Tuesday, March 30, 2010
"Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Island," by Peter Rudiak-Gould
Interested in a book about life in the Marshall Islands? A new one just came out – an easy beach read (no pun intended). Peter Rudiak-Gould was a WorldTeach volunteer on an outer island in 2003-4. He’s written a terrific, funny book that really captures a lot of the spirit of this place, without ducking the tough issues (Bikini nuclear testing disaster, grim global warming predictions, etc.). He’s now an anthropology grad student with an interest in linguistics; both of these disciplines feature prominently in his highly readable, witty memoir.
My experience is slightly different from Peter’s, for at least two reasons. One, I live on a rural island next to one of the two large population centers of the Marshall Islands, while Peter was on one of the remotest outer islands. Two, he’s male, and was therefore included in a lot of canoeing and spearfishing that were not available to me. Taking women on fishing expeditions is considered bad luck. Some Marshallese will break tradition to take a ribelle, but being a non-fisherman, I wasn’t particularly interested in breaking a cultural taboo on this one.
A few things that Peter writes about that don’t match my experience: I haven’t noticed any of the mistreatment or ignoring of children he talks about at some length. Neither have I seen the lack of activity on the part of the men. That’s probably a function of the rural outer island environment vs. the “urban” environment of Ebeye. Neither do men and women sit separately in the churches I’ve attended (Mormon and Catholic). Finally, the educational system here is challenged, but not as pathetic as the one he had to deal with on Ujae. We do have a school bell (an empty air tank clobbered several times a day with a hammer), and many teachers actually do teach. Among the Kwajalein Atoll High School teachers are several Filipinos, a Fijian, and a handful of Marshallese, as well as we two American WorldTeach volunteers.
Sorry, I don’t get a WorldTeach discount on the book; neither do I personally know the author to get you an autographed copy! But it’s a great book for understanding a WorldTeach year in the Marshall Islands.