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!

1 comment:

Mary Postert said...

I'm glad you finally posted. I love to hear what you're up to.