An Island Emerging

Looking On

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  But through the course of two years, I learned a lot about a culture that is straining to break free of the past outdated traditions while holding onto their heritage as a people.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.

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.

God’s East Wind: Tsunami 2011

The more I began hearing about the details of the tsunami caused by the 8.9 magnitude  earthquake in Japan, the more I have thanked God every day.

I had set my alarm to get up at 2 a.m. to make a phone call to the states.  I got on the internet and was greeted with emails from friends and family urging me to contact them and let them know I was alive.  I was honestly in shock.  Earthquakes? Tsunami? Marshall Islands?  It was all surreal and I remember turning my head for a moment to listen for the rush, or the calm or whatever you listen for when a tsunami is barreling down on you.

I quickly began emailing to diffuse their anxieties about my well-being.  We were all sleeping, except me and my phone call, and we hadn’t heard a word about the danger.

As the days passed, the story began unfolding and my heart rejoiced more and more in our God.  The initial warning went out just a short time after the earthquake that all of Ebeye was to be evacuated.  The school administration did not inform us but were waiting, I suppose, until they absolutely had to; all the while hoping, praying and believing in God.  The police were canvassing the streets and people were preparing to evacuate. How was this going to happen?  There are sixteen thousand people on this island.  Twyla said she turned to Nobel that night, just hours before the tsunami was scheduled to hit and said, “Where are they going to take all of us?”

I doubt there are enough boats, even using those from Kwajalein, to hold all the people here.  And you need a lot more time than a few hours to transport that large of a number of people and children.  And what about family’s homes and possessions? Even if they took us out to sea, which would likely be the safest place, what would we come back to? Where would we sleep?  And all the food would be washed away. I was thinking about all these things as they were telling me how close we came to disaster.  But God was watching…

An hour before impact, the warning was lifted.  We were all still soundly sleeping.  By the time I had awakened, the danger had passed.  Nobel said the scientists had all their data and charts in front of them and they charted that the winds had shifted, which in turn, stopped the energy of the wave.  He said, “…the scientist have all their data and numbers about the East winds changing direction, and all that scientific stuff but…all I know is that God saves His people!”

I know.  I know that East wind.  They can call it whatever they like. Put a number on it and chart it in their little books. But His eyes are on the righteous and not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him knowing about it…much less sixteen thousand of the most precious people I know, the apples of His eyes.  Closer to peril than I would otherwise ever want to be, I know God and I believe in miracles.  Thank God I’m here writing this blog post to you today.  Thank God for that.  Thank God for His infinite mercy and steadfast love which never ceases.  And thank God for the friends and family and all the people who got down on their knees and prayed, because God answered them.

I just Thank God that I belong to Him.

(Edit) Update 3.14.11

I was talking to Annalise who lives on Kwajalein, about the circumstances involving the evacuation of the islands in this area. We were exchanging information and one of the interesting points she mentioned was the geography of this area.  The islands are part of the largest atoll in the world; we live on the rim of a sunken volcano.

So unlike most beaches in the world that have a slow grade rise up to sea level, we have a 100+ foot drop to the ocean floor.  Tsunamis gain their power and height as the ocean bed ‘pushes’ the mass of water up before hitting land.  But here, when the energy of the wave reached us, its power struck the 100 foot wall and dispelled around the atoll and consequently all the islands were relatively untouched.

She said the scientist and forecasters still aren’t sure what happened (funny that she mentioned that).  The tsunami did come onshore, but it was also perfect timing; low tide.  The majority of the shock was absorbed by the drop off and no damaged occurred.  Thank God!

An Interesting Cargo from Likiep

An interesting cargo hit the dock on Gem School’s campus this week.  The front loading hatch opened to reveal a company of outer island dwellers and their wares.  I unfortunately missed the mass exodus but caught the trailing remnants of handmade burlap sacks filled with coconuts, chickens tethered to string awaiting a glorious destiny with BBQ sauce and fire, friends greeting loved ones they haven’t seen for far too long, geese toted in bent cardboard, and loads of personal goods for sleeping and working.

There were rumors of giant sea turtles, pigs and ducks; precious cargo this boat did carry and there was an excitement in the air as kids perused the goods, played among the hubbub and exchanged laughter and smiles.

As quickly as it started, it trailed off, each person into the vast integral layout of Ebeye, melting into sixteen thousand others like a visitor in Manhattan on a spring day in April.  Not a trace that anyone had even been there.  No chickens, no coconuts, no laughter to speak of.

Yet somewhere, the grill is roasting, old friends are laughing, and secrets are carried on the salty ocean breezes. Adventure and life are being shared and perhaps someone will be whispering once again, “Goodnight old friend, see you in the morning”.

Snow in June

It has been raining here…and raining…….a lot.  Considering it’s the islands’ summer season, the rain has been extraordinarily heavy.  Since we touched down over two weeks ago, it has rained nearly every day.  When I ask the locals about it, they say it is not usual to have this much rain.  This is typically what happens in the middle of their ‘winter’ as it were, when the temperatures drop way down to 80 degrees…brrr…anyway, I guess we are experiencing what we call in the states “snow coming down in June”.

The seasonal winds haven’t even started blowing through yet…I’m very curious to see what happens come November…

School has officially started and we are blazing a trail.  Laura and Jonathan are doing a great job with the cultural adjustment – to be around positive, Spirit-filled individuals who are on fire for God is such a blessing.  This team is going to do awesome things this year!  I thank God for His blessing on us and this school.  We couldn’t do any of this without His grace.

I got reception on a food channel today!  I watched Emril chop-chop some onions and peppers with sausage for a zucchini stuffing, got to smoke, bbq and dry rub pork ribs, shoulders and whole pigs at the national pig roast competition; pretty much having a good time wishing I was one of the judges!!  Haha!

Bigej Island

How to have fun on a deserted island 101

Back in January, the school administration and teachers hopped on the Majuro boat and headed for the island of Bigej.  It is about 40 minutes North of Ebeye and is an absolutely beautiful island.  On the way there, we have to cross a stretch of the Pacific Ocean and when we hit those waves in that boat I was like, “OhhMyyGoodd!!” It was crazy I’m just telling you!  Sometimes we’d go straight up and then free fall back into the dip of the next wave.  Praise God anyhow!

Bigej has clean, clear water and is deserted for the most part.  There were thirty-seven of us that went and had what the Marshallese called a picnic.  But it was far more than a picnic to me (and Lenka I might add – she is like a big kid!)  Anyway, who am I to talk?  I spent most of my time in the water, throwing kids into waves, testing goggle suction, daintily picking up little crabs and then letting out a high-pitched squeak when they darted out of their shells, building sandcastles with the kids and unbeknownst to me, getting really, really red!

Jonathan doing his ninja moves.

Anna posing for a shot.

A half submerged shot.  The coral reefs came right up to the surface of the water and even out in some parts.  We had to be careful swimming because it is no fun hitting those corals with your knees or feet.  They cut like glass.

Marianne doing some barbecuing.

Faith and me.

This was our little Jungle Mat.

Lenka, meanwhile, is trekking through the jungle to the other side of the island, playing with kids, filming mini documentaries about how shells and sand form islands with her new video camera toy, climbing to the upper deck of the boat and jumping off into the ocean with Mrs. Atina, Cherold and Dolly; basically having herself a good ole time.

Go Lenkaaaaaa!

Atina the Fearless!

The teachers’ aides were very entertaining – the Marshallese really know how to have fun.  Atina had me laughing at one point when she came thundering down the sand towards Mrs. Marianne who was daintily making her way into the water in her own, sweet time and BAM! tackled her from behind and they both fell over headfirst into the water…I wish I’d gotten it on video :)

We had a great day of fellowship.  The weather was perfect, the water warm, the food tasty and the company exceptional.  God is good to me.  For all the beautiful things over the past five years that have come into my life, for the things which He has asked for that I gave, for all the sacrifices made, He fills me up with more of His love, His joy and His grace.