Welcome to my blog on my year (July 2010 - June 2011) in the Marshall Islands! The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a Micronesian nation composed on 29 coral atolls and 5 islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean just west of the International Date Line and just north of the Equator. I am here on the Dartmouth Volunteer Teaching Program which you can find out more about at this link: www.dartmouthrmi.com. I am staying in the capital, Majuro, and am teaching two sections of 7th grade English Grammar/Writing and English Reading at Majuro Middle School (MMS). I am living in dorms on the Marshall Islands High School (MIHS) campus, where MMS is located. If you have any other questions please feel free to email me at l.andrew.rayner@gmail.com, and thanks for visiting my blog. I update on Sundays as regularly as electricity/internet availability permits.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Bar Lo Kom

It is truly a strange thing to leave a new place in which you have lived for a year. Knowing if you will return or not is irrelevant when that place is, or was, so different from where you came from in the first place. A month ago, I looked on my departure from the Marshall Islands with glee. I could not wait to get home, back to the place I knew and loved. However, as the end came nearer, my feelings became more conflicted--I knew I would miss this place. Now, as I sit on the bus, riding through Majuro to the airport for the last time, I find myself trying to figure out what it is that attaches us to a place. What is it that makes a place feel like home?

What first comes to mind is the idea of the familiar. When I first came to the RMI, so many things seemed new and strange. I was on a small piece of land. Brand names and stores I knew and trusted didn't exist here. There was a language I had never heard. There were so many new faces. As I went through my last day here, I was extremely conscious of the faces around me. Upon arrival, I was in the spotlight: I was the new ribelle, the new face. Now, I am a part of the masses. As I went to the post office or to school or to MIR, I saw so many people that I had befriended or shared experiences with over the past year. A head nod, a "Yokwe" or "Hello," or a wave were all that were needed to cement these relationships knowing that we were most likely to see each other again soon. I would walk down the street in Rita and hear so many children say, "Andrew!" or "Mr. Andrew, where are you going?" Other volunteers joked that I was famous but I knew that it was simply because I had walked that road so many times before. The choices I made on where to go on a Friday night or where to eat out or where to get the best this or that were all based on familiarity. Experiences compounding on experiences. Experiences of ribelle and rimajol, of me and you folding into one another. Riding away from all of that on this bus pains me a bit knowing that that which has become familiar will be so far away, replaced by things I have known much longer, some with much less intimacy. Things that aren't as fresh in my mind.

Familiarity breeds comfort. After having lived in Majuro, I feel extremely comfortable there, despite occasionally uncomfortable conditions. Any situation I faced or person I met I could handle because this atoll, this town was my home. I always found it so funny and strange that outer island volunteers would come to Majuro and talk about how crazy or strange it was. Once again, I guess the time I spent there turned what seemed strange or disquieting at first into ordinary and common place. I am glad that wild dogs or cockroaches no longer unnerve me. Why should they? I am a much less high maintenance/picky person as a result of my experiences here. I learn that people in most places don't have thoughts of choices and that living with a few is just as exciting.

Granted, some things never became comfortable. I knew they existed and in exploring them, I was able to try to understand them. In that understanding, or in the attempt, I found comfort. I am by no means comfortable with the high levels of alcoholism or domestic violence. I am not comfortable knowing what goes on in some classrooms and what doesn't go on in others. Even politics and bureaucracy here makes me uncomfortable sometimes. I will not say that I have learned to stop judging, but I have learned that different values, histories, and geographies create different cultures. I take comfort in knowing that despite my discomforts, I was able to settle in and find my place in a world that was not mine. I am happy that I became comfortable enough to be able to seek out dialogue with Marshallese people about their lives.

More base than that, simple comforts like routines have made this place homey as well. Getting up about 10 minutes before school started, walking to school with Mandy, teaching, lunch, teaching more, going to the gym, cooking dinner, and playing cards or watching movies was the path I took almost every day. It does not seem like much, but in the spaces between those commas, worlds shook, lessons were learned, friendships were made, and perspectives were changed. The students, teachers, ribelles, workout buddies, and acquaintances that were part of my routine helped make me more comfortable than they will ever know.

On a grander scale, I think that the Pacific is simply a more comfortable place than the “modern First World.” I remember having a conversation with my field director, Anna, during our mid-service where I asked her why she had stayed out here so long. At this point in the adventure, I was extremely jaded and through all my frustrations could not understand why anyone would choose to stay in the Pacific. She simply told me that she enjoyed the way of life. At that point the answer was unsatisfactory for me, but looking back over the experience, the Pacific is like no place I have ever been. The slow pace, the kindness, the friendliness, the charity, the lack of worry, and the warmth all come together to truly create paradise. It is difficult to live there and not be overwhelmingly comfortable. I think this is the reason that so many ex-pats settle in the Pacific and why Islanders have no interest in leaving. What the islands lack in modern comforts, they make up for in making each other comfortable. To my school family, my host family, my friends, our memories will a part of the stars and the waves in the ocean. Thank you.

Which leads me to my final and most important thought on home, one that I never considered before coming to the RMI--the feeling of nostalgia. I write this final portion from the airport in San Francisco. I am one plane ride away from being home. Here, as I sit in the airport food court eating after having wandered around looking slack-jawed at dining facilities that all served food that was more elaborate than anything served in the RMI (and after having chosen the simplest thing), I am amazed by what I see what and I miss already. Technology like escalators, walking platforms, or water fountains—things that I always took for granted—are a welcome reminder of the world that I left behind for this past year. Still, the onslaught of advertisements, the fact that seemingly everyone has a iPad (why, I do not know) and how cold, impassive, unfriendly, and unfamiliar everyone is makes me long for more golden shores. I think that home truly becomes home when you leave it and you are able to long for it. You long for the way that things were; the comforts and familiar things that you grew to know so well. You long to return to a place where you knew you belonged even if that place doesn't exist anymore in the same way that it used to in the past that you remember. Even a few hours after leaving the RMI I can feel it calling back to me. I do not know when I will answer that call, but to all of you who are there, know that I envy you. I envy the comfort and peace that comes with sunny smiles and the sounds of the ocean lapping the shore. That little island in the sun, though dirty and filled with problems of its own, is a paradise kingdom. Revel in it. I know I have.

I would have liked to make this more political, to have commented on the government, the education system, the state of ribelles, and the like. But, this is not the place for that, and in looking back, those are not the things I will remember the most fondly. I will remember the late night conversations at MIR where Yvonne, me, and Marshallese ministers and senators tried to solve the world's problems. I will remember dancing with Anne, Angela, Lauren, and Kim at the Pub. I will remember the Pinho's porch. I will remember the view from the top of the water tower at sunrise and sunset. I will remember the sunsets and seeing God in each and every one of them. I will remember the walk to Tide Table, the heat of the sun, and the island breeze. I will remember how to open a coconut and what "Yokwe" really truly means. I will remember Thursday Night Potlucks, Kung Fu Tuesdays, Wednesday Meetings, and the Insanity Workouts. I will remember walking across the ocean only to be terrified by packs of dogs on Ejit. I will remember diving into the ocean from a floating island platform on the most beautiful island I have ever seen. I will remember the sunken planes. I will remember the bluest blue I have even seen. I will remember the drives to Laura. I will remember riding on the back of trucks. I will remember the card games and the movie nights. I will remember running from the rain and dancing in it on the street during New Years at Block Party. I will remember my first Christmas and Thanksgiving away from home. I will remember the first turkey I cooked. I will remember all the friends I made. But most of all, I will remember my students. I will never forget you 107 and 104. Remember, "Oh, the places you'll go!"

The Marshall Islands was an incredible adventure. Thanks for journeying with me.

Bar Lo Kom and see you soon,


PS: I have started my adventures in Bosnia. I will be keeping my new, more frequent/viral blog on my new wordpress page: http://andrewraynerbih.wordpress.com/ Hope to see you there!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Technical Difficulties

Due to MORE computer problems as a result of the RMI salt and humid climate, I will not be updating until right before I leave the Marshall Islands on June 3rd. That will be my final post in this country. Thanks so much for your support!

Quick update: School is ending this week and things are winding down quickly. This past Friday, my students had an all day show where they presented the books they wrote, illustrated, and bound. Ribelles from outside of the school and many of the teachers and students at MMS came to support. I was extremely proud of them. This week we will be filming the Peter Pan play we have been working on all term. The filming will culminate with a massive water balloon fight, which, besides being an opportunity for my students to pelt me and vice versa, will represent the battle between the pirates and the Lost Boys. Suffice to say, I am very excited for it. This past weekend, I finally spent a night in Laura, the other, more untouched and suburban part of the Majuro island with some of the WorldTeachers who are stationed out there. While out there I finally got up the courage to go past the breakers and see the coral drop off that makes this island a coral atoll. It was a terrifying experience because the waves were high, but rewarding to finally see. The Laura experience was also nice because I finally got to stay with a host family and live like the Marshallese do.

Until the final update,

Bar Lo Kom,


Monday, May 9, 2011

"Tell Them" by Kathy Jetnil

With less than a month to go (25 days to be exact) I have extremely mixed feelings about leaving the Marshall Islands. If you asked me a few weeks ago how I would feel about leaving, I would have said "Ecstatic! Super! Incredible! SOOO ready!" But, the closer the day comes, and the more I think about it, the more I realize I will miss this place. This little floating island in the middle of the Pacific has many magical elements to it--things that will never be emulated in any other part of the world. Instead of getting into the nitty gritty of my internal turmoil (sounds dramatic right?), I wanted to present to you readers the best and most powerful description of the islands that I have heard to date. While in the islands, I have had the fortune of meeting a Marshallese girl by the name of Kathy Jetnil at the Thursday night gatherings. She works in communications at the College of the Marshall Islands and, to steal a bit from her blog, is a "poet, writer, and spoken word artist" on top of being an absolutely wonderful and fun person to be around. She studied writing at Mills College in California with a BA in Creative Writing. Her writing background is prolific. Among other achievements, she just found out that she was accepted into VONA Writer's Workshop at UC Berkley! I went to a poetry reading at CMI this past week and had the fortune to be moved by her reading of this poem of hers. So, I leave you with "Tell Them" by Kathy Jetnil, a poem thats says more than I ever could about this place.

"Tell Them"

I prepared the package

for my friends in the states

the dangling earrings woven

into half moons black pearls glinting

like an eye in a storm of tight spirals

the baskets

sturdy, also woven

brown cowry shells shiny

intricate mandalas

shaped by calloused fingers

Inside the basket

a message:

Wear these earrings

to parties

to your classes and meetings

to the grocery store, the corner store

and while riding the bus

Store jewelry, incense, copper coins

and curling letters like this one

in this basket

and when others ask you

where you got this

you tell them

they’re from the Marshall Islands

show them where it is on a map

tell them we are a proud people

toasted dark brown as the carved ribs

of a tree stump

tell them we are descendents

of the finest navigators in the world

tell them our islands were dropped

from a basket

carried by a giant

tell them we are the hollow hulls

of canoes as fast as the wind

slicing through the pacific sea

we are wood shavings

and drying pandanus leaves

and sticky bwiros at kemems

tell them we are sweet harmonies

of grandmothers mothers aunties and sisters

songs late into night

tell them we are whispered prayers

the breath of God

a crown of fushia flowers encircling

aunty mary’s white sea foam hair

tell them we are styrofoam cups of koolaid red

waiting patiently for the ilomij

tell them we are papaya golden sunsets bleeding

into a glittering open sea

we are skies uncluttered

majestic in their sweeping landscape

we are the ocean

terrifying and regal in its power

tell them we are dusty rubber slippers


from concrete doorsteps

we are the ripped seams

and the broken door handles of taxis

we are sweaty hands shaking another sweaty hand in heat

tell them

we are days

and nights hotter

than anything you can imagine

tell them we are little girls with braids

cartwheeling beneath the rain

we are shards of broken beer bottles

burrowed beneath fine white sand

we are children flinging

like rubber bands

across a road clogged with chugging cars

tell them

we only have one road

and after all this

tell them about the water

how we have seen it rising

flooding across our cemeteries

gushing over the sea walls

and crashing against our homes

tell them what it’s like

to see the entire ocean__level___with the land

tell them

we are afraid

tell them we don’t know

of the politics

or the science

but tell them we see

what is in our own backyard

tell them that some of us

are old fishermen who believe that God

made us a promise

some of us

are more skeptical of God

but most importantly tell them

we don’t want to leave

we’ve never wanted to leave

and that we

are nothing without our islands.


For more of Kathy's work, check out her blog at http://jkijiner.wordpress.com/

Until next time (only 3 more blogs in the RMI, then onto Bosnia! Stay tuned!)

Bar Lo Kom,


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

No Cuts, No Butts, But PLENTY of Coconuts!

And now, for a long overdue treatise on undoubtedly the coolest nut on Earth: the coconut. Get this coconuts, or ni, as they are called in Marshallese, not only produce numerous types of foods for the Marshallese people, which are always present at events, put can be used as a source of income as well. The real kicker is that as a result of natural selection, coconut trees have notches on them that basically ask you to climb up the tree to get to the nut! If you needed proof of a higher power, look no further! It's funny to me how coconuts have been exoticized in the states. While we frequently see shaved coconut in our grocery stores, there is a lot more to the nut than meets the eye in those plastic bags.

One of the first things to note about the coconut is its incredible growth. An average coconut tree grows 50 to 90 coconuts a year. It makes it a perfect resource for a country of people who survived for years on subsistent living. A fact that I didn't know before coming here is that if you stop a coconut at any time in its growth, you will get a different edible product. The Marshallese have a myriad of names for the coconut in its various forms. I have done my best to accrue the major phases/names for you in my brief description of the wondrous coconut.

When the coconut is near ripe or fully ripe, it will either naturally fall out of the tree or will be picked by an expert climber/rock thrower (I have still yet to figure out how they can tell that the coconut is ripe when it is far away from keen eyesight and can also not be ripe and have a brown outer shell--it think it is some kind of 6th island sense). At this point in time, the shell of the coconut is just generating, turning from green to its hard brown exterior. Inside, the coconut contains mede. This is when the white fleshy material is soft, slightly gooey, and is at the height of its deliciousness. The coconut water, called ni, is also at its most delicious. For those of you who do not know, the coconut milk is actually coconut water that has acquired some of the sweetness of the coconut itself. Coconut milk is created from the coconut meat of the plant (coconut water occurs naturally; coconut milk is made). One truth I can tell you about the coconut is that there is always way more coconut water in it than you assume. You can drink you fill and there will still be tons more inside. Good to note if you are planning on opening it and drinking it!

After passing the point of being freshly ripe, the coconut contains waini. This is the phase when the coconut meat (the white fleshy material inside of the shell) has hardened. This stuff is what makes it into our shaving bags in the U.S. of A. While it is edible, it is not as tasty as when the nut is ripe. This is also the case with the ni inside.

After hitting the ground and passing through the waini phase, the coconut starts to germinate. If you are lucky enough to catch the coconut right when it begins to grow, you will be treated to my favorite thing that I have ingested while in the RMI--iu (pronounced "you"). It is a spongy, sweet, moist, flaky yellowish/white substance that fills the interior of the coconut right as it starts to grow. It can be eaten straight out of the coconut or it can be cooked on top of hot rocks and under palm leaves. I have not had the latter (to my knowledge; who knows what you are given at Marshallese events when food is practically thrown at you in generous heaps) but the former is incredible.

All of these forms of the coconut can be cooked in different ways. I was able to get a list of the few with which I was most familiar with with the help of the vice principal at my school:

1) Rice Balls--Just as it sounds, these are combination of large balls of rice and shaved coconut. Sounds simple? Well it is. And its delicious and filling!

2) Coconuts Mixed with Pandanas--The VP could not remember the specific name for the treat, but as for the consistency, this treat is very gooey. It usually comes in sugar sprinkled ball form.

3) Ni and Fish--Ni is an ingredient frequently used as a bath for fish. Since many fish are eaten raw here, the ni-soak adds and extra sweet flavor. When cooked, the meat is even more tender and delectable.

4) Lukor (pronounced "Lick-core," like "Liquor" but with a "k")-- This is the form that I have the most exposure to, though I have never tried it myself. Everyday, one of the teachers sells this frozen substance to a plethora of students. It is yew mixed with water or milk and sugar and then frozen. The kids LOVE it and I usually have to tell them to throw it away so I can start class (nearly) on time.

As I mentioned a few times before, one of the most important facets of coconuts in the Marshall Islands is its ability to be used as a cash crop Since I am not on an outer island, the knowledge of the process of making copra is not as well known to me as it is to other volunteers who see family members or island friends toiling everyday to make the product, but the basic process is something like this:

1. Coconuts are collected in their ripe/post-ripe/pre-germination, "brown shell" phase.

2. The are laid out and sun-dried for a few days. This process can be helped through mass smoking of the coconuts.

3. The contents of the sun-dried coconut are easily removed and the shells are beaten down and packed in sacks which are sent off to the copra factor called Tobler (pronounced "toe-bo-lair").

4. There, a process of oil extraction is used to remove the majority of the substance of the dried nut. This oil can be used as a cooking oil, or in products such as soap and cosmetics. The rest is a dense dietary fiber that can be used to feed some livestock. It can also be used as fuel.

The process of opening a coconut is one of the first "native" things that the volunteers learned here. On our first excursion to Enemanit, we were taught by some Marshallese people there to find a coconut that was read and strip it of its leafy coverings by using a stake in the ground, jamming the stringy outer, leafy layers, and twisting. To open the coconut to drink, the process is very similar to opening a CapriSun. There are two or three holes at the top of the coconut. They are areas that are not as thick. I am not sure as to their biological purpose, but a key or a small finger can find these holes and poke through them quickly. But, as with a CapriSun, one must always be careful of being squirted! The pressure inside is high (someone once informed me that during WWII, coconuts were used for blood transfusions since their insides were one of the only sterile things that could be readily found around the Pacific. I have yet to find proof this (though it is hinted at on Wikipedia) but it sounds possible)! After this, a few strategic and steady cracks around the shell and the coconut is open and ready to eat.

Finally, and most important to me personally, is the use of coconut leaves to create handicrafts. There are tons of different types of handicrafts in the country from baskets, floor mats, hats, fans, hair flowers, and Christmas tree ornaments that are all made from coconuts. I definitely plan on bringing a bunch back for my family and friends.

Well, there is my much deserved but wholly inadequate talk on coconuts. Do some research yourself and I promise that you too will be amazed!

30 Days to Go!

Bar Lo Kom,


Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Final Countdown: What I'll Miss/What I Can't Wait For

Okay, so, I will fess up and admit to the fact that while I do enjoy my time here, we are nearing the end, and i have started to get a little antsy. I am 7 weeks, less than 50 days away (46 to be precise) from being back in the states and I am thrilled about it! Since I have now started the official countdown, I thought it would finally be time to talk about the things I am most looking forward to once I return to America. Conversely, I want to be fair to my experience here and admit to some of the things that I will sincerely miss. So, since we all love a good list, here are two top ten lists of things--in no particular order--I can't wait for in the states and things I will surely miss from the RMI (of course, excluding friends and family I will see in the states and friends and students I will leave behind here).

Things I Can't Wait For Upon My Return to the States:

1. Chipotle

Yeah, I listed it first. Yeah, I know it was owned by McDonald's (though, unknown to most, McDonald's divested in 2006). Yeah, I know its not real Mexican food. But, I miss it. I love it. I want it. Something about walking into that restaurant, hearing that funky music, admiring the Aztec themed metalwork, sauntering up to the counter, asking for a steak burrito (always) with rice and "fajitas" (never beans), tomato and corn salsa, lettuce, and guacamole (which they are always so kind to tell is a $1.35 extra) makes my mouth water, even from thousands of miles away. After hugging my family, dropping my things off at home, and sleeping until the afternoon, this will be the first place I go.

2. My Mother, Father, Sister, and Grandmother's Cooking

As much as I have enjoyed cooking here, nothing beats home cooked meals. My mother is queen, but really, everyone in my family can throw down. I can't wait to have her sweet potato pie, spinach pie, and rosemary chicken. Also nothing heals my wounds like her chicken soup. My father is the king of the grill. Literally, give him anything and he can grill it to the most tender juicy point possible. He once perfectly cooked one of my shoes. Delicious. My sister can cook almost anything, but really, I plan on forcing her to make me a key lime pie. It's the best I have had and probably will ever have in my life. My grandmother is from Memphis, TN, and she cooks like it. I hope that she will do me the pleasure of making a "box lunch" full of fried chicken, collard greens, and hot-water cornbread. Argh, I'm so hungry!

3. Other Fast Food Restaurants/A Good Bacon Cheeseburger with Mushrooms and Onions and a Chocolate Milkshake.

Alright, I know its sad that out of a list of 10 things I look forward to the most, three of them are food, but c'mon! Chicago's deep dish pizza, the Chicago style hot dog chain Portillo's, Potbelly's, Jamba Juice, Panda Express...sigh...such wonderful places all of them. I will only be back in America for a few days but I plan on hitting up all these places before I head back out. The hamburger...well, I'll have to get that from my neighborhood diner, Top Notch. If you come to Chicago, I will take you there. Incredible. Granted, it's fairly dastardly that I am in such want of food when I have more ready access to it than almost any other volunteer out here, but the body has its wants.

4. Drinking from the Tap

The tap in my bathroom at home produces the coldest, crispest water I have ever tasted from a faucet, only bested by my house hose water. In either case, it will be wonderful to want a cold drink of water and be able to get it straight from the sink instead of having to buy it, lug it, make sure ants aren't in it, and then ingest it. More practically, it will be nice to be able to use that same water to brush my teeth.

5. Movie Theaters

While there was a movie theater here when I first arrived in Majuro, I never got the chance to see a film in it before it closed. I was told that it was like any other place that Marshallese people hung out in, lots of in and out and talking. Not the most idea movie atmosphere (though, to be fair, I am a certified movie talker). I love going to movies in movie theaters. Seeing a good action movie on a big screen/IMAX, is an event for my friends and me. We don't have a movie theater in my neighborhood in Chicago, so we drive out to one in the suburbs. We are always late for everything collectively, so its usually a race against time. When we get there, it's always a blast to enjoy a movie with not only a group of friends, but with hundreds of people. I look forward to catching a movie if I have time.

6. The Chicago Skyline/Driving Down Lake Shore Drive to See It.

There is little I can say about this. For those of you who have seen it/done it, you know what I am talking about. For those of you who haven't, you've got something to add to your life "to do list." Imagine driving down a highway, north to south, with the beach and Lake Michigan to your left and some downtown buildings on the right. You are about to drive straight into the famous Drake Hotel, but then, the highway swings out over the water--no land to your left--and you see even more of the Chicago as you drive into the heart of the city. Bliss.

7. Big Spaces with Lots of Things in Them

Well, this one sounds extremely asinine, but this island is about as wide as a football field and it is possible to walk the entire length of the urban part of the Majuro island in a bit over the hour. I enjoy feeling lost in a mass of people and being in sprawling spaces. Parks, museums, and big buildings are prefect locations for people watching and ruminating. I miss being one among many, whereas here I am "the black ribelle with the weird hair who teaches at Majuro Middle School." Seriously, I can get in a taxi, having never directly met the driver before, and he will know where to drop me off without me saying anything. Comforting...and strange.

8. Train Rides

I love riding on the Metra and the L train (for those of you that need a frame of reference, the "L" is the elevated train that can be seen in the film "Batman Begins"). It's a wonderful way to see the city, a quick and economical way to travel, and a great place to people watch/nap/read. I find the rides very relaxing and they make me feel very urban.

9. The Ability to Download Things/Go on Facebook/Youtube Whenever I Want

I am lucky to have internet in my house (SOMEtimes) and free on the high school campus I live on (more often than sometimes, but still...) so I shouldn't complain at all, but it is incredible annoying that things like youtube, radio.tv sites like CNN, and photo sites like Flickr are blocked every so often since the Ministry of Education does not see their relevance in the classroom. I can understand why Facebook is blocked every now and then, but it's a bit easier to get around and not having it is kinda nice. Still, because of a firewall, its nearly impossible to download music here, which is like having my fingers cut off. I can't wait for fast, consistent, uncensored internet. I think the majority of my time at home outside of fast food restaurants and spending time with my family and friends will be devoted to refilling my iTunes.

10. Consistent Hot Water Showers

I fully recognize that many of my wants are indicative of first-world unnecessary comforts, but, what can I say. I am a first world kid. i know that many people around the world live without hot water, and even more without any water at all. I will confess that after sweating all day under the hot Pacific sun, sometimes a cold shower can be nice. However, for the most part, they suck. Before every shower I have to mentally psych myself up to go into the water. It's enough to make me not want to take a shower sometimes. It's stupid. It's superficial, but I love taking a long hot shower. I have been fortunate enough to do that here a handful of times and I can't wait to be able to do it everyday.

Things I Will Definitely Miss From the RMI:

1. Playing with Random Children and it not being Considered Weird

There are so many ways to misconstrue this, but here, there aren't. There are seemingly hundreds of kids all over the place and they are always down to play--any game, any time. I taught some 3rd graders how to play four square and it was the best time i had had in ages (that's a good thing, not a bad thing). It's a blast to just walk up to some kids and join in their game, or pick up a toddler and swing him around or throw her in the air. Playing with children--my students to the little kids that live next to my house on campus--has been one of the highlights of this experience. It's sad that we live in a world in America where people have to be concerned for the safety of their children because there are people out there who want to do wrong to them. Can't we all just get along and play in the sandbox?

2. Knowing Someone No Matter Where I Go

If you know me you know that I am what they call "a social butterfly." At times this moniker has annoyed me, but I have come to accept it as true and as one of my better qualities. Here is no exception. I have done my best to meet and befriend a lot of people, and it's not necessarily difficult in a place so small where I am a foreign minority. There is a lot of comfort in knowing that no matter what location I frequent, I will most likely run into someone I know. I know almost every ribelle and my students/high school students I have befriended are everywhere. I am on a first name basis with a number of taxi drivers, bartenders, and store attendants. I will miss these people and being in a community with them. I am sure the next community I join will have similar microcosmic relations, but they will not match the familiarity of this place.

3. Being (Relatively) Disconnected

As I said before, I have internet in my room/on the campus I live in. I can watch TV on my laptop or in one of many restaurants/bars. I also have a cell phone and communicate for the most part through text. Still, being here has been a nice vacation from the hyper-connectivity and constant communication of the super-wired Dartmouth campus and the urban world where EVERYONE has a smart phone (if I get another email from someone's iPhone...). It is nice that the excuses, "I couldn't access my email" or "My phone was out of batteries and I have no power to charge it" are legitimate here. There is a widely held belief that if it doesn't happen now it will get done later, and it's nice to lean on that disposition.

4. Transportation Being .50 or .75 Cents

I have gotten in a taxi in America probably less times than I have fingers on my hands. Here, it's the only way to travel. I hate the fact that public transportation is always advertised as being better for the environment and "the only way to see the city" but it is so incredibly expensive. I will definitely miss the fact that here quarters are the new dollar. Still, my cheapness prevails. I do my best to never get into a .75 cent taxi if I can help it. Incredible.

5. Not Having to Go to A Lot of Places to Get Things Done

It's so nice that all the goods one could need are available in a few locations. Hardware? Ace or Do It Best. Groceries or house supplies? Payless or Formosa. Besides the gym and the post office, those are probably the only places I ever really need to run errands. I hate that in America every place has its own speciality. Much easier when everything is centrally located.

6. Fresh Coconuts and Mangos

Little here needs to be said. Pacific climate yields fresh fruits. Both of these fruits are incredible words of nature and it will be unfortunate when their prices are raised since they will need to be shipped to where I am (for the record, mangos are shipped, but are almost always in stock). Coconuts are abound and it's awesome that you can just get one basically off the ground and have a filling snack and drink all with a few simple cracks of a nutshell.

7. The Blueness of the Ocean

My last blog post was about this. The blue of the Pacific ocean is the bluest blue I think I will see. Most of this earth is under the water, and I will having the opportunity to look into it.

8. Random Friendliness

In addition to knowing people most everywhere I go, people here are generally extremely nice. Any eye contact is met with a head nod and a "Good morning" or "Good evening." Children smile and take your hand as you walk down the street. People share everything. This is not your typical American community where everyone is scared of everyone else. The compassion, community, and camaraderie will be greatly missed.

9. Sashimi

Dear God, this stuff is so incredibly and absolutely delicious. Sashimi, for those of you who don't know, is a Japanese dish of small bite-sized pieces of fish (usually tuna here) that are eaten with soy sauce and wasabi. The stuff melts in the mouth like butter and is so unbelievably fresh tasting that every few days I have a craving that cannot be sated until I get some in my gullet.

10. Running from Storms

There is little more thrilling here than seeing a storm coming down THE street, grey-black clouds stampeding towards you, and the sound of sheets of rain crescendoing in your ears. You have something of value in your hands or bag. You need to be somewhere and you know rain makes it impossible to get a taxi. You simply don't want to get wet. So, you run. There have been countless times that I have run down the street, scurrying away from dark wet spots generating on the ground and chasing me like a dark shadow. It sounds silly, but I will miss this boyish fun. I love the rain, and its been nice to have such a close, albeit tumultuous relationship with it.

A few more weeks and I will be seeing you all!

Bar lo kom,


Monday, April 11, 2011

Blue Planet, Limited Vision

It is, in fact, true that our planet is a blue planet. Sadly, despite being surrounded on all sides by the Pacific, despite the constant background noise provided by the ebb and flow of the ocean waves, despite the signs are all around me, it took me watching BBC’s “Blue Planet” to truly be in awe. Granted, I have ventured into the waters a few times and have seen some incredible things. Lagoon-side snorkeling near Ejit is filled with coral towers and a miasma of aquatic life. Enemanit offers even the most timid swimmers the opportunity to see a sunken fighter plane and not one but two sunken helicopters in addition to amazing snorkeling a few feet from the shore. I have had the pleasure, thanks to the generosity of the Curtis family, to go deep-sea fishing. While on the boat for the majority of a day we saw dolphins and flying fish and brought in two wahoo and a gigantic blue marlin. These have all been moments of awe where the underwater world became all too real and present for me.

Still, my time in and my reverence of the waters pales in comparison to what I thought it would be before coming to the RMI. I have distinct memories of telling people how I was going to come back a fishing/surfing/diving/snorkeling expert. Instead, I find fishing—while exciting when reeling in and landing a fish—boring. Surfing is nearly impossible here (unless you are a pro, some of whom I had occasion to meet), diving is terrifying, and snorkeling can be a chore of sorts. It seems that even though I ran away to the Pacific to get away from it all, try new things, and do as the proverbial Romans do, my American landlubber sentiments have prevailed. Why is that? It can't be that I do not have access. I have many ribelle friends here who do all of those aquatic activities all of the time. Perhaps its the fact that none of my students or my Marshallese associates do these things with regularity. It seems that the young people on Majuro are more interested in Americanized and urban activities than those activities that have helped to sustain their culture for years. As far as the Marshallese adults here I know, they too are wrapped up in their daily affairs. While they may take some time to go fishing, it is usually in the privacy of their own family or close group of friends. I do not mean to put the blame on others. I think with more initiative on my part I could be in the water everyday. However, that is not how I have oriented my days.

Still, every time I take a moment to look at the water, I am in awe of how blue that blue is; how varied and ornate yet profoundly simple; how perfectly present and unchangingly etherial. It is even more impressive when put into perspective with the rest of the world around it. The expanse of blue only serves to highlight the immensity of the sky. Clouds look as if they are painted onto a domed canvas. Stars, in their great number, remind me how infinitesimal I am. And the sunsets; there are no words. Melodious amalgamations of orange, red, and purple hues appear from under the water, peak from behind the cloud curtain, and stretch across the sky. The sunrises, though similarly beautiful, are much more gentle. As the world wakes up, warmth enters the colors of the sky and the ocean. I like to say that the water is so warm I would sleep in it if I couldn't drown. I had the pleasure of climbing up to the top of the water tower that is on the MIHS campus--the second highest point in the country--and seeing the entire island in 360 degrees. You could see both sides of the island, storms rolling in from the ocean side and the sun resting and waking in the lagoon, a thirty mile expanse brought into one field of vision--and everywhere, rich, rich blue.

John Irving so aptly states though the mouth of one of his characters in his novel "The Cider House Rules" that, "Living on land where you can occasionally see a long way provides the soul with a perspective of a beneficially expansive nature" (14). As I sat up on the water tower, looking out on what seemed like the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, I couldn't help but ask what lie beyond the horizon. I mean, I knew--maybe not what specific piece of land was in what direction--but it encouraged me, inspired me to want to explore the world further. To seek what was on the other side. It has always confused me that Marshallese people do not have this same sense of adventure or wonderment.

To be fair, I know it took an enormous sense of adventure for the ancient Marshallese people to hop on canoes and explore the ocean to find the other islands here, but now, my students have little interest in leaving Majuro. Regardless of the fact that tremendous resources are needed to get off the island (read: money), they do not seem all that interested. Some want to go to America, yes, but then return after college. They do not know what is on the other side of the horizon, and they don't seem to care. For a while I believed that the young people here were taking the ocean for granted. They too did not swim or indulge in the waters in the ways that I assumed islanders would. However, they feel at peace here, floating in the middle of the ocean on a small strip of land. The knowledge that in a few decades the island might not be here does not cause them too much worry. They are not leaving. Their ancestors survived for hundreds of years from the bounty of the waters, and people here still do today. They are attached to the land, attached to the water. I have heard so many juniors and seniors here say that they want to go to college somewhere outside of the RMI but that it has to be near an ocean. When I asked why they said that they could not imagine life without hearing the waves hit the shore. In fact, they struggle to sleep without it. It has become part of their lives, ingrained in their souls. Most assuredly it is I who is taking it for granted. While the vista from the water tower may have "[provided] my soul with a perspective of a beneficially expansive nature," the Marshallese soul's expansive nature bleeds into the community. They expand into each other, knowing that on this small strip of land each other is all they have--each other, and the ocean: giving and taking, nourishing and destroying, warming and cooling.

For the last few weeks I am here, I imagine my habits won't change much. I will get in the water a few more times and explore a few more things, but I know I will always be more impressed and engaged while I watch BBC's "Blue Planet." For the rest of my life I will be able to watch shows like that one and say "I've lived there! I've been in that water!" When really, I've barely touched the surface.

Until the next time,

Bar lo kom,


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New Quarter, New Projects

Even though the play is now nearly a month in the past, it is still profoundly affecting my experience here. Before the play, as a result of the February Slump, I had pretty much checked out from the RMI experience. I was frustrated with my students and their lack of responsiveness. I was finding my experience in Majuro to be repetitive and mundane. The play very much revitalized me and imbued energy back into the remaining months of my experience here.

The third term ended during the run of the play and I was not surprised to find that some of my top students did not perform as well as they had in the past. My students slacked much more this term and lacked the discipline that I attempted to hone over the previous two terms. However, my middle and lowest level students did improve slightly. I came to believe that despite my previous willingness to give up, there was some hope left.

I decided that I taught my students almost everything technical that I wanted to teach them and now wanted to work on projects that brought together all of the skills that we learned in a way that did not necessarily keep the skills learned at the forefront of the work but as foundation to other, more complex ideas. Inspired from the play and having seen the effect that it had on the MIHS students, I decided to put on a play myself in my 7th grade classes. I am in the process of preparing my students to put on J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan." Alex Huestis aptly called Majuro "Neverland" (she was specifically referring to Ejit, but I think the term can apply to Majuro as a whole). In many ways, I came on the DVTP program for a "Neverland" experience myself (Michael Jackson puns not intended--at all). I wanted to get "away from it all" before seeking a job in the US and I wanted to try out teaching kids thereby giving myself the chance to become a kid again by proxy. I figured what better way to end this experience than by passing on the same notion of "never having to grow up" and the effect that this country and the play had on me than by introducing my students to Peter Pan?

We first watched two film versions of the story, the live action one featuring Jeremy Sumpter from 2003 and the 1953 Disney animated version. I did this so that all of my students would understand the plot of the story come time to read the book. Inspired by Rafe Esquith's novel "Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire," I used the movie as a teachable moment, having the students identify protagonists, antagonists, supporting characters, and different elements of the story arc. I also had the students identify the differences between the two films. While at first the students did not seem all that interested in the play (especially since, tragically, no one in my homeroom came to see the play) after seeing the movies the students were extremely excited about playing the characters in the story. We have finished watching the movies as of last week and starting reading the story on Monday. I plan on switching between reading aloud, silent reading (where I will be helping my lowest students comprehend the text), and group reading (where all the groups will be of mixed abilities and my top students will take over in instructing and explaining the story to my other students). The plan is to get the story ready in three weeks and then start working on other elements of the play such as costumes, sets, props, and choreography (for the fights). It is my hope that by having the students participate in all of these elements of the production, they will gain confidence and will have their ability to think outside of the box and use their imagination increased.

In my writing class the project for this quarter is to write books. One of my favorite activities in elementary school was writing stories for the Young Authors program. To this day I still have my Young Authors books in our home library. My hope is by having the students create something of their own conception, they will not only learn to treasure their work but increase their appreciation for books and reading in general. This project has started out much more slowly. As a result of a lack of exposure, the students had a hard time coming up with imaginative topics for their stories. I realized that this was mostly likely because they had not read many different types of books. I spent this past week introducing my students to different types of books. I am having them write stories that match the types of stories that I am reading to them each day. I am a bit more worried about this project than the other but I have high hopes for the product.

The final effect that the MIHS play has had on me is that I was able to remember how very important the arts are to me. I have been singing/performing for most of my life. This year in the RMI has been the first time in 14 years that I have not been in a performance group. Being a part of the play made me realize how much I need the arts in my life and as a result, I will be continuing my work with Professor Garrod and "The Tempest" in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Professor Garrod does a similar project to his work here in BIH and asked me to come along with him before he departed the RMI. While he gave me about as much time to make the decision to come as he gave me to make the decision to come to the RMI, I figured that one choice had been good for me and that it would most likely that this new choice would be good too. Going to Bosnia will give me the opportunity to not only help educate a new group of youth but do it through the arts. We will be putting on the same play and I will be acting in the same capacity as Dan Moore '10 and John Around Him '12 as assistant director while in Bosnia. Thankfully the committment is only two months in the summer and will be much more focused on theater than teaching. So, while I am disappointed that I will not be home for the entirety of the summer (and that I will be heading out about 10 days after I return to the states) the opportunity is too good to pass up. Theater, travel, and teaching all wrapped up in another adventure!

Bar Lo Kom,