Sunday, March 11, 2007

Wow, what a weekend! I made a friend named Suzanne while picking up trash with the Japanese volunteers several weeks ago and it’s her last weekend here, so we decided to go do something fun. Suzanne has been here for 6 weeks doing a rotation at the Majuro Hospital (she’s a UW med student) and it’s her last weekend here. She and Susan and I tried to arrange for Kayaks through the resort (but the owner is off-island) and also the dive shop (but the kayaks were off-island and we didn’t plan enough in advance). So we decided to take the $2 bus out to Laura on Saturday and go swimming. Laura is the beautiful, jungle-like end of the island (where I would love to live if it wasn’t so far away from my work) and it was delightful down there. It was cooler and the water was just the right temperature. We played with the hermit crabs that were on the beach, snorkeled, collected a few shells, and then headed back toward the main road at 5:30pm. Laura is the end of the road, so we walked the only direction we could go (back toward home) and to hail any bus we could find. We walked, walked, walked, chatted with some locals, walked some more, and pretty soon we had walked right out of Laura and not seen a single bus or taxi. Then it began to get dark around 7pm and we were leaving all the houses and people behind and no-one wanted to stop and give us a ride. Drivers in Majuro are very unsafe, especially after dark. We have plenty of speed laws and also drunk driving laws, but the police never, ever write anyone a ticket, so people speed down the road at 55 miles per hour on the rural side of the island, even though there are pedestrians and/or bicyclists. While walking we even saw 2 police cars whiz by at around 60 miles per hour (without sirens or anything). Suzanne says she sees a handful of auto vs. pedestrian accidents at the hospital every month. Plus drunk-driving accidents are very, very common here, too. So we got pretty worried when it got dark. Luckily before long we reached the Arrak (land grant) campus of CMI and they allowed us to use their phone. We were unsuccessful in reaching our friend Rosana, but thankfully we were able to contact our colleague, Don Hess, who was very sweet to come out from Long Island (it’s about a 35 minute drive just from Long Island) and bring us back to civilization again (I owe him a big plate of cookies this week!) From there we got a taxi home but it was about 10:30pm when we made it to Uliga and we were starving because we’d been gone since 1:30pm. So much for our delightful little afternoon out!! I was so grateful to be with two people who were able to laugh at our crazy, somewhat scary situation and take it all in stride and not get crabby. It was wonderful to compare notes on our experiences here in this country, living abroad, outside of our normal context. Our frustrations about how inefficient everything is here and how fatalistic many people are about life, and also how hopeful we are about the possibilities for the future here. After eating dinner and talking and laughing until about 2am we finally went to bed. I’m going to miss Suzanne, and I hope she gets the chance to return to Majuro during her residency program this next year. There’s certainly a lot of work to be done at the hospital. It has been interesting to hear an insider’s perspective…this hospital is quite an experience…one I hope I never have to experience for myself! I’m quite content just to visit others there when circumstance allows for it.

This week has been a very exhausting one, but it’s been good. I have so much to grade. I have an overwhelming number of students in my classes, and it means that grading takes more than twice as much of my time than it did last semester. It zaps my creativity for planning good lessons. I still have a pile of 50 math 102 exams to finish grading before tomorrow and I’m not even close. Ce la vie! Last weekend I spent pedaling up and down the Uliga-Delap area with gallon-water bottles in my bike basket. The drought continues (no rain this week!) and several members of our branch (including our aging elder’s quorum president) were sick and needed clean drinking water. I’m so grateful that I followed the promptings I had several months ago to fill up an emergency supply of water during the rainy season. Even though I have not needed to use it, I have been able to boil it and deliver to many members. It’s such a simple little thing, but it makes such a big difference to have clean drinking water for the aging and for babies, and many people don’t have access to clean water right now. I hope the rainy season comes soon so there will be relief, but I’m glad to be of service now.

Ellie told me something very funny the other day that I thought I would share. While NTA (national telecommunications authority…a government agency with a huge monopoly) is only partially reliable, there is a better way to communicate with others here on the island. It’s what Ellie calls “The Coconut Phone”. Whenever a student is missing from your class and you’re worried about him or her, or if you want to get a message to someone, just announce it in class, or in a group of Ri-Majol, and since there’s less than 2 degrees of separation between everyone in this country, the intended recipient will get the message faster than if you try using NTA. It conjures up a fun image of two halves of a coconut connected by a string, and it makes me laugh, but it totally works! If you need to get the message out even faster, you can use the “Wireless Coconut Phone” by announcing it on one of our 3 radio stations, which every taxi driver as well as a bunch of other people listen to. I once lost my keys in a taxi and figured I’d never see them again, but a friend called in to the radio and announced that “the Ri-Belle who live at Jane’s Corporation with a “South Africa” keychain had left keys in a taxi that afternoon.” The next morning my landlord handed them back to me. Amazing! Coconut phone service is great!

Speaking of Coconuts! Last weekend the Public Works people came out to remove an old dead coconut tree from our neighborhood. The tree they removed is actually the prominent tree in the photograph that I included above (taken from my bedroom window)! I imagine the tree was probably threatening to fall on some houses, so they brought in a crane and a tree-chopper truck and had to block off the whole main road for about 30 minutes to take this massive tree down. The whole neighborhood was out watching (this was the main attraction) and everyone cheered with the saw finally severed the trunk and the crane swung the top down to the ground. Then did they remove it? No! They unblocked the road and went home for the day. Meanwhile the neighbors came out and sawed pieces of the trunk into stools to use around their outdoor dining tables and beer-drinking nooks for the older men. So clever and creative!

This week I went to give a baby-shower gift to a friend from church who just had a baby about 2 weeks ago. I have seen at least 3 of her sweet children at church, so I asked her how many she has now, and her response was, “Jonoul Juon”. Eleven children!!!! Holy cow!?! That’s amazing! She’s only in her mid-late 30’s!! Her second-youngest child is a little guy named Andrew (3years) who is just the cutest, sweetest little thing. He always comes running over to hug me when I see him (they live in my neighborhood). Well when I went on Thursday to visit Mona with the gift, Andrew came and sat next to me and just looked up at my face and watched every expression. When I smiled, he smiled, and when I tried to speak Marshallese to his mom, he listened intently. Then he put his little hand in mine. It was so precious and sweet. Most little boys his age are diving off rusting-boats into the lagoon, playing by the roadside, or torturing local dogs, but he is so sweet and content just to hang out with us “old ladies”.

I’m on my way home now. I can’t tolerate being in my office any longer. The air-conditioner in our building is broken again (someone insists on lowering it to 50 degrees and then leaving the office for the night or weekend every day). I think that it just gets overwhelmed and quits. At any rate, this building was not built with air-circulation in mind, so opening the windows is no help at all. It’s going to be a long week if it’s this hot in here. One of my classrooms has had an air-conditioner problem more often than not and it’s been torturous for all of us. It would be better if we were outside having out lesson in the breeze, but these rooms are very poorly ventilated, so when the aircon goes, it’s unbearable inside. Well, that’s the case tonight, so I’m out of here. I’m saving my money for a new camera and I’ll take some pictures to add to this blog soon. Have a great week everyone!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

This picture has nothing at all to do with Majuro, it’s actually my little nephew who lives in Las Vegas with his Mom and Dad. But since my camera is still missing (USPS reports that they delivered the package containing it to Majuro Post Office on January 30th at 3pm) I don’t have any new Majuro pictures to post. So here you go: the world’s cutest kid (in my own humble opinion!)

It has been a long but good week. We had a holiday on Thursday to commemorate “Nuclear Survivors’ Memorial Day.” I was glad for a little break from school, but on Wednesday night I ate something that made me horribly ill all day Thursday. So I was really glad to not have to teach while feeling this bad, but it was a shame not to have fun on my day off. Then we came back to school on Friday for one day. Thursday felt like Saturday, Friday felt like Monday (coming back to school) and today (Saturday) just feels like I’m back to the same time-warp that I’ve been in since moving here last August.

Although RMI has never been involved in a war (except for the young men that they send into the US military who go straight to Iraq currently, and being tenaciously fought over during WW2), they remember those who have been victims of nuclear testing each year. I think what happened was atrocious and should be remembered and never forgotten. I was shocked to find out how clueless I as an American was about what my country did during the 1950s. (For more details, see my previous post from October about Nuclear Testing). Unfortunately, many people are using this holiday to push a political agenda for more money from the US government. I would have loved to attend an event to truly mourn what happened and the effect it had on the people of the Marshall Islands, but instead the events on island were used as soap boxes to gain support for the demand for more compensation money. The US government has sent millions of dollars in compensation already over the past decades, and it has created a habit of foreign dependence here. In addition, most of the people benefiting from the US compensation at this point are the children and grandchildren of those affected by atomic testing. While I feel terrible that they are still waiting to go home to their home islands, they have pretty comfortable lives in Majuro and other islands due to the large payments received from the US government (if only someone from the American government would have come and taught everyone to be financially savvy before just sending lots of money!) In any case, these terrible events happened 50 years ago, and there comes a time when things need to return to normal. The millions of dollars in compensation has created vast class-differences between Marshallese from affected islands and Marshallese from all the other islands that have not been compensated. If there is going to be healing and forward progress, we need this decades-old wound to stop festering and heal. We should never forget what happened, but there comes a time to allow old wounds to heal, and I feel that the time is long-overdue in this situation.

Today we spent some time re-arranging the tutoring center and making it a bit more student-friendly. It is a great new place, but the furniture was not conducive to tutors helping students (there are large amounts of individual study carols, but no group working space) and 2+2 Club didn’t really have any place to gather. So I’m really glad to see a few changes, and I hope it will make it a better venue for all students.

Anita and I are cooking up plans for a student movie night. We’d like to show our students “The Pursuit of Happyness” (my computer just spell-checked Happyness!) which I saw while at home in California for Christmas. I really think that not only would it be great to have a social night for students (with a better alternative to getting drunk) and I think also that it would really inspire them to work toward their dreams and not be deterred. If you haven’t seen it yet, I would highly recommend the movie. I was glad to see that Will Smith was nominated for an Oscar for it, because he really did a fantastic job portraying a character who just pulls on your heartstrings. Well, I’m heading home to finish grading my stack of 60 algebra tests in front of a movie at home. I’ll write again next weekend. Until then, have a great week!