A Travellerspoint blog

October 2014

Something Tropical This Way Comes

Well it’s another beautiful, hot, power-outage day here in the Marshall Islands. I am using what is left of my computer power to write a blog post in an effort to not get too far behind like I did a few weeks ago.

This week marks the first holiday I will be spending far from home. Halloween is this Friday, and it is obvious that this year is going to be unlike all of the rest. In anticipation of feeling homesick over the holidays I came equipped with some classic holiday films. For this spooky holiday I brought Hocus Pocus…hands down the best Halloween movie ever. Since Friday is also the day that report cards from quarter 1 are released (yay we made it! 3 to go), I planned on treating my students with a Halloween party, complete with candy and an exclusive showing of Hocus Pocus. I assumed that Halloween may be a bit different here than in America (everything is), but my field director invited me to a costume party and I keep seeing signs for haunted houses, so I thought it couldn’t be too different. I soon learned the error of my assumption. I have my students respond to a prompt at the beginning of every class, so today I asked “How do you celebrate Halloween in the Marshall Islands?” A couple of the kids said “Just how you white people do it. We sing songs to people at their house and they give us candy or money” (which… is clearly not how “us white people” do it). Most of my 60 tenth grade English students said that they didn’t “believe in Halloween” and neither did their families because they are Christian and can’t agree with a holiday that celebrates the devil. They also said that the haunted houses scared them…so I guess they aren’t too against it to give the haunted house a try. (One kid wrote that they didn’t believe in Halloween because Jesus isn’t dead and that maybe if he was they would believe in it….to which I say…. I think you missed a major plot point in the New Testament..) So that response took me aback a bit (it also made me start to question my Halloween party ideas). I understand that scary, demonic images may be particularly sensitive here because kids are exposed to all the nonsense that American children see everyday on television. However, I have decided that Hocus Pocus is 95% hilarious and 5% magical so we are watching it. I think it’s a good thing to be exposed to Marshallese culture, as well as a good thing to share a different cultural perspective with them. In other words, Halloween doesn’t have to be scary or demonic. You don’t have to dress up like a demon (which ALL of them wrote about in their journal), you can also dress up like peter pan, or a hipster Disney princess, or Hermione Granger, or Elyssa Ramirez (some of my favorite costumes past)… take your pick. I think one thing that may make some people overly defensive is that they legitimately believe in demons here. Black magic and witch craft is a real thing people discuss in regular conversation and use to explain bad things that happen. As I write this post I am becoming more and more uneasy about showing my awesome Halloween classic…. I guess we will just have to wait and see where the hot Pacific wind blows me.

UPDATE: I showed Hocus Pocus and my kids LOVED it. In fact we didn’t have time to finish it in one of my classes and they insisted on coming after school to finish it. Great success. I watched it three times (in three classes) yesterday and didn’t get sick of it…that’s a sign of a cinematic gem.

One thing that has been on my mind lately is how thankful I have become that I don’t have a host family. At first, it was really troubling that I didn’t feel connected to the community at all and felt like my experience here was being wasted without a host family. Now that things have started to settle down I am happy to be a lone agent. Erin (my friend from colleg, for those who don’t know) is living with a host family on the other said of my island and hearing about her life solidifies my feelings. For the few friends who read both of our blogs, feel free to skip this paragraph (I’m sure she is writing about her family in more depth), but it’s still a story worth telling. Living with a host family has its challenges along with its benefits. For starters, the food opportunities are quite different for the two of us. While my stipend is small and makes buying health food challenging, I still have the freedom to buy and eat the food I want. I have been trying really hard to eat healthy food, eating beans and veggies whenever I can. Erin is stuck eating the traditional Marshallese diet (ramen noodles, spam, corned beef, white rice, doughnuts and bread. A LOT of bread). Eating such an unhealthy, sodium and carb filled diet completely effects how a person feels physically, which I imagine effects how they are feeling emotionally. I am very thankful that I am living on my own, in Majuro, and have healthy food options available to me. In general it’s a hard situation, because you are likely to get annoyed and frustrated with your host family, just like you would your family in America, however you can’t really react naturally because these people aren’t actually your family and they are opening up their lives and homes to you. Her baba (dad) is a very sweet and well intended man who would drive anyone up the wall. The family doesn’t have a lot of money (they went a week and a half without electricity last month) and he is the only one working in the family. However, he often doesn’t go to work if he is hung over from drinking with his friends (which is pretty common) and he often asks Erin to contribute to paying for things that the money world teach gives him should be covering. Now I don’t mean to make baba to be some horrible, mean alcoholic, because he truly is so sweet and loving and well intentioned. However, cultural differences and a different way of life make this adjustment a hard one to swallow at times. This society is very patriarchal in the sense that the man is in charge of the house. Homes are passed down through the women though. Many of my students have written in their journals about how “if you respect your man, everything will be ok”…which the feminist in me is like….ok I’ll respect the men if they respect the ladies…. So in Erin’s house, what baba says goes and what baba does, goes unquestioned. Last week he was diagnosed with diabetes (probably because of how bad the Marshallese diet is and how often he drinks). Erin took that opportunity to try and explain to him how much sugar he eats and drinks. They drink primarily soda in their everyday lives, so she tried to explain to him how many grams of sugar were in one can of soda. It turns out he has never learned how to read a nutrition label so he has never bothered to look. In these moments I am so thankful for the education we receive in the United States that we take for granted. I don’t remember ever learning to read a nutrition label….it’s just something I know how to do. Even after she explained everything to him, he couldn’t quite grasp the concepts. Saying things like “I can’t drink soda, ok….what about sprite? That’s fine right?” Additionally, no one in the Marshall Islands really exercise, probably because it is too hot. This combination has made diabetes one of the leading diseases in the country. Another source of frustration is an inability to manage money effectively. Baba recently came home and informed the family that he sold their car for $2000.00 (which is a pretty fair price, since the car was pretty awful). Erin was hopeful that they would be able to put that money away, save it for occasions like last month when they didn’t have enough money to pay for energy, or use it to pay for baba’s medical needs. However, baba went out and had a shopping spree. He bought 6 giant bags of white rice, 6 cartons of eggs, a huge amount of soda and other unhealthy foods at the grocery store that Erin had just informed him probably gave him diabetes. He also decided to buy a 6 foot speaker with a disco ball at the top for $600 from a friend (who “gave him a great deal”) which is now sitting in the middle of their living room. Again, poor Erin is left in the awkward situation of feeling like she should get involved and educate her family on ways to responsibly handle money, but is also technically their “daughter” and living in a society where respecting your elders and holding your tongue are the norm. I’m sure not all host family situations are like this, and Erin does have some amazing benefits of living with them. They are so loving and welcoming, even to me, and she has fun with them quite often. However, these sources of awkwardness and frustration must take their toll.

Speaking of Erin, her and I have been working on a surprise for our friends in the Musical Theatre Club in Geneseo and have finally started recording our video. The details are a secret so stay tuned (but get excited).

One thing that I am still not used to is how shy and mild mannered the Marshallese are. (Unless of course if they are a male watching a female American go on a walk... then it's all bets off and all kinds of harassment). In class it’s hard for me to get people to participate a lot of the time because they are embarrassed to be the center of attention. People are very scared to do simple things, like take a piece of cake at a party (not a joke). Something may be happening to them that they feel very upset or outraged by and they will just sit back and allow the situation to continue without saying anything. They do not engage in conflict, even when it may be necessary. I think that may be one reason things don’t run particularly well here, people are never willing to question the original plan and suggest a better one. For those who do not know me as well as others, I am a very outspoken person (probably to an obnoxious degree) and this is a norm that I am having a probably accepting. My roommate (who is American) is also very opposed to conflict and will hold back her feelings and opinions to keep the peace. While her and I don’t ever fight or disagree really, I have observed situations with both her and other Marshallese people, where they were completely in the right and had valid concerns to voice, but they chose to sit back and let the other person win. In those moments, all I want to do it shake them and get in the middle of the situation to encourage a dialogue to begin. I am trying to learn how to hold my tongue during this year, which is going well for the most part (although it is killing me inside). However, I am doubtful that I would hold my tongue if I was in a situation where I felt outraged by something going on around me…in fact I am positive my outspoken nature would emerge and the opposing party probably wouldn’t understand what to do. Alas, patience is a virtue and in general, everything in moderation seems to be a good motto to live by. (I wear ying-yang earrings everyday here, and they keep reminding me that for harmony you need both the calm and the storm. A theme I have been embracing daily here)
One developing world quality that is starting to irritate me (and making me feel like a brat) is the constant power outages we seem to have on my side of town. This week alone we are having power outages on Thursday, Sunday and Monday. However, they only ever seem to take place on my side of town, on extremely hot days. We are supposed to have a teacher meeting day all day, but it keeps getting canceled and rescheduled because of the planned power outages (which I really don’t understand why they are getting planned and occurring in general), which is confusing everyone in the school about when the students need to be here. Also, it is impossible to sleep in my sauna of a room without a fan or AC, so I am exhausted the following day (not to mention gross and sweaty). At night you can’t really do much because you can’t read without a light, or go on your computer without an outlet or cook without appliances. I am worried that all of my food is going to go bad during the Sunday-Monday power outage, which for a poor volunteer like me would be a really tough loss financially. Also, whenever the power is off the water pump doesn’t work so all of our plumbing also is down for the count. I know I shouldn’t be complaining. Many people on the outer islands don’t have any electricity all year round and don’t have the option to eat food that is refrigerated what-so-ever. This is the type of “roughing it” life I signed up for this year and these are the challenging life situations I knew I would learn from. Ultimately, this is far from the end of the world. However, in the moment, its hell.

Speaking of hell, I started applying for graduate school this week. I have decided to apply for programs that offer a dual degree in Masters of Social Work and Masters in Public Health. I think that program would be incredibly interesting and important work that I would feel good about. The health conditions here are horrible and have made me take an increased interest in the health industry (lice, leprosy, measles, TB are all around, just to name a few). Also mental health is in my (psych major) opinion, equally important and should be given adequate attention. There is a staggering number of teen suicides in the Marshall Islands and it is a topic that is hardly ever discussed. Also, teen pregnancy is huge on the island. It probably because there is nothing to do here except play the ukulele and fish…so kids find better things to do with their time, and the sexual education and birth control options are minimal. To my knowledge, early termination is not an option what-so-ever here, so if you get pregnant, you are having a baby. It’s odd, I kind of see babies as pets here. There are SO many children around all the time, because people just keep having babies. Since this is a communal society, every generation of the family lives together. So adding another baby to the mix is just another mouth to feed. Anyway, it is for these reasons that I have taken an interest in Public Health. I have done a lot of research in the past few weeks and think I have my school choices narrowed down pretty well. I have a lot of work ahead of me (many essays and contacting people, not to mention applying to two different programs within each school in order to get into the dual major). I have also realized that my credentials are not going to really help me a lot when it comes to Public Health programs. I have little to no math and science experience in college (because I didn’t plan on going into any field that would require it) and I am worried that is going to work against me. I studied really hard for the math section of the GRE and actually did significantly better than their average test scored indicate…but my verbal section was neglected due to all my math studying and I am less impressive in that realm. Hopefully my GRE test scores help my case and I can write a convincing essay. I just hope that I don’t pile on all this work on top of my academic workload here for nothing. I am trying to keep the outlook that everything happens for a reason and if I get in somewhere that’s meant to be and if I don’t get in anywhere then maybe that’s not the direction I am meant to go in at this moment. I will admit, getting in no where would be disappointing. I guess we will just have to wait and see and hope that I can pull everything together in the next couple months.

On a completely Marshall Island-less note, I finished the “Song of Ice and Fire” series last week (better known as the Game of Thrones series…even though that’s only the title of the first book). I have bee working on the series since before I left for this trip and finishing it was bitter sweet. I am very anxious for the next book to come out and I can’t imagine how people who have been reading the books from the beginning must feel. I usually listen to the audiobook when I am trying to fall asleep to help with my insomnia and I spent about a week tossing and turning without any kind of story to lull me into a calm sleep. I finally caved and restarted the Harry Potter audiobook series, just to help me sleep at night. It is amazing. Starting the first book made me feel like a little kid again and I am very pleased to be taking this magical journey again. Now all I wish is that I could go back to Harry Potter world when I return to the states.

I also just saw the preview for the Into the Woods movie that is coming out in December. For those who don’t know, Into the Woods is my second favorite musical of all time and they are making it into a magical film, that from the trailer actually looks amazing. I am SO excited to see it and am seriously depressed that there is no way for me to see it when it comes out here. One of my strongest “first world” regrets since being here. It anyone wants to smuggle me an illegal copy, feel free.

Well this post seems quite long enough. I want to thank you all for continuing to support me and give me a reason to write these very long blog posts. I hope they are somewhat insightful and don’t sound too much like a lecture.

Thanks for reading!

Posted by gabbyfo 02:22 Comments (0)

Long Time, No See

Sorry for the hiatus

sunny 84 °F


So it’s been awhile, I realize I have been seriously neglecting my blog followers and I apologize profusely. Things have been crazy over here in the Pacific and I have gotten a bit carried away in my own life. Now I am going to attempt to squeeze in everything that has been going on in my life over the past few weeks.

1. I got a cat :D My room mate Joann and I have been discussing our desire to gain a furry friend, both for companionship and to intimidate the bugs and potential vermin looking to move in with us. Well, a miracle happened a few weeks ago when I was having lunch at Tide Table (a favorite rebelle restaurant on the island). I met a woman named Lori who told me that she was the President of the organization for animal welfare in the Marshall Islands and that if I had any friends interested in giving a cat a home, to let her know. In about 3 seconds I confirmed with Joann that she was on board, and ran to tell Lori that we were interested. Within the next hour I had been put in contact with a gentleman named Andy who was moving back to Taiwan and wouldn’t be able to bring his beloved cat along with him. Joann and I picked the name “Charlie Darwin” because its survival of the fittest out here with animals…plus Charlie is a cute name to say on a regular basis. The only major downside is that now I have the horrible song “Cheer Up Charlie” from the old school Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in my head all the time….(there it is again. Damn.) Charlie is amazing. He is sweet, affectionate, healthy, litter trained and over all the best free cat I have ever gotten overseas. I’m not sure what’s going to happen when my year is up, it seems like bringing him across the world would be very expensive on my non-existent budget…but for now at least he is loved and has a safe home. Animals are treated really poorly here and I would be heartbroken to subject any animal to that life if I could help it for anytime at all.Summary: Charlie is the bomb and I love him.
2. I got a ukulele! I have been hemming and hawing over the possibility of getting a ukulele for the past few weeks and one day I walked into E-Z Price and saw that they were on sale! I found a beautiful one that I immediately fell in love with on sale for $40 and decided to take the plunge. Although I am a poor volunteer, I am happy I spent my money on this instrument because it has already proven to be worth its price in terms of sanity. There really isn’t much to do in the Marshall Islands…. Everyone I meet (both foreigners and locals) pretty emphasize how little there is to do here and I am starting to realize how true that is. (That’s probably why the men sit outside and cat call 24/7, they literally have nothing better to do). Getting this ukulele has given me a fun activity to do and goal to work towards. It’s harder than I expected, I am definitely giving my guitar playing friends more credit than I used to. Regardless, I am loving it. I am still not very good, but I have figured out how to play “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz and “Almost Lover” by a Fine Frenzy by heart (they are the exact same chord progression, don’t be too impressed). The other day I learned “Prettiest Tree on the Mountain” by Ben Sollee and “Down on the Corner.” Hopefully, by the time I am back in America I will be a ukulele extraordinaire and will be ready to perform at birthday parties and weddings alike (at a cost of course… did I mention I’m a volunteer)

3. Erin and I met a very interesting person that I am calling “weekend friend Paul” because his name is Paul and we were only friends for a weekend. He approached Erin and I while we were swimming last weekend at the Marshall Islands Resort and we began chatting about our lives. He is currently coming to the end of his journey around the world. He got his MBA from Harvard a few year ago, worked for two years saving up money, quit his job and is now traveling the world writing a blog, specifically about different countries that he feels that American opinion doesn’t necessarily match the reality in that country. He’s been to Pakistan, India, Iran, basically all of Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific. He was a very fascinating man to talk to and I really enjoyed our two days of friendship. Talking to him made me feel extra self-conscious about not having my life completely figured out…granted he’s almost 30, I’m really not that much of a screw up… but never the less I started avidly researching grad schools the past few weeks. I’m having a hard time making concrete decisions here because on one hand I feel drawn to social work, which is what I planned on applying for, but on the other hand, living without the means to buy basic groceries that I want has made me hyper aware that I am not anxious to live close to the poverty line ever again. My solution has been that I have decided to apply for programs that only offer a double degree in Masters of Social Work and a Masters in Public Health. My thought behind this is that I can make myself more marketable, give myself more options and continue to work in a field that I believe is important. At the moment I am looking at schools in Colorado, Oregon, Albany, Michigan, Ohio and NYC, I was also considering Northern California but after being this far away from my friends and family I’m not sure I want to be settled so far away for more than a year. We’ll see what come of this. Being a teacher is unbelievably busy and applying for grad school is also quite time consuming. Hopefully I find a way to balance the two tasks with grace.

4. On a sad note, we had to move back to the dorms from hell last week. The Ministry of Education convinced the maintenance people to finally fix the plumbing problem. As soon as the pipes were replaced the MOE packed us up and moved us back in order to avoid paying extra money in apartment costs. I was concerned that my air conditioner was going to be broken still (because mine was the only one that didn’t get fixed). After I reminded my field director about my AC situation the maintenance people hurried to fix the problem, however my unit started leaking obscene amounts of water all over the place whenever it was turned on. So my floor was covered in water yet again and again I was feeling grouchy and gross. I reminded my field director about my hardship and it got fixed in the next few days. However, I did receive a well-deserved email reminding me to not take my Majuro luxuries for granted and complain so much. It’s easy for me to see everything I take for granted in America, but I have been losing sight of the things I take for granted just being on Majuro compared to the outer islands. The fact that I have any AC unit, or refrigerator or ice in my water or toilets connected to real plumbing is more than a lot of my fellow volunteers have and I need to continue to remind myself of that before I start whining. Joann and I have started saying “Majuro Problems” whenever we are about to complain about something ridiculous. Similar to “First World Problems,” but with a twist. Turns out you can still end up being a spoiled brat even when you’re showers entail pouring a bucket of cold water on your head.

5. On a positive note, I went to an island this weekend with my world teach friends Joann, Erin, Aras, Bobby and Andy. This island is pretty close to the main island, but still requires a boat to get there and is much more isolated and beautiful than Majuro is. We swam all day and explored the island, climbing coconut trees along the way for snacks and collecting shells. We grilled chicken and ate peanuts and reapplied sun screen like 500 times (it didn’t matter, we still got burned). We read our books quietly and just enjoyed being in such a beautiful place with beautiful people. We stayed over night and planned to have the boat come pick us up at 10:00 am the next morning. Once it got dark we swam out the floating dock and laid down to stare at the stars and talk about everything and anything. The water was filled with these small invisible specs of bugs or something that lit up when you touched them, so while you swam, little lights were popping up all around you. It was magical; I have never felt like a fairy princess more in my life. The starts were amazing, so clear and bright. The Milky Way was picture perfect. For a space nerd like me it was incredible. Eventually, we heard the rain approaching quickly and got to swim around in a rain storm, enjoying the bright lights popping up all around us and enjoying the blissful joy of that evening. In college I learned to love the rain because playing in a rain storm with your friends provides more entertainment than anything money could buy, and that principle holds true in the Marshall Islands. Eventually we got sick of the rain and swam back to our little shelter. Bobby and Aras were smart and brought hammocks that they hung up to sleep in (if anyone finds a cheap fold up hammock I would be happy to take it off your hands), while the rest of us laid down on the picnic tables to try and catch some shut eye. I had a bit of low moment to say the least. I forgot my medicine, which I have done every so often in the past without repercussion, but I guess my body couldn’t handle all the changed going on in my system and I ended up having a seizure around 1:00am. Joann heard me making some scary sounds and woke up around the tail end of my convulsions. She woke up the others and they were great friends. I haven’t had a seizure since I was a senior in high school so when I finally woke up I was pretty confused, but as they explained I quickly realized what was going on. The next few hours were pretty awful (as per usual) and my heart rate was racing up and down and my muscles kept tensing suddenly, making me anxious that it was going to happen again. Usually the 3 or 4 hours following a seizure is the most unpleasant part for me. Unfortunately, we were kind of stuck on this island. If something really serious had happened we could have called my field director and he could have jumped through some hoops to get a boat out to us but I knew I would be fine (and I was). I’m pretty sure I bit my tongue pretty hard though because it is killing me today and has a pretty nasty gash on the bottom of it. Alas, epilepsy problems. Needless to say, I plan on being overly cautious about remembering my medicine at all times (especially on an isolated island). I was woken up in the morning by the wild pigs and chickens roaming around the island and knew all was back to normal. (Side note: there are a remarkable number of pigs and chickens just randomly roaming around these islands, many more than I ever expected to be here)

6. Finally, the first quarter of the school year is coming to a close this week. Finals start tomorrow and conclude on Friday. I have almost survived the first 1/4th of being a real teacher and none of my students have died or cried in my class yet. So I’m considering it a success. The amount of time I have to devote to grading every day is absurd and I seriously appreciate every single teacher I have ever had more words can possibly express. I’m also the leader of the debate team, because I’m “an American and American’s like to argue.” Even though I don’t feel qualified what-so-ever for this job, I’m pretty excited about it. I’m planning on eventually building up to controversial topics like gay marriage and the separation of church and state….but for now we are starting small with “should homework be banned from schools,” more to come on how that goes. I’m feeling optimistic that I only have 3/4th to go, hopefully if I get into a solid routine time will move even faster. I’m enjoying my time here, but also am anxious to see my friends and family back home (and taste greek yogurt and fresh salad). I anticipate that by the time I leave here I will find it hard to adjust to the culture shock in America. Already I know that I am going to hate how attached everyone is to their smart phones and social media. I have really enjoyed severing ties with my iphone and not having to feel like I have to constantly be checking something to see if I matter to someone. Also, the constant consumerism being shoved in your face is something I really don’t miss and imagine will be overwhelming when I am surrounded by it again. I also am guessing that I am going to get more and more comfortable with the slow moving lifestyle here and will probably find the fast paced nature of American culture to be somewhat overwhelming. However, we shall see if these predictions hold true in the next 9 months.

On a frustrated note, the school has banned facebook except from the hours of 7:00-8:00, which is completely pointless if I am try to contact anyone on the Eastern Time Zone. Additionally, the wifi that I would normally use (also through the school) hasn’t been working for the past few days so it looks like my communication with the outside world is going to be at a low for a little while. Wa, wa, wa, Majuro problems.
That seems to cover all the essentials at the moment. I hope you are all having great success in wherever your lives have brought you. Stay tuned for more Marshall Islands updates, hopefully the next one won’t take me so long to accomplish!

Posted by gabbyfo 00:15 Archived in Marshall Islands Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]