An Island Emerging

Generations.  That one word embodies a wealth of power.  One generation can change the way the world thinks, operates and advances forward into the future.  One generation can hold the key to a better life for all.  Some generations have been nearly swept away by disease and war – the civil war in America claimed almost an entire generation, leaving us with a void, taking with it any ideas, creations and leaders that it may have offered.  When I think about Ebeye, I think mostly about its children.  Half of the island population is comprised of children.  Precious generational changers.

I remember reading about Ebeye when I first decided to commit to a year of teaching there.  I  remember thinking that so many good things were happening in the way of communications and technology for a small island that was struggling under the weight of many economic, social and political problems.  But of all that I was reading, I wondered…what do the Marshallese people want? While so many technological advances were being made, what weighed on their hearts in importance?

Well, I didn’t take a formal poll or interview anyone, though it was something I had hoped to do.  It just didn’t materialize.  But through the course of two years, I learned a lot about a culture that is straining to break free of the past outdated traditions while holding onto their heritage as a people.  And where you have 17,000 people, you have just as many opinions, perspectives and solutions to the problems.  There are those who would not change, and those who desperately strain for it.  There is an old mindset and a new one – each with their own advantages and failures.  It is an island of people emerging.  And along with the people spring forth the ideas and….ideologies.

There are many on Ebeye who are left without hope.  And there are those who hold tightly to it.  Hope for a better future than the past has offered.  There are those who dream of being a self-sustaining island again, which is novel but by all practical purposes now impossible.  Developing small islands into towns is too expensive and time consuming to warrant the effort, much less maintain the upkeep of such developments.  And economically speaking there is not much in the way of exports to support the society.  You might think fishing, but there are no commercial seafaring vessels that belong to the Marshalls.  They instead lease out their waters to foreign fisheries who cultivate the profits instead.

Many put hope in their upcoming generation to exact a change and begin to turn things for good. I found that there is an energy among the youth that could set many good things into motion for the small island.  I hope to see it. I hope to see some of my own children rise up and be leaders, changing the scope of the future.  But they would have to decide if they want to advance or stay rooted in tradition.  Are they going to look backwards or forwards?  To new ideas or only historical redundancy? It is a delicate line to walk, but the course of time changes many things including turning over generations and their ideologies, allowing for the next generation to step up and be counted.

Practically speaking, the island is very fragile, in many aspects. There is no one answer that will solve all the difficulties they are now facing.  But the people are not as active or engaged politically as we are here – they have a history of King-People mentality which is only natural to them.  The forces that be are quite confusing, even for me to sort out how things should be done: there are kings, queens, governments, land owners (who have much power), national governments and many other rules and regulations.  But I believe this course will change as the children learn and grow into this mile-long world they call Ebeye. I believe in my heart change is coming. I have to believe it…

I believe in God and the plan He has for all the Marshallese and their islands.  I pray the very best for the Marshallese, my families in the islands and my friends. I will see you again by the grace of God.  And I will be watching to see what good things are happening in your part of the world, praying earnestly for you all.

Link to Videos

Some of you have requested to see more videos of my time on Ebeye.  I really didn’t capture that many, but the ones I have over the past two years are now posted on my You Tube channel:

http://www.youtube.com/user/AbundantDreamer

Here’s one for the blog. A ride down Pacific side in the Memorial Day float.

Ebeye Island

I remember when I was trying to decide if I was going to move to Ebeye and start a whole new chapter in my life.  I scoured  the internet for any peek at what life on Ebeye had to offer.  I found some pretty good info but it wasn’t very detailed.  Hence the desire to post what I’ve learned living on Ebeye these past two years for those who find themselves in the same position.  So if you’re thinking about taking an adventure to the islands as a missionary teacher but aren’t sure what to expect, check out the info below.  Feel free to email me with any questions.  I’d be happy to assist you in your journey any way I can.  Other islands will differ greatly in what they offer as many are not as developed as Ebeye.

Internet Connection

The island has a very good communications center called NTA – this is short for National Telecommunications Authority. A fiber optic cable was laid last year and allows Ebeye to tap into high-speed internet connections.  The cost per minute at NTA, I believe, is somewhere around 8 cents. They also offer the option of service at your place of residence. You can pay about $40/month for the slowest connection plus activation fees and essentially receive unlimited access.  The higher speed you want, obviously the more you will pay. Quick note: Kwajalein is not connected to this cable. Perhaps military reasons, but they are still on dial-up as of the date of this post.

Skype

Yes, you can Skype your friends and family from Ebeye. The connection is fast enough and the signal is good enough to show video. I would suggest getting Skype before you leave and have your friends and family get setup. Because communicating via phone is nearly impossible.

Telephone Communication

This also runs through NTA and is extremely expensive. To phone anywhere beyond the island you will pay $1.80/minute. It may be a better option to have your friends at home buy a calling card and call you. Also, if you call after midnight, the rate goes down. You must purchase a calling card from NTA which you will then use to place your call. Calling cards are $10, $20 and $50.

Cell Phones

I’m sorry to break the news but….your cell phone will not work on Ebeye. It’s a bummer I know. But if you must have a calling gadget, you can purchase a cell phone from NTA and buy minutes to use for local calls on the island. Sounds odd that an island 1 mile long would need so many cell phones but really, it does come in handy. I’m not sure the cost but you can plan to pay around $50 for a moderately featured phone.

Restaurant Dining

Indeed Ebeye has three diners that I know of along with dozens of little shops in people’s homes that sell food and goods. But the diners are located in the Triple J department store, Litaki Fast Food, and a new addition, The Little Mermaid, located in the Ebeye hotel, Anrohasa, on lagoonside. I have eaten at all three places and found the meals satisfying. Litaki and The Little Mermaid both offer mainly Asian cuisine. Triple J is a bit more American with fried chicken, cheeseburgers, French fries and chicken nuggets. One tip that I didn’t find out about until only a month ago is that you can take the ferry across to Kwajalein and call their local pizza joint, Donatos to have a pizza delivered to the check-in gate. You cannot actually enter Kwajalein because it is a military base for the U.S. (unless you have a sponsor who will sign you in.)

Recreation

Ebeye is certainly an adventure and most of the time, it’s up to you what you want to see and do. Beach Park is a small beach at the southern tip of Ebeye which is a good place for swimming and barbecuing. There are plenty of places to explore and you can always rent a water taxi (or better yet, befriend someone with a boat of their own) and head out to some of the outer islands. They are absolutely gorgeous! The fishing and surfing is also good here. There is a causeway that has connected Ebeye to Guggegue island. The northern tip of Guggegue (from what I’ve heard) is a good place to surf. Beware! There are sharks…lots of them. Mainly reef sharks…but still!

Scuba Diving and Snorkeling

If you want to scuba dive, you have found the greatest place in the world for it. There is no larger, more pristine atoll than the Kwajalein atoll. I prefer snorkeling but whichever you fancy, it will be a fabulous time. There is someone here on the island that offers scuba diving lessons. Sorry but I don’t have that information. I’ll post an update if I get it. FYI: for anyone staying on Kwajalein who happened upon this blog, you will find there is an excellent scuba diving club located there. Here’s a link to the Kwajalein Scuba Club which also has great maps of the entire area. If you live on Ebeye, I don’t think you can join, but the maps are helpful for your own exploring adventures.

Grocery and Clothing Stores

There are many small shops scattered all around Ebeye. You may never know it because they don’t advertise like we do in the U.S. But the best grocer in my opinion would be Triple J. They do a good job at keeping food on the shelves and they are cleaner and more organized with a decent variety of selections. They have frozen meat and canned goods. Items for household cleaning and so on. They even do good keeping the fresh vegetables as fresh as possible when you live on an island.  There are different little nick-knack stores and clothing stores you can peruse. I don’t know the names of all of them but one of the more popular would be Sunrise. It seems almost everywhere people have storefronts in their little homes where the kids buy candy and sugar drinks.

Transportation

The main form of transportation on the island are the taxi trucks.  They loop around the island and provide a ride for only $.75.  You can ride as long as you want.  It’s a good way to see the island to, especially if you sit in the bed of the truck – ah, and the salty ocean views are great along oceanside!  The other mode of transit – if you are a male – is bicycles.  Women are not allowed to wear pants or shorts and so we could never figure out how to get away with riding a bike, especially in the sometimes 30 mile/hour winds.  If you find a way, let us know!

Future Updates

I will continue to update this blog as I receive additional information or think of other things that might be beneficial or interesting to know. Hope this helps in your planning and packing for Ebeye. I’ve been here for two years and it has been a grand adventure for sure. You may not always get what you want, but if you stay open to what the experience can offer, I’m sure you will find this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live an island life while making a difference in this world.

Quick Update

Greetings everyone,  I just wanted to send a quick note for those wondering where I’ve been, and let you know that the internet has been down at the house and I’ve been unable to load pictures and update the blog.   When we get back online, I’ll have plenty to post!  We are wrapping up the fourth quarter here at Gem School and once I get internet connection, I’ll post all the updates.

Love you all!

 

Covert Ops

Nowadays I have to be careful, because if I am not, my classes morph into girl-talk and chillin’ with the homies.  My sons and daughters are very good at leading me into these delightful occasions, partly because I may be focusing on something else and partly because I find it necessary to let them invade my ‘professional demeanor’ these last few days and bond with them. Oh heck, they can learn about what adverbs modify next year!

It starts off innocently enough. I’m grading papers and two come over to watch. ‘Ms. Ashley whose paper is that?’  They whisper, they pretend to be so interested in what I’m doing.

Then one more comes over.

Then three more.

Suddenly I’m surrounded by all these little faces intently ‘pretending’ to watch me grade papers.  Then they start leaning over my desk, pulling out papers, playing with rulers and talking about me in Marshallese. I know this because I hear ‘Ms. Ashley’ in the middle of their cheerful chirping. Then I am distracted, stop grading, and ask,

‘What are you saying about me in front of me, huh? I know you’re talking about me…’

and one pipes up, ‘Ms. Ashley Faith says you are so beauoootiful’.

Now how can I tell them to sit down and stop talking and stop leaning on my desk because I need to work?

Then one grabs my ear, ‘Youkuluk! Ms. Ashley!’

Apparently, the upper rim of my ear is uniquely smashed over.  It is, but I’ve never really noticed it much. My mother always told me I had cute elf ears.  It’s amazing what good words over a child can do for their self-esteem. (take note)  People can say other things about my looks and I may believe them. But they can’t say anything about my ears…’cause my momma said…….

Now they are pulling my earrings out of my pierced ear…I’m about half way finished grading;  good for me!

“Everyone get back in your seats and finish your homework…this is homework club afterall!”

Three leave my table but it’s really just a ploy to make me think they are doing what I’m asking. I’m appeased for the moment – they give their signals – the three make their way stealthily back up to my desk.

Did another one just blow in on my right?  Am I surrounded?

Now four of my babies are pulling on both my ears, “Lalle, lalle! Ms. Ashley’s ear!” …which is look at Ms. Ashley’s ear…I smile but they haven’t got me yet, another graded paper finished, pencil still moving…

One of my girls, Jelly, so cute and sweet but tough as nails when she needs to be, is sitting directly in front of me on the opposite side of my table. I can’t go anywhere that she isn’t making sure she is in front of me.  I pull my chair up to the wrong place in front of the class and she will switch seats.

“This isn’t your seat Jelly…get in your seat. Over there.”

My seat is in front of you, Ms. Ashley.”

……I melt…..

Wait, what is that….ouwww!  “Hey, that’s my ear!” I cry out while Faith is inadvertently giving me another piercing through my earlobe.

…giggles….

What is that on my foot…I don’t want to know…keep grading! Stay focused, don’t let them get the best of you!

Therizo: “Ms. Ashley, can I pierce the top of my ear?”

“Yes you can.”

Faith: “How about here Ms. Ashley?” Pointing to her lip.

“Sure.”  I say, with a bit of trepidation.

“Jesus doesn’t care if you pierce your ears or you lips. He’ll love you anyway. But there are some decisions that are wiser than others.”

They look at me….I think it sank in.  But then….

“How about here!?”  Therizo pinches her tongue.

“No! No way not your tongue, that’s not good!”

“My nose?”

It took a few minutes until I realized………I had been duped! They had me!!  My pencil wasn’t moving. I had stopped grading and was surrounded by ear-pulling, lobe-piercing strategists!

One of my sons – you remember, the one that blew in on my right? – is inquiring about his grade.  I cup my hands around his cute little cheeks and commend him on such a great spelling grade!!  “You have improved so much and I’m so proud of you Setlinton.”  He gushes…

What is that on my foot??…..Oh yes, my girl who is called to be in front of me at all times has placed her foot on top of my foot and is just resting it there….how sweet a gesture…

“Ms. Ashley, can we play with your ball?”

“Yes, after you finish your homework you can come get it.”

A collective “Yes!” goes up from the military strategists.

“I carry your bag for you….”

“Hey, bring that back, I’m not finished yet!”  Am I grading? Have I lost this war?

Mark the page at the top, write the comment…..no more papers!

“Finished!!”

Titus: “O K let’s go!”  He had been hounding me that I feared the girls in class and that’s why I kept giving them all the A’s.

“Do you mean favored?”  I ask.

“Yes, you fearvored all the girls and gave them A’s!  That’s not good Ms. Ashley.”

“Nooo, they STUDIED!”

Titus: Big smile. “O K.”

Jelly’s foot comes off my foot, little fingers let go of my ears, questions stop coming like machine-gun bullets, the strategists have disbanded, chairs put back into place, (some) papers folded neatly and placed into backpacks, windows shut, lights out, door locked and closed………………………

…..they make it all worth it.


Gem School Awarded $91K Grant from Embassy of Japan

It is official, Ebeye Gem Christian School has been awarded $91,000 from the Embassy of Japan to be used toward the building of three additional classrooms for the school.  On average, construction costs for one classroom runs about $38K due to labor costs, logistics of shipping construction materials to an island, and the cost of materials in general.  Construction will begin the second week of June, just after the school’s end of year graduation activities.

Here’s a short excerpt from The Marshall Islands Journal April 15, 2011 issue, written by Isaac Marty:

Japan recently held three Grassroots Grants ceremonies for Ebeye and Rairok schools, and Aur Atoll Local Government at the Japan  Embassy last month. For Ebeye, an agreement was signed for a $91,767 grassroots grant to build a three-classroom building in Ebeye for one of the private schools known as the Gem Christian School…officials from Ebeye that were at the ceremony were vice principal Noble Ned, Abita Joram, Kiton Loibwij, Tim Ned, Joel Clinton and Abring Jilly.

Gem School is a rapidly growing educational facility with over 170 students running grades K-5.   Next fall we will be adding a sixth grade and the classrooms are greatly needed to increase our capacity to hold this many students.

Currently we are holding four classes in the three classrooms pictured above due to limited space.

The island of Ebeye is so overcrowded that most children do not attend school at all due to lack of space in the school system.  Sometimes, due to lack of teachers and volunteers, there are schools where the students show up in class with no one to teach them.  It’s a dire situation and nations like Japan are doing what they can to assist Ebeye in their pursuit of a better life.  I personally find this admirable, as Japan is going through their own national crisis right now.

According to the article, Japan’s government has funded nine grassroots projects this year (April 2010-March 2011), and the total contribution to Republic of the Marshall Islands educational system at large is $811, 560.

Those of us here at Gem are incredibly thankful to God and to the Embassy of Japan for their monetary support. It is a blessing to us and to the children of Ebeye.

Seascape Excursion

Sunshine.  Clear blue waters. Chicken marinated in soy sauce, brown sugar, green peppers and onions roasting over an open fire. Add to this recipe two truck loads of energetic third graders that love their teachers and life and you’ve got a barbecue oceanside to be rivaled. We had plenty of fun this past week when my third grade class headed out to the southern tip of Ebeye for an end of quarter Beach Party to celebrate their hard work this past school year.

We decided to venture out – we being Laura, Miriam (my sweet little third grader) and me – to the edge of the coral where the ocean waves were breaking.  During high tide we would need a boat, but low tide lent itself perfectly for some exploring.

Along the way, we came across some interesting creatures and scenes.  In the distance the ocean breaks over the coral ‘drop’ wall that runs around the island.

One thing I learned was that construction crews, at one time, planted explosives into the coral bed to blow out chunks of rock to be used to build the causeway which now connects Ebeye with Gueggegue island.  In doing this, the explosives left huge open ‘pools’ in the reef that become swimming pools when high tide moves out.  Beautiful and haunting oceanscapes to say the least.

There were dozens of these pools that we found ourselves weaving around as we made our way out to the breaking waves.

We caught all kinds of little sea creatures with our camera lens. But that was about as close as we ventured to some of the strange life we saw crouched in the little coral pools and hiding under rocks.

Completely friendly, this star fish that Miriam is holding is called a Brittle Star.  It’s always a good time for some educational input.

There were sea cucumbers strewn about everywhere, as far as the eye could see. While on our exploratory excursion across the sea bed, we met a friendly local who spoke some broken English.  He was collecting sea cucumbers to cook and sell and asked us a few questions concerning our homeland and visit to the islands. He was dark and thin, cigarette tucked handily behind his right ear. He handled himself like he knew what he was doing out here amidst the exploded coral pits, slug-strewn reef and foreign-to-me world.  One thing’s for sure, the Marshallese know these teeming oceans like Americans know rush hour traffic: what’s hazardous and the best way to avoid it is paramount.

Here’s a fine example of a lovely, yet hazardous Blue Black sea urchin. Poisonous, it’s menacing look prompted us to stay away – except for a quick dip with my camera. It’s spikes are hard as steel and are used to chip away at the coral to make little ‘nests’ for them to hide and stab things…like fish.  It wasn’t going to get any of us that’s for sure!

As far out as I felt comfortable venturing with a little one in tow, I dipped my camera underwater one last time capturing some interesting footage.

We headed back to shore but not without some lasting memories of a stroll across a fantastical seascape.  God certainly made this world and all its inhabitants with such creativity and wonder.  I stand amazed at his ingenious creations.  So detailed, so painstakingly thought over, down to the last whip of color, perfectly placed spike or carefully contoured edge of a leaf.  Absolutely beautiful.  Absolutely God.

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