Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Happy Constitution Day Everyone!! Today marks 28 years of constitutional independence from the United States for RMI, and it’s fantastic to have a holiday.Ij Lukuun Naninmej ilo wiik in (I’m feeling very sick this week). My hectic schedule has caught up with me and I got really sick at the end of last week. Luckily, just when I couldn’t juggle work and not feeling well any more, we have a wonderful holiday, so I’m resting and grading like a madwoman today.

I got up at the crack of dawn to put a dent in the pile of Math 70 tests my students took last week, and after a couple hours, I needed a big break. I jumped on my bike and rode down to the ATM to deposit my paycheck. The ATM is just across the street from the Capital building, and just as I approached, I noticed an Independence Day parade coming by, so I stopped to watch. It was quite impressive. It was led by the national and local police (all 30 of them) decked out to the nines (including white gloves and guns), marching. After them was the RMI national band, which were quite impressive as well. It’s a full-on marching band, and they were very good. In fact, last August when I first moved here and lived at the resort, I heard them practicing across the street and they were atrocious! Hearing them perform so well today was nothing short of a miracle. I can’t believe that we even have that many French horns, trumpets, piccolos, etc…on this island! They were followed by marchers from each of the schools on the island (about 7 different elementary and high schools…with their respective uniforms of different colors). Following us were the basketball teams representing each of the outer islands. The national basketball tournament is a major event for Independence Day. I saw a few colleagues of mine from CMI, so I followed them to the capital grounds (have you ever heard of a country that can fit everyone who wants to attend into the grounds of their capital?!?). The ceremony at the capital was short and sweet because it is so darn hot outside today (just yesterday the sky was dumping buckets of water on us!!).

Following the speeches I went to the ATM and then stopped by NTA (the national tele-communications authority) to buy some long distance phone-cards because no-one else on the island sells them any longer. NTA happened to be celebrating their 20th anniversary and giving away free cake, soda, T-shirts, and hats. So I got a bright green (great for Saint Patrick’s Day) polo shirt (size 3XL….I think that the lady giving out shirts saw how tall I was and over-reacted!) and three phone cards and chatted with the missionaries who all have their preparation day today. Tonight there are fireworks over the lagoon (courtesy of Taiwan) that I’ll try to photograph. My new friend Heidi, who is working with the students activities at CMI (she just arrived last week) invited me and a couple other colleagues as well as the student leaders to her hotel room balcony tonight (great view of the Lagoon) to watch, so that should be fun. Wow, I had no idea that today would be so eventful! I had in mind just sleeping the day away!

This week in my Survey Math class, we started our last section, about Statistics. I am hoping desperately to make this relevant to them. Every chapter in our book should be relevant, but I have learned this semester that my students (particularly the ones who grew up on outer islands) have no contextual framework on which to hang new, useful math. The section on Geometry and measurement should have been really easy for them, or so I thought, but it too, like the other chapters I had such great hopes for, it was painful for them. None of them ever studied Geometry in high school (they don’t offer high school geometry here), and only the students who have lived in the states or abroad are at all familiar with the English and Metric systems for measurement. Our textbook (written for American students) assumes that everyone knows that there are 12 inches in a foot and that 100 degrees Fahrenheit is pretty hot. But 75% of my students didn’t know that before last week.

So anyway, since statistics is extremely useful in policy making, and everyone keeps up with what’s going on in the government here (you can’t help it, sessions of the senate are broadcast live on the radio everyday so every citizen hears everything…how’s that for public exposure? Unfortunately it doesn’t prevent corruption in the government!). There are lots of relevant-to-students’ lives topics for us to talk about. Also social trends are really great for statistics projects, too, and we’ve got plenty of those here in the RMI. So as a way of introducing population, sampling, and frequency tables, I asked my students to each write the number of people living in their household (including themselves) on a slip of paper. We then took the information and organized it in a frequency table and made a histogram. The results absolutely amazed me! I think they will amaze you, too. Below are the responses from my two classes:

6 10 9 9 8 6 7 6 9 14 5 5 10 7 9 9 8 5 6 11 7 7 16 5 4 10 5 5 12 12 9 3 13 4 7 9 13 7 13

Here is the frequency Table:

Number of People........Frequency
in Household:...............of Response:
3 -------------------------1
4 ------------------------ 2
5 ------------------------ 6
6 ------------------------ 4
7 ------------------------ 6
8 ------------------------ 2
9 ------------------------ 7
10 ----------------------- 3
11 ----------------------- 1
12 ----------------------- 1
13 ----------------------- 3
14 ----------------------- 1
15 ----------------------- 0
16 ----------------------- 1

Well, it doesn’t take a math expert to be amazed at these numbers! According to the discussion we had in class, our sample (our class) is a fairly good representation of the population (all households on Majuro). Class members come from a variety of communities from Rita to Laura (one end of the atoll to the other). They come from a variety of social classes, education traditions, etc...The frequency table would indicate that the mode is 9 and the mean number of people living in a household in Majuro is 8! Not only that, but 75% of my students live in a house with more than 5 people. These are not large suburban houses like Americans live in (although some members of the upper-class here have big houses like suburban America). But most of my students live in a house with 2-3 rooms, very little furniture (sofas just provide shelter for termites, rats, and other unwanted houseguests anyway), one bathroom, and most catch water from the roof and bring it inside to use for cooking and bathing. Then I thought about the difficulties they face in school. When they go home to a house like this, there is very little quiet time for working on homework. There are constant family concerns (the majority of them are parents themselves). Privacy is nonexistent! Now I can understand better why Marshallese are so shocked to hear that I live alone. That just DOESN’T happen here. Me rattling around by myself in my apartment is just as far out of their realm of their understanding as living with 16 people in one house is for me. (By the way, the student who responded 16 is one of my hardest working, most devoted students, a young woman who is my age who has 3 kids and a husband who struggles with alcoholism.) I have profound new respect for my students every time I learn more about their lives. Sure, there are those that try my patience, that are lazy about coming to class, and don’t turn in their homework for weeks at a time. There are students like that everywhere. But there are plenty who are also NOT like this. There are those who struggle uncomplainingly against tremendous odds, and I feel that it’s such a privilege to be their teacher.

Here's a humorous anecdotal story: I have one student in my afternoon section who has a great sense of humor. He lived in the states for 2 years during high school, so he’s a lot cheekier than most of his classmates. He reminds me very much of a typical 20-something-year-old, ipod-listening, b-ball playing, college student in the states, and he’s too bright to stay here at CMI for long (he’s transferring to UH Hilo in the fall). Instead of just writing a number on his paper, this is what he wrote: “# of people in hz: -myself (1), -set of parents (2), -sisters (2), -their husbands (2), -niece (1), -nephew (1), -brother (1), -live-in girlfriend (mine) (1), total: 11 and a partridge in a pear tree!

Well, there’s so much more to say, but very little time, and I’ve got to get grading again. I’ll write more later. Happy holiday everyone!
Cheers, Britt

PS. The pictures at the top are of Mary and I after running home in the rain on Sunday after visiting a friend from our branch. I’m more than 1 foot taller than she is, so it’s virtually impossible to get the two of us in one picture without cutting off someone’s head or chin (as you can see). It makes for some fun contortions, though!


Val said...

Hi Britt,

I've been reading your blog since you left a message on mine, and have quite appreciated it. Hope that the fun day also rests you enough that you finish recovering quickly and happily.

Jenny said...

Britt, I do not know you but I feel like I do as I read your blog often. I was told about your blog on a forum for parents who have adopted from the RMI. I just wanted to tell you that I thoroughly enjoy it and look forward to reading about your many adventures. It makes me so homesick for the Marshalls and makes me wish I had a trip planned to come back soon. I was there in January and April of 2002 to adopt my son. You are a very entertaining writer and I love the photos you share. Thanks!

Jenny (SLC, Utah)

Eric said...

wow. Britt. I just was wondering about you and checked your site on lds linkup and found that you skipped the country. didn't expect that at all. drop me a line sometime through lds linkup or myspace same name or at hotmail same name looks like you're doing great.