Tuesday, July 31, 2007

This is a Marshallese road construction site. We don’t have any orange cones here, so coconuts do the job just fine! Isn’t that so clever!?! At first when we drove by them we thought that they had dropped off a tree into the road (which is not uncommon), but they were too well-spaced to be a coincidence. Turns out that the road crew had just filled in some potholes in the road and the asphalt needed a bit longer to cool off before it was ready for cars.

Heidi left to go back to British Columbia last week. She and Susan and I had a great 2 weeks of fun while school was out for break (it still is for one more week). Heidi came here in April to be the director for the Student Development program. Before she had even had time to adjust to the culture and island way of doing things, the administration forced her boss to resign over phony charges. This threw her entire experience at CMI into chaos. The administration insisted that she pick up Mike’s work as well as carrying on with her own. It got to the point that the anxiety of coming to work made her physically ill, so she really needed to get away. Anyway, we already really miss her and so do the students, but she’s in a better place (now I’m making it sound like she died!) and there are some interesting career possibilities for her there. Meanwhile things here continue to be pretty messed up, but I’ve been too angry for too long, and I’m just exhausted. I won’t stop speaking out, but I can’t afford to stay angry like this. I’m trying to surround myself with students as much as possible so I don’t have time for faculty/administration non-sense. Hopefully it works! This is a picture of Heidi, Susan, and I enjoying our last day at the beach together:

When we found that there were no outer-island boat departures this week, Susan and I volunteered to help out with the student leader training this week, especially since Heidi isn’t able to be here for it. The student leaders are super fun, plus we recently found out that it will be held at Arrak (CMI’s beautiful rural land-grant campus which we don’t use nearly enough!) So were going out there tonight. It will be great to get away and also build good relationships with the students. They are really so great.

Heidi left on Wednesday night, and then my friend Heather arrived for a 5 week stay on Thursday. That morning I had one of those “Only in the Marshall Islands” moments. We were still staying in our friends’ house in Long Island, and I was waiting for Heather’s plane to arrive. Long Island is about 5 minutes drive from the airport, so I laid down on the smooth cement wall that separates the back yard from the lagoon and enjoyed the morning sunshine. Pretty soon I saw the Continental flight cross the sky and descend to the airport. Then I knew it was time to leave to meet Heather. Here in the Marshalls we can just wait for the sound of the plane overhead and watch it descend on our little island and then we know it’s time to go meet the arrivals. The airport is open-air on the front (the waiting room), and the security gets only a little more tight as you go to the “gate” (if that’s what you call it). There is exactly one Continental flight each day. Every other day they come from a different direction (Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat are the arrivals from Guam and connections to Honolulu, and Tues, Thurs, and Sun are the arrivals from Honolulu and connections to Guam). Then there’s an occasional Air Marshall flight (also known as Air Maybe due to their unpredictable schedule) when one or more of their two planes are fit to fly to outer islands.

After coming home from house-sitting at the Royka’s this weekend, I found that objects in my house were toppled over as if a strong wind had whipped through my house. Only problem was that I left the windows and doors closed and locked. There were also little poops scattered around my house which looked to be what I’ve found behind big cockroaches here. But I cleaned my house thoroughly and found no signs of oversized cockroaches (thankfully!) I was baffled about what was going on, until one night as I had just tucked into bed I heard what I thought was an intruder in the front room. I went out, but found no one. Then I saw a rat scurry by and I chased him out with a broom. Great, he’s gone, I thought. But the next day, soy sauce and vanilla on a high shelf were knocked over. “How on earth?” I thought. Then I noticed up by my air conditioning unit that the cords which go outside to connect to the other half of the air conditioner outside go through a hole just big enough for a rat to squeeze through. He had been climbing up the air conditioner cords and right into my house like it was an entrance created specially for him. Still I don’t know why he kept on trying to move in, because I had been gone for 3 weeks and there was no food in the house for him to eat. Well, I climbed up on the sink and stuffed old issues of the Marshall Islands Journal into the hole. Next morning he had started to try to chew through the newspapers from the outside, but they were too tight, so he gave up. Then my landlord kindly came and filled up the hole with cement, and I haven’t seen him since. My mom, upon hearing the story got a bit worried, since she's coming to visit me here in September. My friend Mary said to tell mom, "Don't worry, the rats in the Marshall Islands are the friendliest rats in the world, just like the people." I can't disagree, but I'm glad this one's no longer my roomate!

Speaking of animals, this Sunday as church was about to start, we had a stray dog keep running in the door and laying down in the middle of the congregation. When the kids kicked at him (yeah, neither children nor adults treat dogs with respect here) he ran up and down the aisles, ran out the back door, and right back in the front door again. I told the missionaries that he must have read the “Visitors Welcome” on the church sign and decided to give this church a try. This picture is Heidi with Rainbow, the sweetest stray dog on the island. She's just such a sweetheart, and she lives at CMI, where we feed her. She balks at eating dogfood, instead she prefers to eat the tuna off the top of her bowl only. Picky little thing, but a real sweetheart, too!

During the week we’ve started several enrichment groups for the Relief Society ladies. On Thursday night we’ve been having Amimono Group (traditional handicraft making) followed by an exercise group. It has been a bit slow to take off, but it’s getting there. There are several ladies in my branch who have diabetes and attend the “Diabetes Wellness Center” at the hospital (sponsored by the SDA church) where they learn great things about nutrition and exercise. So they brought a CD of aerobics music to work out to. It was SO much fun! Picture this: 5 ladies ranging in age from 30-70 in polyester mumus and tennis shoes doing the Macarena, the Electric Slide, and the YMCA dance in unison. Then there’s the 6-foot tall ri-belle in the middle (yours truly) trying to keep up. It’s hilarious and ridiculous, and it gets us all laughing as well as giving us a good workout. I didn’t yet get any photos of the ladies, dancing, but here’s a picture of the young women showing us how to do some of the dances to the songs on the aerobics CD.

Last week I decided that since I have a bunch of time off work, I should go to the dentist. This is a terrible confession to make, but it’s the first time I’ve gone to the dentist in nearly 4 years! I just never have the free time and/or money. So I called up Dr. Hazel (that’s her first name, by the way, no one is pretentious here!) and asked if I could make an appointment. She’s a pretty, friendly lady from the Phillipines. She has a small practice above the post office in town, and answers her own phones. When I called she greeted me warmly and said, sure, I can give you a cleaning and check up this week, how about tomorrow? Ok, tomorrow’s great!! (In the states it take at least 3 or 4 weeks advance notice, so I was happily suprised). It was the most hassle-free dentist appointment I’ve ever had. It was quick, painless, and the best thing about it is that it only cost $25!! Now when’s the last time you scheduled a dentist appointment for the next day and got a thorough cleaning and checkup in less than 30 minute (performed by a licensed dentist, not a hygienist!) for $25? I was thoroughly impressed! So if you need dental work done, feel free to stop by my place for a vacation and make an appointment. Dr. Hazel does orthodontics too! I have to run.

We’re leaving for Arrak now. Have a great weekend everyone! I’ll write all about our retreat and post more photos soon!

Monday, July 16, 2007

This is Likatu Nellie! Isn't she the cutest little thing you've ever seen? This is her playing with a stack of chairs (just let her push the cart around for hours of fun!) at the branch Father's Day party we had in June. She is our branch president's 2-year-old grand-daughter. She used to cry whenever she saw me because she was scared of Ri-belles (white people...unfortunately this is all too common for small kids) but now she has decided that she likes me (it only took 10 months) and runs over to say hello and shake my hand when I see her.

I apologize that it’s been such a long time since I wrote! At CMI we had a psychotic summer semester (16 weeks packed into 19 days) and I did almost nothing but work 15 hours per day, eat, and try to sleep. Besides this, a colleague whom I greatly admire (he was serving as Assistant Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs at the time) was forced to resign and leave the island immediately. There were so many unethical things about the actions taken in the process, and the whole experience opened my eyes to many more unacceptable and dishonest things that are happening at this College. I am not at liberty to share these things openly because of a confidentiality clause in the personnel manual, so I’ll leave the subject at that. Needless to say it has been a great source of stress and this week I finally had a good night’s sleep for the first time in over a month. I just felt I could not possibly keep quiet in light of all that I have watched, and speaking out dragged me to the center of the craziness. But I care too much about our students to just let things continue like this (our colleague who is now gone was a powerful advocate for students, and I hope to continue to advocate for them even though he is not here). In the end, students are the ones who have to pay the price for the mistakes we (college employees) make and our experiments-gone-wrong. For the last month I’ve spent about 12-15 hours per day at my office trying to keep up with a much-too-fast teaching schedule while trying to also response to all the feedback and corruption in the environment, too. It all culminated with spending 3 hours in a board of regents meeting on the day that grades were due and then staying at my office until 1am to finish grades (day before yesterday). It’s over, and I’m just spent! But I’m so thankful for a month to unwind and relax.

Susan and I were going to try to go Fiji and the South Pacific, but ironically (not surprisingly) the one airline that went that in the South Pacific direction suddenly decided to stop flying to Majuro last week. This is fine, we just need to stay away from CMI for a little while, but it doesn’t have to be on an entirely different island. Colleagues of ours from the English department went to Hawaii for 3 weeks and left us their car, pickup truck and house for 3 weeks. It’s a beautiful place with big bay windows (see picture above) overlooking Sunset on the lagoon. It’s just across the street from the only gym on the island, and walking distance from Thuy’s, a wonderful little Vietnamese take-out that we are all now addicted to. Trips to Thuy’s every weekend saved our (Heidi, Susan and my) sanity this semester. Toward the end of our break (end of July) we’re hoping to hop on a supply ship heading for outer islands and go wherever it takes us. It’s no luxury cruise, but they stop to offload supplies at the other atolls (there are 29 total in this country) and we could get off and explore several en-route. The tricky thing is that the boats have definite departure times, but no one at the Shipping Corporation can tell us when the boats will return. It is completely up in the air. Whenever they get back, they get back. So we’ll hop on one, and whenever we make it back, that will have to be fine!

Though I haven’t had time to update my blog in a long, long time, I’ve collected ideas on a scrap of paper so that when I did have time, I would have something to share. Below I’ll try to recreate some interesting stories:

Despite the fact that the summer school schedule was INSANE, I got a great group of students in both of the classes that I taught. I had some really bright students, and on the whole, the motivation to study hard and really learn was pretty good in both my classes. In my College Algebra class, we were studying quadratic equation and how it relates to falling objects and projectiles. We set up a fictitious situation about dropping a rock off the highest elevation on Majuro (not counting buildings), the Long Island bridge (pictured above). Well, the students suggested a field trip to go check it out, and since it’s only about 10- minutes-drive away, I said, "why not?" So we took a measuring tape to get the height of the bridge, and Susan’s stopwatch, and each of us collected rocks of various sizes and shapes to drop and time. We calculated the theoretical time that a rock should take using the quadratic equation from Physics, and then we compared our times. It was lots of fun, but a little chaotic, as the pictures show.

In the midst of the craziness at school, and after spending countless angry hours in my office, I finally broke away one day because I had to go pick up some handicrafts that I ordered from a friend, Hemila. She lives in Delap on the back road, Oceanside. Not many white people even drive back there, let alone walk, so I turn heads, to say the least. I was still very angry and stressed out from the day and I was running to get to her house before the sun set and it got dark. (Because we’re next to the equator, summer days and winter days are all the same. The sun always sets at about 6:15pm and it’s dark by 7pm). On my way back from Hemila’s house, 3 adorable Marshallese children (about 6 or 7 years old) came running up to me in the street saying, “Iakwe Ri-belle, Iakwe!” and shook my hand. Instead of letting go, they just all made a little chain and walked down the street with me, hand in hand. They walked about a tenth of a mile with me, asking me questions in Marshallese, and answering my questions to them. Finally I decided that they should probably go back home before they strayed too far from their homes, so I said, “Bar lo komjel (see you three later)” and let go. They said goodbye, turned around toward their homes, and giggled with glee as if they were teenage girls who had just shaken the hand of their favorite celebrity. It was just too cute and it made me feel like a million bucks. It also reminded me about why I came here, and the potential that lies within these sweet little young people. It really softened my heart and helped me forget about how crazy being at work makes me. Well, at least until the next day when I went back to work.

It has been said that there are 3 types of people that have come (and still come) to the Marshall Islands: Missionaries, Mercenaries, and Misfits. Missionaries encompasses not only religious missionaries (of which there have been plenty), but also young, idealists out to change the world (Peace Corps, WorldTeach Volunteers, some CMI instructors). Mercenaries are those out to make a buck or two (from German Copra Traders to American Businessmen to Chinese Shop owners). Misfits: I think this does not require explaining. It is true, this is a very remote place and a great destination for those hoping to run away from their past or to do things that are not smiled upon by the rest of the world. After talking to my girlfriends from work about it, I would add a couple other M’s that characterize the people who come here: Military (plenty of military personnel have come and gone since world war II), Morons (yes, they tend to come and they never leave soon enough), and Marshallese (perhaps the only normal people who really belong on these islands).

In June, Heidi, Susan and I took a great little trip out past Rita. At low tide, the reef is exposed and you can walk out to the islands past Rita (the Eastern-most part of Majuro) to the small islands that are not connected by the main road. (The picture above is Heidi and Susan in front of the reef at low tide when we started our trek; the picture following is the same spot after the tide came in at the end.) Many of these little islands have small communities living on them (like the Bikinian community living on Ejit Island). Their life is a little more isolated than those living on Majuro, but they are closer to the conveniences of town than people living on outer-islands. It was a gorgeous day, so I just wanted to show you some pictures.

There is a tuna-loining plant being refurbished across from the MEC (Marshalls Electric Company) generating plant on the way to Long Island. Every time I pass by it, I am am amazed as I watch the hundreds of Chinese workers building it. I am sobered and reminded how difficult life is in so many parts of the world and what a spoiled existence I’ve led. There are masses of workers doing hard labor in a country far from their home just to feed their family. It is ironic that they have come here to a beautiful tropical island and yet it’s the same back-breaking work with little time for enjoyment. I cannot imagine living in a country as large and overwhelming as China, where there are so many people that individuals do not seem to matter very much, but everyone blends together and life is so hard for the working class! When I see them, I think about the families they are fighting to support and I feel ashamed about the pitiful little things I complain about. I have truly lived a charmed life. My life has not always been easy, and I have always worked hard, but the opportunities I’ve had in my life have opened doors that are completely inaccessible to so many people living in the world today. I am so thankful and so grateful, and I am also resolved to do my utmost to give more opportunities to those who don’t have them. This is why I love being an educator.

The longer I live in my apartment, the less run-ins I have with big cockroaches. Usually I can pinpoint the small ones and get rid of them before they grow into 3 inch long suckers. This is a big relief. This has also led me to be a little less guarded and vigilant against them. A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in the middle of the congregation at church when something large and black scurried across my skirt toward my knee. I jumped half-way out of my chair and up flew the cockroach and everyone around me started laughing. Then the little guy came running back toward me on the floor and I had to pull my feet up so that he didn’t crawl UP my skirt this time. Mary Swain was sitting next to me and she was a bit annoyed that I was so freaked out by it, and then proceeded to smash it on the carpet. UG! Wow, there’s never a dull moment, even in church!

Yesterday for Heidi’s birthday we went for a ride on a traditional Marshallese outrigger canoe. It was fantastic! The water was smooth as glass and our hosts were very nice.

Watching these two young men navigate in such a skillful and clever way was amazing! The duration of the trip around the lagoon was supposed to only be an hour, so we didn’t bother with sunscreen beforehand. We sailed across the lagoon from Delap to Uliga and then out toward Long Island. That took about 1 hour. Then we started sailing back toward the canoe house in Delap again. Only problem was there way NO wind!

Our navigators tried everything, including paddling by hand, tacking back and forth about 3 or 4 times, but we just kept moving back and forth in the lagoon, never getting any closer to the shore. One of our guides said, “Lukkuun (very) no good, sailing in July!” It’s the calm season, and while the outrigger rides are nice and calm and the passengers don’t get wet, there is always the chance that you won’t get back to shore. So finally we caught a tiny, tiny breeze and it was enough to get us moving back in the right direction. We made it back to shore exactly 3 hours after departing very, very sunburned! Lukkuun no good is right!

I have met some wonderful people here, and I feel we have something in common. We come from different corners of the world, but each of us feels quite comfortable living abroad while somewhat anxious and restless in our home countries. Before moving here, I never pictured myself living outside the United States for the rest of my life, but now that I’ve come, I can’t see myself living inside the United States for the rest of my life, either. I am free to be myself when I am living outside my country. I have found that I do not miss the social competition, the materialism, and the arrogance that are so much a part of the culture in America. I love America itself very much (the spirit of freedom and self-determination are amazing blessings I have gained from growing up there), but I do not miss many parts of the prevailing culture. The interesting thing I have found is that I’ve met all sorts of people from Canada, Taiwan, England, America, Australia, Europe, and many other places who also feel more comfortable overseas than they do living in their home countries, even though their home country has profoundly shaped who they are. I can’t say that this is the place I want to live for the rest of my life, but I have learned much about myself since coming here, and I’m so grateful I came. Originally I intended just to get a job in Michigan or Chicago, but when I saw the opening at CMI I couldn’t resist! And it was this interview that I got first. I had already accepted this job before any of the other colleges even expressed interest. There are definite challenges and adjustments to be made in living here, but I’m learning so much. I truly feel that God had a hand in leading me here, even though I didn’t understand the reasoning behind it in the beginning (or even in the middle!). Though situations are work are far from ideal (or even tolerable at times) I believe that there is a purpose for my existence here, and I trust that He will lead me onward when it’s the right time.

There are so many more stories to be told, but I’ll save them for a later date. I better get this up because I keep getting messages saying, “When are you going to update your blog?” Here you go. After the long wait, I hope you’re not disappointed with this anti-climatic end to the suspense. There’s a whole lot of new stuff going on, but not much that’s really fascinating. I’ll write again soon!