There are many quirky things that I love about being back here in the Marshall Islands. On my walk to church this morning, for example, random kids came up and “high-fived” me. Also, as I was walking by the police station, the passenger door of a taxi opened (while the taxi was in motion) so one of my former students could yell a quick hello to me. I guess the window was broken, so opening the door was the only good alternative in order to greet me. Funny thing is, the police and the taxi driver thought nothing of it! Then there was a guy who was still drunk from the night before (this was 12:15pm on Sunday) who would ordinarily have been too shy to talk to me in English had he been sober. He said, “Excuse me, can I help you?” to which I replied “Good morning!” He repeated, “Excuse me, can I help you?” to which I said, “Uh, no thanks!” He said, “Ok, alright.” Then there were the dogs that started fighting with each other right outside the door of the chapel during testimony meeting today. They caused such a racket that it was hard to hear the person speaking. And of course, there were adorable kids everywhere. That’s one thing that takes a lot of getting used to. When I go back to the states I keep looking around wondering why there are so many adults and not very many children. The contrast with what I’m used to now is stark.
We sent off our 2+2 students at the airport in August just before school began, which was fun. We had dinner with all of them first, then saw them off from the airport. Most of them have gone to University of Hawaii at Hilo and BYU Hawaii. The reports that they send back are that they are really working hard to keep up academically, but they are learning a lot and liking being out there. We’re working with quite a group of other students who are planning to transfer in January and next August. We have some really bright and shining stars among our students at CMI, and it’s such a pleasure to help them take steps toward achieving their dreams.
This semester I have a new house and a new office. I’m quite pleased with both. I moved over to the Chutaro’s compound, which is great for its close proximity to work and town, but has a lot more green space and tranquility than most places in town (Uliga). I have a view of the lagoon out my kitchen window, and a wonderful little porch on which I’ve planted a variety of vegetables. So far the tomatoes are the ones doing the best. I also planted some morning glories which have grown well and I’m hoping to coax the vines to climb up the beams from the ground to my porch. They are such beautiful flowers. I just hope I’m still around by the time they bloom! My new office is also great. It’s about twice as big as my old one, and has a gorgeous view of the sea, framed by palm fronds. Every once in a while, when I’m working, I look up and am reminded that I need to get outside and enjoy the environment more!
This semester I’m sitting in on a science class taught by my colleague Dean. He is such a brilliant man, yet quirky in a science geek type of way. I say this affectionately since I myself am a science geek. He has a PhD from MIT in Marine Biology, and has been monitoring the health of the corals here in the Marshall Islands for over 7 years. It’s such a treat to be able to learn from him in this “Integrated Coastal Management” class. There are so many interesting things that I’m learning about the coastal and marine environments. I never realized how complex and interesting these issues are. This is a place where the state of the environment is directly connected to human quality of life. Our labs for the class so far have included snorkeling in one of the dirtiest parts of the lagoon to check out how coral are adapting to polluted environments, and a trip to the dump to see the sand dredging operation there as well as to check out the state of solid waste disposal on our Island. Dean goes to the dump regularly to scavenge things like old flip-flops, garbage can lids, and scrap wood for building bookcases, so he was an excellent tour guide. I'm looking forward to learning a lot more interesting things during this class.
There are some new employees at the College that have joined our social circle. The college suddenly hired about 7 men, most of whom are single like us. So it’s good to have some new faces and to catch up with old friends. Really, we’re so lucky to have such good colleagues here, old and new. We took a trip out to Eneko Island during our long weekend in September for Suzie’s birthday. It was great to relax in such a peaceful place. The snorkeling in the lagoon was AMAZING!! We tried to get out across the reef on the Oceanside, but it was sharp and the waves pummeled us against the jagged rocks. We tried later at high tide, and made it out through a few caverns in the reef rock below us. We saw a lot of jellyfish and saw a reef shark head-on, coming towards us. It was enough to convince us to go back to the lagoon again. On the way back we swam with a school of about 35 Hellers Barricuda and also found a beautiful neon-blue giant clam. It was pretty cool.
I’ve been trying to take care of myself more than I usually do. I have issues with codependence, which means that I take care of everyone else too much and don’t nurture myself enough. So I’ve made some resolutions about this for this new school year. I have never been one who likes to indulge, I grew up with such puritan values. But gardening and going for a massage once a week are the two things I have decided to do for my sanity’s sake. My massage therapist, Antoinette is a wonderful Filipino lady that I really like a lot. I should be quiet and rest during the massage, but usually we end up talking the whole time. She is a hard worker and a good hearted lady. Talking to her makes me want to be a better person. Her husband died when she was very young (she was pregnant with her third child at the time) leaving her to raise three kids on her own. She finished cosmetology and massage school and has sacrificed so much to support them. They are college age now, and she has come to the Marshall Islands so that she can make enough money to support them in higher education. Her eldest son just graduated as an Architectural Engineer, her daughter is studying to become a nurse, and her youngest son is finishing high school. They take care of each other while she is gone, and it’s clear that there is a lot of love in their family. I’m learning so much about the Phillipines from her that I really want to go there now. I just found out that it only costs 12500 frequent flier miles each way to go to Manila, so I’m scheming about next summer. I remember that there was a Filipino family who lived up the street from us during my childhood in California. They had teenagers that were sometimes a bit wild, and I remember hearing the neighbors speak derogatory things about “those darn Filipinos.” I’m ashamed to say I grew up thinking that Filipinos were troublemakers because of this experience. Since coming here to the Marshall Islands, I have learned that this stereotype is completely untrue! The Filipinos that I have become friends with here are the most kind, industrious, and polite people I’ve ever met. I’m so grateful to have this experience which has opened my eyes and my mind. I have learned that there is both good and bad in every culture and group of people, including many groups to which I belong. I am often ashamed about the pushy, arrogant way that we Americans sometimes behave in the world, but then again, there are many good-hearted, generous Americans as well! I hope that I can be counted among the later group.
Well, it’s getting late, so I have to sign off. I’ll write again soon!