Friday, November 24, 2006
Last night there was a hurricane inside my bedroom. I think that we’ve entered the windy season here in Majuro. During my first week in my new apartment I asked the landlord to send an employee to fix my bedroom window (the frame was loose and was not holding the glass tightly). While trying to “fix” it, he smashed it (accidentally) and then left and did not return. So another nice employee who was painting my place covered the cracks with clear packing tape. I requested a new window for several weeks before my landlord got yet another employee to come. They couldn’t find the right sized glass anywhere on the island (Taiwanese windows are evidently incompatible with American hardware store supplies), so they decided on plexiglass. The employee spent an entire Saturday cutting the plexiglass, and when I came home, he smiled and said, “It’s finished!” But it was not anywhere close to finished. The frame was looser than ever, and there was sticky brown paper covering the plexiglass. Not only could I not see out of the window, but they had removed the rubber seal, so every time the wind blew, my window made a bang-bang-bang noise against the frame. Finally last week I pulled the window back out again and after waiting for a tool from a friend I scraped it clean and washed it for about 3 hours last night. I came to find out after all that work that the plexiglass is too big for the frame and will not fit back into the window. So the hurricane continues…at least I pushed my bed away from the hole where my window used to be so that I don’t get rained on at night. I have learned that if you want something done, it’s usually best to take care of it yourself…concerning windows at least.
Funny anecdotal story: I have a student who has having some attendance trouble in class. I saw him in the hallway a few weeks back and asked him how he was. His reply: “Not good” surprised me. I asked if there was anything I could do to help and he said, “No, I just have a boil on my butt and I’m afraid I can’t sit in class.” Poor guy! It was true. He couldn’t sit on a chair for a week. Luckily he’s a really bright student and was able to catch up. The surprising thing is that boils, and especially boils on the butt are common here. I’m not quite sure how one gets a boil, but this is not the first time I’ve heard of a student having to miss class because of a boil in a that place. Man, I’ve heard a lot of excuses for why students can’t make it to class, but boil-on-the-butt takes the cake for most original.
Another funny anecdote: People are always telling me “Goodnight!” even if it’s not bedtime yet. “Iakwe in Jota” is the greeting in Marshallese that means “Good Evening”, but I think that Marshallese people get confused and say, “Goodnight” instead. Sometimes Marshallese speakers also use “Goodnight” interchangeably with “Goodbye”. It really caught me off guard at first. Usually when we say “Goodnight” in America it means that one or the other of the parties involved is going to bed soon. I’ve had students in my 10am class say, “Goodnight!” as they are leaving class. At first I laughed and told them, “But I just woke up!!” But now it doesn’t phase me at all.
As I was walking home last night I crossed paths with my friend, Mary Swain. She lives just across the street from me in Small Island in a small plywood and corrugated tin house next to the lagoon. As we talked, she told me that she was quite beside herself because on Tuesday each of the 24 families in her neighborhood were told that on Thursday (today) each would be responsible for contributing a package of chicken quarters ($30/pack), a 10-pound bag of rice ($8-10), and $10 cash to the Iroij for a funeral that is happening soon. The problem is that most of these families don’t have $50 to contribute (many of them have only one wage-earner supporting a family of 7 or 8 people), and those who do have $50 will have to spend it on chicken and rice for the funeral (of someone they don’t know) and not be able to feed their children. What’s worse, everyone in this neighborhood is related to each other (most of them are Mary’s extended family), so they can’t go to their relatives to ask for help, because their relatives are all in the same situation. Otherwise, if they do not contribute, they will be asked to leave the land (even though they build the houses they live in, they are from outer islands and they don’t have any land rights in Majuro). Many of the families are members of my branch, so I’ve talked to our branch president and we’ll be able to help them get by with funds from fast offerings. Mary explained that their Alap (land head) has a particularly bad relationship with the Iroij. Many other Alaps in Majuro understand how poor their tenants are and don’t ask them for gifts. One of the members of our branch is the Alap for Uliga and he is very kind and generous with his people. Because he has a good relationship with the Iroij, he can spare the people who live in his neighborhood a lot of hardship. But this is not the case in Small Island.
In talking with Mary about the relationship between Ri-Jerbal, Alap, and Irooj, she said that she has a lot of respect for the Irooj in her home atoll (Ujae). He takes care of the people and makes sure that everyone has enough. She said that her family home in Ujae is build like my apartment: strong and solid. Not like this plywood. I asked if she would like to move back to Ujae someday and her face lit up. Definitely! But jobs are scarce on the outer islands, and the church doesn’t exist there (we have 7 branches on Majuro and 2 on Ebeye/Kwajelein Atoll, but none on any outer islands). What an education I’m getting! My eyes have really been opened to what a great thing the fast-offering program of the church is. After reading through the leadership handbook for welfare, I’m really excited to start some projects with the women in my branch. I want to build up a Bishop’s storehouse with extra clothing and food. Perhaps we can have an enrichment night when we mend clothes donated by branch members and make some 72-hour kits for emergencies to put in the storehouse. We can also compile a list of members who have skills that they can donate such as handy-man skills or nursing skills. This could be a really great blessing to those in need in our branch. Tonight I’ll meet with President Henry to see what can be done in the near future for these people in Small Island, and then we’ll go to work to establish an emergency supply of food and clothing so that we can have the ability to relieve hardship and suffering in the community in the future.
Tomorrow is Employee appreciation day, so all the faculty and staff of CMI will be going to Enamanit by boat for a picnic. It’s another island in Majuro Atoll which has been kept pristine by the lack of land-access. It will be nice to explore a new place and unwind a little. There’s plenty of homework to grade and errands to run this weekend, too. As the semester winds down things are getting busier and busier. My students are real troopers, they are still working hard (most of them) and I think that most of them will be able to pass, which is very gratifying. My students are in the developmental program, and our goal is to strengthen them enough that they can thrive next semester in college credit classes. Very few make it though the whole 2-year college program (it’s supposed to take 2 years, but even our students who graduate usually need 3 or 4 years because studying in English is hard for them). Our goal is to help more students make it into and through their college credit courses. To do this they need good study habits that many of them have not learned before, so it is our job as instructors to help them address such hindrances that face them. For many, they are parents of small children, or they live in dormitories where they barely have enough money for food. Others grew up in outer islands and have to adjust to the challenges of living in an urban community and the crowding and other social problems that exist here. Those who make it through are really resilient, that’s for sure!
I have to go for office hours now. Happy Thanksgiving!