Sunday, December 14, 2008

This week I just feel like jumping up and down and singing at the top of my lungs. Why? Because after weeks of malnourishment, the shipments of green vegetables came to our island again! For about 3 weeks last month, there was not a head of romaine lettuce or even bok choy or kale or spinach or anything to be found on this entire island! The produce section of Payless Supermarket looked like a war-zone with pathetic decomposing fruit and only two kinds of vegetables: pale green cabbages and local cherry tomatoes, hundreds of them! That may not seem like a big deal, but since the time I was born, my family has eaten green salad in one form or another every single day. So what happens when the airplane doesn’t come bringing veggies from distant lands? Well, I didn’t feel very healthy.
I tried to improvise. I made so much Chinese Cabbage and Ramen salad that I almost turned into a giant cabbage myself. The frustrating thing is that every week I would make the trip down to Payless only to be disappointed time and again. So the Friday that the ship came in with the container of Veggies and they finally stocked the produce section again, I had a hard time containing my excitement in the shop. I was so grateful that I bought types of vegetables that I’ve never even eaten before. Life is good again!!

The semester is going full swing. I totally love my students, they are so sweet and eager to please. When I’m having a bad day or I’m frustrated about working 12 hours per day to keep up with all the things I’ve said “yes” to, all I have to do is go to class and interact with them and I feel rejuvenated again. My students this semester (as in the past) have very, very cool and unique names. Among some of my favorite names are male students Bertnie, Kimi, and Cece. I have both Nosie and Noji in class this semester, as well as Creamson, Elmi, Loney, Framey, Kone, and Hernest. I just wish you could all meet my students and see how fun and wonderful they are. I also have two students from mainland China in my classes, who are really wonderful as well. The cultural contrast is amazing, though! I can’t believe that on American demographic information they group “Asian/Pacific Islanders” together. The cultures could not be more different! My Chinese students approach life from such a different angle than my Marshallese students. For example, while Marshallese students all work together reviewing their homework (everything is done in communities here, there is not really a concept of individualism in Marshallese culture), my Chinese students are eager to charge ahead and do their own thing. They are very independent and don’t want to be confined by collaborating in a group. Most Chinese students grew up in crowded cities like Shanghai or Beijing where life is a fight for survival. It’s a sharp contrast to students coming from isolated outer islands with less than 1000 people and very simple traditional life and not much exposure to the outside world. It’s both challenging and fun to design lessons to try to bridge the differences and teach effectively to a mix of students with vastly different background experiences.

This reminds me, I received some really great answers to a test question recently. It was a probability test, and the question read: “You are taking a multiple-choice science test, and there are five possible answers for each question. If you don’t know the answer to a question and you take a random guess, what is the probability that you’ll get the question correct? Is it very likely?” Well I was happy that most of my students correctly calculated the probability and then explained that 20% is not very likely, but there is a chance it could happen. But my favorite answer came from one very bright student. She correctly calculated the probability and then wrote, “Oh yes, I’m likely to get the right answer because I want to get a hundred on my test and because I like to know and learn!” It was just absolutely so sincere and guile-less.

A few weeks ago I gave my very first talk in church in Marshallese. It took me 4 hours to write and edit it and it lasted 10 minutes in church. It also doubled my vocabulary and increased the church members’ expectations for my language ability. Perhaps that was a mistake because now they think I’m completely fluent. Well, I’m not but I’m getting there. I was so, so, so nervous. The feeling of relief after I sat down was wonderful. My friend Annie helped me edit my talk and steered me away from using vocabulary words which could sound like vulgarity if mispronounced from the pulpit. I was very grateful! I now have a responsibility as a Young Women teacher, and I teach ½ in English, ½ in Marshallese (“jimatin im jimatin”).

I have had many recent experiences with alcoholism that trouble me. There are such problems here with alcoholism! I usually eat my lunch in my office at work, but one day last week I had a tuna-fish sandwich and didn’t want my office hours just after my lunch to smell of tuna fish. So I went down to the reef flat along the Oceanside next to my building and found a rock to sit on and eat. I thought it was a harmless place, but now I realize that the Oceanside is the place where the seedy stuff happens (drinking and sex). When my female students saw me coming up from the shore after lunch, they looked shocked that I had been down there and asked what I was doing. Ooops, I guess I won’t be eating on the reef flat anymore! While I was down there, one of my students came over to talk to me out there. He’s one of my brightest students and has so much academic potential. As is customary, I offered him some of my sandwich (it is proper in Marshallese culture to share food with anyone in the area). He thanked me but declined, saying he had been drinking. It was 11:30am! He told me that if he doesn’t drink a little bit, his body gets agitated and he can’t sit still and focus in class. He said he has been drinking since he was 8 years old when his older brothers first gave him alcohol. Now instead of eating, when he’s hungry he just drinks. He told me he knows he needs help. I told him about the AA group that meets at CMI on Tuesday nights, as well as the counselors we have at school. It just makes me really sad to see. Right now it’s just himself that he’s hurting, but I worry about his future wife and kids. I have watched the effects that alcoholism has on families here and it’s just tragic. A good friend of mine from church has a husband with a terrible problem. For the past 1 ½ months, every two weeks at payday time he disappears and drinks himself into oblivion. When he returns 2 days later, there is no money for food or transportation so that the kids can go to school. She is left to beg for food from neighbors, and I try to help out whenever I can by taking a bag of rice for their family. Her brother is also an alcoholic to the extent that he sells their furniture and the kids’ clothing to fund his addiction. My friend watches out for her nieces and nephews as well as her own kids. It’s just heartbreaking to watch. But I’m continually amazed by the resilience of the kids in the situation. My friend’s teenage daughter keeps a smile on her face and goes about life, never feeling sorry for herself, but just trusting that God will provide for them. I hope that all the kids in this situation are as resilient and courageous!

One of the things that I love about the new place that I’m living is my commute to work. It only takes me about 5 minutes to ride my bike down the back road to work. At 7:30am as I’m riding to work, there are women out in their yard raking and cleaning up any debris that blew down the night before, children all pressed and proper in their school uniforms walking to school, CMI dorm residents out on the porch drinking their coffee and waving to me, and stray dogs running around trying to find breakfast. It’s just a wonderful slice of life. A good way to start the day!

A few weeks ago we went reef walking and had a good time. At low tide, the reef at the end of the island is exposed and you can walk to islands that are usually separated from the end of ours (Rita side) by walking across the reef. I went with my new friend Stacey (a clinical therapist who recently arrived at CMI) as well as Peter and Mike, who moved to Majuro in August and also work at the college. We had a nice time, found a baby giant clam, met some adorable and lively Bikinian children who live on the island of Ejit, and swam around a bit. It was nice.

There's so much more to share, but I have to get going. I'll fill you in on the end of the semester after I finish writing and grading final exams this week. See you then!