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!