A Travellerspoint blog

Marshall Islands

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.


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)

The History of Bikini Atoll and some happier tidbits

84 °F

Hello my Gablogers (I wanted to give you a fun cool name like “Beliebers” ect….so get ready for some corny openings in the next few posts)

It’s been a lovely end of my first week in my Majuro Paradise. I can’t believe I have only been here for a week and two days. It feels like an eternity. I will say that the heat is not getting any less horrible. In fact I think I’m getting more impatient with it every day. We have all been told that Marshallese people are lazy and don’t want to go anywhere and just stay in their house all day or get a cab to just drive them down the street. I totally get it now, its so damn hot that I don’t want to walk from my room to our classroom. They aren’t lazy. They are smart. I can see that I will be adopting this Marshallese doctrine in no time. Also the cabs here are SO cheap. You pay a flat rate of 75 cents anywhere you go. So taking a cab is not only necessary due to the heat, but also completely manageable. The other option that is just as common is hitch hiking. Unlike our “stranger-danger” outlook on hitch hiking in America, pretty much everyone hitch hikes everywhere here. You just wave cars down…or throw rocks at them (I think I’m going to avoid that). My American upbringing made me pretty uneasy about this option at first. However, our field directors said it was safe and they pretty much try to scare us away from any danger at all times. (They told us that in the outer islands (where drinking is prohibited), if you are caught drinking they will tie you naked to a tree and leave you there for a day or two…..) Last night was my first hitch hiking experience. People stop all the time for hitch hikers. Pretty much any time you see a pick up truck (which is all the time) it is filled with like 10 Marshallese people. If there is room in the back they will stop and pick you up if you flag them down and take you where you want for a grand total of $0. If they don’t have room for you they just give you a friendly little honk to say “hey sorry I see you but I’m full.” This kind of attitude seems to be pretty representative of the Marshallese way of life. Everyone I’ve met here is so kind and friendly. Some people are a little shy but still smile and wave and seem happy that you are there. Unlike other countries where they try to rip off tourists or Americans who don’t know the prices or goods or services, no one I know has ever been ripped off in any way. In fact, a lot of places will give you a small discount if they find out we are from World Teach. We are basically like local celebrities, both because we are American and stick out like a sore thumb, and because we are teaching their children basically for free. It’s a very positive environment and honestly one of the safest programs I think that world teach has to offer. It is virtually under no threat of attack from any country and the people are generally kind and helpful. The worst thing I’ve encountered is a drunk man insisting that he play a song for us on the ukulele….So I think all things considered, we’ve got it good.

As much as I hate the heat, I have learned to adore the rain. Running around in the light, refreshing sprinkle of rain in the afternoon cools everyone down. The BEST is when it pours for like 20 minutes sometimes at night and most of us either run around and play in it, or take awesome showers. It’s the best because its fresh rainwater, you can use as much as you want and I can actually get all the shampoo out of my hair. Rain showers have quickly become my favorite bathing experience I have ever had. Plus its fun to do with a bunch of friends running around and laughing with you.

One thing that has been pretty overwhelming this week is learning about the atomic bomb testing that the United States did on Bikini Island in the Marshall Islands after World War II and the aftermath of those tests. We all watched this documentary called “Radio Bikini” and it was very good and very heavy. It used almost 100% clips from videos taken by the US government during that time. It made me much more emotional than I expected. If you can get access to it, I really encourage everyone to watch it. We also listened to a presentation by this man who came with the Peace Corp’s 30 years ago and never left. He discussed more about the aftermath of the tests on the surrounding islands and the natives, where as the documentary focused on the soldiers mostly and the tests themselves. Both presentations were very interesting and equally important. This information has had a serious impact on me and I really encourage everyone to look more into it…However I am also going to divulge some details in this post because I think this is a story that needs to be told and if my blog enlightens even 1 person to this tragedy I will consider it a success. Basically after WWII, between the years 1946 – 1958, the United States government set off 30 nuclear devices on the island of Bikini in the Marshall Islands. Bikini is one of the most beautiful of the Islands, with sandy beaches (whereas most islands have hard, scratchy coral, and a plethora of healthy fish, crab and food growing on the island. After the United States dropped the two atomic bombs in Japan, the government decided that more tests were required. The US was a protectorate of the Marshall Islands at the time, having pledged to protect the islands from harms way. Therefor the US had control of the islands and told the natives on Bikini that they needed to move away from their home “for the good of mankind.” The people who lived there didn’t speak English and have since stated that they weren’t completely sure of what the US was going to do. They were told that they needed to leave their homes, but that as soon as the tests were done they would be able to go back home as if nothing had happened. They were moved to the island Rongerik Atoll, because there was no one living there, and left to fend for themselves. The reason that no one in the Marshall Islands lived on this island was because it was not a safe place to live. The islanders considered this island a “hell” and thought it was cursed by demons. The reason they thought this was because all of the fish surrounding the island were unsafe to eat. (There are many small areas around the outer islands that have poisonous fish, but the locals know which ones they are and avoid them). Also the ground was so lacking of nutrients that nothing was able to grow. additionally, because there was little-no food the crabs could not even survive. Therefore these people were left by the government and began to slowly starve. The men would eat small portions of the poisonous fish so they just felt sick, rather than going into paralysis (which occurs when ingesting an entire fish) and the women and children ate primarily crushed up coconut meat from the few trees that grew on the island. At this time a number of people starved to death on this island. Meanwhile, the US government moved onto Bikini and enjoyed the tropical oasis as the tests and cameras were set up. They spent millions of dollars on camera equipment in order to film every moment of these tests to show the rest of the world. (That’s how Radio Bikini has so much vintage footage). One of the low ranking marines was interviewed in the documentary and describes how the army didn’t divulge any nuclear concerns to the unknowing soldiers, they were not warned of any possible nuclear radiation. They chained sheep, pigs and rats to the island and lathered some in sun screen to see if that would protect them from the bomb. Then after they vacated the island and dropped the first bomb. About 2 hours after the bomb was dropped all the low ranking marines entered the island and collected materials and took notes about the damage. When they returned to base, they ran radiation detectors over the soldiers (who were obviously were covered), so they had to take showers (in the radiation infected water from the surrounding ocean) until the government said it was safe. This process continued for the soldiers for the subsequent bombs over the next 10 years. 1948, Dr. Leonard Mason, an anthropologist from the University of Hawaii, visited the temporary home of the relocated islanders on Rongerik Atoll and was horrified when he found the people were starving. He told the US if they didn’t do something soon, the entire population of Bikini Atoll would die of starvation. So they moved the remaining natives to the small island of Kili. This island was not as hellish as the first (which currently remains completely uninhabited) but also lacked the plethora of nutrients and food options as most of the islands in the Marshall Islands. It was also much smaller than their previous home and the land distribution was minuscule. In the Marshall Islands, money is not the sign of power or influence, its how much land you own and it is passed down to family members for generations. When slivers of land were distributed equally among the surviving natives they were unsurprisingly disappointed, but did their best to make it work. They were given one pot to cook food and feed the couple hundred islanders that lived on the island. In Kili, some natives continued to die of starvation because the island was not big enough to provide the amount of food necessary to support the couple hundred natives who were moved there. The US government continued to test nuclear weapons, the most powerful atomic weapon that was tested was 1000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The bomb that caused the most damage was called “Bravo” and was detonated underwater, destroying a fleet of navy ships, killing fish for thousands of miles, setting off a tidal wave and contaminating the surrounding water further than any other bomb tested. After the government decided to stop tests they waited until June 1968 to inform the Bikini council that they could return to their home. However, the council had discovered that the coconut crabs had high levels of radiation and couldn’t be eaten and thought that the “poison” that the US had dropped on their home made it unsafe to return. Most of the natives chose to relocate as refugees to other islands, without land, without anything to make them feel apart of a community. A small number of families returned to Bikini, but got very sick and most died of radiation related health problems in the few years following their return. Additionally a huge amount of US soldiers who were taking samples and notes from the island died of radiation related health problems following their time at Bikini Atoll. Additionally, the strength and direction of the wind during the testing of certain large bombs (which the US government has now admitted to knowing about the wind conditions and the direct aim for surrounding inhabited islands) led to a number of health problems for inhabitants of surrounding islands. Ultimately, the United States, who pledged to protect the Marshallese people from harms way, directly put them into it, for years and years to come. I don’t mean to insinuate that they did so maliciously, but that doesn’t make this tragedy any less abominable. To me, it seems like a bunch of little boys playing with toys that they didn’t understand, with little regard for the consequences. They obviously were aware that radiation existed and could cause problems, or they wouldn’t have been looking for it on their soldiers (and the higher ranking officers would also have been expected to enter the danger zone). I think it is unacceptable that this is a piece of our history that is never taught in school. I don’t remember hearing about these islands or tests every in my 18 years of public school education. The ability to take responsibility for a mistake and admit to fault is a standard that I would hold those in power to. It is unacceptable that is seems to be a piece of history that we brush under the rug as unimportant. The exploitation of less powerful, more vulnerable people, living in the developing world is a problem that we ignore. It is something that should be included in our history so that history does not repeat itself. Since this tragic mistake, the United States has given money to the natives of Bikini, but money is not a substitute for the loss that these people have endured. In a society where land is ones sign of wealth and tradition is where they get their pride, a few million dollars cannot mend the wounds. Including the amount of funds it would take to clean up Bikini to make it safe to inhabit does not make the money that they have been given seem nearly as large as it does at first glance. In 1988 a journalist from the New York Times interviewed an elder from Bikini who survived throughout the whole ordeal, which led to the quote of the day in the NY Times, stating, "We've learned to dry our tears of sorrow with dollar bills. But money never takes the place of Bikini.'' - Lore Kessibuki, visiting his island homeland. I have only given a brief summary of this tragedy, but it is a story that needs to be told. It has had a tremendous influence on my experience here. Sorry to be a Debbie downer, but as I said before, we need to learn our history and not be ignorant to the incredible mistakes our country has made. I don’t mean to downplay any positive contributions the United States has made in the world, only acknowledge the entirety of our history, rather than picking and choosing the pretty parts and ignoring the ugly ones.

So that rant was rather long, but I hope you have made it through it all and are interested enough to watch that documentary “Radio Bikini” because its important and pretty interesting to see vintage footage.

In an attempt to end on a lighter note, you can buy cold coconuts here and drink the delicious coconut milk, then open it up and eat the most fresh coconut meat I have ever had all for $1. It’s amazing, Especially for a coconut lover like me. Also my Marshallese and Sign Language is getting better! I was practicing a lot with the local kids a few nights ago, which was actually SUPER helpful because the pronunciations are hard and I would have been practicing wrong if they hadn’t been there to laugh and me and steer me straight. They are also just to happy to be around us, so it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. They see us on the streets and run up to grab our hands and play, no matter who they are, which is even more amazing than the coconuts. As soon as I wake up in the morning and go down for breakfast I hear kids outside our gate yelling “GABBY! GOOD MORNING GABBY” and get the same star treatment at night before we go to bed. I’ve never felt like such a celebrity. My only problem right now is that sometimes I accidentally use the sign language I’m learning when I’m speaking to a Marshallese person… learning two languages at once is confusing for my system. Luckily everyone here is patient and happy to help.

Anyway I think I have written more than anyone wants to read at this point to I will spare your eyes. Until next time friends

Posted by gabbyfo 18:09 Archived in Marshall Islands Tagged bikini atoll Comments (0)

Newest Thought Bubble

83 °F

Hello all!

So not much has changed since my last post on Sunday, but I have the chance to get on the internet today and I’m not sure when I will get this chance again. Our schedule keeps changing pretty much every day so even when free time is budgeted into the schedule there are no guarantees. Apparently you can get an unlimited internet access card for $35 from one place, but our lack of free time during orientation has made me decide to hold off until I am in my placement. We stopped in front of my school the other day and it looked pretty much like a prison from the outside…..so we shall see. I met the principle of my school for a brief moment and she seemed really sweet. We didn’t have time to talk really but I’m excited to get to know her. It took a lot of effort to even say hello to our principles. Running on “Marshallese time” pretty much means that people are late and unreliable and plans are constantly changing without any notice what-so-ever.

We learned more Marshallese yesterday and it’s still super fun but not getting any easier. I’m trying to make up songs to help myself remember but it’s not going so well. On the other hand, I’m picking up sign really fast so that’s good!

As I described last time, Aras and Chris were robbed a few nights ago and we all collected money to give to them. We managed to collect $550 dollars and gave Aras his full $500 back and Chris the remaining $50. I think this made Aras feel a lot more comfortable and welcomed. It is so refreshing being around so many giving people. As soon as we heard what happened we all immediately went into action to help our fellow friend out. I feel very safe and supported by these amazing people. Many of them have lived such incredible lives already. Our token Scottish volunteer was a professor and soccer coach at a college for a number of years and traveled through Africa painting schools. Another girl lived in Uganda for a year working in a hospital and spent a semester at sea, traveling all over the world during college. Another volunteer lived in Panama teaching English and is currently applying to work in Africa in the Peace Corp after our program is over. Everyone is so impressive and while at different points in their lives, have ended up in the same place. It has made me feel much more confident and comfortable about not really having my life on a solid pathway yet. Having all age groups around me has reminded me that the journey of life is not nearly as static as we make it seem and that I have my whole life to work a 9-5 job.

Also we have been talking a lot about necessities for those volunteers living on outer islands (which is most of the bunch). I keep going back and forth on how I feel about living in the city. On one hand, the rural way of life and traditional, communal customs makes the outer island experience seem so incredibly rewarding. On the other hand…. The fact that I don’t have to stock up on 40 rolls of toilet paper to last me 6 months is pretty appealing. Also we toured the wellness center in Majuro that has a gym and garden that sells fresh, healthy food and is only a short cab ride away. I’m looking forward to getting involved in things there. After the United States evacuated 3 islands in order to do nuclear bomb testing in the 50’s they started donating food to the thousands of islanders that were suffering from the health hazards that inevitably come along with years and years of nuclear testing and waste in the water. These food packages were filled with spam and soda pop and other cheap processed foods that have become a staple in the Marshallese diet. A common breakfast for children in the Marshall Islands is Kool aid and Ramen noodles. Fresh produce is very hard to come by because of a lack of nutrients in the soil and the scorching hot temperatures. These eating habits have led over 50% of the islanders to get type 2 diabetes before age 30. The wellness center has been dedicated to helping treat some of the diabetes problem but still has a long way to go. I’m really happy that I am close to the wellness center and hopefully can get involved there in some way.

I also got to go snorkeling finally! I’m still waiting for my goggles in the mail (the postage system sucks HARD here…hopefully one day I get my stuff) but one of the volunteers let me borrow his. Snorkeling was SO fun, there are so many tropical fish everywhere you look. I was expecting pounds of trash in the water, and while they do have a problem in terms of overflowing garbage dumps the water is much more clean than I was anticipating. Apparently if you snorkel at night you can see small, safe sharks sometimes and if you get up early enough can see dolphins every morning from afar. I’m excited to spend a year swimming with these beautiful creatures. I also met our neighbor Jason (a former World teach volunteer and field director) who lives with his girlfriend and 6 guard dogs (who are actually quite sweet once they get used to you) and raises exotic clams to sell to aquariums. He gave a few of us a full tour early today and it was beautiful. I had no idea how colorful (and expensive) clams are. Some people pay some pretty big bucks for aquarium additions.

Also I just received a letter from my grandmother so it looks like small letters get here pretty fast so feel free to send me love letters <3. They definitely make me smile :)

For now that is all. I will continue to write as events and thoughts are manifested.

Ta ta for now.

Posted by gabbyfo 21:03 Archived in Marshall Islands Comments (0)

Opening statement and three days across the globe

Hello all! I’m not really sure if there is a “right” way to keep a blog…. So my plan over the next year is to use this piece of the internet as a sort of inner monologue. Ideally it will end up changing and evolving as I do throughout this adventure, but for now please anticipate nonsense anecdotes and thoughts that are swimming in my brain.

So, first things first, what adventure am I referring to? Over the next year I will have the honor of living in Rita, Majuro in the Marshall Islands. At this point I honestly have very few expectations about what this year will bring. I will be teaching at the Marshall Islands High School and trying to share whatever wisdom I have in me (hopefully there is something in there worth passing along). I have a lot of experience working with kids, however, the oldest child I’ve worked with extensively has been 10… So at this point I’m pretty terrified of the daunting task of teaching a gaggle of high school students, especially ones that have spent their whole lives growing up in a culture that I am only beginning to experience. I’m 5’2”. Some of them are going to be bigger than me. I make a lot of jokes, bad jokes, a lot of them. Perfect for a younger crowd, and perhaps not as captivating for a more mature Marshallese audience. The general advice I’ve gotten from friends and family is to hide any fear I have and exude confidence from the beginning. So I will try my best and keep my fingers crossed. I have a feeling that my students will end up teaching me as much, if not more, than I am able to teach them. I have no idea what this year will have in store for me but I look forward to every wonderful friendship and every difficulty as an opportunity to learn something about myself and the world.

Anyway, at this point my adventure has consisted almost entirely of traveling. Before this trip I had not really traveled far out of my time zone and (excluding vacationing in Jamaica for a week in 2009) I have never left North America. The Marshall Islands is far away. SUPER far away. It is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and is 16 hours ahead of my home time zone in New York. So I will be living a day in the future from my family and friends back at home (I’ll be sure to give you guys a heads up if the world is ending and give you the final scores of sports games a day before they happen in America, as long as I can collect half of the gambling winnings). Needless to say, I have had a long few days of traveling and have no concept of time at the moment.

On Monday I drove from Albany to Boston with my generous father who agreed to listen to Fiddler on the Roof and Wicked on the way (what a guy) and then met up with my fellow adventurer Erin Girard. She has been a joy the past few days and has made this transition so much less overwhelming, I am very grateful that our paths led us both to this program at the same time. We were supposed to take a plane from Boston to LA at 7:20, but unfortunately our flight got delayed 2 hours. As ‘glass half full’ kind of people (literally) we took this opportunity to drink over priced airport beer and catch up on our lives since we left Geneseo and our thoughts about our lives over the next year. We had to part ways during the flight and suffered our own respective hardships during the ride. Erin had the bad luck of sitting next to the token screaming baby, and I was given the task of trying to survive a 6 hour plane ride next to a sleeping man with the most disgusting breath I have ever come in contact with (and I lived with Joey Visconti). Which honestly doesn’t sound that bad, but considering that he slept with his mouth wide open pointed at my face for a majority of the trip I was pleasantly surprised that I managed to stay conscious the whole time. Finally we landed in LA and met up with Erin’s friend Keith, who was such an incredibly kind and generous host. He insisted that Erin and I sleep in the bed while he slept on the couch because “there’s no memory foam mattresses in the Marshall Islands.” I thought, Fair enough, and didn’t put up much of an argument. The next day we woke up and drove with Keith to work in Hollywood. He is currently working on the set of the t.v show “Castle” and was able to give us a personal tour of the full studio. The attention to detail in each of the sets was so incredible and made the actor in me quite jealous of the people who get to work in an environment like that every day. We even got to see some props from the show “Lost,” so needless to say, it was a pretty awesome tour. We also got to bop around the shops in a less touristy area of Hollywood and had a great time. First of all, there was literally not a single cloud in the sky all day. It was amazing, and kind of unreal how clear the sky was there. Also there were adorable, small, fluffy dogs everywhere you looked.

After exploring the surrounding Hollywood area for a couple hours we were off to LAX to meet most of the other volunteers that we will be working with this year and switch time zones yet again. I was pretty anxious about meeting everyone but those nerves were quickly calmed when everyone was so friendly and outgoing. I’m excited to get to know them and learn about all the amazing things they have done and have plans to do. Our plane left LA at 7:30 and flew into a golden sunset, heading toward Honolulu, Hawaii. Our flight got in at 10:30 in Hawaiian time and we had to be back at the airport at a charming 4:30 am. Woof. We woke up at 3:00 and groggily enjoyed our last shower for a while. (We will be doing “bucket showers’ over the next month…which is exactly what it sounds like.) It took the hotel shuttle 3 trips to get all 30 volunteers to the airport but eventually we all made it safe and sound. While I didn’t get the chance to see much of Hawaii the airport was surprisingly lovely. For the most part all hallways were open and let in a refreshing tropical breeze. It made me want to stay for longer on our way back a year from now to see more of the island (if the airport is beautiful…I imagine the rest of the island is pretty impressive). Also, as my close friends will tell you, I LOVE airport art. I was actually planning on having an airport art section of this blog post but I was disappointed to find very little art in the Boston and LAX airport. Hawaii however had beautiful statues and a beautiful mosaic of constellations on the main floor (WOO!) and some recreations of the islands natural foliage. Overall, the airport absolutely convinced me to explore Hawaii more. Then we were off to our final destination! Along with a few dozen Marshallese natives rocking some sick muumuu’s and offering constant friendly greetings. I ended up chatting briefly with the flight attendant who actually grew up in the city that I will be teaching in. When I asked her for some “insider tips or island secrets” she told me that every Sunday the community has a picnic at one of the islands and that you can hop on any boat and go eat and mingle with everyone. She warned me that there are no malls or establishments that I am used to in America and I quickly proclaimed that I would rather have a picnic than a mall any day. So I’m pretty excited for that!

The pilot announced that we would be landing soon in the Marshall Islands and immediately we all got excited and starting peering out the window trying to snag a glimpse of the place we would be spending the next 11 months. We were surprised when all we saw was the vast blue ocean that we had been flying over for what felt like forever. (I knew that most of the world was covered in ocean..but I don’t think I truly appreciated what that meant until this trip. WOW there is A LOT of ocean) Slowly we starting to see the thinnest strip of land I have ever seen in my life with small ant sized islands surrounding it. You could feel the excitement on the plane rise, especially from the world teach volunteers who were all trying to snap the perfect picture behind the flight attendants backs (“ALL ELECTRONIC DEVICES AWAY PLEASE”), making some Marshallese enemies before we even landed..great. I could feel the air stick to you as soon as I stepped onto the stairs leading out of the plane. The breeze made the heat feel warm and welcoming and the smell of sea air was intoxicating. Walking through Marshallese customs consisted of a man sitting at fold out table looking at my passport and welcoming me to the island. Then a forklift manually (and slowly) moved our luggage from the plane to the waiting area while I started to sweat like I have never sweat before. I didn’t realize that the tops of my feet were even capable of sweating. 10 minutes after landing and I was learning new things about myself already. I walked around the near by area and was overwhelmed with the beauty of this tropical oasis. The island is so thin that you literally can see ocean on either side of you at all times. The water is the clearest blue green I have ever seen, and SO warm. Even the trees are amazing, palm trees with coconuts ripe for the picking and so many others …if I knew more about trees I would tell you what they are, maybe in a few weeks I will compose a more educated tree post. Eventually we all piled onto a school bus with our luggage and headed for the orientation site, where my 3 days of traveling would come to a close for the most part. With that I am closing this travel post and will write more about life here in due time.

Yokwe! (An interchangeable word for Goodbye, Hello and Love  )

Posted by gabbyfo 16:58 Archived in Marshall Islands Comments (0)

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