Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Marshall Islands are places with lots of love! The common greeting that people say to each other (friends and strangers alike) is “Yokwe” (or with the new spelling system: “Iakwe”). Which literally translates: “Love you!” So no matter whether you’re greeting a stranger on the street or a long-time friend, you’re declaring your love for them. “Iakwe in jibbon!” (Love you in the morning!), “Iakwe in raelep!” (Love you in the afternoon!) “Iakwe in Jota!” (Love you in the Night!) There’s a lot of love to go around out here 

Last weekend we went out to dinner for my friend (and neighbor) Amber’s birthday. The accompanying picture is of the party. We went to a restaurant owned by a friend of hers and ate some nice stuff. The big rage here is Sashimi (raw tuna) which I tried a bit of. It wasn’t bad, but I don’t think I’d pay money for it again  Pictured here are: (bottom row) Anita, Amber, Roxanne, Me, Masumi, (top row): Restaurant owner & Victor. We had great Taiwanese food followed by chocolate birthday cake. This weekend is Masumi’s birthday, so the parties just continue!

This last weekend (it was a long weekend with Manit Day holiday) I also went with Anita and Laurie to the Fijian club’s dance party fundraiser, which was lots of fun. Island music is really cool. They had a live band which did a combination of Covers of Reggae and American music as well as some of their own stuff. It was a lot of fun. Although Fiji is not very far away from the Marshall Islands (in fact, the nearest temple is there) the people look very different than Micronesians. Fiji is in Melanesia, and Melanesians look much more African than Micronesians do. Fiji was also colonized by England, so they have a culture that is more British than islands in Micronesia that have had a strong American influence. Last week at our faculty in-service training, Timoci (a Fijian English instructor at CMI) read a paragraph aloud and we were all mesmerized because he has this very deep, rich, English voice. He makes just about anything he reads aloud sound like Shakespeare. It was so cool.

Last week I gave my students an assignment having to do with analyzing population Statistics from the Marshall Islands. Population is growing at a tremendous pace, so we graphed population data from 1920 to 2000 and then formed a quadratic regression to model the problem. We used the equation we found to make predictions, and according to our calculations, the population should rise from 62,000 people currently to 95,000 people twenty years from now. This island just doesn’t have space, resources, or employment for so many people. So I asked the students to make suggestions about what we could do to ensure that life is good for our children in 20 years. I was thinking about things like conserving our resources, opening businesses to provide employment for a growing population, increasing the number of health care workers we have, etc… here are some of the comical answers they put:

1. Punish teenagers who have children out of wedlock (harsh!)
2. Build houses on the water like they have in China (?)
3. Encourage more Marshallese to join the US army and get sent overseas
4. Limit family size to 5 or 6 children (that’s considered small here!)
5. Marry all the foreigners that have come to our country and go home with them when they leave!

Something cool that I learned yesterday in Marshallese class: It’s culturally acceptable to marry certain of your cousins and not acceptable to marry other cousins. Here’s how it works: Marshallese society is Matriarchal, so in Marshall culture, you inherit your Jowi (family name) from your mother (and it doesn’t change when you marry). This means that the children of your Mother’s sister have the same Jowi as you, and you consider them your siblings, not your cousins. On the other hand, the children of your father’s sister have a different Jowi than you, so your father’s sister is considered your auntie and her children are your cousins because they have a different Jowi. This also means that they are fair game for marrying (it’s understandable that this is the case, because pretty much everyone is cousins with everyone on the islands, particularly on the small outer islands). On your father’s side, your father’s brother’s children are off-limits for dating and marriage (because they share the same last name as you (an American institution, but they respect that too) because they are considered your brothers and sisters. But your mother’s brother is your uncle and his children are cousins that you can marry because you have both a different Jowi and a different surname. Pretty cool, isn’t it??

On a more serious note: I was reminded today of one of the saddest things I have experienced over the last few weeks here at CMI. The irony of it is bitter to swallow, and I want to do something about it. There is a little girl, about 9 years old (but small for her size) who comes around our offices about once or twice a week with a Rubbermaid container with cupcakes selling them. “Jete Wanaan? (how much does it cost?)” I asked her. “Juon Quarter” (one quarter). Today she came around again. The time was 11:30am. She speaks no English, so in (my very broken) Marshallese I asked her “Kwoj etal nan jikuul?” (Do you go to school?) She shook her head No and became a bit bashful. Now education is supposed to be free in this country, but families who have lots of children cannot afford to buy school uniforms and the government is beginning to charge modest school fees, but this is unreasonable, since education is allotted about 50% of the annual budget for the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Where is all this money going? The irony of the situation is that while she sells cupcakes for next-to-nothing at the College to nice foreign instructors, she is missing out on the education that she needs if she’s ever going to have a chance to be a student at this College.

I had a brief conversation with this little girl (not very good because it was limited by my lack of Marshallese). Her name is Yumi. When she told me, I wrote it on a paper and asked her if this is how to spell it. I showed her a couple pictures of my new baby nephew Grant on my computer and she smiled. When I minimized the window she gasped as if I had destroyed the pictures. I don’t think she’s ever seen a computer before. I would like to meet her parents and see what the situation is, because if it’s just a matter of not having money for a uniform and school supplies, that would be easy for me to take care of. In some cases families just have too many children to be able to afford uniforms for all of them. Perhaps I could pay her school fees in exchange for one of her family members helping my clean my house on the weekends or something. I’ve just got to figure out how to ask her to introduce me to her mother in Marshallese (I’m missing some crucial vocabulary words for that). Maybe I can take my missionary friends with me to help translate if I can meet her mother. Not only is Yumi missing out on education, she’s missing out on opportunities to socialize with other kids her age in school. While the other little girls are playing volleyball together after school she’s wandering around with her tub of cupcakes by herself. It just breaks my heart to watch. I'll keep you posted with what comes of this. I hope that I can do something to change the situation.

This is all I have time for today. Bar lo kom!

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