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Outer Island Outings

sunny 87 °F

Yokwe aolep!

As usual, this blog has been neglected over the past several weeks and now I am slightly overwhelmed with how much has happened and deserves prime spot time. I may have to shorten sections to save time, I apologize in advance and will try my best to give you the interesting RMI blog post you deserve!

The last time I wrote I was anticipating visiting my parents and grandmother in Hawaii. That trip was amazing. It was so nice to see them and spend time with them. It was nice to see some changes in elevation (rather than flat coral land everywhere you look). We went on some awesome, beautiful hikes (my favorite part) and experience some fun touristy luau time. We had an incredible view in our fancy hotel. It was kind of overwhelming to be around such an over populated, touristy place. There were more stores in our hotel complex than I think there are in the entire country of the Marshall Islands. While it was awesome to see my family, I was not eager to jump back into a hyper consumerized society and anticipate the culture shock back in America to be quite jarring for the first few weeks. I had hoped to spend much more time depicting the awesome experiences I had in Hawaii, alas there is far too much ground to cover in this blog post and since it is primarily Marshall Islands focused, Hawaii stories will have to be cut off early, my apologies.

The fourth and final quarter has begun (at this point it is almost over) and my students are ready for summer vacation. The attitude level has begun to steadily rise (along with the searing hot temperatures) and the level of caring has plummeted. That being said, I have really come to enjoy most of my students and will miss seeing them when I leave. I will not miss teaching and am very ready for that to be over, but I look forward to seeing most of my students every day and wish we could just spend time getting to know each other instead of boring each other over adjective clauses. Finals week is May 25-29th so the end is near! The seniors have finals week several days early so I have very limited time with my government class (which is a pity because I enjoy teaching that one the most. It allows me to go off on animated tangents related to sociology and things I actually studied in college). There have been some fun celebrations in the RMI the past few weeks. Constitution day was on May 1st, it celebrates the day the Marshall Islands Constitution was signed and they became a self governing nation. School was canceled and there was a HUGE parade with everyone in Majuro, plus several representatives from outer islands. The day began with all of the schools, government offices and companies in Majuro marching down in an opening ceremony. The students at my school sang and had a nice time, while trying not to melt in the scorching sun. Afterwards, my friends from World Teach and I went to line up for the driven parade, we spent the night before making posters to decorate Todds truck for our “float.” When we got there and saw the other floats we mostly tried to hide our faces. All of the trucks were built up to have several levels, were covered in pam tree leaves, coconuts, handicrafts and everything beautiful in the RMI. Theirs looked amazing, while ours looked like a preschool craft. Then in started pouring down rain, which was hilarious because many of us where sitting in the bed of the truck and got soaking wet, and most of our posters were made with washable marker and the ink started bleeding down the sides of the truck, making our craft look even more sad and pathetic. I personally couldn’t stop laughing and thought the whole fiasco was rather entertaining. Eventually Todd decided to abandon our sad excuse for a float and we joined the Ministry of Educations float. We threw candy at the kids as we passed and they went CRAZY. It was so fun, I’ve never really had a huge desire to be in a parade, but now I realize that throwing candy to eager children is pretty much the most fun anyone can have. There were supposed to be fireworks, but the weather made that impossible, which was disappointing. My boss Todd says that the RMI constitution day fireworks are the best that he has ever seen in his life, including all of the shows he’s seen in America, so I was really looking forward to them. Oh well, life goes on.

I have been missing many friends in the US lately as my friends who are currently seniors get ready to graduate and join the professional world. The Musical Theatre Club had their semesterly show a few weeks ago and Erin and I were able to skype in and see the great performance they put together. I really wish I could have been there in person to support my friends. My friends from my improv troupe have a “roast” where they make fun of the graduating seniors at a party at the end of the year. One of my friends asked me to “roast him” and make a video, so I had a lot of fun putting that together to send along. Its nice to think that I am missed/thought of at times, even though we are all too absorbed in our own lives to really keep in touch regularly. I look forward to seeing them this summer and can’t wait to catch up and laugh again.

In other US news, I finally decided which graduate school to attend this fall! I am very excited to report that I have accepted the offer from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the dual MSW and MPH program. While the program is more expensive than SUNY Albany’s (which ended up being the other school I was seriously considering) the program at Temple was much more in line with my future goals and interests, and the location offers a new adventure where I feel I can continue to grow, rather than feel like I am headed back into a familiar lifestyle. I love Albany and enjoy visiting and seeing all of my wonderful friends who live there, but I wanted to start a new chapter in graduate school and be encouraged to step out of my comfort zone and make new friends. Philadelphia seems like a great city and the perfect place to start this chapter of my life. One of my best friends from college, Megan Killea, has been working in Philly this past year and will be moving in with me this summer. I am so thankful that she is there and will make this transition fun and easy. I am also happy that I only have one person as a resource ,forcing me to make new friends and put myself out there. I will be moving to Philly this summer and could not be more excited to jump into this new adventure!

This weekend was really great because I got the chance to visit an outer island and see a different way of life in the RMI. This past Friday I set off with my boss Todd and friend Erin to take a trip across the pond to Arno, the closest outer island to Majuro. While it is closer than the other atolls, it is one of the least modernly developed. No electricity or running water. The trip started with a stressful morning of running around and waiting around for information. The weather wasn’t great on Friday, the sky was overcast and raining sporadically, and it was rather windy. Todd didn’t think the boat would end up traveling to Arno because of the weather so we went next door to get a quick breakfast and wait for the captain to make a decision. As we were waiting for our food we saw people loading the boat and we grabbed our food to go and ran. We ended up getting onto the boat and eating our breakfast quickly as we waited. At first, the boat ride was so fun, the waves were high and splashing up high, making us soaking wet and causing Erin and I to double over with laughter and joy. However, about 10 minutes into this 90 minute boat ride, the constant turbulence became horribly unpleasant. Instead of laughing at the water, I felt my recently devoured breakfast making its way back up. I was the only pathetic American to throw up on the boat, but it wasn’t too awful. I made to the back of the boat and managed not to dirty anything. Then I felt Todd rubbing my back, which was nice and bracing me so I didn’t fall over (I found out later…that it wasn’t Todd because he couldn’t get to me fast enough and it was a strange Marshallese man hahaha). Once we finally got off the boat we waited about 10 minutes and boarded an even smaller boat to make our way to Ulien, an island in the Arno atoll. This second boat ride was much smoother and much shorter, so it was a breeze in comparison. Our friend Cari is teaching in Ulien, which is a very isolated island, so she hasn’t seen any visitors all year due to the difficulty volunteers have getting there (it pays to go on a trip with your boss). Cari didn’t know I was coming and was very surprised and excited. The first thing I noticed when we arrived was how quiet everything was. Everywhere you looked was dense jungle, with a house made of plywood, weaved palm tree leaves or thin sheets of aluminum. There were also tons of chickens, chicks, pigs and piglets roaming around everywhere you looked. In Majuro there are stray dogs and cats around every corner, but there were very few there. Cari’s host family was so warm and welcoming, they went out and caught us fresh lobster for lunch and made us delicious coconut rice, coconut breadfruit and fresh bananas. I have never eating plain lobster before but it was one of the best things I have eaten all year. Apparently the lobsters here are sweeter than the ones we are used to eating in America and don’t require any extra sauce to make it delicious. The community of Ulien has had a World Teach volunteer for the past several years and were generally very friendly. I think the fact that they are used to seeing ribelle’s in their community made them less scared of us. They still stopped and stared at us no matter what we were doing, but they also waved and said hello. The beaches were sandy, and everything was generally too beautiful for words. At night, you could see the glow of Majuro from afar, making it look much more epic than I usually view it as. I suppose if you have spent your whole life living on an outer island, Majuro would seem like an epic, exciting city. People don’t really have jobs on the outer islands. A very limited amount of people teach at the school. The classrooms are combined grade levels (1st and 2nd grade together and so on) so only 3-4 teachers are necessary for the school to run. Otherwise, men make copra and women make the handicrafts to sell to Majuro. Cari’s family owns one of the only “stores” on the island (which is mostly a closet in their house where people can buy rice or flour when they have some). I really enjoyed seeing Cari and exploring her town, however it seemed like her house was constantly surrounded by people (children, local men just sitting around and her huge family). I imagine that privacy is extremely hard to come by. On Saturday morning we took the small boat back to the main strip of land in Arno. We had to wait a very long time for the truck to pick us up to drive us to our next location, so we had an island photo shoot and took some amazing pictures on the beach. Eventually the truck showed up and we started to make our way to the opposite end of Arno. We stopped again for a couple hours at Arno’s main dock because that is the only place on island that has any internet and the volunteers from Arno wanted to stop and make some plans for their departure while they were in the area. Todd and Erin and I continued our epic photo shoot and swam a lot in the crystal clear blue water while we waited. (Erin should be putting our model shots online sometime this week). After a while we took the truck on another 90 minute drive to Madeline, the village at the very end of Arno. Charmaine is the World Teacher volunteer in Madeline. Her host families house is HUGE in comparison to the other houses on island and beautiful. It was made by her host grandfather and is my favorite Marshallese home I have ever been in. Her host father was off island, her host mother was nice but I think a little overwhelmed by having 3 more ribelles in her home. We brought our own food to cook and share, but Marshallese customs make it so that they feel obligated to cook for us. I felt bad that she was doing so much for us, but I appreciated the delicious and fresh Marshallese food we devoured all weekend. Charmaine has three host siblings, including a 2 year old sister who was adorable and played with me all weekend. They also had the tiniest fluffiest puppy. Generally things were cute as can be at Charmaine’s house. I woke up every morning to the sounds of baby chicks walking around me and chirping. I loved being in Madeline because houses were very spread out. The land was beautiful and it was easy to find people in the community if you walked a little, but it was also easy to find privacy if you wanted some. We spent Sunday walking to the end of Arno to see the smaller islands. We stopped by the school Charmaine teaches in on the walk. Only two teachers work there and the school is small and falling apart. The classrooms were about the size of my shed in my families back yard in New York. The ceiling had huge holes in it, so anytime it rains the school floods and class is canceled. The “textbooks” they had were falling apart. Apparently there are so few students there that the Ministry of Education hasn’t prioritized the school. Next year they most likely will not get a World Teach volunteer and the school renovations don’t seem like they will be happening any time soon. I feel sad for the students in Madeline, who will probably not get a chance to go to college or leave their communities. There are so many opportunities we take for granted, even the students in Majuro take for granted, compared to those on outer islands. The rest of the walk to the smaller islands was long and hot, but the water was so clear and the fish were amazing. This is the first year Madeline has had a World Teach volunteer, so the people there were a little more wary of us. Todd, Erin and I are also quite an “entertaining” bunch, constantly dancing, belting out songs in unison and making loud jokes. I think we naturally draw attention to ourselves with our ridiculous sense of humor, but the people in Madeline definitely thought we were crazy (which we probably are). On Monday we left Charmaine’s and took the truck back to the Arno dock, we shared our truck ride back with another Marshallese man carrying two living chickens. We waited a long time for the boat to come, with our fingers crossed that it actually would (no telling what will happen when you are in the RMI). Eventually we saw the boat and rejoiced, only to become disappointed as it anchored near by while people fished for at least an hour. Eventually it came in to dock, but the tide was high and the waves were strong, making it impossible for the boat to line up with the dock. Eventually they got it so that the tip top of the boat was close enough to the dock to get somethings across. They unloaded their cargo and got the people off. Each time a wave came the boat shot backward away from the dock and then would come crashing toward the dock so that people had to push it to keep it from colliding with the cement. After a long time they started loading on the huge amount of cargo from the people returning to Majuro. Todd thought the captain would change his mind, decide it was too dangerous and come back tomorrow. However, the boat continued to wait for passengers. When it was my turn to get on I happily survived my death jump and made it onto the boat in one piece, with Erin right behind me. Those moments are the only ones in which I am happy that Marshallese men think I am incapable of doing things and require help (because in those moments I do). Poor Todd is a boy so they leave him to accomplish these hard tasks alone. As he was about to jump the boat hit a big wave and started to drive off. Erin and I had all of his money, clothes, food, everything and were convinced that the boat was abandoning him there, which was so ridiculous that it was simultaneously funny and horrible. Eventually the boat came back, Todd made a death jump onto the boat, they threw a chicken and a baby on board (not a joke) and we took off. The boat ride back was much more pleasant. We laid on the front of the boat and lounged like we were on a high class cruise. No vomiting or complaining, just a docile chicken at our feet without a care in the world. Overall, the trip was a success. I am really happy I got a chance to spend some time on an outer island. I think if I had been placed there I would have made it my home, however, since I have spent the year in Majuro I was happy to return. I loved being surrounded by nature, waking up to the sounds of animals and the generally relaxed environment in Arno, but I also appreciate my constant ability for privacy, diversity in my diet and ability to utilize technology. It is because I am based in Majuro that I was able to apply to graduate school and have a plan for next year, see my family in Hawaii, and keep in touch with loved ones at home. Even though I was initially disappointed with my placement, I have found that everything happens for a reason and works out if you look for the positives in the situation.

Things are feeling a little crazy as school comes to a close. I have a lot of work to do in the next few weeks before I am able to return to the US. I promise to create at least one more blog post to bring this great experience to a close, but for now this will have to suffice as my update. Thank you for continuing to have patience with me and being interested enough to read my babbling accounts of life in the RMI!

Posted by gabbyfo 15:30 Archived in Marshall Islands

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