Welcome to my home

Welcome to my home

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Island Life Winds Down

Life here on Kwaj has been incredibly busy for me over the past few days. As the final days of camp ticked off the calendar, I was finally hit with the reality of leaving the island. On Saturday I said my final goodbyes to my campers before I left the teen center for the last time, and I must admit I was a little sad. Yes, I am returning home to family and friends, but part of me has grown close to these little buggers. I know, I know, Scott is usually the sarcastic bastard who is, at best, a cynic. But somewhere within me, tiny sinews of sentimentality exist.

Yesterday, I went over to Ebeye to see some of our Marshallese campers from the summer with two of the other counselors: Katie—the girl who blew chunks on the fishing excursion, and Kristi—the girl who rode in the ambulance with the victim of the infamous fish drive-by. We got off the three o’clock ferry and headed down to the south tip of the island where a small park exists. This place is called a park, but it really isn’t what we would typically associate with the word “park”. It had two pavilions (concrete slabs with old, corrugated tin roofing that is pock marked with holes), and some open space covered with sandy gravel. The periphery of this park is their beach, which is primarily rocky. Garbage litters the ground. It had rained earlier in the day, so large puddles of dirty water stood proudly in the midst of it all. But these are all things I remember now. When I got there, all I saw was our small army of smiling Marshallese campers.

Almost as soon as I had rounded the corner and caught my first glimpse of the scene, my hand had been snatched up by a mitt of five gruff fingers. I looked down to my left side and saw Elio, a boy from an earlier camp session who does not speak much English at all. He escorted me into the midst of the party. The children (campers ranging from seven to thirteen years of age) had set up a large boom box under one of the pavilions. Outside this pavilion, a large charcoal grill was tended by Binton, the translator who worked closely with me all summer. Many of the campers from earlier summer sessions had yet to see my Mohawk. It was well received by most. However, some of the younger kids asked C.J. if I was in the mafia. So of course, C.J. and I had fun with that for a while.

After I had said my initial hellos, I made my way down to the waters edge to see the view. I leaned against an old concrete picnic table, so old that the weather had split it in half, and tips of the metal rebar had been rusted over and filed down into incredibly safe pointy ends. While the motto of Kwajalein is, “Safety first, safety always,” the motto of Ebeye would probably sound something like, “Do what is necessary to survive, everything else is a luxury.” So, the fact that picnic tables exist at all is a nice touch to this park. From this picnic table, I watched the children wrestle with one another in the water of the Pacific. However, not a long bit of time had passed before someone had climbed up on the table to sit next to where I was standing. I turned around only to see Elio, chewing one of the few pieces of grass that grew somewhere in the area, and looking up at me with soft, somber brown eyes. Then in a quiet, but earnest voice he said, “I miss you,” and nothing more.

The rest of the day was filled with time with the children. The kids found a basketball and took us over to one of the courts in the area to mess around. After a while we came back to the park and the kids danced as the boom box grew louder. Then we ate. Our translators had prepared a small feast for the party: chicken, hotdogs, rice, sushi, fruit, and a dish that was awesome but I don’t know the name of, but it was made with rice, coconut, and something called “scrote.”

After we ate, we cleaned up and walked back through Ebeye toward the dock. I can only imagine what we must have looked like, marching through town with a battalion of children singing camp songs in broken English. On the way to the docks we passed two Mormon missionaries. They were really nice guys. They have been living on Ebeye for about a year now, one is from Utah, the other is from England. After a brief conversation as we walked, they moved on in their direction and we moved on in ours. If these gentlemen had the capacity for jealousy, I’m sure that at that moment they would have been full of it, because they walked away alone, and we walked on with about thirty followers. We got back to the dock area around eight o’clock. The last ferry leaves at eight thirty on Sundays, so we had time to buy some ice cream for the kids that had made it all the way to the docks with us. So we bought our ice cream, ate our ice cream, said our final goodbyes, and in a cliché moment, had to run to the boat through the rain. I was so happy I had a chance to see my Marshallese campers once more before I leave on Wednesday.

In other news, I just received an e-mail that contains the transcript of a speech given in the RMI congress just a few days ago. It discusses the extreme disaster that is Ebeye, and calls for aid from the RMI government. But, the RMI government doesn’t believe that Ebeye is that bad off right now. However, the speech called out the government officials (all of whom live on Majuro, another island) for being uninformed. The last time the government visited Ebeye was fifteen years ago. To quote Binton, “How can our government say that we are not living in absolute poverty, if they do not come and see it, and live it?” This makes a lot of sense to me. Although the RMI has a royal family, they also have a president. Usually the president is someone from within the royal family, but the current president is the first commoner to ever hold the office. He is not well liked by anyone in the country. It might sound weird to us to have the royal family also holding the presidential office, but the royalty over here is not anything like European or Asian royalty. They truly are one with the people. Yes, a heightened attitude of respect is reserved for them, but they will be the first ones to tell you that they are just one person in the greater Marshallese people.

The royal family lives on Ebeye, and calls for government aid, but the government refuses it. They have sought aid from the United States; but, because of our land lease agreement, international law holds strict regulations on what we can do for them. So, either the Marshallese government has to pony up some kind of relief for the island, or private contractors will have to willingly come to Ebeye to provide relief by creating jobs. As was already mentioned, the RMI government is not indicating intentions of aid, and the last large company (Exxon Oil) just left Ebeye unannounced. Now Ebeye has extreme gas and power shortages, which, in turn, has created an insane shortage on fresh water. Keep in mind, that all of this is going on on an island that is one mile long, ¼ of a mile wide, and is home to over 15,000 people.

I received this e-mail because land owners are considered to be in the lower ranks of nobility in the RMI. Essentially, this means very little. However, nobility does have the power of influence with the people. Because C.J. has indicated that he wishes to give me an island, I am now charged with the task of staying informed in the goings on of the government, simply because I am to become a land owner. At some point, something is going to have to happen. C.J. says that a civil war is not so unlikely if things do not improve.

I sit here in my room just a mile away from Ebeye, and I am typing on a computer in sanitary conditions. I can get on my bike and ride down to the cafeteria where I can eat as much as I want for free. I can turn on the tap and let fresh water pour down the drain if I so desire, because we have an endless supply of it for free. If I want to turn the lights on, I can, and I can leave them on. In just two days time I will get on a plane and fly back to Iowa. Then I will be thousands of miles away from Ebeye, but Ebeye will still exist. And the people of Ebeye will still be living as they do now. And Ebeye is just one place among countless others just like it across the globe.

I am anxious to see my family and friends. I miss those whom I love. I hope to keep this blog going even after I return to the states. However, until I do, I must ask a favor of all of my readers: do something for someone. Whether it is great or small, solicited or unsolicited, for someone in need or not, change can never happen unless someone starts it by doing something.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

I Can't Stop Sweating

My digital clock just switched from 2:59 am to 3:00 am and I am just now really realizing two things about myself. No, I haven’t been out carousing with friends in a bar or pool hall (sorry to disappoint the cynics among the audience.) No, I am not suffering from insomnia. Instead, I am just now returning home from the teen center where I work. So now the question is, why have I been at the teen center? Clearly it is the first night in the weekend. And for those of you who know me really well (I’m thinking of my sister on this one,) the assumption that I am not a workaholic would be correct in this instance. So, the question remains. What have I been doing at the teen center until three in the morning?

Tonight I had volunteered to help facilitate a lock-in at the center. What? I already have to get up early every day to work with hormonal teens that need more sleep than the average hibernating bear, which thereby causes said hormones within said teens to become moodier than my sister when she is deprived of designer shoes. But, deep inside of me…somewhere…there is a huge softie who has become somewhat attached to his little ones. Knowing that I am gearing up for my last week of camp with my kids, and knowing that goodbyes are just around the corner, I felt that it was best to capitalize on time that I can spend with my campers. So I took the nine to three shift at the lock-in, and it was fun. We played some card games, cooked some pizzas, and had a massive dodge ball tournament in the gym during which I’m pretty sure I separated my shoulder and blew out my elbow…good thing I haven’t graduated yet, dad’s insurance is looking pretty tasty right about now.

So that brings me to the first thing that I have come to understand about myself. Despite the searing pain currently surging through my right arm, shoulder, and back, I take comfort in the fact that I really enjoy the role of mentor that I have assumed. Whether I am acting as a teacher, a counselor, or an activity facilitator, working with youth seems to be a good fit for me. This is good news. This means that my college education and summer volunteerism hasn’t been done for nothing. I just had my interview with the Peace Corps on Saturday morning at 6 (Friday at 1pm for you central time zoners,) and they said that they are very interested in putting me in an English Education role somewhere in either 1—Eastern Europe and Central Asia, or 2—China. This is awesome, and I am very excited. I don’t know if it is a done deal or not (either on their end or on mine,) but it is certainly an opportunity.

But now, I’m growing tired, so I have to go to bed because we’re going over to Bigej (BEE-GEE) tomorrow. If you don’t remember what Bigej is, just cruise through some of my earlier posts, I’ve talked about it before. Should be a long day full of sun.

Oh yeah, and the second thing I really solidified itself in my mind is that I have a Mohawk. Not the weak version that I rocked for the majority of the year, but rather an actual Mohawk, a stripe of hair flanked by the skin of my scalp. Pretty cool huh?

Friday, July 20, 2007


First, I would like to apologize for not having updated this in some time. This past week has been extremely busy. Trying to coordinate a campout for teenagers is hard enough; so please try to understand my work load when trying to plan a campout for teenagers, getting the U.S. government to ok, the foreigners’ overnight, and then getting the RMI’s ambassador to give the ok for his citizens to overnight it on American soil. But, I’m here now, and you’ll hear more about the campout in a bit. But first things first.

Last weekend I went spear fishing on Sunday (remember that’s Saturday.) Spear fishing is just that, spearing fish while swimming underwater. The spear used is typically something called a “Hawaiian Sling.” A Hawaiian Sling is a graphite shaft about 6.5’ long, the end of which is split into three really sharp metal prongs that are about a foot long each. On the non-pointy end there is a huge rubber strap that functions much like a rubber band. To use the sling, you hook your thumb in the band, stretch the band towards the pointy end while holding the shaft with the same hand, aim the spear, and then, at the right moment you open your hand up and the sling shoots the spear through your hand in the direction your were aiming. So, Nick (my boss) and I dawned our snorkeling gear and hit the lagoon.

We stalked fish for about two hours. While one of us used the sling, the other one swam with the fish bag and helped look for fish. The fish bag is what we put the speared fish in. It is simply a net bag that clamps at one end. The problem with a net bag to carry speared fish in, is that when a fish is speared it tends to bleed. This blood then wafts through the netting and out into the ocean water. The good news is that a shark, if it approaches you, will not attack you, but rather the bag. The bad news is that the fish bag hangs dangerously close to the waist line when swimming. Fortunately for us, no sharks took interest in our haul of fish. We were spearing things like grouper, red snapper, and a whole bunch of fish I cannot name because I am ignorant, but I’m pretty sure I saw them all in Finding Nemo.

Nick and I had such a good time hunting for fish on Sunday that we decided to go back out on Monday to get more fish, but this time we brought a posse and more weapons. There were four of us total: Nick, Jason (permanent CYS staff), Luke (some kid visiting), and me. Among us we had two slings and an actual spear gun (picture a handheld harpoon gun.) I’m pretty sure that as we hunted we were recreating the old buffalo drives frequently used by Native Americans to drive their food over the edge of cliffs. It was definitely a sight to see. All in all we speared a bunch of fish. At one point I took a shot at a large grouper (about 2’ long,) but it swam away too quickly. However, his undersized crony did not. I don’t know what kind of fish it was, but I do know that it was in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Straight up spear through the gut. I showed him to my fellow hunters (I’m pretty sure I’m regressing to cave man status,) and we decided that he was too small to actually eat. So I chummed up the water with his bloody body. I thought I saw him do the death shudder as he drifted through a hole in the coral head.

The next day was Tuesday, the first day of a new work week. Each week we go fishing with improvised fishing tackle off the rock wall that lines the lagoon by the housing units. Usually several fish are caught in the hour we devote to fishing, so when one of my campers got really excited about a fish he had just caught I was surprised.
“Scott, Scott!”
“What’d ya get there Iamen?”
“Fish! Kang-kang.” (that means tasty)
“Let me see.” Pause, look of dismay “What? No way. Hey Binton, check this out. This fish has a whole through its belly!”
That’s right, one of my campers caught the fish that I had speared the day before, the same one that gave an Oscar-winning performance on his death shudder. Binton was impressed, but he agreed that this fish was kang-kang. So he ripped off its spiny dorsal fin and tail and then ate the whole thing (head, bones, guts, etc.) raw. Probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen. He just smiled at me and went back to fishing. I got back into my office that day only to find out that my iPod had been stolen…I hate immorality.

Thursday night was our campout. We went to a beach that is on the other end of the island that no one really goes to that often. It has a big bonfire pit and a place to pitch tents. So, we cooked hobo pies for dinner, learned how to make s’mores, and spent time around the campfire. C.J. told old Marshallese folk tales that scared the living hell out of my campers, it was awesome. Cultural legends are passed down orally through the royal family here, so having C.J. there to tell them was a real treat. I stayed up all night to make sure that everything would be ok in the event of an emergency. Needless to say, I was tired by the time I got to bed the next night—6am Thursday to 8:45pm Friday…but my kids loved it so I was happy. I got lots of pictures. It was probably my favorite night since I’ve been here.

I’m happy, but miss you all. Leave me some love.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Magic of Ebeye

For those of you who are not aware, this summer I have the privilege of working with not only American children, but also Marshallese children. At first I anticipated this to be an extreme challenge for me; trying to motivate teenagers is one thing, but trying to motivate teenagers who don't speak your language is another. My Marshallese campers come over every day on a ferry from Ebeye along with a translator who is permanently employed by Child and Youth Services (CYS). CYS is my contract partner; they are who Camp Adventure works for and with on every base. My translator's name is Binton, and he's a heck of a guy. To put it in 1992 terms, if I were Nate Dogg, he would be Warren G. Anyways, most of my Marshallese campers speak very limited English, so he helps out with almost all of the communication. However, this does not mean that a language barrier does not exist. Binton often feels as though he is stepping on my toes if he breaks in to translate, so if I want something translated, I have to ask him to do so in each specific instance. This can be frustrating at times, but on the whole it is fairly successful.

Because the Marshallese are only allowed on Kwajalein for short periods of time if they are not full time employees, the RMI campers have to sign up in two week sessions. So, for those slow on the uptake, I get a new batch of RMI campers every two weeks. This is awesome because it extends the opportunity for more kids to experience summer camp. It also means that I get to meet more RMI kids. However, the flip side of that is that I have to say goodbye to that many more kids I have grown fond of. The other tough thing is that the Marshallese people are a very shy people; so it takes them a while to warm up to new people in their lives. Because I am so personable, I've noticed them actually feeling comfortable interacting with me, on average, by the end of the first week. Today was the first day that my RMI kids from this session really seemed to begin to interact with me with some degree of comfort and confidence. We went swimming at the island's pool and they seemed to enjoy that. However, what I enjoyed was them trying their hardest to teach me how to count to ten. I officially admit that the words in the Marshallese language have escaped my ability to hear and/or pronounce. I can remember 2 - Ro, 4 - Emen, and 7 - Jimmy John's. Ok, so seven isn't really Jimmy John's, but it sounds like it to me. So for now, that's what it is. The language is incredibly hard to follow because it is spoken so quickly. Marshallese is heavily influenced by Japanese (because they used to posses it before we made them glow), and Spanish and Dutch (because the Marshallese were some of the lucky many who were proselytized by Catholic missionaries.) Needless to say, the language is spoken incredibly quickly. In fact, they don't even understand their own language unless it is spoken with Jessie Owens style rapidity. Stay tuned for more language learning later.

This evening, as promised, I went on a Ukulele hunt with Katie and CJ to Ebeye. We tried to get on the ferry at 5:15, but it was full. So, instead we had to take a water taxi. Great idea right? Well, if you have been reading my blog for any amount of time, you must know that when I use a leading question as a prompting device, I will undoubtedly contradict it for dramatic effect...like so. Wrong. If I were given the opportunity to name things, I would not have dubbed this craft a "Water Taxi," but instead a "Barely Buoyant and Perforated Sardine Can with Twin Outboard Motors." There were about 15 people packed into a space that should have only accommodated 5. The result was that the small dinghy, at best, was sitting way too low in the water. Because I am a gentleman, naturally I allowed all of the seats to be filled by women and children (look mom, I was listening.) What did this mean for me? It got the privilege of standing on the very back rail (essentially on the twin outboard motors) and holding onto a thin crossbar so that I didn't fall off the back. The plus side was that the "taxi" was a lot faster than the ferry, a thirty minute ride became a seven minute ride.

So we got to Ebeye, and after going to four different stores we finally found Ukuleles. But this is where I get really cool. So when Katie and I mentioned to the group that we were going to buy some Ukuleles, slowly, one by one, they all put in an order of their own. So once we finally found a store with Ukuleles, we ended up buying eight...Nothing says tourist like walking around a third world country carrying eight Ukuleles and you're the only two white people. Speaking of being white. Remember when I told you to stay tuned for more language stories...

So after we ate dinner and burdened ourselves with an army of Ukuleles, we had about 40 minutes to kill while we waited for the ferry back to Kwaj. So CJ, Katie, Binton (he met up with us), and I all walked over to where a street basketball game was being played. Basketball is like the national sport on Ebeye, but it's not really basketball. All I can think that it resembles is what basketball would be if maximum security prisons were allowed to play basketball with each other. So as we sat on the sidelines, tuning our eight Ukuleles, I took the opportunity to ask Binton what "Reblla" means. This was the word that every Marshallese child screamed when they saw us on the streets, and were now running up to us and squealing where we sat. Remember those proselytizing superheroes I mentioned earlier (whispers the Catholics)? Well those were the first white people to ever be seen in the Marshall Islands. They are what came to be known as "Rebella". What does "Rebella" mean then? Any guesses?

Thank you missionaries. Now, forever and always, white people will be known as white demons. It doesn't bear any negative connotations anymore, but the Marshallese are also incredibly Christian now. Ah what could have been...But, I still felt as though I might be making the children nervous, so I started saying hello to them in Marshallese (Yokwe). The result was a regiment of children assaulting me with handshakes and fist pounds all wanting to say Yokwe. I think that they secretly wanted to say that they had touched the White Demon and lived to tell about it, but I'll never know now I suppose.

So, it's pretty late now, and I have to go to work tomorrow. But tomorrow is Saturday, the weekend. On Sunday my boss and I are going spear fishing (where you fish a spear as you snorkel...creative name no?) Wish me luck. I guess the fish bleed a lot when you hit them with a spear (who would have guessed?) I also know that the place we're going to go is the place where the really big sharks have been seen. The last one there was nick named Frankenstein. Did you know that a shark can smell a drop of blood in the water from over a mile away?
--The White Demon

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Forgotten

So I think it's time for me to try and bring you all up to date on everything that I have forgotten to mention thus far. I know that in doing so, I will undoubtedly forget to mention things. Also, I might mention things that have already been mentioned in passing, but I don't' remember mentioning. So really, trying to account for the forgotten is a never ending battle, but I'm going to at least try to do something here.

So during our fishing trip we saw a whole bunch of dolphins. They came up to our boat as we trolled through the ocean and seemed to be playing with us. There must have been about twenty of them together. I know that a bunch of fish are called a school, and a bunch of whales are called a pod. I also know that dolphins are somewhere in between fish and whales. What I don't know is what a bunch of dolphins are called. So, for the purpose of this post, I'll call a group of dolphins a spod.

The spod of dolphins wove in and out of each other as our boat cut through the water. Some were even bold enough to show off in very Sea World fashions, jumping out of the water alone and together. It was amazing. One of the girls that was on the boat with me tried to take pictures, but they didn't really turn out. It's ok though. I will return to the states with the satisfaction that I have seen feral dolphins and the vast majority of the people I talk to will not have had that opportunity. One more way for me to make myself feel better.

The time I spend outside at night here is truly unique and valuable to me. There are so many cool things about the nocturnal celestial view where I am. Because we are so remote, and with so little lights ourselves, the night sky seems to jump out of its place to make itself apparent to me each evening. The opportunity to see the stars in such brilliance is rare to say the least. However, what is more rare is my opportunity to see certain constellations that are only visible close to the equator. The one that is most impressive here is called the Southern Cross. If you don't know what it looks like, check out the picture on the side of a Foster's can. The other things that are insanely bright are three planets: Mars, Venus, and Saturn. These are, by far, the brightest bulbs in the night sky. They are almost like spotlights. What is remarkable about these, to me, is that they do not actually produce light. They only reflect light; yet they are the brightest objects in the sky. It really reminds me of just how far away the stars that actually produce light are, if they cannot even out glow objects of mere reflection...something to think about.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Friendly Mid-Western Face Gets Mauled by Vicious Creature of the Lagoon

So this could quite possibly be the next summer blockbuster action movie that requires the work of Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, maybe Ice Cube, but definitely some comedic relief from Eddie Murphy to fully grasp the raw intensity of this event. This story includes a true villain, a blood-filled maritime assault, and the eventual victory of good over evil. Without further ado…(also, if you could read this while listening to Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” that would be great)

We were all drugged up and groggy from a day of perpetual snoozing. Sunday, the first day off after a long week of work, had been a rare storm of sheer cloud force. The rain storm left us trapped inside for the entirety of the day. So, in an effort to pass the time, my co-workers and I holed up in one of our rooms together and nerded out watching movies and playing video games all day. When we weren’t playing games, we napped; while the movies played, we napped. I would estimate that 80% of the Sunday hours were spent either asleep, or close to it.

As most of us know, an overdose of sleep can do the same thing to a body that sleep deprivation can. So, when we emerged on Monday from our little burrow of shelter from the storm, we were not only disoriented by the amount of sunshine, but also severely drunk on too much sleep. We got food, and decided it would be a good idea to head to the beach afterwards. Armed with our mono-hued inner tubes, we took to the water. Side note: in an effort to gain street cred and intimidate our rivals, we have dubbed ourselves the “Fruit Loop Gang” because our tubes resemble Fruit Loops (mine is green.) The name gives us cohesion. The name gives us pride. The name gives us power…or so we thought.

Sure we were cocky as we floated on the water. It was our turf. Who would have the audacity to engage us in epic combat? So there we were—relaxin’ to the max. A casual fish flipped across the surface. They have been known to do this in the particular area that we were floating. We watched as one fish in particular threaded itself in and out of air and water at racing speed. It was a beautiful silver creature of approximately 18” in length, 4” in diameter. A muscular tube of the Sun’s silvery reflection. But something was off. What happened next can only be described as an eruption of blood and chaos.

Whitney “Anemone” Thorsheim (War Cheif of the Fruit Loop Gang) pointed as the fish encroached on her location. Normally our posse is quick, but this time we were not quick enough. By the time we had turned in our Fruit Loops, the fish had already set his teeth into her face. The fish’s jaws were locked tightly over her left eye, the top row of teeth just to the left of it, the lower jaw deeply set in her cheek. But Whitney is one hard soldier. Let’s be honest, you have to be to get to the rank of War Chief. She didn’t cry; she didn’t scream.

She slapped a fish.

Snap son! Who do you think you are? You can’t tango with the Fruit Loops if you don’t wanna get slapped.

By the time the fish had been launched back to the sea, we had finally been able to help her back to shore. The lifeguards on duty were worthless. They had know idea what to do with a girl who was gushing with blood, the sad victim of another fish drive-by. Kristi “Coral” Hilton (1st Lt. of Trash Talk Deflection) suggested that they call an ambulance, and they thought that that would be a good idea.

So, the rest of us hopped on our bikes (remember, no cars…) and peddled our way over to the E.R. (which isn’t that fancy, let’s keep in mind that up until the early 1990’s the entire hospital was in a tent…) We sat, for around hours, patiently awaiting the return of our fallen homie. When she walked out, she resembled the Phantom of the Opera. The entire side of her left face was covered in bandages that concealed eye patches and stitches. Now, we are hoping that she has no nerve damage. But she gets an entire week of work off. After a bit of questioning, we discovered that the culprit was actually a small barracuda. Sweet right?

Nothing really cool has happened to me. But that was really exciting to be a part of. Are you not entertained?

I’m enjoying work more and more as I become more accustomed to being paralyzed by language barriers at times. I still miss everyone and hope to hear from you all whenever you get a chance. Turns out that the Astros suck this year…but it’s still pre-All Star break, so anyone still has a chance to do anything…except the Cubs. They will, inevitably, self destruct. So that makes me happy.

Also, I have plans to by a Ukulele. I’ve been learning how to play one, and I hope to bring it back to Iowa. It’s going to be the next iPod. I know it.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Life Continues

I realize that most of my posts are action packed; in fact, even if my life isn't that action packed, I try to make my posts sound like a lot of really cool stuff is going on to keep my readers hungry for more action that has been packed tightly, and with care, into an action package. So, here goes me trying to conjure up some action to pack...and I promise I will stop saying both "action" and "pack".

I had an eventful weekend. We'll start with Saturday night (which is really your Friday remember...) After a long week of work, I decided that I had had my fill of child whine (yeah, sick nasty pun, I know) and needed to find relief in some of the hard stuff along with my co-workers. So we hopped on our bikes (because cars don't exist here), and headed out to the Vet's Hall to hear a local band play for a while. The front part of the bar is inside, but the majority of the bar is open-aired (like most things here, even the church lacks walls). We ordered our beers of choice and moved out back to hear the band play. You cannot even begin to imagine the look of pure ecstasy that consumed my face when I stepped out of the bar and onto the grungy and beer stained concrete out back and saw a...GIANT INFLATABLE MOONWALK CASTLE!!!! You know, the things that fill up with air and little kids go inside them and jump around for a while. Well, someone on island thought that it would be a great idea to get one of those and pump it full of air and put it out back of the Vet's Hall where some of the big kids go to play...I want to shake his hand. Naturally I took advantage of its presence. I dragged my co-workers into it and we jumped around to the sweet sounds of a cover band. See if you can guess how long it takes seven adults jumping inside a GIANT INFLATABLE MOONWALK CASTLE!!!! to deflate a GIANT INFLATABLE MOONWALK CASTLE!!!!, thereby making it a giant FLAT inflatable moonwalk castle :( Oh well, such is life. After that happened, the band started to suck so we peddled our little bikes (in cool S patterns) over to a place that has pool tables. Anyways, to make a long story short, I play a friendly game of pool with a guy that I know here as my co-workers watch. I win, he gets mad brags about having to B.A.'s, then wants to fight. I talk my way out of it because I am a masterful rhetorician fueled with the possibility of getting creamed. Then he starts to cry and asks me for pool advice. Bazaar, I know. After that blew over I decided it was a good time to call it a night.

Sunday (your Saturday) I get up and go out on a ski boat all day. We took out a wake board and I actually got up on it, something I had not been able to do back state-side. It was fun, but now my back hurts. Played it cool that night.

Monday (your Sunday, can ya dig it?) I wake up and go deep sea fishing with two middle-aged dudes and two co-workers: Katie and Whitney. I was really pumped to do this because I love to fish, and with the exception of an attempt to catch a Muskie once or twice, I have never really fished for big game. The fish we were going after are really big game though. We're talking hundreds of pounds. Most of the stuff we were looking for belongs to either the tuna or the grouper family. Thing of them as the Hatfields and the McCoys of the deep. I guess they don't really hate each other that much, but it's fun to pretend that they might...We trolled around the Pacific Ocean with our four lines in the water (two rods, two hand lines), but we caught nothing. We didn't even get a strike on a line. We got skunked. We actually defined getting skunked. But it's ok, the other boat that was out didn't get anything either. So really our trip wasn't so much a deep sea fishing trip, but an opportunity play a sweet game I like to call "Who's Puking First Because We Are in a Twenty-three Foot Boat and the Waves Are Pitching Like Crazy". I was never any good at suspense, so I'll just get right down to it. Katie won. She actually won twice, but she was able to get the chunks overboard both times. I guess I lost because I was able to keep my lunch in a dormant and internal state; but for some reason, I'm not upset about losing. We were hoping that the vomit, so generously provided by Katie Kuta (look her up on facebook myspace and leave her comments of mockery), would work as a second baiting technique, kind of like chumming for sharks, but more bile. It didn't. I got back that night and found out that my dog died.

On a positive note, I would like to thank all of my readers for positive comments on the blog and friendly emails to let me know you are tracking my movement around the globe like a UPS package. Keep sending me stuff to read. I love hearing from you all. Mom, try to smile, Sophie was a great little dog. I have been pretty down about the whole thing, but I try to think about things about her that make me smile: her fat little body barely supported on her stubby little legs, her tongue that couldn't quite fit completely in her closed mouth, her inability to wag her tail but instead she had to wag her entire back half, the way she would laugh as we walked in the back door, and the way she would tear across the front yard to greet me as I step out of my car, only to grovel at my feet, whimper, and pee as I pet her. I miss her a lot.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Coming At You Live

So, I realize that this post is the first one in a while. But, allow me assure you that I am not intentionally neglecting the blog. One of the downsides of living on an island that is as small and remote as Kwaj is that when things break, the rate of repair is not instantaneous. In fact, often times things have to be sent off island to be repaired and then brought back. For instance, if any type of medical emergency happens (I'm talking about something like a compound fracture and up), people have to be flown out to Hawai'i for medical care. So, out here, a saying exists, "Safety first, safety always." This mentality commands the actions of the community. What is more, is that there are little signs all over the place that remind people of safety, just in case people might have the gall to forget what their priorities should be. These little missions in safety propaganda provide me with a touch of entertainment every now and then. For example, today I could not help but laugh to myself when I was going through the line in the mess hall (called the PDR--Pacific Dining Room) I looked up from the fruit tray only to see a sign stating, "For our customers safety, please only move in one direction when in line." Extreme? Probably. Cautious? Like a mother. Safe? Always. While this has been a fun little tangent, I must appease those with a more keen ability to focus, and return to my original point.

As was said in the beginning, I have not been trying to ignore anyone back on the mainland. The internet has been down for a while out here, which means that we had to wait for something (who knows what...) in order to get the network back up and running. Like Milli Vanilli, I would like to take the opportunity to blame it on the rain. I think someone mentioned something about one of the last rain storms we had taking out something technical that was the only thing connecting us to anywhere else in the world. Naturally, this is not the type of thing that merits a rush order...Regardless, I have not been trying to "e-void" anyone back home (I can't tell you how excited I am about that pun...it's the simple things that keep me going I guess).

Now that that is taken care of, the second order of business is to make a correction. Patrick is not Patrick, but rather C.J. Who's lost? Me too. He tried to explain that Patrick is his English name (much like my German name was Gerd, which, of course, I selected because of the disorder of the esophagus) that he uses sometimes with Americans. But, his Marshallese name is C.J. The expanded version of the name is too hard for most people who don't speak Marshallese to say.

C.J. took me over to Ebeye on Tuesday to get some dinner at his Aunt's restaurant. I've noticed that C.J. has approximately 2,973 aunts. Every time we turned around, he seemed to be introducing me to another "Auntie" of his. I asked him if they were really aunts, or if they were the metaphorical aunts (you know like people in church call eachother brother, sister, father, etc.) He assured me that they were, in fact, aunts. I told him that my parents were both only children, and he could not believe it. The conditions on Ebeye are those of extreme poverty. It is densly populated (cue thousands of people with thousands of aunties) and garbage runs rampant in the gutters (cue mutant rats.) I am going back over today with C.J. to meet his grandmother, the queen. She lives in a place called Guchi Guchi. I'm not sure of the spelling, but that is how it is pronounced.

Last weekend I took a boat out the the island called Begeje. We had to anchor our boat about a half mile off shore and swim to shore because the coral heads make it impossible for nautical navigation. The trip was incredible, and full of firsts. It was the first time I have stepped foot on a haunted island. It was the first time I have walked in a jungle. It was the first time I have swum with a shark. So, I guess this tops the sting ray incident. The shark was about four feet long, but no worries. Like most other things in the water out here, it operates under the code of "I won't mess with you if you don't mess with me." However, the fish about the size of a half dollar that bit my finger as I was picking up a shell from the underside of a piece of coral did not buy into that philosophy...the little bastard. Now my right index finger is a bit swollen. It's a rough life.

I've been invited to go deep sea fishing on July 2nd. So I'm looking forward to that.

Camp is going well. Two weeks down, six weeks to go. The kids around the teen center are beginning to warm up to me more and more. I've actually had some kids sign up for the next session of camp (that starts on Tuesday) that my boss said are the cool kids that everyone else looks up to because when they sit around doing nothing, they make it look AWESOME. Hopefully they enjoy the programming I have set up for them so that more kids will sign up in an effort to follow the crowd. Also, they made me a name poster with a bunch of poka-dots and googly eyes on it. I hung it up in my office. It's pretty sweet.

That's it for now. A bit of an extended post, but hey, it's been a while. Until next time, remember--safety first, safety always

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Kwaj, One Week In

I spent my day by the lagoon. I've grown shades darker since the morning. Tomorrow I have been invited by some island locals on a boat ride to a neighboring island that is completely deserted. No one lives there. It is completely overrun with jungle. It belongs to the RMI outright; but the RMI citizens refuse to live there because it is haunted. I have become fairly good friends with the prince of the RMI and he was telling me all about the legend that surrounds Begeje (BEE-GEE). The tale is really old and I am going to have him tell me again so that I don't screw it up when I retell it. In case you didn't catch that, I will repeat it, I have become friends with the prince of the RMI. His name is Patrick (a name that resonates with Marshallese tradition...) His grandmother is the queen, his mother will take the thrown when grandma dies, and then he will take the thrown. Although the RMI has a president, no one listens to the government. They were a matriarchal society even before they were unified as a sovereign nation. The thrown is passed down through women (not men) but for some reason Patrick gets it. I'm still a little foggy on it all, but I'm learning. Regardless, women have always been (and probably always will be) the ones with the power in this country. Patrick has offered to take me to meet the queen on Ebeye (EE-BUY), which is a neighboring island where they live. It is about one fourth the land mass of Kwaj, but about 14,000 people live there. The living conditions there are third world. The prince is unstoppable at ping pong, and he plays for the RMI Olympic basketball team.

My first week at camp went well. I had about 12 campers (it fluctuated each day). Hope all is well back home.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

My Tuesday Is Your Monday

So here are some details about my life.

I live on an island named Kwajalein.
Pop.- 1800

# of military personel- 14

# of top secret things going on here- 5 trillion

avg. day temp- 85 F

avg. night temp- 75 F

avg. humidity- 70%

It rains everyday in the morning for about 20 min.

Avg. daily percipitation 1" (yeah, it's an intense 20 minutes)

Rain always comes from the pacific (which is our east coast)

Wind always comes from the pacific, and it never stops (but it is generally a gentle breeze)

I have my own room, and I can hear the ocean crashing from my window.

I see the sunrise over the pacific every morning during my 6am run

I watch the sunset into the lagoon every evening as I lay on the beach.

The feeling of community is overwhelming here. There are no free loaders. Everyone here serves a purpose in the community (often 2 or 3 e.g. the dentist is also the sailing instructor).

The work week is Tuesday-Saturday so that we can align with the mainland.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) consists of 33 seperate islands.

Total land mass of the RMI- 73 square miles.

The 33 miles lie in a section of ocean that spans an area that would go from southern Louisiana to southern Minnesota, and from the Rocky Mountains in CO to Mississippi's eastern border. These islands are microscopic.

I run a wilderness survival camp for teens each morning from 9-11:30, then I have an hour lunch break, and return to supervise the Teen Center from 12:30-4:30.

Tomorrow we will be fashioning our own fishing rods out of materials we can scavage and then we are going fishing. We will bait our hooks with squid.

I am, in fact, in paradise. But, this does not mean that I do not miss you all.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Last Day Before Work

Today was the last day I have had before we start our individual camps. The rest of the counselors and I got the day off, which was a much needed break from all of the meetings we've had to sit through since we've been here. I spent about 3 hours snorkeling in the lagoon (the largest lagoon in the world). In addition to the plethora of fish, coral, and crabs that I saw I was lucky enough to swim directly into the presence of a Stingray. This is the infamous creature that took Steve Irwin away from all of us. The beast was camaflouged with a layer of sand covering him on the sea floor. But as I swam down to it, it shook the sand free, flicked its tail, and bolted. It was quick, really quick. However, because it didn't take off until I was about four feet above it I had had plenty of time to check it out. From nose to stinger I would say it was about five feet long; its wingspan was about three feet; it was a gorgeous golden brown when free of the white sands of the floor. I was whole-heartedly impressed. When I got back on shore, one of the locals (whom I have become friends with) listened to my experience and then told me that he had never been able to see one that large and that close. He also told me I was lucky I didn't run into any trouble with the thing. So, I feel cool because I am already contributing original experiences to my new island community. However, I would be lying if I told you that my heart was not pounding.

Three hours was a lot of snorkeling, and I was pretty hungry. So, I grabbed some z's on the beach and then went to dinner. After dinner I went to this bar called the Snake Pit that sits on the ocean shoreline (everything sits on a shore here, it's just a question of whether it's lagoon side or ocean side) with my boss. We had a few Coronas and watched the ebb of the tide infront of us as the sun set behind us. I'm getting up early tomorrow to return to the same place so that I can see the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean.

For more information about Stingrays, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stingray

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Trip Out

So, I'm going to do my best to keep this updated as a way for those back home to keep track of what I am doing and thinking. As for now, I will share what was going through my head as our plane did funny things with time zones on the way over here.

in regards to the space-time continuum

if we are pretending
that today is tomorrow,
and that the day that is
actually today is yesterday,
and that yesterday, we
left for tomorrow only to arrive
today, then outlook on the
daylight is never worse than 20/20
because hindsight’s proverb
wouldn’t lie.