Saturday, January 20, 2007

Happy New Year everyone! It has been a long time since I last wrote, and a lot has happened recently. It was a nice holiday at home, wonderful to be with my family in California (although I was very cold, very nervous as the cars flew down the highway, and also very overwhelmed by the vastness of American supermarkets). My little nephew is absolutely adorable. I’ve never considered myself a huge fan of babies (I really enjoy playing with children once they are walking, talking, saying cute things), but this little guy really stole my heart. He is such a cutie, and he made the most adorable little growling noises at me like he thought he was baby tiger. Lakatu kid!

On the subject of children, last week I went to visit a friend of mine who had just lost her mother. A friend and I stopped by her house to express my condolences, and while we were visiting, her 4-year old little boy, Casper, came and put his arms around my neck. I hugged him back, and it was just the sweetest thing I’ve experienced in a long time. Today was the funeral for Lewa's mom, and Casper was a little bit more wound-up because of all the other children around but still just as cute. It was good to be there and give support. A family is responsible for so much work during the funeral. People bring rice and chicken and money for the family, but then in turn the family is responsible for feeding all the mourners who come, which is an overwhelming responsibility. I personally thought about how devastated I would be if I lost my own mother at such a young age, and how the last thing I’d want is to be surrounded by people constantly. But such is life on a small island. Almost nothing is private, not even grief.

At the funeral I met the much-spoken-of Lonny Lanny. He is sort-of the spiritual rock of the branch of members of the church here in Majuro, especially in the Uliga area. Everyone knows and loves him. He strikes me the Marshallese version of James Earl Jones, with a rich deep voice and a kind manner. He is an Alap (land head) who is particularly generous to those living in his weto (parcel of land). When the Iroij (chief) demands money or goods from the Ri-Jerbal (workers…most of whom just scrape by), Lonny pays the money from his own pocket instead of bankrupting the people by forcing them to pay money to the Iroij that they need to feed their families. I have heard so many good things that I was happy to finally meet him. Lonny is very well-educated and smart, yet he has a kind and humble heart despite the fact that he’s done very well for himself. He really takes care of the members of the branch, too. I heard a story about him from an American family who met him when he translated for them seven years ago as they adopted a Marshallese child who was deathly ill. They told me of how he did his home teaching every week, just to make sure all the families in his stewardship had enough to eat. Several months ago Lonny’s wife was sick with a brain tumor and the Majuro hospital did not have the capabilities to help her. But they also refused to send her to Honolulu because they said she had less than 50% chance of survival. Everyone who knew the Lannys were saddened by the news, but Lonny refused to take "no" for an answer, so he bought tickets to Honolulu for himself and his wife, checked her out of the hospital, and flew with her to Honolulu, where they have been for the past 6 months. It was a huge sacrifice and act of dedication on his part, and miracle of miracles, she’s recovering! So he’s back for a visit and I was lucky enough to meet him.

I have had some interesting experiences with banking here on the island. It’s not the first time that I’ve had problems with this Bank of Guam branch. It’s the only bank that has an ATM on island, so I opened my account with them. The lady who opened my checking account wrote CMI’s account number in my check book instead of mine, so for a month I was depositing my paychecks right back into my employer’s account and writing temporary checks against CMI’s account too. One day I discovered that there was a mismatch in the account number my checkbook said and what my ATM receipts said. We fixed that and things were ok until the day I was flying home in December. I made an ATM deposit the week previous, but when I stopped at the ATM to get cash for my trip, it said “insufficient funds”. They had just closed the door (at 3pm of course) and I banged on it and freaked out that my account was suddenly empty! It turns out that they had cashed my check, but omitted to record the deposit in my account, so hundreds of dollars were missing. I stayed at the bank for 45 minutes before running out the door late to get to the airport without having resolved anything. They seemed to fix it while I was gone, but in the future I now know that I have to watch my account like a hawk. I breathed a sigh of relief upon arriving back in Majuro in January, because things seemed to be ironed out with Bank of Guam. Then I got a bill from NTA for my phone service. The bill indicated that I had not made a single payment since I got the line in October (after waiting a month for connection). It had to be wrong, because I had paid on-time every month since then. The invoices say that you can pay at the NTA office (which is always packed with people), or pay at Bank of Marshall Islands. So in November and December I put my check in an envelope and dropped it in the “Quick Payments” box at Bank of Marshall Islands and went home feeling glad that I had not wasted an hour in the NTA line. So upon learning that NTA had not received any of my payments, I went down to Bank of Marshall Islands to check things out. I talked to a nice lady who asked the security guard to open the “Quick Payments” box. I watched in amazement as he opened the box and pulled out one handful of rubbish, in the middle of which were my two envelopes. Evidently the “Quick Payments” box is really just used by everyone as a trash can and I’m the only one who didn’t know. No one hear writes checks, this is a cash-economy and no one even keeps cash around for very long either. The nice lady advised me that the only “quick payment” (and secure payment, too!) is to hand your money to the teller and make sure it gets deposited. Joke’s on me and now I’ve learned my lesson. The ironic thing is that while NTA never received a payment from me for 3 months, they never charged me a late-fee or interest, and never threatened to cut off my service, either! I guess that it would be futile, because no one here (except me) ever pays their bills on time, and NTA is lucky to get a payment at all from most people! Wow, you live and learn!

Before I forget to mention it, something that is completely unrelated to my experiences here, yet is near to my heart is the current calamities in other parts of the world. Some of you know that I lived in South Africa a few years ago and grew to love the people of the African continent very much. This makes it very hard for me to see and hear what is happening in Sudan’s Darfur region without being devastated and also really upset at the lack of international response, even though the UN has acknowledged that this situation is genocide that the Sudanese government is supporting. I weep almost every time I read stories online about the brutal killings, burning of villiages, rapes of women, and tortures of men (all innocent civilians) that have continued for YEARS now. Now, as the crisis spreads into neighboring Chad, the Current President of Sudan, Al-Bashir, is on a campaign to become the president of the African Union, the only organization in the world with Peacekeeping troops in Darfur! These Peacekeepers are not authorized to protect civilians, only to document violations of the cease-fire agreement between Rebels and Government. But can you imagine the atrocities that could ensue if the only hope for Darfuris, the African Union Peacekeepers, answered to the man who is conspiring to annihilate them?!? If you are interested in knowing more about what is happening, please take a minute to look at this website:

And if you are one of my friends on the African continent, please, please petition your own government through emails or letters to vote against Sudan’s President heading the AU! We are so blessed to live in a place where we do not fear daily for our lives! Please, let us do all in our power to give this precious gift to others!

Well, the time has slipped away, and I still need to make plans for my classes which start on Monday. Happy New Year to all of you! Here’s hoping that this is a year that is filled with greater joy, greater peace, and greater kindness in the hearts of all people on earth! Sala Kahle & Bar lo kom! (“Stay Well” (isiZulu) and “See you later” (Kajin Majol))

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