled me so much that shrieked and jumped to the other side of the table, much to the students’ amusement. For them cockroaches are such a part of normal life (even big ones like this) that they don’t bat an eyelash. I ran around the table, grabbed the homework folder, and swooped him out the door, at which point he went flying off the balcony and down through the stairwell. I was so thankful that there was no one below. Can you imagine a giant thing like this dropping onto your head? Yeuch!

Another random thing about Marshallese people that is amusing is that they all have last names that are English first names. This was very curious to me at first. Lots of my students have last names like “John”, “Joseph”, “William”, “Richard”, and “Joel”. What on earth? It turns out that after World War II when America took over the Marshall Islands (they belonged to Japan before that), the US army officers were asked to take a census of people in the country. At that point, many people didn’t have last names, so when pressed for their last name, they asked the officers what their first name was, and upon reply, they reported the same as their last name. So I’d guess that probably 10% of the population on this island has the last name of “John” because that was that name of the army officer who took their grandparent or great-grandparent’s name in the census. It’s funny to listen to basketball games that are broadcast on the radio. They sound like, “John passes to John, who passes to Capelle, who passes to John” and the three “Johns” are all different players on the team.

It is a very strange thing to live alone. I have not lived by myself for about 10 years now. I miss having roommates to come home to. In some ways it’s nice to have quite time, but I can’t get over how strange it is to go home to a quite place every night. Well, in thinking about this I was just realizing how spoiled I am and that I have no reason to complain. I was watching a program on BBC last night about Swaziland. I have a personal interest in Africa because the goodness of the people there captured my heart when I lived there a few years back, and so my ears always perk up when I hear stories on TV from Africa. This report showed a glimpse into the life of a sweet young 12 year old boy living in Swaziland. He had nursed both his mother and father as they died of aids and now he lives alone in the family home. The HIV infection rate in his country is 45%, so his story is not unique. But I thought about him and the heartbreak he must feel every day going to bed in the empty house his family once shared together. What a difficult and lonely childhood. I have truly been blessed with such a good family. I must not take this for granted. Now I will remember that my occasional loneliness is miniscule compared to that of many young people in the world. With so much wealth in some countries it is tragic to see such suffering in others. I want to be part of the solution, but it’s so hard to figure out how. The best I can do for now is to try to make a difference in my own sphere of influence where I am now. There are plenty of children here who need encouragement and love. I just have to keep myself from hibernating in my hotel room.

Well, I’m off to Marshallese class again. Bar lo kom!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

This weekend I tried my first fresh coconut! I’ve never bought one before since I haven’t the slightest idea what to do with it, and they are pretty expensive in the states. Coconuts here are tasty and cheap. My friend Anita invited me to go for lunch at the Tide Table on Friday. She is the new chairman of the business department, one of very few other faculty members under the age of 40, and also a returned missionary. The city opened a new outdoor market for local farmers adjacent to the restaurant, and they had young coconuts for 25 cents each! The Taiwanese embassy was there (with my volunteer friends Amber and Roxanne) doing vegetable cooking demonstrations in an effort to convince people here to eat more vegetables. I was so excited to see so many local farmers being supported and there were tons of breadfruits and coconuts…it was great! I didn’t realize before this that you can eat a coconut with no utensils. There is a soft spot on the top (one of the three holes that makes it look like a bowling ball) that you can poke with your finger and then suck the juice through. When you’re done there’s another soft spot that you just need to bang on a tree or any other hard object to get the coconut to split. Anita’s from Kiribati so she’s practically professional at these tropical things and I was so glad have someone show me how to do it so I’m not ignorant anymore. The way to envision where to crack it is to pretend it’s someone’s head (the three holes are eyes and nose) and aim for this weak part of the head. It’s not a very pleasant mental image, but it tasted great. The local bananas here are also out-of-this world. Chiquita doesn’t hold a candle to them. They are only about 3 inches long (probably what the ones back home used to resemble before genetic modification) and so flavorful! I love it! There’s a Philippino restaurant across the street from the college that makes the most divine Banana Lumpias. They look like egg rolls but instead of veggies inside there’s banana. I am going to have to be careful not to develop an addiction to them 

My Marshallese is coming along very slowly. Most of the relatively new foreign teachers are taking the class together. The grammar is pretty easy, but pronunciation is not at all. There are 3 kinds of o’s and n’s, and two kinds of a’s, l’s, m’s, and u’s. My favorite phrases that we learned last week are “enana jook” (don’t be shy! Which is appropriate to say with my students if I can get them to recognize what I’m trying to say), and “enana bwin” (that’s a bad smell…speaking of the community dumpsters that are located every couple blocks…uncovered in the humid tropical air). Also, anything that westerners brought with them to the island is marshall-sized….like “pajkot bool”= basketball (very popular here), jikuul (school), and tokto (doctor). We have a lot of fun laughing in class at absolutely ridiculous we sound saying words we should be familiar with.

At church I got some adorable pictures of kids (I’ve posted them here). They are so cute and so outgoing…well, except for one little girl. She is absolutely petrified white people. Seriously, she looked at me like I was the devil incarnate. Her mom couldn’t even attend the Sunday school class I was in because she panicked at the sight of me. But she’s pretty small. Once they’re about 3 or 4, they’re fearless. In fact, I regularly see them in the lagoon jumping off rusty old boats into the water. It’s such a fun sight to see them playing together. They are so creative. This is a place where it’s still considered safe for the adults to stay inside while the kids run around the neighborhood unsupervised. It’s a shame that the world is getting less and less safe to the point where kids can’t be kids anymore. It’s fun to see them running around having such a good time.

Well, that’s all I can think of for now. I’ll write more if I have any interesting experiences.