Thursday, February 15, 2007

This morning at 7:30am, the rains finally came. I was summoned to my (3rd story) bedroom window by joyful noises below. For about 5 minutes I watched unobserved, as two young girls (probably about 10 or 11 years old) danced in the rain, completely soaked, laughing (not even close to being ready to go to school!). Nearby the barrels (lined with black garbage bags) were filling wonderfully, and there were grey storm clouds to the east for as far as I could see. This is a very, very wonderful day! Everyone is a little happier today. It has been a long, long dry-season. El Nino has made it worse. I have never before known what a blessing rain is until this past month. Although water “magically” still appears from the faucet in my apartment (my landlord must have a giant catchment), my friends and neighbors have suffered much. In fact, on Sunday I gave them my emergency supply of water in gallon jugs because they needed it more than I do. Most Marshallese homes have a rain gutter on their roof that funnels water into a catchment or barrels to save for later. When it doesn’t rain significantly for months (like the past few months) catchments dry up and people suffer. The coral reef that we all live on is too porous to retain much water, so catching all the water possible is very important. In fact, the water company in Majuro collects water from the runway at the airport. There is purified drinking water available from the Pacific Pure Water Company for $1.20/gallon, but that’s too expensive for many families to use for an extended length of time. Wow, I never really appreciated how important “El Nino” is! Growing up in California, it just meant we had lots of storms in the winter because weather systems over the Pacific shift Eastward. But here in the tropics, those shifting weather systems cause our water supply to disappear for several months and severe draughts ensue. With a large population to provide water for, the impacts of El Nino can be devastating.

On a completely different note: here is an “only in the Marshall Islands” story for you. I turned 30 on January 30th, and my mother sent a birthday package to me. It has been 3 weeks now since she sent it and it still has not arrived. It also included my digital camera which I left with my parents at Christmastime to take a few extra pictures before returning it to me. I was getting a bit concerned and checked with the post office, but I didn’t see the package. Then last week in the newspaper, the headlines read, “Marshall Islands Post Office Thefts Prove that RMI ignored the US Postal Service”. “Oh, no!” I thought, recalling that my mother had to write the contents of the box on the outside of the customs form like an advertisement for what’s inside the box. Over the past 5 years, $14,000 of money orders were stolen from the post office in Ebeye (by employees), $18,000 were stolen from Majuro, and Majuro post office was cited by USPS postal inspectors for “grave mismanagement”. This is the primary reason that we are no longer considered a “domestic location” even though we have a US zip code (96960), and why the USPS does not offer insurance or delivery confirmation on any packages going to the RMI. So I am still waiting for my camera and the gifts that my mom sent for my birthday, but I may never see them. Yesterday in talking to a colleague at work, she said, “Did you hear what happened to the international mail at the post office?” No, I hadn’t. She reported that she was waiting for her new ATM card from the Bank of Guam and upon checking for it at the post office, she was told the following story: The septic system at the main post office backed up, overflowed, and spewed raw sewage across the entire international mail room. Instead of rescuing the mail and cleaning up immediately, the postal workers shut the door tight and ignored the problem for several days. When they finally got around to cleaning up the mess, instead of trying to contact the recipients of the mail or salvage something, they wrote it off and destroyed all the international mail. So the fate of my camera could be one of four possibilities: 1) It now belongs to a Marshallese postal worker and I may be fortunate enough to see it around town, 2) It smells so strongly of sewage that I would not dream of holding it next to my face, 3) It was destroyed with all the rest of the international mail, or 4) by some miracle, my birthday box was held up in Hawaii and might still come through. Wow, well, it doesn’t take a probability expert to calculate that if the outcomes are equally likely, then there’s a 25% chance I might actually get to use my camera again one day. Hey, that’s a great problem to give my students in my Math 102 class when we start the section on probability next month! In any case, my lack of a camera is the reason that this post is the first ever without at least one picture.

We have had 7 power outages so far in the first 3 weeks of this semester, and today there is going to be another one from 9am-5pm, so I have to stop typing soon and turn off my computer. There’s many, many more stories to tell that I will add to this blog just as soon as the power comes back on again. Have a happy day everyone!

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