My mom’s visit was wonderful! It started out with a bang. She arrived on her birthday, so I rented a car and picked her up from the airport. We did the end-to-end island tour (which takes longer than you might imagine considering this island is only 3.75 square miles, but it’s so skinny that it’s about 35 miles from one end to the other).
That night I invited the ladies from church over for cake. Well, Marshallese ladies just CAN’T do small parties, so instead of just coming for cake, they came with dinner food and handicraft gifts. It turned out to be me, my mom, 30 ladies, and 5 children all in the front room of my apartment. There was eating, singing, dancing, gift-giving. It was so sweet and generous of them, and my mom will never forget this birthday.
While she was here, mom and I took a Marshallese canoe ride, and she also had her first snorkeling experience. There’s nothing quite like realizing what a rich environment exists under the surface of the water here. There are hundreds of bright corals and whole schools of fish that you only ever see in aquariums back home. In fact, the other day while snorkeling I came face to face with a big eel. Needless to say it was enough to scare me out of the water for a while. Anyway, it was great to watch her experience firsthand the wonderful and not-so-wonderful things about living here in this place. I’m so glad she got to meet many of my wonderful colleagues from work, sweet Marshallese friends that I’ve made in my neighborhood and church, and experience the beautiful environment here. (The picture above is mom in the middle of the lagoon)
After Mom left for home, things were pretty quiet around my house. Except for the occasional kids who come by to borrow my volleyball, I got a little bit lonely. Because I did a lot of playing and didn’t spend evenings and weekends at work, things got a bit chaotic here at the office, but it didn’t take long to sort them out. After my mom left I had to leave my house a bit more to seek company. On one such trip out of the house I found some cute girls (neighbors of my friend Anelang) standing on the seawall which separates their house from the lagoon. They had fishing lines wound around empty coke cans which they were baiting with pieces of cooked fish. Next to them they had a bowl full of small 4-inch long fish that they had caught using their “fishing cans” and they were catching some more for dinner. They paused long enough for a photo opportunity.
While most Marshallese adults are very shy and withdrawn, most Marshallese children are outgoing and gutsy. They make me feel very much more a part of the community when I’m feeling isolated. One funny thing that children around 4-7 years old do is really cute. When they see a foreigner coming down the street, they pause whatever game they are playing and run over, line up, and thrust their hands upward to shake yours. When finished they giggle, run back to their playing place, and resume the game. Sometimes when I’m out running, children stop what they’re doing and run along beside me in a little group, in their zories or even with bare feet. For a few meters I feel like I have a little running club and then eventually when they realize how far from home they’ve gotten they drop off and go back. It’s so sweet and I am very thankful to these little ones who make me feel included.
After my mom left my apartment, a little crab decided to take her place. It wasn’t a hermit crab like last time, this time it was a real crab with his own shell. He turned up on the sponge in my kitchen one morning, so I had to evict him. This picture is not him, but it’s his cousin (who looks just like him) who hangs out at CMI.
It has been such a pleasure to live next door to the sister missionaries from my branch. We mostly see each other in passing, and now and again we borrow something, chat for a few minutes, or walk home from church together. It has been wonderful to get to know them. My own mission to South Africa made such an impact on my life and being around them reminds me what a challenging but also richly rewarding experience it is to dedicate 18 months of your life to serving others. Truly I have learned that this is where happiness lies. My mission taught me that compassion is more important than competition in the grand scheme of things, and that has really changed my priorities. It is wonderful to be reminded about the lessons I learned every time I interact with these sisters. They are really the type of people I want to associate with because they are more concerned about others than they are about themselves. I think that this is one of the noblest ideals one can build his/her life around.
Speaking of happy news, my brother Clay and his wife Cullen just welcomed a new little one into their lives. Cashel Jack Mitchell was born this week, and I’m excited to meet him as well as to play with Honor and Jeremy’s toddler Grant. My one regret about living here is that my whole family is having a great time together with the grandkids while I’m here. I get to see them only once or twice a year if I’m lucky. Darn it, I just know that Cammie is probably becoming the favorite aunt by this point! But I'm not jealous or anything :) Hi Cam! I'll post some more pictures of Cash and his parents when they get home from the hospital.
Well, that’s all I have time for tonight. I’ll write again soon. Next week I’m headed to Oahu with 2 students for an LSAMP conference. It’s a program to encourage more Pacific Islanders to earn BS/MS/PhD degrees in Science and Math. We will learn how to start a chapter on our campus and help more of our students transfer to Bachelors degree programs. I’ll write more about it when we get back.