A Travellerspoint blog

August 2014

Gray Skies are Gonna Clear Up...

put on a happy face

87 °F

Yokwe and good tidings,

This post will hopefully be much more positive and much less whiney than the last one. Thanks for putting up with me. I want this blog to be honest and unfortunately sometimes life is unpleasant. This week has been much better and I feeling considerably more positive and optimistic than during my breakdown last week.

So what has sparked this change? Well, for starters, I don’t feel as overwhelmed with the amount of work I am expected to do. I have decided for the first few weeks to just take everything one day at a time, figuring out general plans for the long term future and specific plans in the short term. I still actively dislike teaching grammar, but I’m trying my best to make it clear so that all of the students can so their best. I have made a ridiculous amount of comparative charts over the past week. Also, literature is getting better. I’m giving my first quiz this week, so we will see what these kids have actually retained and what they were sleeping through. I think it’s mostly that I have started to get into the swing of things and figure out what works and what doesn't work. I’ve made seating charts to curb some of the talking and it has absolutely worked...so at least I’m trying to be more strict.

I love teaching my new government class. They contribute, they speak, they have ideas, it’s amazing. Also I am way more interested in discussing government than I am discussing the future tense. Last class we talked about the Articles of Confederation, its flaws, and began working our way towards learning about the constitution and the Bill of Rights. Before we started to discuss the way the Constitution was written, the compromises and the outcome, I broke the class up into 5 groups and asked them to make a constitution for this class. They would act as the colonies and I would be the national government. I asked them to create a preamble for their constitution, the basic rights all citizens in the classroom deserved, and what rights I should preside over and what rights they should be in charge of (I warned them of course that they may not get their way, but encouraged them to write whatever they thought was the best way to handle the class). They got SO into the project and insisted I give them more time next class to finish. I’m hoping that their constitutions will have some items that we can compromise on to lead us into the discussion of the Great Compromise and the 3/5ths Compromise. I saw that one group wrote that they should get ice cream every Friday, my compromise plan for that is to promise that at the end of each quarter, if all of the students in the class get a B or higher, I will buy them all ice cream. I’m especially excited for that one, and yay for incentives to get good grades! Positive reinforcement, y’all, thanks Geneseo Psychology Department. Hopefully there are more compromises I can come up with, we shall see. I also got to research the Marshall Islands government system (because this is in fact a comparative government class) so I am learning a lot too. For the most part, their Bill of Rights and constitution are very similar to ours. They main differences I have found is that guns are illegal and the death penalty in illegal in the Marshall Islands, also I think the government pays a decent amount of money for general health care. It seems like there is a lot less serious crimes going on in the Marshall Islands. Petty theft is still an issue and domestic abuse is certainly not handled in the best way, but otherwise there have been no cases of homicide that I have found yet. One really startling thing I found was that the minimum wage here is $2.00 an hour. WOW, I have been to some restaurants where the waiter is working literally from 9:00am to 11:00 at night, making minimum wage. Most people in America would quit if that was the set up they were given. It’s really crazy, because the cost of living here is actually pretty high since everything is imported. No wonder people have trouble paying for healthcare...I’m looking forward to learning even more in the next few months

Additionally, because I am teaching the government class permanently, the Vice Principle allowed me to give up my 11th grade composition class during the last period of the day. This class was essentially my worst nightmare, most of them never came, the ones who did slept, made rude comments or just dazed off. They are a pretty large reason for my classroom cry last week. I do feel bad for the 2 or 3 kids that are sweet and seem to want to try to learn, but I couldn't be happier to be rid of most of them. Especially the fact that it is the last period of the day, makes everything more difficult to control. So Monday was my last day of teaching them and I say, good riddance.

Also, I finally got the wifi password for the school, so I have internet in my apartment! It’s amazing, makes lesson planning so much easier, and makes it easier to stay in touch with the people I am missing. Maybe one of these days I’ll finally find the time to start thinking about/researching graduate schools. The internet speed is pretty horrible, but beggars can’t be choosers. One tragic discovery is that Netflix, Hulu, Spotify and virtually every fun video/music thing on the internet doesn't work here. I didn't even consider that when I came, I thought the internet was everywhere.... boy was I wrong. Now what am I going to binge watch when I am procrastinating my work? OH THAT’S RIGHT... I have the entire season of Planet Earth. So logically I have been watching Planet Earth pretty much every time I have a free hour. I forgot how amazing this series is, I recommend everyone try to find an awesome store in their community that illegally downloads videos and sells them for $2.

On a sad note, I’m pretty sure the guy who lives next door gave my puppy friends away. I haven’t seen them since my last post and it is breaking my heart. You will be missed, Copper and Ghost.

On Saturday a few of my friends and I walked to some near by islands, when the tide is low you can easily walk from Rita to the island, and when the tide is high it’s a pretty shallow swim from one to the other. It was really beautiful, a lot less populated than the main Island. I also went snorkeling near this sunken boat that had a bunch of coral growing all over it and fish weaving in and out. It was very cool. Hopefully I am going to go to an island this coming Sunday that has a sunken World War II ship that I can swim with! It’s fun walking through the jungle, surrounded by coconut trees and banana trees. It makes me wonder what my students would think if they walked through one of the forests near my house.

While things have certainly been getting better at school, I’m still feeling pretty isolated. I really like my housemates, but we’ve agreed that its really hard to break into the community when you are living in the dorms in Majuro. We have heard from our friends on outer islands, they said that the entire island cancelled school for the week just to welcome them in and celebrate their arrival, my friends with host families go to parties and have cook outs and live with so many extended family members (plus they have real homes without mice and rats and plumbing that actually works). In hind sight I am very sad that I am not on an outer island and that I don’t have a host family. As much as they make it seem like the Majuro volunteers have it so easy... I think we (especially those without a host family) are suffering in a completely different way. The feeling of isolation from the community is a pretty hard thing to deal with. My dorm-mate Joann and I asked the Vice Principle if she knew of anyone who might be willing to act as a “sponsor family” for us and help us get integrated into the community. Hopefully that works out. If not, we are really going to have to try and find a way to force ourselves into the community. It’s hard, because people here are kind but they are also painfully shy, unlikely to invite you someplace. I am certainly not miserable, but I wouldn’t say I am completely happy either. If I have to spend the next 10 months feeling isolated like this, I anticipate that those feelings will only get worse. I’m trying to address it as well as I can with the limited time I have. The problem is, being a new teacher is hard work and demands A LOT of hours so I’m always working or exhausted. I had the chance to skype with my friend Keegan a few days ago and we talked a lot about how I was feeling. He listened and offered some words of wisdom and encouragement and made me feel a lot better and capable of figuring things out. It’s really nice to have friends that haven’t forgotten about little-ol’-me. I really appreciate him and all of my friends and family who have taken the time to reach out to me, even if they didn’t know how much I’ve needed it. Anyway, more to come on the hunt for Marshallese friends.

In “gross house” news, I spotted a few rats on our porch a few days ago and kind of freaked out. Anyone who has lived with me in college will tell you that I can get kind of frustrated (perhaps an understatement) when things are a HUGE mess or chaotically out of order, especially when it comes to dirty dishes or stuff in the kitchen. Well, here it is even more important because we are sharing our space with 100000 bugs and I REALLY don’t want to get rats in our house. You can’t squish a rat with your sandal, they are giant, they are vicious and they could probably beat me in a fight if they had the numbers. Our kitchen has been a mess and honestly, in this environment its completely unacceptable and really irresponsible. I wrote a grouchy note after I did about 25 dirty dishes that weren’t mine, including a pot full of pasta. Since my rat sighting and aggressive reminder of how to be a decent human being and wash a dish, things have gotten better. The only problem is, when you use any of our sinks, something happens in our horrible plumbing system that floods the kitchen floor and makes the entire area smell like sewage. We asked our field director about this and he basically said that he put in a work order to the problem sometime last year and we have to wait for the city to come try to fix it.... so it looks like that isn’t going to get fixed ever. Our pipe for our showers burst again so that’s getting fixed again today. Its really frustrating living in a place where water is so scarce and precious and having to watch your water pour onto the ground and not be able to do anything about it. Even though I have a working shower head (most of the time) we still all have to keep using bucket showers, because overhead showers waste way too much water and we will run out. This has absolutely been a wake up call for the things I take for granted in America. I can’t remember if I mentioned this in my last post, but I have been feeling very weird about the “ice bucket challenge” I see all over facebook these days. I realize that the people in the videos have a positive sentiment attached to them, but coming from where I am it seems like a huge spectacle that throws away something that we as Americans truly take for granted, while a huge portion of the world holds so dear. In my opinion, donating money to a cause you believe in, is much more impressive than wasting an entire bucket of fresh water to get 50 “likes” on your post in facebook. I don’t mean to sound self righteous, I’m sure if I wasn’t experiencing this side of things I may be oblivious to it as well, but it is a reality I cannot possibly avoid (and obviously can’t help but share). Basically, my general sentiment in this paragraph is to appreciate the enormous resources you have, whether it be 24 hour access to water, an exterminator, a plumber, a refrigerator that is big enough to hold your food or a grocery store that where a majority of the cheese isn’t already expired; and think twice before you complain if you see a mouse in your kitchen (we have one living under our oven and its quite cute, I’ve named her Minnie).

On an awesome note, apparently we have Friday off from school because of labor day (or something like that) and a half day on Thursday so that’s lovely. I am going to my friends host families house for her sisters Kemmem party and am spending the night, so I’m excited for that.

At this point I think I have written quite enough, thanks for reading, until next time folks.

Posted by gabbyfo 21:19 Archived in Marshall Islands Comments (1)

Teach Woes (and a dash of puppies)

86 °F

This has certainly been the most exhausting and emotionally taxing week so far on my adventure. This week I started teaching, and I have been in a whirl wind of frustration, fear and trying my best to figure things out. On Monday morning my fellow volunteer and living companion, Joann and I went to the Vice Principles office, like we were told to find out what subjects we would be teaching, what grade levels, get our schedules and generally just figure out everything anyone could possibly need to know about the simple logistics of working at MIHS (Marshall Islands High School). The school day starts at 8:00 so when we got to the office at 7:00 we were disappointed to see that no one was around, the office hadn’t even been opened yet. Needless to say, no one was there to meet us at the door and welcome us, with an orientation packet or even a school mailbox with our name listed under it. About 7:30, as teachers came and went, introducing themselves to us briefly, the Vice Principle finally showed up, looking more clueless than anyone I had met so far that morning. We introduced ourselves and asked him if we could have our schedules. He looked as if we were asking him for some top secret government file that he couldn’t possibly have any access to. At this point, the principle, the Vice Principle of student affairs and about 10 teachers had told us that this was the man who had all of our information. I’m not sure he knew what day of the week it was. Needless to say, we did not receive our schedules. He asked us if who wanted to teach 11th grade and who wanted to teach 10th. Neither of us cared, so I took 10th grade because I was hoping they might be slightly smaller in size. We then had a 90 minute assembly that consisted of all 1000 students lining up by class, a local preacher being called on stage to do a full out sermon, a few Christian hymns being sung by everyone on campus. Coming from my American, public school educational background, this opening was quite bizarre to behold. After I mispronounced at least half (probably all) of my students names, in the process of telling them which homeroom they were in, we were off to start my very uninformed and under qualified teaching experience. The door was locked to my classroom. Great start. We finally got the door unlocked and I started doing “get to know you” games, with a painfully shy group of 15 year olds. I tried to break out some silly improve and orientation games. Eventually I ended up playing the Geneseo classic “WA” and it got them laughing at least. The first day was mostly ice breakers and was pretty painless, except for the fact that no one bothered to tell me the schedule for orientation day. Apparently I was supposed to stay with my homeroom class from 9:00-12:00…but I didn’t know that so I let them go when I thought the period ended at 10:00. So I quickly lost 85% of my class on the first day. The few who came back were sweet and fun to get to know.

They split each grade up into different homerooms based on academic achievement level. For example classroom 10A is composed of the highest achieving 10th graders and 10K is composed of the lowest. I think it’s kind of strange that they openly rank classes like this. I am lucky enough to have 10B for my homeroom class, so all of them are pretty motivated to do well. However, I imagine that being placed in the obviously low letters must weigh down on a person’s self esteem and motivation after a few years. I am teaching English composition and literature to 10B, 10D and 11H and I can see a HUGE difference in motivation and attitude on each level. I only have the 11th graders for a composition class, but it is easily the most exhausting part of my day. I have them for the last period of the day and over half of them don’t come to class to begin with. The ones who do won’t stop talking, unless of course I ask for participation, then they all act as if they have just had their tongues removed.

Anyway, we finally received our schedules on day 2, so I knew the classes I was supposed to be teaching a few minutes before I was expected to start teaching them. The head of the department has been a huge help. She met with Joann and I and gave us textbooks and an outline of the expectations necessary for each grade level. However, she also informed us that we were expected to hand in 3 weeks of lesson plans this week. For those of you who haven’t ever made a lesson plan, they take a LONG time, especially for a silly psych major like me, who has absolutely no training what-so-ever to be a teacher.

This expectation, along with feeling misinformed started to make me feel pretty overwhelmed. As I started to make lesson plans that would be informative and engaging I was faced with the reality that I have bad grammar….really terrible, terrible grammar. In fact, I hate English grammar and I always have. Now I am expected to teach it and make it seem like it’s not the horrible subject that I know it to be. So usually I have to spend time making sure I really know what I’m talking about before I can even plan a lesson. It’s hard to make learning grammar fun for others when I don’t think it’s fun at all. Additionally, I just found out today that the text book they gave me to plan my lessons around is the text book the kids used last year, so they have known everything and have been bored to tears for all of my lessons. Hopefully it will get a little better now that I have the correct text book.

I like teaching literature, but the only problem is they don’t have the resources for the students to read real books in class to discuss, all I have is 15 text books to share amongst 27 students with snip its of writing from unknown authors, with boring, bland subject matters. We are learning about different types of fiction, so I thought it would be fun to read a Greek myth. I printed one out and was excited to try and do it together, but I think it went over their heads and led to general chaos. We read one of the stories from the text today and I think they understood it more, but it was a super lame story. No wonder they don’t like reading, they are only able to read crappy nonsense. I’m trying to find things that are interesting and age/ability appropriate. I’m still getting used to the differences in ability level. It seems like some kids understand my directions immediately, while others will look at my blankly, or just stare at a blank piece of paper for 15 minutes. When I go over to these students and try to help them, they always act as if they don’t need my help and would rather crawl into a cave and die than listen to my suggestions. I feel lost in this moments, I can’t grab their hand and physically force them to write if they don’t want to, but I don’t want to be walked all over either.

I think there may be a conflict of interest in terms of my general “love everyone for who they are, accept them, hold their hand through things, support them and listen” attitude when it comes to the classroom. So far I have been 100% myself around my students, making jokes (a few people seem to get them) and being understanding when things aren’t exactly as they should. I’m worried that I have already set a tone that I am a push over. The problem is, in this situation, I kind of am a push over. I feel like I am going to have to dive into an unnatural part of my personality to discipline the classroom the way it needs to be and I am really not looking forward to it.

Working with High Schooler’s is such a different ball game than working with little kids. I can discipline young children, I understand how to be firm and they respect me as an adult because that’s what I am in their eyes. I can put a sad face next to their name when they are acting out and most of the time they will start trying to impress me again. I can promise them a lollypop at the end of the week and they will suddenly be completely attentive. I have no clue what I’m doing with these High schooler’s, who see me as their age and know I am completely uninformed about everything going on in administration (or at least that’s how it feels). I would say that I could use Bonus points as a motivational tool, but these kids really aren’t motivated by grades for the most part. I have always been the type of student who wants to succeed and tries to do well, which is making it even harder for me to really understand how to work with the kids who are so different from the environment I am used to. I really enjoyed World Teach orientation, but I feel that it focuses almost 100% on elementary school and out island life, leaving the high school teachers (especially those living in Majuro) to fend for themselves. I do not feel any more prepared from our hours of lessons, unless that is if these 10th graders want me to teach them the alphabet again under a coconut tree.

Additionally, almost all of my friends from World Teacher are leaving or have left for their islands, and my Majuro friends are with their host families, being a part of the community and getting showered with affection. Meanwhile, I live in a dirty, smelly, hot dorm, with no real connection to the community and a mountain of school work that I am feeling unbelievably under qualified to achieve. Needless to say, I cried in my locked classroom on day two. Only for a few minutes because I realized how completely pathetic that it, but still, it happened. I think the combination of feeling in over my head, saying goodbye to the people I have become comfortable with here, and feeling extra home sick the past few days has led to a bit of a slump in the Marshall Islands paradise. I know myself enough to know that this is not forever and it will go away, but all I’ve been wanting the past few days is to go home and sleep in my fluffy cloud bed, see my loved ones and not worry about nouns, tenses, or unmotivated teenagers.

Today we had a meeting where the Principle and Vice Principle informed us that they were short teachers and that “more were coming soon,” but for now they needed to find teachers to fill about 30 classes. So apparently I’m teaching a senior “Government” class tomorrow. Which, honestly I’m pretty excited for, but I will be receiving the textbook 20 minutes before class starts.. so we’ll see how day 1 goes.

Also, I have my students start every class by writing in their journals. I usually give them a choice to either use the new prompt that I put on the board each day or they can just “free write” about any topic they want. It’s been nice, because I’ve been able to see where their English skills are struggling the most in a low stress environment. However, one that I read today was entitled “Sexy Lady, a Love Letter” and was a, very flattering, but very uncomfortable profession of love from one student to me. So now I have to do deal with that situation.

I think, at this point it is safe to say that I am not going to be a teacher. Perhaps things would be different if I was teaching little kids, but I am not the type of person who is made to teach high schooler’s. Hopefully I prove myself wrong, but I am not making any plans to apply to any teaching colleges any time soon. I also have a much more developed appreciation for the work that teachers have put into my education, and am truly grateful and impressed by their abilities.

Sorry this post has been such a sad sack of woe, but I will end on a happy note. There are two puppies living underneath the trailer that is next to my apartment and I play with them every day. They are in the soft, puff ball stage and I am in love with them. I haven’t seen any owner, so I’ve taken the liberty of naming them “Ghost” and “Copper.” They are a shining star in my life at the moment. I am excited to keep playing with them over the next 11 months.

Posted by gabbyfo 03:04 Archived in Marshall Islands Comments (0)

Cockroach Kingdom and New Beginnings

85 °F

Yo, yo, yiggidy, yo

So firstly, one of the volunteers in my group filmed a TON of stuff during orientation and made this amazing video about our experience. Here is the youtube link, you should give it a watch, it’s a great visual representation of my journey thus far. (plus I sing in it) here’s the link!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCYzpu4DA58&feature=youtube

A new chapter has begun in my Marshall Islands journey. This week I moved into the dorms that I will be living in for the next 11 months. Along with my other roommates and about 10 other “guest” volunteers who’s planes/boats don’t leave for their islands for another week. This dorm is quite a wake up call as to how good we had it during orientation. This dorm is right on the campus that I will be working and has been uninhabited for the past 2 months. To say that it is filthy is an understatement. There are 8 bed rooms, one large common room and a common kitchen. All the rooms come with their own bathroom which is nice…However, it seems that some volunteers from last year left their rooms much cleaner than others. I was lucky enough to pick a room with a very clean and conscientious previous owner. They left a small sewing kit and air fresheners in the closet, bathroom and two in the main area. I spent a majority of the first few hours sweeping and disinfecting every inch of my space, then the next day (after I bought like $25 of cleaning supplies) spent 2 hours attacking my bathroom. While it was hard, gross work, I actually think it looks and feels very good and I have never been more proud of a cleaning project. I will say, all my friends who complained about the state of our college home should never ever complain every again. This dorm makes the “Mansion” look like a 5 star hotel. The place is crawling with cockroaches, who have seemed to be enjoying having a party house all to themselves the past 2 months. My friend John and Kelsey have decided to have a cockroach killing competition, last I checked John was up to 65 and Kelsey was up to 33. They are both going to be leaving for the outer islands in a few days and I am dreading losing our protectors. I’ve never really considered myself much of a wimp…but these cockroaches fly and never, ever die. Therefore I usually scream and call for John and Kelsey when I see one headed towards me. I think I’m going to need to face that fear asap. John has compared this war to a zombie apocalypse because the cockroaches are everywhere, they are almost impossible to kill and they eat each other. I think its clear that in the event of a zombie apocalypse I would be a gonner. When I say that these creatures never die, I mean it. I have sprayed so much Raid and in the moment it seems to do absolutely nothing. At one point I sprayed one cockroach directly for a full minute, enough for a white layer of raid to accumulate on the top and it acted as if it was taking a refreshing shower. Even when you crush one it keeps moving until you crush it about 5 more times. As gross as these things are, they are pretty impressive survivors. Lara (our assistant field director) told us not to trap them under a bowl or anything, because they send out a call and more cockroaches will come to help their pals…however if you kill one and don’t remove every piece of the body, other cockroaches will come and eat the body…. Aka zombies.
I think the Raid has a later effect, every morning we wake up to about 10 corpses on the kitchen floor of cockroaches that no one has seen before, who knows how they got there…who knows how they died. The mystery continues, updates to come.

After I cleaned I was able to spend time decorating and setting up my room. It’s so nice to get my things organized how I want them, and put pictures on my walls and my tapestry and other art on my walls. It really feels like a home, which is really important for me. I am someone who really needs to feel at home in my space and its been amazing to walk into a room that feels like mine, although the walls are still way more blank than I am used to….

There was supposed to be 5 volunteers, including myself, living in the dorms. Joann, Suzy, Rachel, Davina and myself. However, last night I found out that the three deaf volunteers (Suzy, Davina and Rachel) will probably be moving in with another deaf person who works in the deaf center. So Joann and I may be living in a giant 8 room dorm completely on our own. At first, this idea sounded kind of scary and daunting, however the more I think about it, the more appealing it sounds. First and most importantly, 2 of us will use significantly less water than 5 of us would. Right now, during the rainy season, we have already run out of water, both drinking water and tank water. We caught a cab in order to fill up the 5 gallon tanks of drinking water, but can do very little to get more tank water for showers, washing dishes, toilets ect. Hopefully is rains today so that we can shower before school tomorrow….ew. Also, 2 people will be better at keeping the place clean, using less food and ideally keeping out fewer pesky friends. We have plans to make one room a craft room, one room a music room, one room a (very empty) gym and maybe open up a hostel. (perhaps these plans will fall through, but for now, DREAM BIG). We also plan on getting a cat in order to scare away the cockroaches and any potential rodents (we haven’t seen any yet….but that doesn’t mean much). Kittens are always randomly around and apparently belong to no one, so that plan is actually quite possible. Pretty pumped about the cat situation.

I start teaching tomorrow morning. However, I still don’t know what subject I’m teaching, or what grade, or what classroom… I have to get up and try to find the principal at 7am to ask them all these questions and then start teaching at 8. Needless to say, this inexperienced teacher is feeling pretty overwhelmed and terrified. I’m sure my next post will divulge all the tragedies I face and hopefully a success or two. I guess time will tell. Hopefully I can at least find the classrooms.

Its been kind of bittersweet saying goodbye to my friends leaving for the outer islands. A lot of them have been going to get a tattoo from this artist in Majuro that is very highly recommended (all of the field directors and other Americans in the area have gotten tattoos from him and assure that his studio and equipment is extremely clean and safe). He is from Japan and has art all other Majuro. His painting and tattoos are all very intricate and tribal and absolutely gorgeous. So far, 4 volunteers have gotten tattoos from him because he is leaving in October and they won’t be back from their islands until December. He does a brief outline of the general shape that they ask for and then free-hands the rest of the design and the outcomes are absolutely gorgeous. Honestly, probably the most impressive tattoos I have ever seen, he is a true artist. Honestly, at this point I think its pretty likely I will end up getting something small before October (sorry mom, I promise it won’t be as big as my last one :S ). They really are truly remarkable and I haven’t heard of any complications in terms of infection or anything with anyone both recent and long term tattoo owners. More to come on that front. (again, please don’t hate me too much mama)

Emotionally this has probably been the hardest week yet. There is this scale of cultural integration that we went over at the beginning of orientation. They first stage involves the individual making cultural mistakes but being blissfully unaware of their mistakes. In the second stage, the individual makes similar mistakes, but is aware of them and uncomfortable. I have certainly moved into stage 2 and I hate it. We went to an outdoor concert the other day that was celebrating the countries success as the Micronesian Olympics and Back to school. The music was beautiful and fun, but all the people were just sitting and watching calmly. They were selling alcohol at the event and people were drinking casually, so my friends and I bought a beer. As we watched the concert, they began playing a Marshallese version of “Summer Loving” from Grease. The urge to dance was too overwhelming so we decided to get up and dance a little bit, nothing to crazy at all, just a few step-touching and bopping. Pretty quickly we became the show and all the children began to approach us.. eventually (and I promise I am not exaggerating) about 300 children were completely surrounding us and watching…not joining in, just watching. Even though we were absolutely not drunk whatsoever, I quickly began to feel horribly uncomfortable. While it is 100% normal for people to dance and bop around at concerts in America, people in the Marshall Islands are generally more shy and emotionless in public. Apparently the only people who dance in public are drunk, and because we did have one beer I realized that the vibe we were giving off was not the one we are expected to uphold as teachers and new comers to the country. Even though we stopped dancing as soon as the song ended, I ended up feeling uncomfortable most of the night. On top of that, a lot of the volunteers are going to outer islands, where drinking is strictly prohibited and are partying hard this week before they give it up. Consequently, a few of them have gotten so drunk that they have gotten sick or made fools of themselves. If we felt as though we were the center of attention everywhere we walked during the day, this only seems to intensify when someone is making a fool of themselves. I realize that my friends want to have a good time, but I am the one who has to stay in this community and deal with the repercussions and negative reputation that they are promoting for “world teach” teachers. I’ve been trying to solve this worry by not going out, but that doesn’t help our general reputation. Especially because I am not living with a host family, and don’t have any direct connection to the community, I am really worried I will feel like an outcast and end up feeling really lonely. Hopefully this is just a paranoia and will blow over soon. I just am really not used to having my every move viewed and gossiped about, as well as being expected to be a role model 100% of the time; Especially in a culture that I am only beginning to understand. I’ll tell you one thing…I am not envious of celebrities what-so-ever anymore.

I was also finally able to talk to my family this week! They called me on my little, dinky phone early Saturday morning (for me at least). It was so nice hearing their voices and being able to really chat, more than a facebook message here and there. I can’t wait to talk them again, hopefully a skype time is in our future. My brother is getting ready to start his college career and I’m feeling pretty bummed that I am not there to share that with him. Generally, as wonderful as it is to talk to them, it also made me realize how much I really do miss the people I love back home. I also skyped with a lot of my friends from college this week. In fact I was able to skype with friends at a graduation party so I saw a bunch of my friends all at once, having a great time, loving and laughing together. Again, talking to them and seeing them was absolutely incredible. However, it left me feeling sadder than ever, seeing them all together, having a blast, realizing that I would have been there if I was still in New York. It was more emotionally overwhelming than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here, I am so thankful to be having this experience and I wouldn’t trade it. It’s just sad to see the people that I feel most connected with and most myself with, knowing that I won’t be with them for many months. The friends I have made here are great and nice and fun, but as I said many of them are leaving this week and its pretty unreasonable to expect friendships that are 3 weeks long to really compare to relationships that I have made my entire life, or the past 4 years of college. It’s not a contest, and its hard to deal with when I actually take the time to sit down and think about it. I know this year will bring so many positive things, experiences, perspectives, friendships. But if I could apparate from here to New York every so often, I would be the happiest girl (and witch) in the whole (wizarding) world.

Obviously some Harry Potter comfort time is my future.

That's all for now folks, missing you, thanks for reading :)

Posted by gabbyfo 21:58 Archived in Marshall Islands Comments (0)

Sharks, Shells and Saying goodbye

87 °F

Well it has been a crazy few days for me!

First of all, I saw and swam with my first shark! In fact I am currently one of the only few volunteers who has seen one. The other night I went out snorkeling in the dark with a few of my friends. There are generally less fish to see at night, but the ones you do see are pretty cool. During this epic swim I saw two electric eels, a spiny lobster and a small shark. At first I thought it was just a HUGE fish, but I quickly realized it looked just like the small sharks we saw in our water safety presentation. Don’t panic, this shark is small in the grand scheme of sharks and doesn’t really seem like it would bother you. Either way I decided to swim in the other direction...just in case. It was super cool.

Also I learned a couple Marshallese children’s songs that have catchy tunes and ridiculous lyrics. My favorite one translates to, “banana car, papaya car, drive hem here, sore them, wait until they get really sweet, then we will eat them together, I’m full, you’re full, I’m really, really full.” Its fun to sing with the kids who like to add in “woo’s” when there are pauses. I also learned how the women create the traditional, ornate woven art that is everywhere all over the island. The process would be difficult to explain in words without a physical representation, just trust me that it was very cool, very time consuming and has gorgeous outcomes. Hopefully I’ll get a woven masterpiece before I leave. While the girls were learning how to weave, the boys were learning how to husk and open coconuts. I tried and it was REALLY hard. If you have ever bought a coconut from the store and found it hard to open, you can’t imagine how hard it is to husk it. You slam the coconut as hard as you can against a spike in the ground and tear the outer shell off…which is easier than in sounds. Luckily, after you have slaved away getting the husk off, the fresh coconut is easy to poke a hole through the top with some kind of knife. I have been drinking fresh coconut milk every other day and its amazing, especially for a coconut fiend like me.
I also found a gem in Majuro that I’m sure I will be returning to. There is a store that sells movies and t.v shows from the United States, but at remarkably low prices. (I’m pretty sure none of it is legal and they are just burning these items on disks and selling them). I bought the entire Planet Earth series for a grand total of $10. I checked the quality when I got home and it was flawless. I cannot believe how cheap the movies are. They are anywhere from $1.50-$2.50 per dvd. I have a feeling I will be rolling in movies by the time I leave.

I’m starting to become more aware of the serious nature of the drought in the Marshall Islands. This year is an El Nino year, which usually has no effect on my life in upstate New York. However, this has a huge effect on my new home. Apparently we are currently in “monsoon season,” which I assumed meant that it would be raining all the time, every day. I brought an absurd amount of stuff to prepare me for rain filled days. This is far from the case. It rains for about 10-20 minutes every other day. Apparently, this rain season has been the biggest in years. Even with this apparent rain fill season, we run out of water pretty frequently. Each house (in Majuro) has a big tank outside the house that is designed to catch the water that is used for the sinks and toilets and any other source of running water in houses that have plumbing. Our tank has run out of water multiple times in the past few weeks, making it impossible for us to flush the toilet until the next rainfall. After the rainy season ends in December, they usually go through a few months of drought where it will hardly rain ever. This season they are expecting the worst drought in the past decade because of El Nino. I’m scared to see what that means, if this is the rainy season, the drought is going to suck. One man told me that the last drought lasted over 6 months. It’s making me really appreciate having running water at all times in the United States. It is a privilege that we take for granted, while many places in the world struggle with daily. I am lucky to be living in the city, my friends who are moving to the outer islands will be in a much more difficult and dangerous position, especially during the drought. They have had to move volunteers in years past because there wasn’t enough water or food on the island for World Teach to consider it a safe place for the volunteers to stay. Water conservation is a huge issue here and I’m starting to be even more aware of it. This is also the hottest the Marshall Islands has ever been in record-able history. The average temperature continues to climb every year, and the hotter it gets, the more noticeable the water shortage becomes. I think it is safe to say that global warming has had a huge effect on this island. I plan on going to a discussion at town hall about environmental concerns in the next few weeks, so will write more after I have heard more information. Still this is an issue that is weighing on me more so each day.

Orientation will be ending tomorrow officially and all the volunteers will begin to scatter to their various locations. I will be moving into my dorm tomorrow, along with my fellow dormmates and all the volunteers who can’t catch their plane/boat for another week or so. I’m really excited to get my own space where I can really set up my life and get some privacy. I am really sad to say goodbye to some of my friends that I have made here though, it will be a very bittersweet few days.

I also start teaching on Monday. I will find out what grade and what subject I am teaching on Monday as well… I am overwhelmed. More to come if I survive this ordeal.

TTFN

Posted by gabbyfo 19:39 Archived in Marshall Islands Comments (0)

Fears, Friends and Frolicking

87 °F

Hello my eastern time zone friends,

I have survived another exhausting (and exciting) week in Majuro. This week we were working on our practicum projects for orientation. We were split into different groups based on the age group we will be teaching this year, came up with a unit plan and for three days each of us spent a few hours teaching lessons to real students from the area. For most of us, who haven’t had formal teaching experience, this was a pretty scary task. My group decided that they wanted our unit plan to focus on health, nutrition and the human body. I took on the task of opening up the first day and teaching students about vocabulary associated with the external human anatomy and the possible injuries and related remedies for any and all of those ailments. Not the most exciting lesson topic but I did my best, making up fun games to help students stay awake and be engaged in learning the vocab. Our group was supposed to be set up for “9th graders” but all the high school students they brought in for the different high school groups were from the ages of 20-25. I wasn’t really feeling nervous before the day started, but as soon as I realized that my students were primarily my age and older, it made me feel a little intimidated. It’s hard to find the right balance between not using vocabulary or topics that are over their heads, but also not using topics that are juvenile or way below their maturity level. Also the range of abilities is HUGE in the classes. Some students will know everything you are saying and be ready to move on almost as soon as the assignment in described and other students in the same class won’t be able to read or write. It’s making the idea of lesson planning seem so much more taxing. You have to be ready to make assignments that interest the students but can be modified 30 times for 30 different levels of ability. Hopefully I will get the hang of this early on, but it will definitely be a challenge at first. I will be teaching very soon actually. The school starts officially on the 13th of August and our orientation ends on the 15th of August (miscommunication between world teach and the ministry of education) so we’re all missing the first few days of school already. I will move into my permanent home on the 15th and start teaching on the 18th. I asked my field director when I would be able to talk to the principle and find out what grade I am teaching and what subject I am teaching and he said probably on the 18th……So I will be starting my career as a high school teacher completely unaware of who or what I am supposed to be teaching. Hopefully they aren’t expecting too much that first week. I am excited to get this part of my journey started, but will certainly feel less nervous once I have a better grasp on what I’m actually doing.

We also went to a Chinese restaurant/ Karaoke bar as a group this week. It was SO fun. My field director Todd is fabulous and belted out some great Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, making us all look bad. We had some great group sing alongs of Billy Joel and the Beatles. Erin and I showed off some MTC dances (Don’t Stop Believing) and really raised the bar. A lot of the locals ended up peering in at us through the windows and laughing as we made fools of ourselves all night. The Marshallese have a word for when someone spies on you from outside a window, or through a gate, or something like that. They call it “cornbeefing.” I don’t know why, but I love it and its hilarious. I’m certainly bringing it back to the states with me.

One thing I’ve had to get used to here is dealing with the animals and how they are treated. Honestly, I have become more frightened of dogs here than I am of sharks. If I saw a shark in the water I would probably swim in the other direction pretty casually and mind my own business. The dogs here are almost constantly on high alert and ready to attack you for looking at them weird. I’ve never been scared of dogs and I hate that this trip has made me scared of every dog I see. Honestly, there are a lot of them that are sweet and probably wouldn’t hurt you, but there are so many that freak out when they see you that it’s hard to tell the difference. I can completely understand why these dogs are the way they are. I’ve seen a lot of animal abuse the past few weeks and its really hard to watch. The kids will kick young dogs and cats and toos them around carelessly. There are A LOT of stray cats and dogs and chickens and pigs and I guess the locals think of these strays as a waste of food and resources so they aren’t too kind. Its hard to watch regardless of the reasons. Apparently almost all dogs and cats you see outside are strays unless they are specifically guarding a house. I saw two of the smallest, sweetest kittens ever a few days ago and used all the self control I have in my system not to take them. Apparently the apartment I am moving into has a lot of rats….I think I have convinced my apartment mates to get a sweet, stray cat in order to catch/scare the rats away. That way we can avoid the rats, love a cat and give some sweet cat a nice year. There isn’t any rabies on this island so all we need to worry about is treating fleas. We’ll see if this plan works out, I sure hope so, because I have some stellar cat names in mind.

As much as I am scared of dogs, I am easily most afraid of coral. Which may seem weird because coral just sits there, doesn’t approach you, doesn’t bark at you. Why am I so fearful of this docile creature? Because it is a vicious, fun sucking demon that lurks everywhere you step in the ocean. When you think of living in a tropical island surrounded by ocean, you think of lovely sandy beaches. Here there is just coral everywhere you look. Which you would assume wouldn’t be an issue if you wore proper footwear. The issue is, if you slip (which I tend to do A LOT) and you just barely scrape your leg on a piece of coral the teeny, tiny spores from the coral will lodge into your leg and pretty much 90% cause an infection that is nasty looking and makes the infected body part blow up to a ridiculous size. I have already watched this happen to 4 volunteers, all of whom needed antibiotics. So far, coral has been the universally most dangerous creature on the island.

We went to Laura beach yesterday, which is one of the only sandy beaches close to us. It was so beautiful. The weather here is almost always picture perfect. Which is not the best for those of us who burn easily, but my sun screen obsession has kept me safe thus far (I can’t say the same for some of my other volunteers). I had a fun time splashing around in the ocean with Erin watching a storm approach from afar. You could hear the rain storm hitting the ocean and see the grey clouds approaching, but still enjoy the sun and blue skies on our side of the water. Swimming and snorkeling here is seriously amazing. We were supposed to go to an outer island today and swim with sunken WWII ships and planes, which would have been AWESOME. Unfortunately, our boat got canceled and we couldn’t go. However, I am on Majuro so I will ABSOLUTELY be planning a trip there asap. Most of us went out and enjoyed the Majuro Bar scene on Friday, the night before we went to Laura. So many of us were… a little tired on our day at the beach. I ended up taking a truly lovely nap in a huge tree. I’m really loving living in nature. Showering in the rain, sleeping in a tree, swimming under the stars, all seem to fit quite perfectly into my daily routine. My nap was eventually ended when 5 little Marshallese boys came over and started whistling in my ear trying to get me to wake up, and running away as soon as I started to stir. The kids here are adorable, and so fascinated by us whenever we are around. They love dancing around together so that is usually my game of choice. They also love just climbing all over me, so that’s one of my favorite games as well because I don’t have to do anything. All the little boys (and many of the adults) have rat tail haircuts…. So as long as you avoid getting smacked in the eye with an unreasonably long rat tail, you’re ok.

We also successfully located a “Settlers of Catan” board game. (For those of you who don’t know, Settlers of Catan is a great board game that seems complicated, but really is not. You should all give it a try, you will be hooked). So we’ve been ending a lot of nights with some nice ukulele music and a game of Settlers. I’m a two time champion so I’ve been sleeping pretty soundly.

Anyway, that seems good for now folks. Please send me some letters so I feel loved when everyone here gets letters from home. Yokwe!

Posted by gabbyfo 20:04 Archived in Marshall Islands Comments (0)

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