Saturday, April 25, 2009

Marshallese Moments

It has been a month full of very classic Marshallese moments that I would like to share. Luckily I had my camera handy to catch a glimpse of the funny yet typically Marshallese things that happen around me on a regular basis.

The first incident happened as I was walking home after dark from my office. Internet service is still quite new to the island and it’s expensive to buy internet service for home, so after work hours, I frequently stay at work to virtually keep up with the world outside this island. I was on my way home one night (a short 5 minute walk from the College) and was somewhat vigilant about dogs (they get meaner after dark) and strangers lurking in shadows. I’ve never had any bad experiences with strangers, except occasional conversations with Lino, a mentally-ill man who lives at the Catholic church in between the college and my house, who occasionally gets verbally aggressive (but never violent). Anyway, I was half-way home when I saw something gigantic coming out of the darkness, running down the middle of the road. Right down the middle of the road emerged a gigantic hog, running quickly away from something, toward me. He crossed the road and ran into someone’s yard out of sight. Now this would be no big deal if we were in an outer-island, but this is considered “downtown!” There are even traffic jams on the road outside my house during rush hour. But that doesn’t stop this pig from running wild. Sure enough, the other day I was on my way to work and he came running up the road right in the middle of rush hour! (see photo) Majuro is such a strange mix of rural and urban life!

Another crazy thing that happened this week at CMI. I had just finished Math class when I stopped by the science lab next door to give a message to my colleague, Dean. He and two students were just wrapping up their Marine Science lab, in which they were dissecting a Tuna and a Unicorn fish. They happily showed me some fish intestines and eyeballs. Balos (one student) was busy working on the fish with his scalpel. Aside from Dean’s instruction about fish anatomy, this activity was not too much different from daily life (Marshallese young men regularly catch and clean fish). Then I looked up and saw Balos’ lab partner Jefferson, who had brought a lemon to class which he was squeezing onto the slices of sashimi that Balos was taking off the fish and happily munching them! Sashimi is a Marshallese specialty, so dissection day is synonymous with lunchtime! I just shook my head in amusement. Only in the Marshall Islands! I wish I had my camera at the time so I could have captured the scene, but by the time I got back down to the lab, the tuna was the only one left in the room.

Tonight I went for pizza with some friends, including my two new colleagues from New Zealand. While we were waiting for some other friends near campus, Helen was remarking how her mother would freak out if she were here to see all the children playing in the road (parents nowhere in sight), some dragging each other down the street while sitting on a scrap of plastic (like a sled without a hill and without snow). Then, right as she was saying that, we looked up and saw a man holding a downed power line (I assume it was live) in his hands. Evidently a tree had fallen onto it and brought it down, so he was holding it up over his head to enable cars to drive underneath it! Oh my goodness, life here is a bit different than it is where most of us come from, but it makes for great stories!

One really cool thing that happened a few weeks ago was that two Beaked Whales were spotted in Majuro’s lagoon, in different locations. Mike, Peter, Isabel and I went down on Friday afternoon to swim with one of them. It was between 10-12 feet long, and the most beautiful creature! It was very friendly and curious. It would swim up towards us from below and then breach right next to us. It was just absolutely amazing! The Marshallese boy who was out there swimming with us (who lives nearby) said that it had been hanging out by itself near the buoy for about 2 or 3 months. That was not a good sign. It should have been out in the deep water where there are squid to eat and other whales to socialize with. Dean says that he thinks that perhaps the whale was in hospice here in the lagoon, because two days later it washed up on the beach dead. We were pretty saddened by the news, but grateful to have had the experience of meeting him while he was alive. I took my underwater camera and got some fairly decent pictures, as did Peter with his camera, and Dean with his super-high-tech underwater camera. Dean found that the whale liked to play with plastic bags, so he would locate some colorful bags and bring them out to his newfound friend. He will be missed!

Just before Easter, Stacey invited Suze and me over to her place for dinner and egg-dying. Friends and family from home had sent her 2 Paaz egg-dying kits. It was the first time I have dyed eggs in about 15 years, and my first experience using Paaz kits (we were always too frugal at my house for that, we always used a few drops of food coloring). Well, it was a fun and entertaining evening. Both my friends are much more artistic egg-decorators than I am. Something has gotten into Suze lately. Ever since she started dating Rob, she has become so much cheekier. Her cheekiness makes life amusing. Well, this time she pulled out some special cellophane egg-decorations that go around the outside of an egg. When exposed to heat, the cellophane contracts and fits the shape of the egg. So Suze decided to try it in the microwave (without reading the directions). Everything was great and she was watching through the microwave window when suddenly there was a loud explosion and she jumped backward. Upon opening the microwave, we found that Suze’s egg had become yellow and white sludge all over the microwave. Upon closer reading of the directions, there was no mention of a microwave (for reasons we now understand). Luckily no one was hurt, and it only took Suze 25 minutes to clean up Stacey’s microwave.

I’ve been volunteering at the weekly basketball practice that the Marshall Islands Basketball Federation puts on for girls on Saturday mornings. Giff Johnson, the editor of the Marshall Islands Journal, and a really fantastic guy, coaches the practices. It’s great exercise, a good chance to make new friends, and also to build the confidence of local young women, who don’t usually get much playing time on the male-dominated neighborhood courts. Giff is anticipating getting together a women’s team to represent the Marshall Islands in the Micronesian games next summer. I can’t play on the team because I have not been a resident of the RMI for 7 years, but I’m looking forward to practicing with them.

After basketball one day the weather was so beautiful that I couldn’t resist taking my snorkel and my camera and riding my bike out to the tide pools by the bridge. They are on the ocean side, so they get a great assortment of ocean creatures that swim in at high tide, but at low tide you can snorkel in the pools without getting battered by the waves. It was just beautiful. I rested on the beach for a while and enjoyed a few minutes of solitude before heading out to work on the program review report that our Liberal Arts and Sciences department is responsible for producing. Since then things have just gotten busier and busier at work and I’ve been spending more and more weekend time at work or working at home. We only have two more weeks left in the semester before finals, yet there’s so much to be done! (Including 20 transferring students who need advising on everything from admissions to financial aid to housing before they move oversees). Then in 3 weeks it will all come to a screeching halt for 2 ½ months and we’ll rest our brains and bodies. It’s a pretty extreme contrast, and not too good for the sanity (I can vouch for that!), but I love my job, and to live and work in a place as interesting and challenging as this island is a treat. Well, it’s late and I have a stack of 30 tests that I still have to grade. I’ll try to write at least once more before leaving for the summer. The destination is Southeast Asia, but the itinerary is still up in the air due to civil unrest in several countries and problems with my friend Ray getting her one-pass miles converted into a ticket. But it will all come together, I’m sure. More on that later…