Sunday, March 02, 2008

The New Year is off to a good, busy start! Already so much has happened that I haven’t told you about. We kicked everything off with a psychotic, chaotic registration week. I think that we are the only school that does registration by hand still, and I hope that sometime soon they will give advisors permission to register their students online instead of sending them running around the campus for 3 or 4 hours and making faculty responsible for signing up every student by hand. The schedule was chaotic, full of conflicts, and so our Dean kept changing it, which caused a lot of confusion. To add to the confusion, the decision was made to extent the registration period by another week, so while we were trying to focus on teaching classes, we also had to keep registering students by hand. The result was that the first week of school felt like it lasted for a month! But it’s over now, things are settling down a little (although there’s always drama and political intrigue at CMI) and hopefully soon we’ll all settle into the routine again. It was a bumpy take-off, I hope the landing is a bit smoother!

To add to the mix, my friend Anelang went to the Phillippines the week prior for cancer surgery. She has 4 really sweet children at home ranging from 5 to 13 years old. Her husband works the night shift, so I found them home alone the first night and invited them to dinner. This did not go over well with my Taiwanese landlord, who is paranoid that if some Marshallese Children come upstairs to my house, then the whole neighborhood of children will be over constantly. I explained to him that these are my sick friend’s children and they are home alone. My lease also does not have any statement restricting what visitors I invite. Anyway, the next day I was pleased to see that Anelang’s family had sent her sister to stay with the kids. Everyone told me her sister’s name is “Lebwebwe” which means “the crazy” in Marshallese. She is a little slow and not really capable of taking care of 4 children by herself, but she’s certainly not crazy. Sunday morning I got a knock at my door at 8am. It was Mary. She said she had terrible news: Anelang had passed away in the Phillipines. I couldn’t believe it! I was so shocked and saddened! Her husband was so distraught that he drank himself senseless that weekend. He had been sober for 4 weeks up until that point. We shifted into high gear to try to make plans for taking care of the children longer-term (which looked like it might include them coming to stay with me on weekdays until school finishes for the year). We called around and the Annie’s family in Laura started making funeral plans. Lebwebwe was grief-stricken. The kids heard the news but did not really internalize it. Three days went by (they happened to also be the first three days of school) and I was over at their house whenever I wasn’t working. I began to feel stressed out because assuming responsibility for 4 children means assuming responsibility for the whole community that they belong to. Annie’s kids are so well behaved and easy to care for, but the network of other people in the neighborhood who also need help was beginning to feel overwhelming!

On Wednesday as I was going to Annie’s house, her 13 year old daughter Della said, “My mom called my dad today.” I said, “WHAT?!?” She said that yes, her mom was alive, and that the story that she had died had been fabricated by Lebwebwe. I know that Lebwebwe believed it was true. She claimed that she had spoken with the doctors and they told her Annie died. Perhaps she had a really vivid dream or something, but we were SO relieved to hear that our friend was still alive and that her kids would grow up with a mother! By the next week, Annie was back in town, looking and feeling much healthier than ever before. Her surgery had gone well and she looks great. I’m SOOO glad that everything is ok!! But goodness, what a lot of grief and stress the whole episode caused!

During the time I was helping look after the kids, I went to the grocery store to buy some food for their family. I ran into my friend Robbin, who works at Co-op school. She has lived a fascinating life! She’s from New York City, was a very successful Reggae singer in the south of France in her early 20’s, recently worked as a Yoga instructor in New York, and then moved here for 2 years to teach school children at the same time I moved out here. I love talking to her because she has such great observations and comments. Her life has been so different from mine and it’s fascinating to me. She will be returning home in June after 2 years here in Majuro and we were talking about the difference between children here and children in the states. She coined the phrase (which I love and think very appropriate) “Free Range Children” (the variety that we have here in Majuro. If you walk out on the street at 10pm in Majuro on a school night you’ll find children everywhere playing. Their moms are at home (or at each other’s houses) talking, their fathers are all at little corner shops or take-out restaurants chatting, and the kids are running free and crazy. And because families have so many children here, the kids are EVERYWHERE. It’s just a completely different parenting mentality here!

I’ve had a lot of excitement with wildlife in my apartment. A few blogs ago I told you about the persistent little crab that keeps trying to move in. Well after coming back from Christmas break, I discovered little poops around my house that let me know someone else had moved in to replace the crab. Sure enough, a little mouse about 3 inches long ran from my sink to my couch one day. He’s cute and not threatening, but he keeps leaving chomp marks in my bread loves and he ate my chicken bouillon in the cupboard, too. So finally one time when he tried to run under the couch, I happened to have the broom in my hand and I was able to sweep him outside. I cleaned up the poops and had a good night’s rest. The next morning, there were poops in my cupboard again, but this time they were the cockroach variety. I emptied the cupboard and evicted him too (a 3-inch long sucker). I have found that cockroaches are easier to get rid of than mice. I had 2 full days of peace before finding poops again today! The mouse is back again, that little stinker!! My colleague and friend from work, Max, told me about how he got rid of mice in Kiribati. He put peanut butter in a plastic bag on the edge of the counter and then tied the bag with string to door handle. When the mouse goes inside, he falls off and ends up hanging in the bag from the handle. Sounded like a good idea, so one day I gave it a try. I set up the trap on my sink and left to do some errands. I came back to find the bag swarming with ants, but no sign of the mouse! After that I tried putting bread into the bag. I came home to find what was left of the bread on the counter and no mouse in the bag (see photo above). That little turkey! I chased him out from under the sink and turned the couch upside-down so he couldn’t hide inside. He ran right through the crack between the door and the frame (I didn’t even know there was space in between). He kept coming back and back, even though I locked away all my food, so I went to ace hardware store to look for humane traps. There were about 15 types of poisons, snap traps and glue traps, but only one harmless deterrent: a little box you plug into the wall which makes ultrasonic noises that hurt their ears (see other picture above). I plugged it in the kitchen and it worked very well. It annoyed him so much he moved into my bedroom with me! I didn’t see him for a couple more days after that. Then on Thursday morning I woke up and found him in the middle of my kitchen floor, spread-eagle on the tile floor, dead as a doornail! I thought he might be pretending, so I poked him with a paper, but he really was dead. I was really sorry, because he was a cute little guy, and very small. Maybe he ate my laundry soap or drank my bleach because there was no other food in the house accessible to him? Anyway, I’m sad that he died so abruptly, but I’m very grateful to not have so many poops all over the house! A lovely little gecko moved in soon after (aparently he's not detered by the beeper), but he eats bugs and doesn't poop in my house, so I think I'll leave him alone.

I’m so disappointed that I didn’t even get around to telling you about “Le Bouquet Café” (you read correctly, not "La Bouquet") before it went out of business! Yesterday Susan and Isabel decided to go to dinner there, but when we arrived, the door was locked and all the shelves were bare. We knew it was likely that the business would not survive, but it’s really sad to see it close. Last summer we noticed extensive renovations and the establishment of a little café next to the tuna loining plant and Majuro Sewer Company in the industrial section of town. Susan, Isabel and I decided to give it a try one evening. It is absolutely a surreal experience walking in there! It was owned by a Taiwanese couple who were so cute. They had fancy specialty rolls and breads, French provincial (floral and stripes) furniture from IKEA (keep in mind that the nearest IKEA is 1000’s of miles away, who knows how they got it all here!), a menu with 30 kinds of coffees and teas, pastries, and sandwiches. The walls were lined with shelves of specialty items, which included things from gourmet teas to cans of creamed corn. On another shelf I found Austrian crystal salt and pepper shakers next to an electric fly zapper and an overpriced hair dye kit! Just browsing the “specialty items” packed onto the shelves was plenty of entertainment for an evening! It had all the trappings of a European café, except for the fact that it was located in the industrial section of a small island in the developing world (and the creamed corn!) The owner, a cute Taiwanese lady in her mid 50’s would perk right up when we came in (I don’t think they got many customers) and excitedly point to their specialty breads and announce the names. My favorite was the “gween tea muffins”. The food was very good, and the atmosphere very nice. Last semester we sat on the pink floral couches, ate dinner, and vented about how crazy things at work were, vacation plans, any drama or excitement on the island. But we knew it couldn’t last long, and it didn’t. Yesterday when we looked inside the shelves were empty, even the creamed corn was gone! What a tragedy!

Today I got a Marshallese drivers license. Susan needed one too, so we went together. It was quite an interesting experience. There's no background check, no driving test (which explains why drivers are SO bad here!), no driver's training, no check to see if we had a previous license, or even if we're in the country legally! Just show your passport, get your payment form, go across town to the capital to pay your $20, then come back, take a picture, wait 5 minutes for lamination, and you're finished. While we were waiting at the police station for the picture and lamination, the prisoners were having a ukulele sing-a-long behind the door with a sign above it that said "May peace prevail on earth!" It was a really quite a unique experience. We never even filled out a form, the guy just gave us an interview: hair color? weight? height? Village you live in? and typed it right into the typewriter. Actually, he didn't even ask for my weight, he just guessed, and he was about 40 pounds underweight, but I don't mind. I don't even think they kept a copy of our information or any record that they gave us driver's licenses!! Unbelievable!!

Well, that’s about all I have time for tonight, I’d better get going home. I’ll write more again soon!


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