Friday, March 14, 2008

I’m sorry that it has taken me so long to post these latest two blog entries! My “Microsoft Picture Editor” went on strike for several months, and the files are so big when they come out of my camera that it would take 14 hours to upload them through our slow internet connection. So I’ve been writing but delaying posting until someone from IT could come up and sort out my computer. Thanks for the patience to all of you who have been waiting a long time for something new!! (Sorry, Lindsay, I know it really irritates you when I don’t blog often enough!)
At school we've been really busy lately getting our 2+2 club students ready to transfer. There are always bumps in the road, but we're having good success, and we should have about 15 of them leaving in August and about 5 more planning to transfer to Universities in January. It's really exciting to help them make plans about leaving home and having new adventures. (the pictures are from a recent 2+2 meeting)

My old bike finally got so rusty that the brakes don’t work, the handlebars don’t really turn very well anymore, and it’s now red instead of the happy banana yellow color it used to be. Besides that, someone tried to jimmy the lock while I was gone at Christmas and now my key wouldn’t work, so it was stuck to the balcony of my apartment, exposed to the salty spray off the ocean for about 3 months. I finally broke down and bought a new bike, named Luanne. It’s the twin of Isabel’s bike Lucinda, so I decided to stick with the “Lu” naming pattern. So far she hasn’t been exceptionally reliable, primarily because whoever installed her at ACE hardware didn’t quite finish the job. As soon as I rode away from the store, the seat shifted forward and dumped me off. A drunken old man on the side of the road tried to “help” me, and then declared his love and asked where I live. I declined his offer and went straight back to ACE. They fixed the seat, but the next day while riding, the right pedal fell off because when I pedal it unscrews itself. At my office-mate Peder’s suggestion, I went back to ACE and bought some “lok-tite” stuff to seal the bolt that was striping, and things seem to be much better now. In the meantime, I asked my landlord to help me cut the lock off the old bike so I could donate it to some neighborhood kids. My little friend Kan, a clever and outgoing boy who sometimes comes to visit me at my office or my house had requested to inherit my old bike when I didn’t need it anymore. So finally this weekend my landlord cut the lock and I oiled it up and delivered it. He was the happiest kid on the island this weekend, and since I gave it to him 2 days ago, I have spotted at least 5 kids riding it. It’s getting good use these days, and that makes me happy! For my birthday, Isabel gave me this cute "I love my bike" bell for Luanne, which makes me smile every time I see it.
Recently I read something very, very disturbing in the newspaper. The headline read “Ebeye Water Poisoned”. I’m not sure if you’re aware of Ebeye, but it’s a sad story. It’s the island in Kwajalein atoll adjacent to the US military’s Kwajalein missile testing base. It only has 0.14 square miles of land area, and a population of 13,500 people. It has one of the highest population densities in the entire world (96,428 people/square mile) despite the fact that there are very few high-rise buildings here in the Marshall Islands. The reason it’s so crowded is that many people from outer islands move there seeking work on the US military base, but because of security issues, they are not allowed to live on the base itself, so they have to cram into this tiny little island with thousands of other people and ferry across to work every day. While the land owners of Kwajalein make millions of dollars from the lease of the Kwajalein property to the US government, I doubt any of them actually live in Ebeye. The services to the people there are very poor, and electricity blackouts are the norm. The latest news is that due to terrible planning and no regulation of development, people have illegally hooked their septic lines into the sewer. But what they thought was the sewer was actually the fresh water pipe, and now the water system is contaminated with E-coli and other horrendous diseases because of sewage contamination. Because they are illegal connections, it will take public works a long, long time to locate the source of contamination and fix the mess. Well, luckily most people have catchments on their roofs where they catch rainwater for drinking, but when catchments empty before the rain comes again, people are dependent on city water. Incidentally, several months ago I noticed a large rusting piece of metal wash up on the filthy beach near my house. (see the picture above) It's probably not a piece of a missile, but doesn't it have an uncanny resemblance to one? You never know!

I love my students this semester. They are so great! Many of them need a big kick in the seat of the pants, because they don’t study nearly enough or take class seriously, but there are also some real jems in my classes, and nearly all their personalities are sweet and they make me smile. It is so great to see them start to creep cautiously out of their shells like little turtles. One student who I’ve had in my class for 2 semesters now is really soaring in my College Algebra class. He is a diligent worker and is at the top of the class. He has taken initiative to come seek help at my office hours (which takes a lot of guts because he’s pretty shy). At the bottom of a recent homework he turned in, he wrote, “please go to the next page, thank q for ur cooperation”. It totally cracked me up. Another student in that class, equally as shy, has also begun to soar. He has volunteered on a handful of occasions to go to the board and work problems. When I ask if he would be willing to explain them to the class, he hesitates for about 20 seconds, gathers his gumption, and then does a beautiful job explaining to the class. It’s so exhilarating to see! Another of my students left me her homework under my office door with a note attached that read, “Hi Britt, I am sorry for not waiting for you because I just hurry to go to hospital with my daddy. Sorry! Love, Always, Kamo”. At least once a week when she leaves class she says to me, “Thank you for your time and consideration.” Where did she learn to say that? Ownership of time is not a Pacific concept. There is something wonderful and sweet about many of my students. Then there are always some cheeky ones who liven up class. Last week we were talking about Certificates of Deposit and after one calculation of the interest added to a CD with a rate of 6%, I asked my class how the bank can afford to give away free money like that. I was trying to help them identify the fact that the banks charge 13-18% interest on loans and then keep the 12% difference. Before I got to that, one rather vocal student in the back of class said in a very matter-of-fact tone, “It’s because they’re always stealing money from people’s accounts!” We all burst out laughing, and I said, “Yes, that may be true on this island, so please balance your checkbook carefully just to make sure!”

We have had a string of Yokwe parties at church for missionaries leaving. Elder Beecher, a young missionary who has been here in our branch for about the last 8 or 9 months went home, so we gave him a party. Then a week later, the Pattens, a senior couple who has helped our branch tremendously got transferred to Christmas Island, so we had another party for them. As the Relief Society president, I’m expected to organize it, and also to conduct it. Organizing the food is no problem, the ladies really help me to do a lot of the cooking and I’m a decent host usually. But conducting the formalities is so awkward because I’m a ri-belle and I don’t understand the order in which things are supposed to happen. The entertainment at both parties was great. At Elder Beecher’s party, a couple Elders went out and shook their hips, and Elder Beecher’s companion, Elder Beaumaiwai, did a traditional Fijian dance which involved a fan, shouting, and some sticking out of his tongue. Elder Beecher got asked to dance by some primary kids and ended up break dancing. Two Yokwe parties in a row were a lot of fun, but exhausting, so I’m hoping no one else leaves for a little while so we can recuperate a little bit. We already miss the Pattens so much! They really helped so many of the families in our branch who are struggling with alcoholism and also they helped strengthen the leaders of the branch. I’m excited for them to have adventures on Christmas Island, but we will miss them tremendously here!