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Humid for the Holidays

overcast 81 °F

Yokwe, Yokwe,

It’s been awhile. I fear that these long hiatuses may be an unavoidable reality during my journey this year. I apologize and ask that you are kind to me, as much as there seems to be “nothing to do here” I am remarkably busy. The longer I put off these entries, the more daunting the task seems. I will do my best to cover the most exciting parts.

Firstly, the holiday season is upon us. I am a big fan of the holidays; I love the warm spirit that goes along with the cold weather, and the happy holiday songs around every corner. I am a huge fan of decorating and holiday traditions. Living in the tropics is really throwing me off this year. It seems very bizarre to me that we are in fact in December.. I’m realizing that I really do mark my understanding of the passage of time through the seasons. I have always lived in a place that had some sort of seasonal change (even when I lived in Georgia…winter felt different than summer). My New York residence for the past 11 years of my life has made my bones ready for chilly, snow covered nights. The sticky heat does not coincide well with Christmas music in my opinion. It has turned into the rainy season so it’s generally windier and rains a lot, which is a welcomed relief from the heat. It makes the water very rough though, World Teach has been prohibiting people from being out on boats in this weather. About 5 years ago, when my field director was a volunteer, one of the volunteers on an outer island went out on his families fishing boat and was never found again. That tragedy led World Teach to be extra cautious about boat safety, understandably so. It’s very humbling to be constantly surrounded by water and to be aware of the strength water holds on this earth. I have sat on the Ocean Side (rather than lagoon side) a few nights in the past month, with the roaring 6-7 foot waves providing the background noise and scenery. The strength of each crashing wave is overwhelming. I find waves to be a fascinating thing here. They are simultaneously symbolic of both change and consistency. The pattern and repetition is something you can count on, yet the water never stays in the same place for long and doesn’t return in the same exact way ever again. Watching those waves it is easy to see how weak and temporary I am and how strong and eternal the waves are. Long before humanity found its place on the earth, waves were here, and long after humanity has ceased to be, the waves will stay. The Marshall Islands are disappearing (sea levels are rising at an alarming rate every year) it is very likely that the islands will either not exist or be uninhabitable in the next 15-20 years. No matter how temporary the land is, or people are, the waves stay constant. That being said, the strength of water can be rather scary and intimidating, which leads me to my first anecdote.

So last month, the Musical Theatre Club in Geneseo (which Erin and I were heavily involved in throughout college) had its Fall semester show. Thanks to the wonders of technology Erin and I were able to skype in and see the show, which was such a joyous and bitter sweet experience. I missed my friends, and wished that I could be there in the front row with the other alumni making a fool of myself and supporting the current club members. There is a very strong alumni following and usually the alumni will write good luck emails to the club during the long and exhausting tech week that precedes the performances. Erin and I decided to go over the top (mostly because we miss being a part of the club) and make a musical video love letter to the club. We re-wrote the lyrics to a musical theatre song “Two Nobodies in New York” and made it relevant to our lives on Majuro and a general sentiment to the club. I am very proud of it and encourage you to watch the video even if you have no idea what MTC (Musical Theatre Club) is. We spent a long time recording the videos and audio and cutting the footage. When we were filming a lot of the outdoor shots we decided to walk to a small, uninhabited island at the end of Rita (where I live). At low tide you can easily walk from the main island to the smaller islands that are sprinkled around the Majuro Atoll. Joann (my roommate and our camera woman), Erin and I forgot to check tide times and decided to head to the islands mid afternoon one Saturday. When we got there the tide was kind of high, but manageable. We decided to cross it and film quickly so we could cross back before the tide got too high. We landed on the island, goofed around and got some good shots and made our way to leave. When we returned the tide had gotten so high and strong that there was no way we could cross back to the main island (which was a tempting 20-30 feet away, so close, yet so far). We found three Marshallese men fishing on the island we were on and asked when the tide would be getting lower. They said around 7-8pm…at this point it was about 3:30…. So we accepted that we were stranded, might die out there and set to snorkeling around. The men then called us over and invited us to eat with them. It turned out that they had caught each of us a fish and started cooking it over a fire they just whipped up. They also collected 100000 coconuts of all varieties for us to eat. They rescued us, suddenly the light at the end of the tunnel got fainter and fainter and I was confident we would survive the ordeal. Eventually we waved down a man in a small boat and convinced him to take us to the main land. He was equally amazing and stopped on a small piece of land right in front of our house. It truly is a blessing to be surrounded by water everywhere you look. So this film was made in the midst of an adventure and near death experience, enjoy ! Two Ribelles in Majuro: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKWg-HC6zp0

As I mentioned before, the holiday season in the RMI is different for me than it has been in years past. Although, Thanksgiving was remarkably fun, so much so that I wasn’t as aware of everything I was missing at home (I am doubtful the same will be said of Christmas). All of the Majuro volunteers and other “ribelle” folks that are friends with my field director came to his house and we had a huge, potluck style thanksgiving. About 45 people piled into his house and had a great time. Todd agreed to make the turkey, and the large number of party goers required him to make two. Erin and I agreed to help the poor man out and slept over at his house the night before the festivities, drinking wine and cooking up turkeys up the wazoo. We also skyped in to the Macy’s Day parade thanks to Todds friend at 2:30 am while we made the first turkey. It was magical. We took naps on and off from 2:30 am- 9:00 am, waking up to baste the turkey. Side note: I have never actually been a part of the turkey making process before, it was fun. We used butter, onion, garlic, oranges and apples and it was truly amazing. During the actually party I had a blast dancing to some diva-licious Christmas music in the family room and eating way more food than is recommended. It was a great thanksgiving. I even got the chance to skype in with my family in New York and see their winter wonderland! As great as Thanksgiving was, I am concerned that Christmas is going to feel a bit more lonely. I am excited to see all of the cultural festivities here, but the Christmas music on the radio and in the grocery store (and basically everywhere I turn) is making me feel very nostalgic for home. It’s good to appreciate some of the things I take for granted every year. I’m sure this will be a Christmas that I will never forget.

I have been playing a lot of music lately on my ukulele. It’s a great way to unwind at the end of the day in a productive, fun way. Erin and I have been playing a lot of duets too. We play on the weekends and spend a comically long time trying to figure out harmonies (we both struggle a bit with learning harmonies so our practice sessions can be rather rough and always hilarious). We’ve decided to learn a number of songs to perform for our volunteer friends when they come in for mid-service in a few weeks. We are calling our band “The Woo Girls”…because we “woooooo!” a lot when good things happen… and that’s what our team name was whenever we played games together in college. Check out our latest musical attempt. It’s a cover to a First Aid Kit song entitled “Ghost Town”. Also, notice the adorable kitten that makes an appearance in the video. My housemates found this kitten abandoned and half drowned a few weeks ago and couldn’t handle the idea of leaving it, so they brought it home. I’m still not sure if it’s a girl or a boy so I switch between the two. We have an adorable gender neutral kitten that switches between the cutest, sweetest creature in the world, to the most annoying monster I have ever met. Apparently they are looking for a new home for it, so we will see where that goes. Ghost Town: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYZ9ZmesEBY

I’ve also been reading a lot. I read “Slaughterhouse Five” for the first time a few weeks ago and found that it was both intriguing and extremely different than I expected it to be. I also just finished the memoir “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a thirst for adventure and is interested in a woman’s self-growth. It is insightful and interesting throughout the read. I also read another book of hers called “The Tiny Beautiful Things: Dear Sugar”, which is a selection of her anonymous advice columns (anonymous until this book was published) that is equally thought provoking, if not more-so. I highly recommend these books. “Wild” has also recently been released as a movie starring Rese Witherspoon, I have heard great things about the film and am really bummed that I won’t get a chance to see it in theaters. However, YOU HAVE THE CHANCE. So go!

Generally, my life consists of lesson planning to the best of my ability, reading books leisurely, playing my ukulele and having interesting philosophical thoughts about life in general with my few friends on island. To some, this lifestyle may sound boring and uneventful, but I am finding that I am thriving in it. I love people, I love hearing what they have to say and allowing their thoughts to inspire mine. I relish deep conversation and find that being disconnected from my phone and social media is a welcomed relief. I feel that modern society is missing out on a fundamental element of human happiness; being comfortable simply existing with another person. To spend time without apps to laugh at, movies to watch and events to plan, just simply listening to what another person has to say and allowing the endless conversational possibilities to take control. I have been thinking a lot lately about what I am calling “scrolling culture” (A term I am doubtful is original but I haven’t heard it before…so I’m coining it as my own) Basically, the idea of “Scrolling culture” is associated with the mindless scrolling (which we all do) through facebook, or tumblr, or Instagram, or twitter, ect where we are just scrolling down the list, not looking for anything in particular, sucked into the vortex that is the addictive world of technological media. We are constantly scrolling through, mindlessly looking for the next thing that is going to make us laugh or pause to read a headline. As soon as we have found something that we find amusing we pause for a second to enjoy it and then immediately launch into the scrolling, looking for the next best thing to entertain us. Rather than truly stop to appreciate things for what they are, we are only interested for about 60 seconds before we are searching for something better. Scrolling culture makes it so that we are never truly satisfied with what we have, we are always convinced something better lurks somewhere just a bit further on. Living in the Marshall Islands has forced me to slow down in many ways. My limited technology and unreliable internet has transformed from an inconvenience into a blessing. I am truly not looking forward to the culture shock that I will inevitably be confronted with in June when I am immersed in a population of chronic scrollers. I anticipate the potential for mildly pretentious sounding comments, and I apologize in advance, please know that I am not trying to be condescending, but merely have been developing a different set of values and priorities during the year in my isolated paradise.

This feels like a satisfactory update for now. Tune in next time for a first-hand account of Christmas in the Marshall Islands and mid-service festivities with world teach 2014. :) Happy Holidays!

Posted by gabbyfo 23:40 Archived in Marshall Islands

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