The semester has finally ended! Yahoo! For some reason, while the fall semester flies by, the Spring Semester (which was actually shorter than it was supposed to be) has dragged on and on. I’m so thankful to be finished and have prospect of a change of pace ahead. Graduation was wonderful. Now that I’ve been here for almost 3 years, I have good relationships with more and more of the students. I would guess that about 40% of the students in the graduating class of 2009 are former students of mine. It was such a happy occasion that by the end of the night, my cheek muscles hurt from smiling so much.
Part of what makes life here interesting is that one can never count on technology to work the way it should. One day a couple of weeks ago, the technology in my life all ganged up on me on the same day. I woke up in the morning to discover that my phone line was dead. So when I got to work, I called NTA to request service. Next I arrived at my office to find that my computer froze when I tried to start it (now this is worrying me…my colleague Dean’s hard-drive melted down taking everything with it, and I’m worried that this may be an omen). I powered it down and then turned it on again, only to discover that the internet in our building needed to be reset in order for it to work. Frequent power outages here take their toll on electronics. As there had been a power-outage the night prior, the air conditioner in my office was no longer working and neither was the internet. So I spent 15 minutes running around campus looking for someone from IT and someone from Physical plant to reset the switches in our building to enable things to work again. I went to use the copier (which is a complete lemon anyway), and of course in addition to jamming during every use, it now has an electronic malfunction and also freezes during startup. After running here, there and everywhere trying to resolve all these problems, I vented to my students, who were studying at the conference table outside my office. “The technology is ganging up on me today!” I exclaimed. They all smiled a bit sheepishly (as is typical of Marshallese), and Malachi suggested, “Perhaps you need to pray more!” which is also a very unique and typical Marshallese response to problems. Yes, perhaps I need intervention from a higher source than IT and the physical plant!! Ha ha ha!
Speaking of technology failures in the Marshall Islands….I would like to share with you an excerpt from an email which I received this week. I am not making this up:
”Iakwe CMI COMMUNITY,
This is to inform you that the CMI Basketball Court is temporarily closed for urgent and critical repair works to its “rusted” lighting arms. One of the lighting arms fell off last night luckily no one was hurt or injured. Therefore if you are walking by the basketball court area, we advise you to be “CAUTIOUS” at all times and avoid walking too close to the basketball court area.
Komool tata for your understanding and cooperation,
Safety and Security Office”
What the!?! At first I though perhaps this was a joke, but no, sure enough, when I walked home that day, there was yellow police tape around the ENTIRE front of CMI where the basketball court is. This is where we will held graduation last night! Luckily they took all the lights off the top of the other poles before they fell on someone during graduation.
Last month we had a Young Women’s activity at church. The purpose was to teach the girls how to make some traditional Marshallese Local food (and to teach me how too). Most people here eat rice and fried chicken, which is not local and not very healthy. So I was excited to learn some authentic meals. Well, what we cooked was called “Millenium” and it’s a new recipe concocted by the daughter of one of the young women leaders. We cooked for about 4 hours! It was a mixture of boiled, mashed breadfruit (the consistency of mashed potatoes), grated coconut & coconut milk, lots of sugar (not exactly a local ingredient), and tapioca starch. It tasted good. I don’t think I’ll ever have the patience to cook it again (after all, it takes at least 3 hours to make). But the very exciting thing is that I got to try grating coconut all by myself. Every Marshallese family has a little stool with a metal coconut scraper on the end of it. You grate the coconut by sitting on the stool and scrapping the coconut with both hands and a rocking motion. It looked like fun until I tried to fit myself on the stool and realized that coconut scraping stools are made for people who are about 5 feet tall, not 6 feet tall like me. I sat down and my legs were so long they completely obstructed the scraper. That did NOT work. So I scooted back to try to find the scraper and fell off the back side of the stool. Definitely NOT! I tried kneeling on the stool, but then I couldn’t get the right amount of torque on the coconut to scrape it correctly plus I was completely unbalanced and unwieldy. I was about to give up on the whole idea when one of the other leaders suggested I sit side-saddle. Well, finally I found something workable and managed to scrape a bit. But it takes talent to scrape all the white coconut meat evenly and I ended up scraping little bits of brown shell into the beautiful white pile of coconut shavings below. Well, it was a good learning experience.
This will likely be my last blog for a little while. Tomorrow I’ll embark on a 10 week trip to Southeast Asia. Ray finally got her tickets and we bought ourselves tickets to Borneo and over to Singapore. After that we’ll use ground transportation for most of the rest of the journey. The itinerary is definitely not set in stone, which is a great way to go, because you never know what great stuff you’ll find along the way that you want to stop and do. I’ve posted my tentative route map. I’ll explore the Philippines for 2 weeks on my own while Ray finishes school. Around June 5th she’ll fly to Manila and we’ll take off for Borneo, Singapore, Peninsular Malaysia, (possibly Sumatra for a few days), and train from the South to the North of Thailand stopping along the way. After that, she’ll have to fly back home because she’s starting a new job in Mexico shortly thereafter. After she leaves, I’ll have 3 weeks on my own again, during which I hope to cross from Northern Thailand into Laos, take a boat down the Mekong River into Luang Prabang, bus across into Vietnam near the de-milatarized zone, train/bus down from central to Southern Vietnam to Ho Chi Mihn City, and loop back through Cambodia. If time permits, I really, really, really would like to spend a week in Myanmar, but we’ll see how things go. The military generals are acting up at the moment and have transferred Aung San Su Kyi from house arrest to prison. She is an amazing woman of courage and grace!! She epitomizes the courage and grace of many Burmese people, who I would very much like to meet. Hopefully things will calm down a bit before then. It’s going to be the trip of a lifetime! I can’t wait!!