Wednesday, May 31, 2006

One last memento of the RMI

Leaving the Marshall Islands was a very sad time for us. Saying goodbye to our students and our friends was difficult, and -- as I told my students -- we will think of them constantly, and though we each left a piece of our heart in Jaluit, we will also always have a bit of JHS in our hearts to replace it.

The resolution of our Saipan trip finances has become a bit of a melodrama, unfortunately. We received a generous per diem check at the outset to house and feed each student, which we used for those expenses, for the rental car, for spending money for the students, and for some day trips and entertainment expenses. On our return to Jaluit, we had students and their parents/guardians collect the remaining money (about $100 per student). At the end of our trip, certain government officials indicated that, as is the standard for RMI government travel, each person who went on this trip would receive another check, a portion of the per diem that had been withheld at the outset. Additionally, they said, we stayed in Saipan for three days longer than was originally planned. (This was for two reasons: one, the four-day Arts Festival that we were sent to participate in began on the last day we were supposed to be in Saipan; two, since the trip was scheduled at the last-minute by IA, there were no tickets available for the day they planned for us to leave anyway, so they bought tickets for the next flight. So I guess in this case poor planning and last-minute planning cancelled each other out! Fortunately, the arts festival also paid for most of our hotel expenses for those extra days, and there was food available at the festival, so extra expenses were not a problem.) This meant that they would also issue checks for per diems for those three days.

What all this meant was that each student was to be issued two checks from the RMI gov't -- as were Carine and I. A real problem, on several levels. Perhaps the biggest waste of money in the RMI government, as I see it, are these per diem checks. You see, some people view travel not as a way to participate in conferences and festivals, to expand one’s worldview, or to learn something about the world and oneself, which are the things we accomplished with our students, but as a means to obtain per diem checks. Not for use in daily expenses, which is literally where the term “per diem” comes from, of course, but for their personal enrichment. The use of government funds to travel essentially in order to collect these checks is scandalous and the closest thing this side of outright embezzlement. Apparently, some people don’t even TAKE the trips they are scheduled to go on – they just stay at home, lay low, and pretend to have gone. Or, once there, they don’t participate in what they have been sent for. Appalling. Meanwhile, this is money that has been budgeted for travel, and our students could certainly use it for college or to travel to look for a good job, and if they don’t receive it, it would be used for some government lackey to take a business trip (or pretend to) and end up in that person’s pocket. So I would feel pretty silly turning it down on their behalf. But if we did get them, that brings up the question of what on earth would Carine and I do if they issued such checks to us. We decided that we could use the money to do some kind of project for JHS – getting reading material for classes and the library, getting materials for the vocational classes to build something useful for the school, something like that. I stayed in Majuro for a few extra days to try to get those checks for our students. By the time I left, some checks were processed – but my request had been misunderstood. I told them that we needed the checks because we were leaving soon, so they issued checks only for Carine and me, but not our students. Not the reimbursement check for the Jaluit-Majuro flights, but the “extra” per diem checks (about the same amount as we spent out-of-pocket on the AMI flights).

When we returned to Majuro, on our trip to leave the Marshall Islands, we discovered – to make a long story short – that the governmental powers that be decided that they would not issue additional checks for the students, and that the checks we received were to be used to repay us for the AMI flights. Which was all fine, we got repaid in a roundabout way, and it solved the problem of how we would use the additional money for JHS in our short couple of days in Majuro. Disappointing because our students wouldn't be getting that money to save, but understandable, since it wasn't necessary for the actual travel. But then we heard that one student’s guardian was telling whomever would listen that we had misappropriated the money for the Saipan trip, and that we had, in essence, stolen that and the inexistent additional checks from our students. This was incredibly upsetting and hurtful, that after a year of doing the best we could in difficult circumstances, and after organizing and supervising and shepherding our drama club students on two very successful trips, that this was the last farewell from the Marshall Islands. We know it's only one person who is making a stink about this, that she’s only making these accusations because she's speculating on what she would have done, had she been charged with the responsibility of being the custodian of a group of kids, and what governement-sponsored travel is often assumed to be, and projecting that on others. But the experience of the last few days in Majuro, worrying about the outrageous lies that one person was spreading, was a pretty shitty way to end our otherwise wonderful year. If the people of the Marshall Islands are concerned about government overspending – and from reading the MI Journal, I think they probably are – demanding that travellers account for their expenses in total would be a great place to start. Giving per diems that aren't used for per diem expenses is wasteful, and pretty damn stupid to boot.

We've done some thinking and discussing of the trip to Saipan and of our whole experience in the RMI. For a few days, we questioned whether we should have done the trip to Saipan (or volunteered in the RMI at all) given all the political backlash surrounding it afterwards, but we ended up recognizing that the trip was a unique and enlightening opportunity for our students, and it would have been a real disservice not to take advantage of it. Some of our students are planning to attend universities in Guam or Hawaii now, after our trip, who hadn't even considered that possibility before. We also know that almost everyone has been supportive of us and our students, and that it's only one individual, possessing seemingly unlimited avarice and unseemly limited morals, assuming that everyone would do what she would have done in the same circumstances, who has caused us to question whether our overall experience in the Marshall Islands was a positive one or not. We've decided that we won't let her continue to do so, and instead we will remember the kind people who truly made us part of their families during our year in the Marshall Islands.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

End of the adventure

Our time in the Marshall Islands has come to an end. After the Saipan trip, I returned with the drama club students to Jaluit, while Jacob stayed in Majuro to try to get a refund check from the ministry (our fellow teacher, Dennis, and the two of us had ended up paying for all of the students to travel from Jaluit to Majuro and a check refunding that money should have been waiting for us, but wasn’t). He was supposed to come back on Monday but unfortunately the Dash (big plane) was broken and the Dornier was dispatched for a medical evacuation, so his flight was cancelled and he did not make it home until the following Friday. I taught two of his classes that week, which was kind of fun but exhausting. After Jacob came back we had finals week and we graded everything and turned in our grades by the end of the week.
The weekend before we left was busy with farewell parties. Friday night the 9A class held a party for us in my classroom. They had prepared a dinner of rice and chicken and after eating presented us with some songs and handicrafts and made speeches. I’ll miss that class a lot.
On Saturday we had been invited to join the senior class on their picnic at Enejet, an island just across the pass from Jabwor. We left in the morning and spend the day making food, lounging on the beach and snorkeling. A short time after we got back, our farewell party with the Jaluit High School staff started. They provided a great potluck dinner with lots of local specialties. They also sang some songs and we got some really nice handicraft hats, necklaces and fans as well as ametama, the coconut candy. When that party was over, we were to go up to Aki’s classroom where the 11A class was throwing a party for all three of us (Aki is leaving next week after being at JHS for two years). Again speeches were made and songs were sung and although we were very tired at that point, we really enjoyed the party.
On Sunday after church all of the drama club kids came over to our house for a barbeque. It was a slow paced, lazy afternoon with just hanging out with some of the students we made the strongest connections with. When evening came they gathered to sing some of our favorite songs (The Inedrel and Lost Boy songs from the play) as well as a tear-jerker song that gets sung every time someone leaves. The words in English are:
Today let us sing happy happy
For tomorrow we will cry
We dream that some day we will separate
And we will miss you, our friends
I broke down on many occasions; during the songs, when the students each made a speech and when I made my own speech. I knew it was going to be hard to leave, but it much exceeded my expectations. Especially the students who have crummy living / family situations and the ones who tell you that they think of us as their parents… It’s true though, we think of them as our kids and we hope we’ll able to stay in touch with them throughout their school careers and beyond.
On a happy note, when the plane landed on Monday, the delegation of NTA workers got off to actually (for real) set up the phone and email system this week. This means that with a little bit of luck, we’ll be able to email and call JHS and our students and they will have access to the internet! It will be interesting to see how much that will change the island. I’m excited that JHS will now be able to call or email the MOE in Majuro instead of having to radio, which is time consuming and extremely frustrating.
Anyway, we left on Monday. The plane was reasonably on time and we got to Majuro without any trouble. May left with us on that same day and is staying at the WorldTeach dorm with us now. It will be very hard to say goodbye to her tomorrow. (But we know she is returning to a loving mom – hi Mrs. Miller!)
We’ve been running errands in Majuro these couple of weeks but we’re ready to enjoy the rest of our trip and going home again in July.
This ends our Marshall Islands adventure for now. Of course we will be in touch with our new friends and family in the RMI and we’re hoping to be able to visit when my 9th graders graduate in three years. We are also hoping some of our students will take us up on our offer of coming to visit or live with us for a while (while going to high school or college). This has been an incredible year that we will always fondly remember.
Thank you for keeping in touch or just reading this blog. We hope it gave you a little glimpse of our time here.

Carine & Jacob

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Two Weeks in Paradise (Torey style!)

Hi, kittens, this is Torey - not Carine as the login would suggest! Since the basic outline of the trip was already laid out below, I thought I might just pick out some of the highlights for me. And I'll start off by saying how fantastic it was to get off that plane on the little dirt runway in Jaluit and see Jacob and Carine waiting there with huge smiles!!

Everyone on Jaluit was so friendly and welcoming, it was impossible not to have a good time! There were several get-togethers (welcome and goodbye parties), numerous games of Settlers of Catan, several bouts of snorkeling (special thanks to Bego for loaning me a mask when mine leaked), fishing on the ocean, the drive to Jaluit, Easter services, and a fantastic day in Carine's classroom.

Thanks to several folks, I was able to try a large number of foods that I could never have here in the states. I tried ametema candy, drank a coconut, ate likor (kind of like a coconut slushie), tried breadfruit, chewed pandanus, and ate the most amazing fresh tuna ever. Elukkun enno!!

The day in Carine's classroom was wonderful! In each period, we all took turns asking each other questions. At the end of the period, each class sang a song, too, which meant - guess what! I sang, too. Being thoroughly unprepared for this, I ended up singing Gilligan's Island, the Brady Bunch theme, and Carine and I did a catchy duet of Zeven Kleine Vissen, even though I don't really know the words. I don't think it needs to be said that the students sounded MUCH better than me.

Funny thing. I never even knew I wanted to visit Saipan! And yet, once I was there, I discovered it's a place not to miss - especially when traveling with such a great group. The drama club has to be the best group of high school students EVER! And of course, any time with Carine and Jacob is always well spent. :o)

Saipan, while also gorgeous, is very different from Jaluit, and not just by the Subway and McDonald's restaurants peppering the place. There were mountains and cows, tall buildings and an endless array of stores to shop in! Me? I was fascinated with the beach, but the students weren't interested in that for some reason. :o)

When not at the youth services conference, high school, or arts festival, we did LOTS of sightseeing. I think my favorite place was the botanic garden. The grounds were really beautiful, and they even had a place where Jason (one of the drama students) was able to roll down a grassy hill. Can't do that in Jaluit - no hills! There was a fantastc tree house, a stunning viewpoint at the top of some wicked stairs, a hammock area for resting, and a museum of pre-WWII photographs of the island and its people, plants, and wildlife.

The night before I had to fly home, the students gathered for a little goodbye party. They gave me some beautiful gifts and sang a goodbye song - it made me cry! I really miss them; they're a great bunch!

All in all, it was an incredible trip! I wouldn't trade the experience for anything!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Saipan Adventure

A little over two weeks ago, our friend Torey came to visit us in Jaluit. It was incredible to see her step off the plane on our little island! On the same flight Richard, a WorldTeach volunteer from Majuro also came as well as three JOCV volunteers who came to visit Aki and Hiro. We have never had so many visitors all at once! In the afternoon we rented two boats to go trolling; fishing in the ocean by dangling a long line with a hook and fake bait behind the boat and then criss-crossing the water looking for birds who might indicate that there is a school of fish there. Torey and I were in a boat with Hiro, Eriko (one of the JOCV) and Jabuwe (from JHS). In a little under two hours we caught two rainbow runners, eight yellow fin tunas and a scary looking fish with a lot of teeth which turned out to be poisonous. That night we had a welcome party at the JHS library with lots of sashimi and other tasty food.
While Torey was in Jaluit we went snorkelling out by the airport and the old Japanese dock which was truly gorgeous, we took a trip to Jaluit, Jaluit and Torey came and visited my classes. We had the students ask her questions and her ask them questions to which they responded very enthusiastically. In two of my classes they spoke more than I have heard them speak all year, which proves that experiences like that are such a great teaching tool.
In the week before Torey came, the minister of Internal Affairs, Rien Morris, contacted us on the radio to announce that Jaluit High School Advanced English Drama Club had been selected to represent the Marshall Islands at a youth conference and arts festival in Saipan and would be leaving in 10 days. Because Torey was already on her way to Jaluit, we decided to just buy her a plane ticket and take her to Saipan with us. Fortunately, she was happy to accompany us.
On Thursday the 9A class threw Torey a farewell party in my classroom. It was really sweet; they had prepared rice, chicken, papaya and breadfruit for everyone to eat and they sang songs for her and presented her with some local handicraft gifts. I think it was a nice way to end her Jaluit stay.
On Friday we rounded up the remaining five students and went to the airport. The Monday before we had sent five students to Majuro to get their passports issued for the trip. Unfortunately we had eight students who needed to get passports but because the Dash (the big plane) was broken, the little Dornier came and there was only enough room for five of them to go, which, we decided, was still better than no-one at all. The Dash was still not fixed that Friday and we barely all made it onto the plane – a man and his daughter ended up voluntarily giving up their seats for us. Oh, there also was a greatly aggravating moment when the American boss for IBC, the contractors who are building our new school, barged in 20 minutes before the plane was supposed to arrive and proceeded to treat Neitom, the AMI agent who holds a high position in the traditional leader system, like she was an ignorant nobody who didn’t understand English. She told him that there was no more room on the plane because it was the small plane and he threw a fit yelling that he had confirmed his flight in Majuro and did that not mean anything here. Even after it was explained that you have to confirm in Jaluit with the agent he still acted like that was just something they made up to bug him. I have never been more ashamed to be associated with America! (With the possible exception of the Bush election.) Anyway, we got on the flight, which was very late and arrived in Majuro a little before 6:00pm. We drove over to see Grace, the person who had helped to organize our trip, and were told that the money had not come through and we would not leave until Tuesday. When we met up with Minister Morris he assured us we would be going and he had people at finance and the attorney generals’ office working through the night to arrange the money and passports for us to go. Abran, one of our students, had his passport sent from Ailinglaplap (an outer island) a week before we got to Majuro, only it never arrived. We could have had another passport made for him that night only he disappeared without telling any of us where he was going or how to reach him. This resulted in him not being able to come with us on Saturday. (His passport ended up being found in the control tower of AMI – after he already had a replacement one made, of course – and he joined us in Saipan on Tuesday.
So on Saturday morning we are at the airport without tickets and some of the passports that were made that night / morning. We ended up checking in just minutes before they closed security. Torey’s reservation had been cancelled and she had to put the $1600 ticket on her visa card (we were able to pay her half of the cost back later on in the trip and will send her the rest of the money this weekend). All in all, it was pretty amazing the vast majority got on the plane that day.
The flight stopped in Kwajalein, Kosrae (where the students saw their first mountains), Pohnpei, Chuuk and finally Guam, where we changed planes to go to Saipan. Saipan is an island just a little bit north of Guam and belongs to the CNMI (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands). They are commonwealth of the U.S. only they have control over their own immigration. It was a lot like being back in America, with familiar businesses everywhere like Payless Shoes, McDonalds, Hard Rock Café and even a Costco.
We checked into a hotel called the Aquarius Beach Towers which is about a 10 minute drive south of Garapan, the downtown area. We rented two units; one with three bedrooms where the six boys, Torey, Jacob and I stayed and one with two bedrooms where Grace and the four girls stayed. Minister Morris and his wife Rostina checked into a different hotel. The Aquarius was extremely nice and comfortable and it was great as a home base to check out the rest of the island.
The first three days we attended the Micronesian Youth Services Network Conference. Even though not all of the presentations were as polished as they could be the students still were interested and got something out of them. The youth track talked about STD / HIV awareness and prevention, anger management and what it takes to become a good (youth) leader. The last day of the conference, Tuesday, we performed our play, Legends, during the lunch break. The students did introductions at the beginning of each story to explain how it tied in with youth services (issues of child abuse, the importance of care, adoption, outsmarting the demons in your life) and they received an overwhelmingly positive response.
Thursday through Sunday we attended the 25th Annual Flame Tree Arts Festival at the American Memorial Park. The Flame trees are trees with vibrantly orange flowers and they bloom this time of the year. The festival was a gathering of artists from Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Rota, Hawaii, Yap, Palau, Fiji and others. There was one large stage at which there were pretty much non-stop dancing and singing performances, as well as about 70 or so booths with arts and crafts and food from all over the Pacific. It was really interesting to see performances from other islands and to interact with so many different Pacific Islanders. On Saturday we participated in the Parade of Cultures with some of the Saipan Marshallese community joining us. I was asked to be one of the judges for the floats in the parade (there were four) and also to judge the booths – there were prizes for the best of each. I ended up visiting the booth of a Saipan accountant who painted in his free time. He painted in many different styles and his entire collection of paintings was amazingly beautiful and original. He sold them for very cheap ($20 - $100) and Jacob and I ended up buying two of his paintings. The play’s performance was on Sunday morning and even though there weren’t very many people and there was a power outage they did a decent job with their performance.
Besides the conference and the festival we had the chance to do a bunch of different activities as well. We had rented a 7 passenger van into which we crammed all 13 of us. (There weren’t any larger vans available on island.) Some of the best memories from this trip are from driving around the island. The first time we saw some cows on the side of the road, which was the very first time the students had seen a cow, so we pulled over and took some pictures. We visited Suicide cliff and Banzai cliff, where a large number of Japanese soldiers committed suicide rather than surrender during WWII as well as the Korean and Japanese peace memorials and the last command post. We took a trip to the Saipan Botanical gardens, which were beautiful and the students really enjoyed. We also visited the zoo which was small but had some interesting creatures like an ostrich, some fruit bats and some cool lizards. We took a McDonalds picnic lunch up to the very highest point in Saipan and enjoyed the view as well the memorials and information about WWII up there. After our last performance on Sunday we took the students to the water park which is attached to one of the hotels on the island. They had several exciting water slides and a big wave pool and we all had a blast that afternoon, it was a great way to end our trip. For our farewell dinner we took them to the Hard Rock Café where we got see a performance by an Asian Elvis impersonator and the students got to dance with the staff to the Y.M.C.A. and I Will Survive songs.
We had to get up at 2:00am the next morning to catch our 4:30 flight to Guam followed by the island hopper back to Majuro. We were exhausted when we got back to Minister Morris’ house around 8:00pm or so and we were a little shocked when we were told that we had to go perform at the Marshall Island Resort for the Constitution Day celebrations right away. We made it to the hotel and had dinner there but we explained to the Minister and to the President that we were not prepared, smelly and tired but we’d love to perform some other time after the kids would get some sleep ‘cause they were literally falling asleep at the table. We ended up performing one of the legends with a song and the dance at half-time on Wednesday at the JHS – Assumption basketball game, which was a lot of fun.
Now we are ready to head back to Jaluit. We’ll only have two more weeks of teaching left and then we’ll start our around the world trip. I am both excited and sad to be leaving so soon…

Monday, April 03, 2006

Blog Update April 3, 2006 by Carine

Blog Update April 3, 2006 by Carine

We have been enjoying unusual high attendance rates ever since the reign of Jabwil, the principal started. It’s nice to come to class and know that everyone was there yesterday for the introduction of the new lesson and that you don’t have to catch anyone up.
We’ve got only seven weeks to go and I find myself running out of time to cover everything that I think they should know. Especially when things happen like last week. I gave my classes vocabulary words & definitions as well as new (regular) verbs to study – something every student should be able to do if they spend any time studying. We discussed the words and verbs; their meaning and usage and how the quiz at the end of the week would be structured. First matching words and definitions, then a fill-in-the-blank paragraph using those same words & verbs and lastly I would give them verb definitions, which they would have to write down the verb for as well as the present and past tense of I and she. With 66% memorization and 33% actual application of knowledge I felt like it would be a more beginning quarter-confidence building quiz. 80% failed. So instead of moving on to more interesting lessons I spent a week reviewing the quiz, using the words and verbs in additional exercises and spending a whole lesson on how to study for a quiz. They took the same quiz (with word order jumbled and different sentences) again and although results on the rote memorization parts improved, the application of using those words in sentences was just as abysmal as before. Things like that are frustrating and make me wonder how much I’ve actually accomplished in teaching them this year. Plus, with something stupid like this taking up a week’s worth of class time. We’ll have even less time to work on things like writing or critical thinking.

Of course there are our bright and exceptional students who continue to amaze us. We started debate club a couple of weeks ago and had a pretty successful practice debate (“only men should hold the title of Alap”). We hope that JHS will be able to send a debate team to Majuro next year to compete during education week.

Well, Christine sent us our W-2’s and David and Jill brought us a tax form from Majuro, so Jacob is actually sitting down tonight to do our taxes. We’ll re-file when we get back I think but we have to send in something.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A Island-Wide Beacon

Blog Entry: “A Island-Wide Beacon” 4-2-06 By Jacob

Last weekend, inspired by the coconut leaves rustling in the wind that whips in off the ocean, I took a mini kite (a wedding present from Jessica) and went to the field ouside our new house to fly it.

The wind was so strong, getting it into the air was as easy as holding it up and letting go. The kite pulled at the string, and soon I had given it the entire spool. I sat in the grass and just relaxed, enjoying the shady spot, the beautiful weather, and the kite above the grove of needley trees.
A group of children was playing in the sand nearby, making cars out of old aluminum cans and wrestling. They stared up at my kite, once it was airborn. (They were obviously impressed by my kiting prowess.) Soon the students, one of my 10th graders and one of Carine’s 9th graders came and sat next to me in the grass. We chatted and they took turns with the kite string. After a bit, another student came through the trees. “I could see it from the road,” he said, indicating our kite. We passed him the string, and he manned that post with the kind of honest, bubbling enthusiasm that most adolescent boys are becoming aware of and embarrassed by, and trying to stifle.

Before Very long I was sitting in the grass with a handful of high school students, a troupe of little kids, and Carine and May, who came out to see why everyone was staring up into the treetops. We spent a very pleasant and calming half hour or so just sitting and talking, well, not the elementary school students, they were too busy with a game similar to tag, except everyone is always it, and instead of tagging, they tackled one another to the ground. This week I hope to send my beacon up again, and relax with the kite crew. Perhaps we can even join in the elementary schoolers’ game.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Blog Update March 31st, 2006 by Carine

Blog Update March 31st, 2006 by Carine

Today was vocational day at Jaluit High School. The whole school assembled in the cafeteria at 8:00am and after the opening prayer and singing of the national anthem we listened to presentation from all of the vocational classes. Students start taking vocational classes in their sophomore year (computer and physical education – although I’m not sure why P.E. is considered vocational) and in their final two years they can choose subjects like sewing, construction, cooking, agriculture, woodworking and aquaculture. The construction class stole the show by assembling and building two sturdy park-like benches on stage while wearing yellow hard-hats and white cotton gloves. In the afternoon there was an open house where the community could purchase cookies from the cooking class, projects from sewing and construction and the aquaculture class had made ornaments for necklaces from mother of pearl. We bought a bag of cookies, several extremely colorful and embroidered pillow cases, a blanket and some necklaces. It was an odd experience to go shopping and I think we got a bit carried away. Doesn’t bode well for when we’re faced with the many purchasing possibilities in Indonesia, India and the rest of our trip! We visited the construction showcase room and were really impressed with the work they’ve been doing. They were selling large dingin/study tables, trunks, cabinets and some smaller projects. According to Dennis, JHS has the strongest vocational programs where both girls and boys practice in sewing, construction, agriculture, etc. From what we saw at the presentations and the sale, that is definitely true!