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Welcome to my home

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.