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Welcome to my home

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


Dad said...

There are a 1000 ways to descirbe adventure and you have hit on some really good ones. I agree with your one friend that got left out of you epistle. If you name (psuedonym in this case) some, then you gotta do it for all. Hey, you cannot afford to lose friends.

Somehow, James Mitchner missed this place in his sagas of polynesia. By the way Biggio did get 3000 its this year, a highlight to be sure.

you almost got the name of a group of dophins right..... submariners!!!!!!!

I just spent 5 days back east in philadelphia and New Jersey. WC Fields was right, "I'd rather be dead than in Philadelphia." I'm tired of airport security at 5:30 in the morning, though.

Hope your friend's encouter with the barracuda has healed well. They can get MUCH bigger than the little guy that got her.

All for now, enjoy paradise. Mag's takes here GMATs today, wish her luck.



Jeff said...

I have to second your father's sentiment: Philly is a shit-hole. Lots of history, and it looks (and smells) like they haven't tried to clean it since the good ol' days. The only good thing in town is Morimoto (the restaurant) as far as I'm concerned.

Bryce said...

This is a very interesting and engaging blog post. It's such a good story about your experiences!

Here is a great website in Marshallese that might help you learn more about the language:

Ebon wiki browser