March 29, 2005
At least zoris float. There is an upside to every situation, if you look hard enough. I sat on the narrow rim of the 16 foot tall plastic catchment, hovering over my reflection in the murky water, my zori, thong or flip flop, depending on what part of the world you’re in, was floating just below the surface in the decidedly unappealing looking water. But then if the water looked unappealing for swimming, how was it okay that we drank this? Sure we boiled it, but judging from the other objects in the water this was probably not enough. And there was my filthy shoe joining the soup of the drinking water. Perfect.
I hung precariously over the edge and paddled the water to bring the precious footwear to me. At least I wouldn’t have to swim for it, as I first thought. This would definitely been a bad situation. The water level after our drought finally breaking was just high enough to drown in eventually and low enough to get stuck in, out of reach of the rim. Few islanders knew how to swim so they were unlikely to help with anything involving water. But the shoe was mine and back with its made, weakly protecting my foot.
The rest of the situation was less positive, if equally exotic. No exotic - sounds sexy, like a watermelon mint martini. My life was definitely not a martini, at this moment, or really this year on the island of Majuro. Odd, crazy and irritating were more apt words, more like the Micronesian drink of choice, kava. It looks and tastes like mud, makes your tongue tingle, feel fizzy, then go numb. Yeah, my life was Kava, but at least I wasn’t swimming in it.
The reason that my zori had fallen into my drinking water was that I was climbing up the outer cinder block wall of our house, plastering myself in chips of the cheap white paint, to inspect the hole ripped in the eaves of the metal roof. Never was the adage "idle hands…" and trouble, more true then in the Marshall Islands. (Unemployment rates here are far higher then employment, in a way that makes someone with a job the neighborhood cash cow, further dis-incentivizing paid work. Something like 88-12, 88% unemployed that is!) Travis had discovered the intruders in the attic space, confirming that I was not paranoid, and that there actually where people crawling around above us watching through the grates and cracks, that the noises I heard when I bucket showered were quite real. (Sometimes one would rather be paranoid and crazy than right.)
As it turned out our peeping Toms had ripped a massive 10 foot long hole in the eaves, way beyond what my basic carpentry skills with our small nails and a rock skills could manage to patch. But as the resident Mom and Dad, as in the doers and fixer in the dorm, it was up to Trav and I to get on this. Never mind that people were so freaked out that they were doubling up in their rooms to keep safe from the nighttime visits, we had to fix it ourselves.
But the floating zori was definitely a break. With the way life is here one would expect the zori to sink the bottom. Sitting on the metal roof, higher than I had been over the island since I had flown back from my escape to Australia I surveyed the flat slums below me and the endless pacific on both sides only feet away. You were constantly reminded here in Micronesia how small your environment was and how vast the world is. The breeze and clean ocean air from the pacific to the lagoon felt good, above the tight cinder block houses and sparse palm trees..
The past week has been a blur of migraines brought on by the repeated visit of a student beaten by her mother. The child would be a gem in any culture, and here she is rarer then high ground in Majuro, with her questions, ideas and insights. All her mother sees is someone too smart, too high. And I was furious with myself, brought low by it all like some Victorian lady with her smelling salts. I have never felt so inadequate. I fed her, listened for endless hours night after night to all of her terrifically sad stories told without self pity and let her cry. We watched the stars and talked about the world as we had in good times, about the universe, potential, big questions. Both of us knowing full well that I was almost powerless, but in a culture where rampant suicide rates are often attributed to parental cruelty and simple lack of love, a listening ear is valuable. Even if it kills me to be only that, I will see that she knows she is valued, that all of my students get that from me. I may not be the best teacher, but that I can give in spades.
A zori shoots up into my peripheral vision and I realized the roofing supplies have arrived and it’s back to work. No more resting on my perch taking in the sights, I need to tighten down the roof and lock down the fort, at least for a day or two.