Saturday, April 21, 2007

Likiep!!! Wow, it was beautiful. I think I'll let the pictures do most of the talking and add in a little commentary here and there. Here goes....

We flew out on an Air Marshall airplane that was not working the previous day. That was a bit concerning. The mechanics got all the parts put back in the morning before we flew. They almost had to cancel the flight, but things came together at thelast minute and everything was fine. It was the quickest take-off I've ever experienced. There was no safety briefing, no flight attendants, no instructions to even fasten seatbelts. We just got in, fired up the propellers, and off we went! The next picture is the view of Majuro atoll from above. While leaving, it was interesting to see the skinny little elliptic-shaped strip of land we call home (Majuro).

Well, Likiep is also an elliptical skinny strip of land, it' s just a bit further north of us, and it's a lot less crowded than Majuro. Here's an arrival shot of Likiep Islet, Likiep Atoll:

Likiep Airport is a little different from Majuro, in that instead of having a paved runway, it's just a narrow weed patch between rows of Coconut trees. The approach is quite alarming, because one false move and you take out a palm tree and a propeller in one foul swoop. Yep, that's the runway:

Even more disconcerting is that just off the runway there are still remains of a plane that actually did take out a palm tree. I'm not sure how long it's been there, but it doesn't look like it's going anywhere anytime soon:

I have newfound respect for the pilots that fly in and out of 5 or 6 airports like this every day. Amazing! This is the main terminal at the Likiep airport:

The twice-a-week plane arrival is a main attraction on this island with very little electricity or running water. The whole town turns out. Children everywhere, but they are more shy than Majuro kids. A few little boys made us some "plumeria shish-kabobs" (flower sticks) but they were too shy to give them to us, so they just threw them over the side of the pickup truck and ran away. Joe and Yumiko DeBrum were our hosts at the hotel there, and they have interesting stories to tell. Here is Yumi making wut (flower headbands and leis):

Joe is the grandson of Jose DeBrum, a Portuguese whaler who arrived int he Marshalls in the 1850's. Along with his business partner, Adolf Capelle, they established a successful Copra (coconut oil production) business in the Marshall Islands, and went on to establish other successful business ventures. The two men bought the island of Likiep in 1878 from the Marshallese High Chief for $600, a mirror, a cannon, and a few other things. They split the Atoll so that islets on one side belong to the Capelles, and islets on the other side belong to the DeBrums. To this day Likiep is the only Atoll in the Marshall Islands that does not have a Chief. Before long, Capelles and DeBrums started inter-marrying, so many people are descended from both Adolph Capelle and Jose DeBrum. This is the case with Joe. He is the grandson of Jose DeBrum and Great-Grandson of Adolf Capelle. Jose's oldest son, Joachim DeBrum was a renaisance man. Born to Jose and his Marshallese wife, Likemeto, in 1860, Joachim was an avid photographer (on Likiep he developed his own photography lab, darkroom, and special processes for protecting chemicals from tropical heat), an avid reader (his library is still intact in his house on Likiep), self-taught businessman and scientist, and craftsman (the tool shed is crumbling now, but it has amazing things inside). He even learned enough about medicine to establish clinics on Likiep around the turn of the century. Here is a picture of the house he built on Likiep (made of California Redwoods). It is one of the only German-style houses that survived WW2 bombings and is still standing today. In fact, we went inside and poked around. It was amazing! Here's my colleague Ellie in front of the DeBrum house:

And here's the dining room inside:

Joe is now 76 years old, and has lived a fascinating life. His family was on Jaluit where he went to school when WW2 Pacific battles began. Jaluit was the Japanese capital of the Marshall Islands, and bombs were dropping everywhere. When the American Navy ships came to rescue them, they had to swim while dragging their mother (who was paralized after a bout with Polio) across the reef and out to safety. The ships took them to Arno for safety. Then after the war ended, Joe returned and married his high school teacher, a woman who was 11 years older than he. He worked on Kwajalein Army base at the time the US was doing Nuclear Testing and witnessed the explosion and lights (from afar) of the Bravo Atomic Bomb that was dropped on Bikini. He managed the Majuro airport for many years, then retired and served as Mayor of Likiep. After the death of his first wife, he met and married Yumiko, who is half his age. He is quite a live wire! He was so excited about the liquor that some members of our group brought him, because his wife keeps him on a pretty tight leash, and he's not allowed to indulge very often. He said, "I must take my medicine!" (aka: alcohol). He also told of a time when a yacht with about 10 bikini-babes landed in Likiep. Marshallese culture (since the missionaries arrived) is extremely conservative, and at that time, women were not allowed to show their knees in public. The island voted not to let them come on shore, but Joe allowed them to stay at his hotel. He said, "wow, the thongs they were wearing! I've never seen so much skin in my whole 76 years of life, it was great!" The entire island was furious with him for years after that. The first day we were there, he came out wearing this hilarious T-shirt which totally cracked us up:

"Too good to keep cooped up" is right! Joe took Don, Ellie, Chris and I out to go snorkeling in a beautiful islet just north of Likiep Islet. He hops right in and out of his boat like he's a teenager. Here's a picture of Joe with his boat, "Titanic" at the snorkeling spot he took us to:

Here's another couple pictures of the place we were snorkelling. It was absolutely breathtaking!

This is a traditional Marshallese Outrigger Canoe. And this picture is me:

The snorkelling was amazing there! My camera can't go underwater, but I "borrowed" someone else's pictures (from the internet) to show you some of the things I saw:

While snorkeling, I saw something very large and bright yellow (banana yellow) under some coral. It freaked me out, and I called to Don. He came over and verified that it was a Nurse Shark (which I have since learned are very lazy and not very agressive...thankfully!). He was only about 3 feet long, just a baby. I didn't want to hang around for long, but he was really, really cool. Later I saw a:
small Giant Clam! I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but it was a Giant Clam that was only 6 inches long. His bright blue velvet-like inside opened and closed as he fed on yummy stuff floating by. Later, back at the hotel, there were hundreds of silver sardines in a school. They were so thick that you could hardly tell the difference between the sardines and the water. And there were so many of them that we could hear them swimming away when we chased them. There was also a family of periwinkle blue Parrot Fish (about 2 feet long and fat) swimming quite close to shore, and I was almost able to keep up with them. This picture is our group with Joe and Yumiko on the front porch of the hotel. I never realized how tall I was until I saw myself next to Joe in this picture:

We had to bring food for the trip with us since there are no supermarkets on Likiep and so Janet, who used to be a professional chef planned the meals, and boy, did we eat!! If you ever get the chance to spend 4 days on a remote tropical island with a professional chef who loves to cook in her free time, I'd highly recommend it. We ate like crazy!! It was really nice!
We were there on Good Friday, so Ellie, Don and I went with Yumiko (who is quite devout) to the Catholic Church for Stations of the Cross:

It started in the brightly painted church and the group formed a procession to different houses on the island. Each house had made a small display surrounding a painting on tiles depicting one of the events from Jesus' last day on earth. We didn't understand much because it was in Marshallese, but it was very nice to spend some time remembering what happened. We joked about how Yumiko was probably the first person on her island to bring a Methodist, a Mormon, and Jew to Stations of the Cross. Had Chris come along, we would have had an Agnostic, too, but he stayed behind. It was nice, until it started to pour down rain around Station #11. There were actually 14 stations, but I though there were only 12, so I stuck it out for a couple stations in the rain and then went back to the hotel.
Later in the day we went out on "Janet's Historical Tour" of the island, and on the way we met kids and gave them Bazooka gum. They too were very much more shy than Majuro kids. Majuro kids see gum and they're not afraid to jump all over you, but it took a little more coaxing to interact with Likiep kids. They probably just aren't as used to seeing foreigners coming. Here's a couple pictures that Chris took the gum-passing-out. Unfortunately, most of Chris' pictures are of my back side:

We bought some handicrafts from local people, including beautiful carved outrigger canoes (notice the 30 inch long Canoe that Don is holding in the group photo above covers up almost half of Joe). Likiep artists are famous for their beautiful carved canoes, and I can see why:
By the time we left, Joe and Yumi were like family to us, and we were beginning to like the slow life of Likiep. Most people go to bed when the sun goes down. For those who don't, at 8pm the church bell is struck which indicates curfew for children and young people, and then at 10pm another bell strike is made indicating it's time for adults to head home. If only life was that quiet and peaceful everywhere!

The plane that took us back was quite late (like 5 hours late). That's pretty standard. The whole town was out at the airport again, and many of them stayed the whole 5 hours to see who was coming and who was going. We flew over Ebeye and stopped at Kwajelein US Army Base to refuel on our way home. That is a very, very interesting story...the extremes between life on Kwajelein Islet (the base) and life in the neighboring islet of Ebeye. I got some pictures, but it's late tonight, and I need to go home, so I'll save it for another day. In searching the internet I found another photo journal created by a visitor to Likiep which might be of interest. Here's the address: Good night everyone!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

There are always new and unexpected attractions popping up on this island! It’s really quite amazing how many interesting things happen on this 3.75 square mile little atoll. Today alone I won a 5K run for foundation day, and made a large number of new Taiwanese friends.

This week was the first back from Spring Break, and it was a little rough, both for me and the students. Fortunately 2 of my classes finished a chapter before the break, so we were on a new topic, but the other two acted as if they had never seen a graph before (we’ve been graphing for a couple of weeks now!) Well, it took a few days, but I think we’re back in the swing of things. It has been an exhausting week, I’ve been working 10-14 hour days again, but things are coming together and I even have a little free time this weekend to have some fun. This weekend is “Foundation Day”, the day we celebrate CMI’s independence as a college, and fortunately there’s a lot to celebrate because with a lot of hard work we’re fighting our way out of accreditation problems (we almost lost this college 2 years ago). But now we’re all but out of probation, and it looks like we’ll have more Foundation Days in the future. Friday we had an open house, which means that all the departments did activities for grade school children from all over the island. So in the spare time between teaching all 4 of my classes I made a “human graphing tic-tac-toe” game (with a rectangular coordinate grid on a large tarp) and involved my college students in helping the kids to play the game. It was pretty fun and very cute, but I never ate lunch and I was completely wiped out by the end of the day. One of the ladies in our branch lost her husband this week too, so we had to show our support and bring dinner for her family last night. After that was finished I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief.

This morning was the Foundation Day 5K run/walk. Anita and Susan and I had been looking forward all week to this. Susan and I even changed our regular evening runs to morning runs this week in preparation for the big event. The race started at 6am, and the police had to block one lane at a time of the main road for the race (because where else would we possibly run? There’s only one road that’s 5K long on this island!) It was sprinkling when we started, but the cool air felt good. Anita, Susan, and I turned out to be the only ones (except a group of about 7 adolescent boys) who elected to run. By the time we got half way to turn around and run back, it was POURING! Susan and I had to give our I-pods to the police escort vehicle in order to avoid electrocution. On the way out the rain was at our backs, but as soon as we turned around half-way through, the rain was hitting our faces so hard we could hardly see where to go. But it was a good time, and people on either side of the main road cheered us on from their houses. As a reward for finishing the race, we got a CMI Foundation Day T-shirt (the same one they gave to the CMI administrators for free), which was (thankfully) much drier than the clothes we were wearing. It was a great early start to the day. I got my house all cleaned up and graded about 40 test-corrections and updated student grades all before 10am.

This afternoon Mary and I were collaborating to work on the district primary activity she is in charge of planning, so as we were walking into town (the weather cleared up beautifully) we saw clusters of cute Taiwanese Navy boys everywhere. They were playing volleyball with local kids, snapping pictures of everything in sight, and shopping up a storm. I remembered reading that they were coming in the newspaper, and I noticed Marshallese and Taiwanese flags flying on all the Taiwanese-owned businesses this week. I was happy to see that they were so friendly to the people around them. I think I’ve told you before, but I’ll say it again here to give context to my story: Taiwan is a HUGE diplomatic friend of the Marshall Islands (they need our vote to get into the United Nations, and our government is happy to give it to them as long as they keep cutting us million dollar checks and bailing us out of all the financial troubles that come from government mismanagement). Despite the fact that we are diplomatic friends, a large majority of Marshallese people are very racist toward Chinese and Taiwanese people on this island because many businesses have been bought by Asian entrepreneurs, and the Marshallese people are worried that all the dollars in their economy (as well as many jobs) are being funneled to Asia. Their concerns are understandable, but racist behavior toward anyone on this island is intolerable (especially because most of us living here claim to be Christian), and I have been speaking out about it as much as possible. Anyway, the visit of these happy, smiling young Taiwanese men is really, really great because I think that Marshallese people are opening up and seeing that the Taiwanese are good people, and that this diplomatic relationship can be good for both countries if the government is careful about how much economic control it hands over to foreign governments and investors.

So Mary and I were walking down the street to go shopping and two Navy boys ran across the street to ask if we could take a picture for them. I replied that we were happy to, but when we got across the street I realized that they were asking me to pose for a picture, not to take the picture. I was happy to pose with one sailor while his friend took a picture, and then another wanted a picture, and then another, and then another, and another. By the time we finished I had posed for about 15 pictures and nearly stopped traffic on the street because everyone was gawking out their car windows to see what was going on. So I said to them, “I’ve taken pictures with all of you, now will you all pose for a picture for me?” One of them understood English well enough to organize everyone, and the pictures I posted on this blog are of Mary and I feeling like a million bucks with our 15 new Taiwanese Navy admirers! It completely put a smile on my face for the rest of the day. Rumor is that as soon as the Taiwanese Navy leaves tomorrow, the American Navy boys are coming for a couple days of R&R on Majuro, so hopefully they will be just as kind and generous to the Marshallese people as the Taiwanese have been. Well, that’s about it. We have just 4 more weeks of school left, which is just about all I can survive at this point. Have a great weekend everyone! Cheers! Britt

(this is the craziness that ensued while trying to get ready for the picture at the top)

PS. Our trip to Likiep was fantastic! I’ll tell you all about it and post lots of pictures, but it’s going to take me about an hour to two to blog, so I’ll have to do it sometime next week. Stay tuned for more...

Monday, April 02, 2007

Ah, Spring Break at last!! I’m so thrilled for a little break from the office! I have been working 12-14 hour days for the last 3 weeks and I’ve barely been able to get out of the office for lunch because so many students need my help and I don’t want to turn them away. I’m scheduled to fly to Likiep (an outer island) with a small group of colleagues tomorrow, but as of today, both of Air Marshall Islands’ planes are having technical difficulties. So we may end up not being able to go if they are not able to sort out the problems.
Besides being swamped at work, the past few weeks have been pretty good. Highlights include getting a new roommate (a friendly little hermit crab who moved in for a brief period last week...I don't know how he scaled the wall to the third floor, but he must have had alot of determination), sailing a yacht last weekend, and camping on an almost-uninhabited island this weekend.

A couple weeks ago I was really down-and-out. I was feeling pretty lonely and isolated out here. Then I took a hard fall on my bike and shredded my skirt and my knee. Culture dictates that women are supposed to wear skirts here, and the strong wind kept blowing my skirt up so while I was repeatedly pushing it back down, I lost control. When I fell, there were plenty of people watching from the periphery, but no one came to help or express concern. I hurt emotionally as much as physically. Here I am, miles away from my home, giving everything I have to help and serve others and these strangers everywhere around just look at me like I’m not really human because I have blonde hair and blue eyes and don’t speak their language much (although I am improving a little). In general most people here are very nice, but it’s hard to accept that in Marshallese culture it is not ok to express emotions in public, even compassion. Well, I have a few friends that really cheered me up that afternoon and made me feel better. I love the ladies from church. When I fell, I was on the way to take some clean water to Rose, my friend, and she made me smile again. Her life is certainly not easy. She has 8 children and a husband with an alcohol problem. Her family has very simple resources, yet she keeps smiling and has a wonderful, sweet personality. I just love her. She’s a teacher in our Relief Society and does such a wonderful job. She also speaks English quite well and is really trying to improve even more by coming with me to the English Institute class.
Things are not as bad as they seemed a few weeks back. Life has been crazy, but there have been some wonderful new developments, too. Last weekend Susan and I went to the Coconut Cup Regatta and met a couple from British Columbia who needed crew members. So she and I as well as Ruth, Judy, and Jerry (three other colleagues from CMI) joined the crew and had a great time. I’ve never been on a yacht before, let alone helped on the crew! I learned how to winch, tack, and avoid being knocked off the boat when the sail swings across during the tacking process J. The owners of the boat were wonderful hosts and became good friends. Kathy and Jon are a young couple who have been building “Sonadora” (their boat) for 13 years and took 1 year off their respective jobs to sail to Vancouver, San Francisco, Hawaii, and then the Marshalls. Jon’s friend Wade was also along with them as well as Kathy’s friend Tanya who had never left BC before. They will be taking off on Wednesday to cruise around the outer islands before going home. Anyway, the day of the race was gorgeous, perfect weather, and we came in 6th place out of 10. Not bad for a crew that had never sailed together before, nor had ever raced! The pictures accompanying this story are from the race. The Marshallese canoes also took part in the Regatta and it was AMAZING to watch them sail. They were all twice as fast as us because they are designed to be pushed along by the water as well as the wind. One of my favorite students, Carlos, was helping sail the winning canoe, which was very exiciting.

This Saturday morning I woke up to the sound of a pig screaming under my 3rd floor bedroom window. I realized soon after that the neighbors were preparing for a feast that night and the pig was to be dinner. I was not so excited about the level of noise that would ensue all night long. Sometimes the noise coming up to my window is charming, lovely ukelele music and peaceful singing. Other times it is raucas and wild and I don’t get any sleep. I was preparing for the later. After cleaning my house I went out to the yachties’ swap meet to see who was around. The swap meet was over, but I ran into my new friend Erik at the Shoreline instead, and he invited me to camp on Enemanit (an undeveloped island on the other side of Majuro Atoll). Erik is a marine biologist who has worked with the UN and government leaders to start a co-operative company in the outer islands to help people living on those islands make a fair wage by farming sea-cucumbers in an environmentally sustainable way. I personally find sea-cucumbers (bottom sucking worm-like creatures) pretty disgusting, but I learned this week that they are a delicacy in many Asian countries and have pharmaceutical uses as well. I met Erik at CMI on Tuesday and he invited me to a lecture that he was presenting in addition to a friend of his, Dr. Tom Goreau, a UN scientist who has invented a way to regrow coral reefs that have been killed off by rising sea surface temperatures. The power was out all over town at the time so I couldn’t do anything at work anyway, and so I invited Susan and we met up with Erik and spent the afternoon snorkeling the “Bio-Rock” coral reefs that Dr. Goreau is growing at Enamanit, and chatted with Erik and his Marshallese business partner, Doan. Enamanit is GORGEOUS, especially the part that these guys live on. It’s remote and peaceful, with a hammock, lapping waves on the ocean-side, and no neighbors partying! It was so great to escape the lack of power on Majuro, the wild neighbors partying, and just relax a bit. Sunday morning, Elmi (the caretaker of the property) took me back on the boat in so I could go to church. The water was really choppy, and I was pretty covered in salt water by the time I got back. At one point, Elmi looked like he needed to switch to the other fuel tank and he was really not paying much attention to steering, so I asked if I could help out. He said sure, and gave me the wheel of the speed boat, and then proceeded to sit down and chill out. I guess he had not needed to change fuel tanks at all, and I got to drive through the high waves most of the way home. By the end of the 30 minute ride I was so thankful to be on solid ground safe and sound.

I’ve been in the reuniting business over the past couple of weeks. It has been really fun to play a role as facilitator between adoptive families in the States who and birth families in the Marshall Islands who have lost touch and have been searching for each other. Word spreads around the island that I can locate people here or there using the internet, so I’ve had a pretty steady stream of requests to contact different people. My friend Mary’s son Junior (who is a Senior in High School in Cedar City Utah) contacted me a few weeks ago and sent pictures and she was just absolutely ecstatic. He was 11 years old last time she saw him, and he called her and chatted on the phone with her for quite a while. I can imagine that it’s pretty difficult to maintain contact across the Pacific. Micronesians are not really letter-writers (so much of their interaction is verbal, face-to-face) and access to the internet is scarce. I have one of the best connections on the island through my work, so I’m happy to help out when I can. Hopefully we’ll hear very soon about whether our trip to Likiep is going to happen or not. If it doesn’t, my friend Amber and I may go to Arno (the closest Atoll to the West of Majuro) which is a lot cheaper and easier to access anyway. I’ll fill you in on all the happenings next week. Cheers!!