Thursday, April 29, 2010


Like their identical school uniforms, Marshallese girls wear their hair exactly the same. With only two exceptions among all of my 80 or so female students, every girl has long, beautiful black hair framing her face. Some hair is sleek and soft; some is thicker. Some girls wear it long and straight; others twist it and tie it in a knot (literally). Others put it up, holding it in place with a comb or a hair elastic or a pencil. On Sundays I see my students in church with flowers in their hair, freshly picked plumeria with their delicate fragrance, or silk flowers, or flowers made of woven pandanus fibers.

Men’s hair is an entirely different matter. Like other species in which the male has more interesting plumage, Marshallese men’s hairstyles vary widely. Men too have uniformly black hair atop faces in handsome shades of brown. But almost always there’s a spot of hair somewhere growing long: either a single rat-tail at the back of the neck, towards the side, or a little tuft on top. (When we studied a story about robot spacecraft in our textbook, one student claimed his topknot was an antenna made of hair.) Sometimes the men grow matching tails like horns, starting in front and combed back. Some men have their hair close-cropped halfway up their head, then the top of their hair grows long into a ponytail. Often there are letters or shapes or symbols etched into the short hair on the sides or top of their heads.

In America, the triangular-shaped colorful kerchief is a girl’s hair accessory from the ‘70s. Here, it’s common for boys to wear it. It took me until April to figure out that the kerchief hides their Ipod ear buds so they can listen to music in class without the ribelle teacher figuring it out.

Here are a few explanations from my students’ journals:

“Marshallese boys’ hair is great. If you have a tail they will say you are real boy. They use their tail for fishing girls.”

“Some Marshallese girls tie their hair with flowers and other girls stuff. They do these to amaze boys. Some Marshallese boys make their tail so long that the wind can blow it like a flag. Boys do these to amaze girls.”

“[Some Marshallese] boys that had long hair make a promise to someone that they won’t cut their hair until their friend comes back.”

One student wrote me a note after a particularly drastic haircut: “Ms. Marci, I want to change my assigned seat. I just got haircut and I scared to sit in front row.” I replied, “I think it looks terrific, but I understand. Take row 6, seat 4."

Monday, April 12, 2010

No timeshares here

Zoom in on these photos and see the crab in my shower and the weed growing in the kitchen.

Something has been nibbling my soap – termites, I suspect. The only time I actually see the winged critters is at night when I’m brushing my teeth, but I routinely sweep up the piles of grainy black bits of house they leave behind all over the house. I haven’t known termites to have an appetite for my soap before, but I suspect they were the likely nibblers, rather than the cockroaches, sugar ants, friendly lizards, or the occasional crab on his way from the lagoon to the sea, taking a detour through my tub via a loose tile. I usually sweep the crab into the dustpan, take him outside, and set him back on his way.

Now that the windy season is coming to a close and the rainy season is beginning again, I’m pleased to discover that the roof isn’t leaking in any new places. The drips are strategically aimed onto the floor with skillful furniture arranging.

The kitchen and bathroom faucets haven’t worked for two weeks; I think the faculty catchment ran dry. But my own catchment still has water. That catchment feeds the tub faucet, so I carry water from the tub to the kitchen for cooking and dishwashing.

An outside vine has grown again through the crack between the wall and the stove, so I had to weed the kitchen once more. A mouse has recently discovered the crack, darting in and out under the stove as often as three times a day. Or is it 3 different mice? And are they blind? (start humming here. . . “Three Blind. . . “). Wait a minute – isn’t that why I take my food scraps outside to Gus, the stray cat, so he’ll keep mice away? Where’s your work ethic, Gus?

The freezer works fine, but the frig has been out for three weeks now. I’ve re-invented the icebox, making big blocks of ice in two empty ice cream tubs, rotating them between the freezer and the frig as they melt. Yes, I’ve told them about all of this, and “they’re working on it.” It all sounds grim, but actually I like indoor camping. And the mouse? Once I got over the startle factor, I have to admit he’s kind of cute.

The internet repairman fixed the rusted part on the office roof that had blocked internet access off and on for four months, so I could check email at last. (Unfortunately, the fix lasted less than 36 hours, as usual.) A friend had sent me a cheery email: “Your adventure sounds so exciting! Are there any timeshares there?”

No, no timeshares here. But I heard there is a hotel in Ebeye. I haven’t seen it myself, since very few shops or businesses have identifying signs on this tiny island, where everyone knows everything and few visitors venture. They say some hotel guests complained of dirty sheets, and personal belongings missing from locked hotel rooms. But I heard the hotel management denies everything, saying that the rooms weren’t ready yet and guests misplaced their belongings.

The closest movie theater and bowling alley are in the capital city Majuro, 235 nautical miles away. Ebeye does have a supermarket lunch counter and one restaurant (Filipino), to cater to 12,000 people, most of which live well below the poverty line. But no timeshares. I do have a couch, however, and you’re welcome to drop in anytime.