I finally did it! I rode my bike in a muumuu! Yahoo! Susan and I went out shopping on the way home from the gym a few weeks back and found a shop with an assortment of cute, tolerable, and hideous muumuus. None of the shops have fitting rooms, so we tried them on in the middle of the store over our clothes and consulted each other (no mirrors either) about how we looked. Wow, the selection is amazing here! “Guam muumuus” are made of silky polyestery something-or-other and come in all sizes, from baby muumuus to gigantic ones. Well, I got really lucky and got a couple very cute, very comfortable ones. My mom is coming to Majuro this week, and we’ll have to get her set up with a cute Muumuu wardrobe too. (Incidentally, the word Muumuu is actually in the dictionary on my computer, so yes, muumuu is the correct spelling, although it doesn’t recognize “Yahoo”.)
It has been a busy first month of school. I got really, really sick the night before the first day of class and it just didn’t go away for 3 weeks. I went from dizzy to achy to feverish to no voice for 4 days (hello, group-work in class every day!) to congested to coughing uncontrollably. I’m feeling SO much better now, but I was working in survival mode for so long that my life doesn’t feel very well-organized. Now I’m much better and getting there.
My friend Heather made me a CD of Marshallese music before she left. It is seriously now one of my favorite CDs. It’s “Marshallese sing the best of the 80’s”. There’s a male group singing a funky-synthesizer version of Celine Dion’s “Power of Love” (in Marshallese of course!), and also that song by 4 Non-Blondes: “Heeeeey, Heeeey, I said Hey, What’s going on?” but instead, the Marshallese group sings, “Heeeey, Ij iakwe eok” (which means “Hey, I love you” instead). It’s just so great. I love 80’s music, I love synthesizer pop, and I finally now understand a little Marshallese language, it’s just really entertaining.
Speaking of entertainment…the students threw their big “Welcome Back to School” party a few weeks ago. I wasn’t feeling great, but I really, really wanted to go because our students are just so cool. It was at Lanai club, and they served a nice dinner outside. Then there was a live band and dancing inside. I should have gone home after dinner, but some colleagues were going inside for a few minutes, so I went along. That’s when all the fun began. I saw my favorite groundskeeper, Helbert, who asked me to dance. So while we were waiting for a good song, then one of our custodians came and pulled me out on the floor. We were the only ones on the dance floor for most of the song, in front of about 200 students, faculty and staff, getting down. So then the next dance I was back out there again, this time with Helbert, who was a bit ticked off that this other guy had cut in. These sweet old men are older than my father and here I am in front of the entire student body, trying to enjoy being there although I’d really rather be in bed. So after that I ran out before any more janitors or groundskeepers could find me and went straight home and slept the entire weekend away until school on Monday.
During the same period of time, we had a very sad tragedy in our church. One of the first members of our church on the island who has given so generously to those around her, Neito Lanny, passed away after a long fight with cancer. Both she and her husband Lani have really been wonderful examples of charity in the church and the community. The experience of her funeral opened my eyes to how different my cultural customs are in comparison Marshallese customs. In American culture, when someone loses a family member, the friends give them space to grieve, send flowers and cards, or perhaps drop dinner off at their house. Everyone is really, really careful not to intrude on the privacy and alone-time of the grieving family. In island culture, it’s exactly opposite. The entire community grieves together. From the time that the family member dies, the family sets up a tent, chairs, and feeds mourners from the whole island for many days until after the viewing and funeral. In the Lanny’s case, they had to wait for many family members to fly here from the states, so they were feeding people for a week before the viewing. Then there was the funeral and then viewing for another week while mourners came from everywhere. All the while, the family was cooking round the clock to feed all the people. The 3 week process finally concluded with burial, and now, over a month later, the visitors keep coming to express condolences. It was amazing to see the community come together. Neito’s daughter Hermine (who is a sweet friend of mine from church) supervised a team of about 20 ladies cooking for the whole 3 weeks. I am amazed at the emotional strength of their entire family. I would just want to hide and grieve, but they just kept going, and going, and going. Financially it’s a huge undertaking as well, but they did all of this uncomplainingly. At first, it was very hard for me to know how to respond since I was quite aware that my natural inclinations (molded by my own culture) were completely wrong in this situation. Little by little I found things I could do to help without being underfoot. I so appreciated the willingness of their family to accept my awkward attempts to contribute in some way.
Last weekend I was feeling healthier and we had “Ri-jerbal Day” holiday (Labor Day). Our friends from work (Judy and Jerry) have a boat and took us out to Enamanit Island, on the other side of Majuro atoll. It was a lovely day and good to get out and enjoy the fresh air. I am surrounded by such natural beauty here, but so many days I’m in my office so long that I forget to go out and look at the ocean and lagoon. While we were swimming, Jerry and Forrest (one of our students) went out fishing. They phoned Judy’s cell to tell us they’d be a little late because they caught “a big one”. NO KIDDING! They got 3 fish: A medium size Skipjack Tuna, a Barracuda, and a gigantic Yellowfin Tuna which took up the whole bottom of the boat and must have weighed over 100 pounds. One the trip back we all had to put our feet on the tuna because there was no other leg-room in the boat. Amazing! I’ve never seen a fish that big!! The next day at Susan and Judy’s birthday party we had plenty of fresh sashimi (Japanese style raw tuna). Yum!
My classes are going pretty well this semester. I have a great group of students this semester. They’re fantastic, as always. There’s still a lot of chaos higher up in the chain of command with new and interim administrators coming in and out. It takes a lot of work on our part to try to communicate with them and it takes us out of the classroom a bit, but in the long run, I hope the time spent communicating will smooth the way for our students. I’m working with SS105 College Experience class this semester, which is wonderfully rewarding. We’re also going to do 2+2 again, and I’m quite gratified that it’s growing due to word of mouth. We had 6 students from the group successfully transfer to Universities this year, which is a great success story and has caught the interest of other students. I’m really excited to be involved again.
Here’s a funny story: sometime during the first week of class, I got an email inviting me to be “friends” on Bebo with one of my new students. He is one of the quietest students in my Beginning Algebra class, and it came as a total surprise. I was very flattered, but graciously declined.
My mom is coming to visit this week, which I’m SUPER excited about! I can’t wait to share with her all the aspects of my life here that I find fascinating. It’s going to be a fun 10 days together. At the end of her visit is Manit Day (Culture Day) holiday, so it will be great to participate in demonstrations of weaving, coconut husking, handicraft making, etc…) Ok, gotta go home now. It’s almost 11pm. I’m sure I’ll have tons of pictures after Mom’s visit, so I’ll post lots in my next blog entry. So long until then!