Sunday, August 2, 2009

Closer to nature (in all its beauty and creepiness)

This is a chicken crossing the road. I don't know why.

So what's it like, you ask?

I wake to either the crowing of the wandering roosters, or the growling of the pack of dogs, play-fighting. Seldom do I need to kick off the covers; it's a rare night that the seabreezes blow hard enough for me to want to slip under the top sheet. Another restful night -- the thin foam mat on the concrete classroom floor is much more comfortable than I expected.

A few of my 11 roommates are beginning to stir. There are 39 of us spread between 3 classroom/bedrooms. I'm the oldest at 55, then a 51 year old man (with whom I have next to nothing in common), and one 29 year old woman. The other 36 are ages 22-25 (11 men, 28 women altogether). Oh -- make that 4 classroom/bedrooms: the sonic boom snorer was banished to a classroom of his own after the 2 other rooms became overcrowded from refugees fleeing the snoring.

As I get out of bed, I consider occupying one of the three shower cubicles made of plywood and tarp, open to the sky. But I'm just going to wash my face, so I take my bucket and green plastic cup around the back of the school building and sit on a ledge. There's something magical about my morning wash-up to the soundtrack of the surf, ten feet away at high tide.

Language lessons, teaching instruction, cultural adaptation talks, speakers and visits into town fill our days, usually leaving a little time for a jambo (walk around) or a dip in the lagoon or both. We take turns cooking the purposefully monotonous but reasonably nutritious food. This particularly prepares those bound for the outer islands for their year-long diet of fish, rice, breadfruit, taro & coconut, until the sporadic supply ships arrive. Once a day, usually noontime while we're busy with classes or in town, we have local catered food -- often from the town's Filipino or Marshallese restaurant, sometimes pretty good American-style pizza, served out of boxes improvised from foil and cut-up cardboard Budweiser cases. Fruits and vegetables are very expensive here, so they're served sparingly, but we all have our personal stashes of other foods we picked up in town to round out our meals.

At night, the wildlife count increases and my roommates start to get spooked. We have a strict "no food in the room" policy so as not to attract any visitors, but the visitors come to investigate nonetheless. Having grown up in the Great Southwest, where humans have to share the land with the other critters who live there, I'm rather unimpressed by the occasional gecko lizards, cockroaches, spiders and ants in this this tropical marine climate. Somehow we can't completely eliminate the ants despite there being nothing around to interest them. An occasional little black mouse or two likes to scurry around the edges of the room, but they're gone as quickly as they come. (I do keep my mat away from the edge of the room as a precaution.)

I'm the designated rodent catcher in our room. One mouse was stupid enough to hide in a rolled-up poster. It didn't take us long to block him in, grabbing a book for one end and a zori (flip-flop) for the other. We carried him outside and flung him out with a loud "Begone!" (Do you suppose he speaks English?) The 4-inch long crab was easier to scoop up in a towel and shake outside. Hey, we all wanted to be closer to nature, right? (Besides, did you notice I didn't mention mosquitos? I haven't seen a one, and haven't gotten bitten by anything at all. Not one critter bite.)

So yeah, it's basically like camping, except lots classier campers. The attitude is less "Euu. . . yuk! Somebody FIX IT!" asnd much more "Euu. . . yuk! I'm going to do something about this. Let's do it together."

Evening brings the welcome bucket shower, lathering off the dried sweat from the day as I stand under the night sky. It's astonishing to discover that it really only takes 1/2 bucket to get perfectly clean. We're pretty careful to conserve water on this island where the chief source of fresh water is rainwater, gathered into catchments. We drink bottled water now; we'll all make choices about how daring we want to be when we get to our placements. Rainwater is used for dishwashing (with a bleach water rinse), bucket showering, and laundering. One person's laundry rinse water is the next person's sudsy clothes-washing water, with one of the common agitation methods being the "grape-stomping" method: dancing in the washtub. Wastewater from laundry or dishes goes into buckets for flushing the toilet. I'm so grateful for ceramic flush toilets here (I've used far worse), even if a bucket of water poured into the bowl is needed to flush 'em.

I've seen some spectacular sunsets while sitting near the shore as the tide comes in and the sun goes down. Tonight's bucket shower was lit by the nearly-full moon, surrounded by a sky-wide halo.

I'd say more about Marshallese people and culture, but I'm aware of the artificial community we live in during orientation, intersecting only with our Marshallese language instructors, bilingual shop owners, folks I've met at church, and neighbors staring as I walk by. Yes, we ARE the TV here.

Photos next time, I hope -- no photos of wildlife, I promise!


  1. Marci! So glad you are keeping a blog journal! It is fascinating to read and to try to picture you there! Wow! We miss you over here and pray for you that all will continue to go well. Can't wait to hear more about your adventures!!

  2. Great to read to your adventure! Have fun!!!