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!!