Sunday, August 16, 2009
It’s only an hour-long plane ride from Majuro (the capital) to Kwajalein Island (where the military base is located, where we were greeted by school staff with leis for us!), then a 20-minute water taxi to Ebeye, followed by a ½ hour bumpy ride across the manmade causeway to Guegeegue. Actually, the causeway ride involves more zigzag than forward motion, avoiding the axle-eating potholes. The 3 of us Guegeegue WorldTeach volunteers arrived last Saturday. I’m joined by two terrific, bright, hardworking, upbeat women: Morgan (from West Virginia) and Diana (from Ft. Worth, TX and NYC). I have a one-bedroom apartment in faculty housing on the high school campus. Morgan and Diana room together in a two-bedroom apartment across the way that has the cleanest kitchen of the two, where the three of us share our meals. Morgan and I are teaching at Kwajalein Atoll High School (KAHS), where our commute is a 2-minute walk, while Diana teaches at Ebeye Elementary, riding the causeway back and forth each day on a school bus.
Like many rustic waterfront cottages I’ve been in, the line between inside and outside is rather blurry when it comes to animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms. Despite that, our apartments are unbelievable -- far more comfortable (for RMI standards) than I expected. Granted, we still take bucket showers (closed to the sky, unfortunately), flush our toilets with a bucket of water poured into the bowl, and have only cold rainwater coming out of the tap which we boil for drinking. But we do have one amenity that was missing before: . . . drum roll please. . . . AIR CONDITIONING!!! (when the power is on, that is). We’ve had power outages about every other day so far, but none have lasted long (yet). The faculty office from which I’m writing you is not air conditioned, but it does have (intermittent) internet access. So I’m sitting in royal (developing world) luxury!!
On our second day here, Morgan, Diana and I walked the 5 miles from Guegeegue to Ebeye to stock our kitchen. We loaded up the groceries in our backpacks (Morgan has a camping backpack that fit a whole grocery cartful). We were ready to hike the 5 miles back if need be, but "luckily" someone stopped to give us a ride just shortly after we started out. Turned out he was one of our new neighbors, so we got a ride the whole way back! There are two “stores” around the corner on Guegeegue (consisting of shelves lining converted living-rooms, I’d wager), so we do have high-priced convenience-store kinds of foods available around the corner if need be.
On one of my morning walks, I covered the circumference of the entire inhabited part of the island in 25 minutes. I'm told there are about 100 people living on this island (men, women and children). The students who attend KAHS are bussed in from Ebeye, which has 12,000 people living on 0.14 square miles of land. Families are beginning to pester the KAHS principal, even at home, desperately trying to enroll their students, but even when we overstuff the classes, we have no more desks, no more teachers – we’re at maximum capacity of 320 students.
So far so good -- wish me luck! The teaching is what I came for, and classes start in earnest on Monday. We had a few preliminary meetings this week, but we’ll see what next week brings!