Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Brown angel

Now that I have both electricity AND internet access, I'm posting this story from last Christmastime.

“Where did you get this?” I asked in astonishment. I held the small brown felt angel in both hands, my heart pounding. The label read “Artist Proof Studio, South Africa,” an enormous distance in time and space from my temporary seaside home in the Marshall Islands.

“At the craft fair on Kwajalein,” replied my Marshallese friend, puzzled at my reaction to the Christmas ornament she had given me.

I became acquainted with Artist Proof Studio in 2003 through the cofounder, Kim Berman, who came from South Africa to Brandeis for an Ethics Center institute on peacebuilding through the arts. Other artists at the Brandeis institute included Playback Theater actors from New Zealand, employing the Playback method of improv theater, in which audience members tell stories from their lives and actors perform them on the spot. Kim took the storyteller’s chair in one of the institute sessions and, summoning enormous courage, spoke in measured tones through raw grief. She told of losing her partner and her lifework when the Artist Proof Studio burned down with her partner inside, just three weeks before. As the actors re-enacted her story, I could almost smell the charred flesh, the burning linocuts, the melting metal printmaking press.

A few years later, one of the undergraduate Ethics Center Student Fellows was an intern with the School of Playback Theater in New York. I attended the final performance, this time taking the storyteller’s chair myself. I told of my Playback experience at Brandeis, when I sat in the audience as actors told Kim’s story. Then I watched my student Will take the part of Kim as he acted out my story: Playback actors re-enacting a story about Playback.

Over time, four other Student Fellows went to live with Kim in South Africa, most as interns in the rebuilt Artist Proof Studio, one working with AIDS orphans in the Art Therapy Centre.

I thought I left all that behind in 2009 when I took a yearlong leave of absence from Brandeis and traveled to the Marshall Islands to teach English. But when I sat in the equatorial December heat and unwrapped the Christmas present from my Marshallese friend, I found a xeroxed typed card inside a plastic sleeve: “Artist Proof Studio products are sewn and embroidered by groups of women in communities directly affected by HIV/AIDS. Your purchase supports these women in their struggle against HIV/AIDS.” Behind it was a stuffed felt angel, orange beads shimmering on its wings.

Artist Proof Studio, South Africa.
Brandeis University, Massachusetts.
School of Playback Theater, New York.
Kwajalein Atoll High School, Marshall Islands.

All connected through a brown angel.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Marci’s Marshall Islands Weight-Loss Plan

(Yes, I'm home -- with technology access at last, so I can post the last couple of stories written during my year in the Marshall Islands.)

This blog posting is dedicated to my colleague and friend Leigh Swigart, who taught me that a long walk is nothing to be annoyed about. Start putting one foot in front of the other, relax and enjoy the scenery. (Thanks to Liz Wellen for the photo)

I’m coming home 20 pounds lighter than when I arrived. (Well, make that 23 pounds as of the last time I veered close to a scale.) Losing the weight was completely painless. In fact, I wasn’t even sure whether I was gaining or losing weight under those shapeless mumus, in the absence of calibrator clothes (you know, that outfit that tells you when you’ve put on a few pounds). I’ve been eating anything I wanted, with appropriate doses of chocolate therapy PRN (as needed). I’ve remained outrageously healthy. The pounds just fell off.

You too can lose weight effortlessly! Here’s my weight-loss plan in 5 easy steps.

1. Move to a country where you don’t trust the food. One might say that Marshall Islanders are not as fastidious as I am about keeping hot food hot and cold food cold. My own kitchen is unnervingly buggy, so I don’t feel all that comfortable with my own cooking either. When you don’t quite trust what you’re eating, it’s real easy to eat less.

2. Get a job where you’re on your feet from 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Take aim at those 7 rows of chairs: pace up and down, then back and forth in front of the sauna-like tropical classroom for 6 hours a day. No snacks allowed, or students will want you to share. (There’s 150 of them.)

3. Make sure your workplace is five islands away from the closest town. Add unreliable transportation at limited times. That means that the surest way to get to church, the post office, or the grocery store is to walk the 6 miles one way. I can usually hitchhike into town (it’s very safe here) but then I walk home (at first not by my own choice, but once I saw I could do it, I did it purposefully). The 6 miles takes me about two hours, including water breaks and pauses to pick up shells on the causeway and admire the ocean. I walk it religiously every Sunday (pun intended). Believe it or not, that glorious weekly walk is what I’ll miss most here, with the tropical sun shimmering on the lagoon waves on one side of the causeway and the sparkling ocean surf on the other. Add a heavy backpack for a perfect workout. Stuff the backpack with plenty of water to drink and all your groceries and/or Sunday School teaching materials. That weekly hike is in addition to my ½ hour morning walks, which I’ve done for many years as my fitness plan.

4. Minimize eating out. It’s not hard to do with only one supermarket lunch counter and one restaurant (Filipino – yum!), both of which are located that 6 mile hike away.

5. Drastically reduce the number of party and dinner invitations you receive. And for the parties and dinners you do attend, see rule #1 above.

Yes, my friends, it boils down to: exercise more, eat less.