Sunday, May 11, 2008

There are plusses and minuses to being surrounded by “free-range children.” I have written here several times about the much more lax parenting style here. Well, having so much freedom and very little structure is probably healthier for the kids (as opposed to being over-scheduled and locked down as many children in America are). But when it comes to organized activities such as church, free-range children just can’t cope (and neither can their parents and grandparents!) Today was mothers’ day, and the little hellions at church were in fine form! The were running up and down the isles, showing absolute disrespect for all adults present, running out the door, down the street, returning with corn nuts and noisily eating them during the service, etc... Meanwhile where are their fathers and mothers? Sitting quietly ignoring their antics and giving them money to buy the corn-nuts! Ok, this is unfair because there are a few families with exceptionally well-behaved children (well, one or two) but in general, the scene was chaos. But no one seemed to mind. The assortment of 5-6 year old girls sitting next to me (far from their families) seemed puzzled when I told them to “jab keroro” (don’t talk) during prayers and sacrament. It’s usually a bit chaotic, but today seemed worse than normal. Maybe it’s a concerted effort on the kids’ part to make their mothers regret becoming mothers!!

That reminded me about an experience from my own family. When we were little, my brother and 2 sisters and I were usually well behaved at church but saved the hellion antics for when we got home. I remember for about 7 consecutive years my mother told us that her only wish was to have a peaceful Mothers’ Day Sunday without any fights. And it took us 7 years to give her one. I will never forget the glorious day it finally happened, she was on cloud-9. And all the while the people at church thought that the Mitchell kids were such angels! Ha!! Happy Mother’s Day mom!! Aren’t you glad we all turned out somewhat normal in the end? (and we all love each other now!)

My plans for this summer are taking shape, and I’m so excited! My friend George came to the rescue and invited me to stay the weekend in Bristol on my layover between San Francisco and South Africa. We have been friends since we served missions together in 2000 in South Africa, and it will be great to catch up a bit. When I arrive in South Africa I’ll hang out with 3 fantastic friends in Joburg (that’s short for Johannesburg) and then take a road trip to Durban with my ex-boyfriend, Mbuso. We've always been good friends and haven’t seen each other since I was there last time in 2004. He has such a wacky sense of humor; I'm looking forward to laughing alot. Then I’ll probably head up to Zululand to see Mbuso’s mom Lindiwe. She was my South African mum before I even got to know Mbuso and she’s such a sweetheart! I can’t wait!! She is the nurse manager at a hospital in a rural village called Mbongolwane set in the beautiful countryside with rolling hills of sugarcane and traditional round thatched houses. From there I’m hoping to catch a bus up the Malawi via Mozambique. It’s a part of Africa I’ve never seen before and I’ve heard the ride is beautiful and scenic. My friend Ireen is Malawian and I can’t wait to see her and meet her kids and family!! Though I’ve known her for about 8 years, I’ve never met her children, so I’m really thrilled. Then it’s back to Joburg for some last minute partying. Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday will be happening while I’m in South Africa, so I’m sure there will be some fantastic celebrations! Then I’ll head back to Michigan to visit with some friends, eat the most mouth-watering Pad Thai in the world at my favorite Laotian restaurant (Banh Na), and get the restoration of Daisy (my 1971 VW Beetle) underway. Perhaps a quick road trip up to Northern NY for my 10 year college reunion, and then home for a few weeks relaxing with the family in California (maybe with a quick stop through Salt Lake to see my sister and her family) and then back to Majuro. It’s going to be a wonderful break! While I’m going East to Africa, Susan and Isabel will go West and South respectively. Susan is headed to Thailand for a TESOL certificate course and then home to North Dakota for a little bit, and Isabel is headed home to LA and then to Peru, Columbia, Panama, and Costa Rica for her summer vacation. We’re going to have lots to catch up on at the end of our trips.

When I get back to Majuro in August, I’ll be moving to a new apartment, and I’ll also move to a new office in the brand new Math/Science/Nursing building. The new office is about twice the size of the one that Peder ( and I currently share. Poor Peder has been such a good sport. I was supposed to move out of this office at the beginning of last semester, but the new building was nowhere near functional (what a surprise!!). So Peder good-naturedly let me stay and share the office with him. It has been wonderful to have an officemate, but we’re both such talkers that we get going and really distract each other a lot. It’s going to be very strange not to have someone constantly sitting there to say, “You will NOT believe the email I just got from so-n-so” or “Hey, guess what?” I’m happy for Peder to have his own space, but it will take a little adjusting. Susan and I have decided that we need to find Peders to marry someday. Of course not this one, he’s the same age as my father and already has a wonderful wife Linda. It’s such a shame they don’t have any sons!

Well, that’s all I can think of for now. Finals week is approaching, so if I get any entertaining answers on any finals, I’ll let you know. Unfortunately I’m not teaching Survey of Math this semester, and that’s where most of the funny comments came from, but we’ll see if anything good turns up this semester. Happy Mother’s Day!

Friday, May 02, 2008

There is a song by one of my favorite artists, Tunde Baiyewu, called “Great Romantic” that I was listening to the other day and it seemed appropriate for my life at this point:

Hey, so you threw your heart right in,
And it turned out less than perfect,
A losing streak is starting in your mind.
You let yourself believe the pain
Is never gonna be worth it.
Don’t beat yourself up
Know that you were never wrong for wishful thinking.
So now you’ve lost the battle, s
hould we just cross out your name and let you sink?

You’ve got me feeling like the last surviving great romantic
Just stop the dreaming and the world stops spinning around
You feel foolish ‘cause love never turns out like you planned it
Stop believing and the world stops letting you down

So you had to let it go, It clearly wasn’t working
New love leaves you trembling, you hide behind the door
So unsure of what you used to know
So now you think your every move ten steps ahead
And you are frozen. Caught inside yourself,
You’re drowning as the anger overflows….

You’ve got me feeling like the last surviving great romantic
Just stop the dreaming and the world stops spinning around.
You feel foolish ‘cause love never turns out like you planned it
Stop believing and the world stops letting you down...

With that introduction, I promise that this blog entry will not be depressing. It's just that I’ve been reminded (again) that love doesn’t turn out like you plan it. It’s always more complicated, because the people involved are complex and complicated. I guess the risk you take when you write about personal stuff on a blog is that you set yourself up for public disappointment when the script of your life turns out to be more like a tragic drama instead of the happy romantic comedy it began as. Without going into lots of detail, I’m single again, which is not the direction that I thought I was heading, but it’s ok for now (after all, I’ve spent more of my life single than attached to someone and it’s usually less stressful).

Things at work have been extraordinarily stressful (not really anything new!) and as a result I’ve gone back and forth about 30 times on whether or not I will stay here in the Marshall Islands for another year. I’ve changed my mind on a daily basis. I really want to stay. I love my students and faculty colleagues and next semester will be a great chance to evaluate some of the changes I’ve led in our curriculum to hopefully better serve our students. But I have been under so much stress and anxiety from the environment here that it has been taking a toll on my physical health and I have been unsure if I’m willing to risk nervous breakdown in order to stay. The conclusion that I came to is that it’s the right thing to renew my contract for one more year. After a summer away I think that I’ll have the mental/spiritual/physical stamina to face another year. Hopefully I can avoid being so politically involved and focus more on my students.

I can’t believe that we only have about 3 more weeks until school is over! We have a group of about 15 students transferring to Universities in Hawaii and we’ve been trying overcome the glitches that inevitably happen along the application process. Our students are considered US Nationals, but no one really knows that, and they lack a lot of the things that other US Nationals have, such as US Social Security numbers, US Passports, etc…They have most of the privileges of US citizens, despite the fact that very few people on the mainland even know that the Marshall Islands exist! I’m so excited for our students, but saddened that I’ll leave the island in 3 weeks and have to say goodbye to them perhaps forever. As I have served them, I’ve grown to love them very much.

I have had interesting experiences that have reminded me how different life here is. There are both plusses and minuses about living in the Marshall Islands. The first experience is that about a month ago Ken Laupepa, a member of our church had a severe stroke and has been in the hospital for over a month now. I feel very close to their family because of their generosity to me and the way they helped me to adjust to life in a Marshallese speaking branch (they are from Tuvalu, so they are English speakers like me). During the time that their father has been in the hospital, the whole family has moved over there. Ken’s daughter Lynda who is a good friend of mine has not been able to go to work since she has been sleeping there so that she can turn her dad over every few hours. Hospitals here are very different than the states. The family feeds their own patient, washes them, does the laundry, sleeps on the floor under/beside the bed on mats, etc… It has been an exhausting month for them, so I try to stop by each week or so and bring a bit of food because they don’t have much time to go cook. They always greet me with a smile although I can see the fatigue in their faces. Hopefully very soon (and with lots of physical therapy) their dad/granddad will be well enough to go home. Though he’s in the “intensive care ward” there are still children running through the halls and people everywhere. But the lax atmosphere can be a blessing, too. Lucky for me, they don’t enforce strict visiting hours, since I usually don’t make it in time. But the nurses are kind and never give me any problems. My colleague Dave also got an amoeba last week and landed in the emergency room, so I had 2 visits to make at the hospital. He landed in the emergency room and witnessed some pretty scary/traumatic things. I’m just hoping that I don’t ever need to be a patient there. I’m glad to just keep making visits to others.

Another thing that is a bit surreal about living here is the lack of security at the capital building (pictured here). I was asked by a family in Florida if I could drop off their passport renewal application for their adopted Marshallese daughter. I was happy to do so, and I went down to the capital when I received the materials from them. While the US Embassy on Majuro has a tank-proof fence and security who grill you before letting you in, the RMI capital has gates thrown wide open and doors propped open. There’s no security officer in sight (I’m sure they are stationed closer to the offices of the president and senators). I walked right in and up to the Attorney General’s office with the paperwork. The lady at the desk explained that their days for accepting applications were Monday and Tuesday and that since it was Wednesday, I would have to come back next week. I asked if I could just leave the forms with her for next week and she had a change of heart and told me she would make an exception. The passport will be finished by Friday! Wow!?! Only 3 days turnaround time? Amazing! I offered to pay the expedite fee, but she said, don’t worry, it’s a special overseas case, I’ll waive the fee.” Wow, I was so pleased. The passport was ready on time and looked great. I was so impressed. I have come to expect that there will be problems with almost anything I try to do (that’s just the way things go here), but it’s such a wonderful surprise when things go more efficiently than planned!

Yesterday was May Day holiday (RMI Independence Day) and I was out in the neighborhood when the fireworks began. I had forgotten all about those, so it was fun to go to the Lagoonside with my whole neighborhood, including hundreds of children who all kept exclaiming, "Whoa! Wow! Wow!" over and over in unison. It was pretty cute and the mirror effect of the fireworks in the Lagoon was really beautiful. I was thinking about how amazing it must be for outer-islanders to come to Majuro for the first time and witness something so spectacular. It's little experiences like this that make my life out here very rich.

I am looking forward to getting a little break for the summer. I will fly to California to see my family for about a week after graduation, and then I’m on my way back to South Africa. It has been 4 years since I was last there, and I’m so grateful for the chance to go back and see people that I love very much. I am hoping to be able to go up to Malawi where my dear friend Ireen Sikanyika lives. I am unsure about the trip there, though, since Zimbabwe lies between Johannesburg and Malawi, and things are pretty tense there at the moment. I’ve always wanted to see Zimbabwe as well. The people I know from Zim are so wonderful, and it has beautiful landscape. Well, that’s true for most of sub-Saharan Africa. I hope I get the chance to go up there and see a little more of the continent during my stay there.

After that I’m headed back to Michigan where I will visit friends and put some time and attention into my 1971 Beetle, Daisy. She’s in need of a lot of work, and finally I’ve saved enough to restore her. I’m also hopeful to make a road trip up to my 10 year (gulp!) college reunion in upstate New York in July. Then back to California for a few weeks and back to Majuro. I feel so disconnected from myself these days that I really hope that visiting all these places and people among whom I have lived and loved will help me remember who I am and put myself back together somewhat.

Well, it’s getting late, so I’ll stop here. I’ll write again soon, though! Hope life is treating you all well!