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  But through the course of two years, I learned a lot about a culture that is straining to break free of the past outdated traditions while holding onto their heritage as a people.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

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.

Celebrations Under the Sky

Here’s a video I shot of a Marshallese Christmas Dance.  This was taken outside in the new church building which currently has the open night sky for a ceiling.  Absolutely gorgeous.   Hope you enjoy!

Rusted Ghosts

The workers are clearing a portion of land for the school’s new trailers which will be the home for the missionaries coming next school year.  It’s going to be sweet, let me tell you!  The location is right on the lagoon; wake up and the ocean will be smiling at you.  According to Pastor Hone they will be building a wall around the front to prevent any spill over from high tide and also adding a dock there.

With the land leveled and the rusted machinery moved around, I decide, out of curiosity, to go for a walk around the perimeter.  I snapped pictures of what was left of the abandoned rusted ghosts along the shoreline of the new trailers.  As I made my way along the break I noticed a large thrown-together wooden cage through the brush.  As I made my way over I noticed something pink tripping around inside.  To my surprise I had stumbled upon a happily snorting pig!  I didn’t know pigs wagged their tails but this one did.  He made me laugh.

There’s a crane here on the island which the Patricks used to clean off the whole area on which our school now sits.  It takes time and effort but this whole island could be cleaned up.  The profile of this same stretch of land looked like this before they cleaned off all the rusted ghosts.

Here’s the new and improved version.

There is hardly any stretch of beach that is without these junked machines.  They could be anything from moving equipment such as backhoes and forklifts to jeeps, tires and boats.

Being so close to the salty ocean water poses a problem for any metals.  If you’ve put two and two together you already realize the potential health hazard.  And kids get scratched by these rusted metals.  They’re just kids wanting to swim, play and have fun.  Some of the things they deal with on a daily basis can be frustrating at best trying to figure out how to keep them protected.  Hopefully one day, as we all are working towards the goal of development on this beautiful island, both the aesthetic and health conditions will improve dramatically.  Because only God knows what the people have to deal with concerning health matters.  I’m not even sure the people know.

A huge link chain that has rusted and corroded together on the shoreline.

This island with its people and children are in God’s sight.  There are so many things that could go wrong that just don’t.  I see miracles everyday it seems…in the simple things.  Then again, there are miracles that happen all around us no matter where we are…we just have to look up and take notice of God’s wonderful love towards us.

Radioactive Red Snapper Part I

The Marshallese are avid fishermen.  Most of their diet consists of fish and rice.  And in the outer islands, you can add coconut to that.  Twyla was telling me that sometimes, when the small planes are delayed and unable to deliver food to the outer islands, the people have to eat shaved coconut until more supplies arrive.  It can be a stressful dilemma.  Sometimes the same anxiety happens to residents on Ebeye when they run short on rice.  I remember watching the documentary of how a movie (Pirates of the Caribbean maybe?) was made on an island and the crew and director kept talking about how difficult it was to feed everyone, provide water and shelter and sanitation for around 1000 people simply because everything had to be brought in on a boat…I was like, ‘Tell me about it…”

My friend ran into some workers who had gotten their hands on some Red Snapper which is pretty rare on this chain of islands.  They offered him some of their wares and he excitedly accepted.  Whether his joy was slightly tempered or not by what he knew was the reality of eating a Red Snapper caught in this portion of the reef, I do not know.  But regardless of certain consequences, he was going to eat good tonight…

One of the larger catches fished in these waters is the Marlin.  The fishermen can get a fairly good wage out of selling one of these big fish to the local fish market here on the island.  There are not many shell fish that come through here.  Every now-and-then you’ll see a crab for sale and sometimes little baby octopi.  They are served cold.  I’m not sure if they are cooked…they don’t cook their fish which generally reflects the Asian influence of the Japanese whose customs were intertwined with Marshallese culture.

Then probably the biggest would be shark.  I’ve not seen shark caught by fishermen yet but Nyasha did last year.  What did they use for bait, you ask?  Oh, you really don’t want to know, I promise.  But somehow, they lured the shark in and pulled it out of the blue waters about a hundred yards from my house.  The lagoon is infested with sharks.  If they could find a way to ship them to China efficiently, they could probably make some big bucks.  Or maybe that’s illegal…

But, back to the fish, namely, the Red Snapper.  My friend had secured a rather tasty meal for that night.  Happily he prepared it; then happily he ate it.  He knew he shouldn’t have.  He knew what was going to happen to his body in the hours to follow.  But the craving of good fish meat trumped his better judgment, and so he ate.

Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy,

Do not desire his delicacies,

For he is like one who is inwardly calculating.

“Eat and drink!” he says to you,

But his heart is not with you.

Prov 23.8.9

A Look Ahead

Yokwe aolep!  (Hello everyone!)  I wanted to bring to your attention a few inspired changes.  First, which you’ve probably already noticed, the layout/graphics of the blog have changed.  I hope you find it easier to navigate the site and interact with the content.  I’ve had a few people asking about how to leave comments so hopefully this layout will be a bit more intuitive.  Also, the Lord is refining the scope of the blog so this will undoubtedly be reflected within the content of the posts.

We’re going into the trenches so-to-speak.  I’ll still be relaying all the events that are happening with the school and church.  But afterall, when you’ve seen one Memorial Day, you’ve seen them all, right?  I like variety.  God is perfect for that! :)

Some ideas: I haven’t written much on the social interworkings and influences of the Marshallese culture (not that I’m any expert by far) or on the spiritual dynamics of so many different religions.  Maybe I’ll include personal interviews of the people to get their individual perspectives on their community, education and the future progression and hope of Ebeye. So expect a different slant starting soon.  What would you like to know?  Are you curious about anything in particular?  Let us hear from you.  Maybe we can find out some info to pass along.

It’s coming up on Summer break, woo-hoo! I will likely post during this time but maybe not as frequently (though God always seems to have plans) so we could be surprised.  I have a few other ideas for some extra content on the site but we’ll see how much time I have this summer before I get too ambitious!

If you have hit this site and plan to come to Ebeye next year or if you are trying to decide, feel free to leave a comment – I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.  If I don’t know the answer, I may be able to find out or lead you in the right direction.

Thanks to everyone who, throughout this year, supported me with kind words, thoughtful emails, letters, gifts, care packages; to those who kept me on my spiritual toes, prayed for me, hoped in me and were by my side even 7000 miles away…I love you.  I thank God for your support this past year and pray that He enrich your life as you have enriched mine.

Have a wonderful Summer and I look forward to seeing everyone when I get back!