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!

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