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Jen's Journal

***UPDATE: We arrived back in the United States on May 23, 2008, and arrived in Ohio on June 15. We are settling back into our life and plan on making updates to the web site in the near future.

5/17 Big day
I woke up this morning to the sound of little feet running around and the words, "Today is a special day! Today is a special day!" As if any of us could possibly forget that R was coming home today. Still, it was great to see, or hear, Nate so excited.

We spent the morning mostly at home, cleaning up a bit and then heading to the store. At the store, likely one of our last, Nate told everyone who talked to us that "My Papa is coming home today!"

Then we headed home again to waste some time before R arrived. Nate wasted the time by asking every 2-3 minutes if Papa were here yet. When the knock on the door finally came, Nate and Katie were overjoyed. I was a little happy too.

Katie planted herself in R's lap, and managed to stay there most of the day. They were thrilled with the presents he brought -- a Spiderman and Batman for N and a Bert and Ernie for K, which completed the happy homecoming.

As for me, now that he's back, I feel like I can relax. And yet his arrival also means the clock is really ticking for our departure.

Let the mad packing begin!

5/16 One more trip
I had my regular doctor's visit today, which was convenient because I was able to also have one last check in before getting on a big plane outta here. The doctor, the third that I've seen, said that the hemorrhage was almost completely gone.

And the baby was quite healthy. He wondered if maybe a UTI had caused the whole problem, so he ordered a test for that, and said I could come back at 4 for the results. He'd also give me my traveling papers at that time.

I headed merrily to the nearest restroom, which was right by the laboratory. The door was locked, so I asked at the lab if they had a key. They didn't, and besides the bathrooms were broken. The only other bathrooms were in emergency. Off to emergency I went, where they said I could use the restroom. I stepped inside the restroom.

Ewwww. It smelled. OK. I decided to make it fast. I then noticed that they had no soap or towels in the bathroom. Even grosser. Then I realized the worst part.

No toilet paper.

Mind you, this is the only working bathroom in the HOSPITAL.

I decided that I would definitely NOT miss this part of the Marshall Islands. And I would wash my hands as soon as possible.

P.S. The results of the test did not show any indication of a UTI. So who knows what brought all this on. And yes, I did get the paper saying it was safe for me to travel.

5/14 Trip to the hospital
After finding more spotting this morning, I decided to go to extreme measures and go to see the doctor. This may sound funny to those of you stateside, but for me, a trip to the doctor's is done only when necessary. I was really afraid that they were going to admit me, which scared me more than any bleeding.

I headed in right at 8 to beat the crowd at the hospital, and arrived to find an empty waiting room. After talking to a nurse there, I found out that my regular doctor had headed to Jaluit (another island) so I wouldn't be seeing her. A second doctor was probably doing rounds, and wouldn't be back for perhaps hours. She was there because she and the third doctor (and there are only three OB/GYNs) were heading out to Laura (one of the extreme ends of the island) to go do checkups there.

So after worrying that I'd be spending lots of time at the hospital, my worrying now shifted to fears that I wouldn't be seen at all. My best chance, she said, would be to try to catch the doctor before he left and ask him to check me.

When the doctor came through again, I approached him, explained my situation and asked if he'd be willing to see me quickly. He was incredibly kind and ushered me in to do a quick ultrasound.

There was my baby, kicking, squirming and having a party in my uterus. Perfectly healthy, he said. That's a relief. How many months are you? he asked. I stalled, um, maybe four months? I can't keep track, I explained. He measured the baby's head. No, this baby is 20 weeks old. Again, details, details.

He showed me the hemorrhage, which unfortunately, hasn't gone away. But it was hard to tell if it had gotten bigger and he certainly wasn't as dire as my regular doctor. Just keep on resting. Your body will absorb it eventually, he said. But come back if you have pain or if the bleeding gets heavy.

Phew. Will do. So after a short trip to campus to talk to Melissa, Jim, Aue and IM with Randy, I headed back home for my now normal morning routine. Which is TV until I fall asleep, basically. And then a quiet lunch and more TV/books in the afternoon, followed by some bored wandering around the house. Then dinner and anxious waiting for the best time of the day -- when the kids come back to me for a few hours.

Jim and Aue agreed to take the kids tonight for the dinner/bathtime routine so Melissa and Josie could have a break. M&J have had the kids nonstop since this whole thing happened, and I'm lucky to have them here to take care of the kids. R has been telling me that lots of people are praying for me, and I think God is literally answering your prayers through Melissa and Josie and the larger CMI community here.

Tomorrow is my only day of finals, so I'm going to go and see how long I last. I'm just going to be sitting and listening to speeches, so my hope is that it won't be too strenuous. And then it's all over but the grading, grading, grading.

My poor students must think that I've fallen off the face of the earth. And in some sense, I have. I hope that when I step back into my life tomorrow that I don't take things too far, too fast. But no matter what, Saturday, and Randy's return, are approaching.

I am going to be glad to see that man.

5/13 Back again
I've spent the last few days taking it very easy. Mind you, that is not something that is really in my vocabulary, so it has been, ironically, very tough to take it so slow. I have watched hours of really bad TV, read a book, watched 4-5 movies and still I want to jab my eyes out with a pen out of boredom.

This is so not me. So you can imagine my frustration this morning when, after days of nothing, I found that I was once again spotting. When I saw the doctor last week, she told me to expect the spotting to stop after 48 hours, which it did. So this morning's discovery was disconcerting and discouraging.

I decided not to go to the hospital, seeing as when I went yesterday, they sent me away because they had a conference to go to for the next two days. I ended up spending the day, once again, mostly on my back, bored out of my mind.

The kids spent the day at Melissa's and I expect them home soon for the bedtime routine. Nate has actually spent the last two nights here, seeing as when I saw him on Sunday he told me through tears that he didn't like being apart. Broke my heart. Katie doesn't seem to mind spending the night away, so she stayed away one more night to give me extra recovery time, for all the good it did.

But last night I needed to have my kids with me, and we had a rather awful night together. Nate was crying my name out 3-4 times in the night, and Katie was a horrible bedmate. For my part, I tossed and turned, unable to sleep until sometime after 1. Then Nate was up at 5:40 on the dot.

Luckily, I really didn't have any high-powered meetings today so I'm not sure the lack of sleep affected me that much. I'm hoping that tonight goes better and I'm trying to be patient with the kids and me, seeing as we're all adjusting to new routines and schedules. And I'm doing a lot of praying that I'm "clean" for the next few days.

5/10 Goodbye
This morning I had a short conversation with N where I broached the subject of spending a night away from me. He was thrilled with the prospect of an overnight at Melissa’s, which I have to say made the decision easier on me. So I packed a bag for him and Katie and when Melissa showed up, I asked her if they could stay with her tonight.

She of course agreed, and so all that was left was to say goodbye. I cried as I put on Katie’s sandals, but Nate in his excitement, didn’t notice. They skipped off with Melissa and I faced my first full day alone without the kids in years.

I have never felt so lonely in my entire life.

The funny thing is that before this all happened, I think I would have jumped at the chance to have the place to myself for 24 hours. The bad news is that this particular brand of forced isolation is no fun at all. I can’t clean. I’m not even letting myself do the dishes. The time that I’ve been typing this has been the longest amount of time I’ve just been sitting all day. Mostly I’ve been lying on the couch watching really bad TV or the few movies that I’ve borrowed. I started, and finished, my book yesterday.

I’ve had visitors, though. Josie, Melissa’s sister, stopped by with some groceries and to encourage me to get rest. The air conditioner guy came and fixed the air conditioner. Ruth stopped by to check on me and bring me some cookies. And Aue also stopped to see if I needed anything.

I’ve felt strangely at peace all day, I think because I know that there are a host of people praying for me. And I am just hoping all day that this is a small bump in the road, and that soon all will be well again.

5/9 Resting?
Of course, resting is not really my strong suit. After a morning with the kids where I tried to get them ready for their days while remaining as prone as possible, I started bleeding again, much to my panic.

I sent the kids away and spent the day lazing around the house as much as possible. I determined that I needed to be serious about all this and made the difficult, painful decision not to attend Nate’s talent show.

Melissa brought the kids by that evening before the show and I had such a hard time saying goodbye to them. You would have really thought that I was putting them on a plane or something.

They were back a mere 2 hours later, jubilant from the show and anxious to talk to me about their day. Melissa stayed to give Katie her bath (Nate had one before the show) and do the dishes before also lugging the laundry away. I ushered the kids through the rest of their bedtime routine, but then found I was once again bleeding by the time I made it to bed.

My body is clearly trying to tell me something, I realized. So as I struggled through a bad night of sleep, it became clear to me that I needed to send the kids to Melissa’s for a day or two. It’s the only way to give my body the recovery time it must need.

I cried myself to sleep beside Katie, thinking about how hard it would be to be without the kids for an extended time. But I really saw no other way. The kids would be fine at Melissa’s and I would get the rest I needed. If I kept going on this way, there could be more serious consequences.

5/8 Trouble
I started bleeding today, which scared the crap out of me. I was on break between classes when I made the discovery, and decided to hold a quick class (my last of the day) before heading to the hospital. It’s a horrible time to cancel classes as it’s the last day of class and there’s all sorts of wrapping up to be done. And there’s also the small matter of the kids.

So I stopped by Jim’s office on the way to class and asked if Aue could get the kids at 5 and keep them at their house while I ran to the hospital. Of course, he said, and asked if I was OK. I was shaken, but really wanted to hold it together. Thank goodness this happened when we’ve been here long enough to have the kind of friends you can depend on in a crisis.

I held a quick class, and then headed straight to the hospital. Luckily my OB was still there, so she agreed to see me. She immediately did an ultrasound and pointed to a dark mass near the edge of the placenta. It’s a sub-chorionic hemorrhage, she said. Bed rest for a week.

I started to cry.

She kept talking to me calmly. The baby was fine. But I need to take better care of myself or it would break through and things would get much worse. She said they could admit me, but that I really just needed bed rest. I understood that, but, I explained, this was a really bad time. My husband was out of town, and I had two kids to take care of and finals approaching. There simply wasn’t room in my schedule for this.

She listened to me, handed me a tissue, and pulled out the heavy artillery. This is a threatened abortion, she said. You need to be on bed rest. Now.

OK. She won that round.

We negotiated to have me come in on Monday for a checkup, and if things looked better, she would re-evaluate. I headed home, trying to figure out what to do with the kids, my students’ papers, how to tell R, etc.

I had no reason to worry. Aue and Jim returned the kids later that night, already bathed and in borrowed bed clothes. Melissa agreed to come by and pick up the kids the next morning. Ruth and Janet would cover my classes and distribute papers to my students.

All I needed to do was rest.

5/7 Are you coming back?
“Jennifer, are you coming back?”

I was in the middle of my Eng 101 class, and the students had been diligently working on their peer reviews for their final papers. I was catching up with some grading, and the question caught me off-guard.

“What do you mean?” I asked the student.

“After you leave this summer. Are you coming back?” Suddenly all eyes were trained on me.

“Well, um, no,” I stammered. “I’m pregnant, and we want to have the baby in the states and my husband’s contract ends shortly after the birth, so it seems silly…” my voice trailed off.

I cleared my throat. “So, no. We’re not coming back.”

“Will you miss us?” This time, a different student. She added in a laugh.

“Of course. You guys have been the best part of my time here. If I could do this job from Ohio, I would.” And it was true. The students here have made lasting, indelible impressions on me and though their names and details may fade, I believe I will not forget them and the lessons they taught me.

Apparently we have made an impression as well. R’s philosophy class, which he taught in the fall, is throwing us a goodbye picnic when he returns in a few weeks. I know it’s common to have parties here, but I think it’s clear he’s made a difference when they still want to hang out with him months after the class has ended. And I have been stopped by students throughout the campus to be quizzed about our plans in the fall.

Of course it’s flattering to hear students say that they’ll miss you. But it also makes it that much harder to leave. As I’ve said, there’s much to be done here, and I find it difficult to walk away with the job unfinished. More importantly, it’s difficult to walk away from the friendships we’ve made here. With Gary and Ruth. Steve and Meg. Jim and Aue. Melissa, Josie and Verg. The Chutaros. The list goes on and on.

So yes, I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you all.

5/4 Poverty
Recently I came home from school and noticed our neighbor kids playing with an old pizza box. This caught my attention because the box had been in our trash. Now I have no idea why they wanted the box, but I was disturbed by the notion of them going through our trash.

These neighbors have come to symbolize in my mind the reality of life for most Marshallese. They live in a small house with no electricity, a well up front and a grave in the front of their house. When the children are bathed, it is outside, naked with water from the well dumped over them. They have lots of kids, but also lots of relatives, so it’s hard to tell where one family begins and another ends.

Our first Christmas here, I was talking to Nate about Santa Claus, and he wondered if Santa might bring our neighbors a door, because they didn’t have one.

I have seen the mother at least once haul off and hit a child screaming. The children do not usually have shoes on and when they smile (which, by the way is often) they show gaps in their teeth. The father is usually sitting in a chair at the end of their property, presumably, unable to get or keep a job.

This is all about 50 feet from our house.

So you can imagine how insane I get when Nate refuses to eat a meal. One night I pointed out to him that if I were to take his meal to our neighbors, they would probably fight over it. Actually, they wouldn’t. The dad would get it, without question.

And all of this is in my mind when I grade the admissions essays for CMI. When I read essay after essay where students are begging to be let in so that they can get the education they need to get better jobs.

The hilarious thing is that those same reasons are often repeated by students in the states. But the difference here is that getting a better job means that your family might be able to all eat regularly. In the states, it means that you’ll get health insurance, a car, eat out more often, etc. Here education literally means that people can stop starving.

Can you imagine that kind of desperation?

5/1 Constitution Day
Today was Constitution Day, and I had a plan. Aue and I skipped the 2-hour parade in the hot sun and instead took the kids swimming at the hotel. Swimming at the hotel pool had been on Nate’s “to-do” list for a while, so this seemed the perfect opportunity. We had a grand time playing on the beach together while they cleaned the pool, and then playing in the pool some more.

By about 11, the kids were ready for some food, so we ate outside at the hotel restaurant. It was one of those days where things just go right. We headed home, full and tired, and the kids piled in bed for a nice nap. We had a quiet evening and I put N down to bed.

A short while later I began hearing some popping noises. I looked out the window to confirm. Yep. Fireworks. And my neighbors had the perfect view, right on the lagoon.
So Katie and I joined them and watched the fireworks – another first for Katie here in the RMI. We were far enough away that the noise didn’t bother her – and Nate slept right through the whole thing – and she seemed interested in the colors.

I don’t remember what we did for Constitution Day last year, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t involve a swim at the hotel or fireworks. I feel like I’m just beginning to understand life here and learning how to find opportunities for fun. And we’ll leave in less than a month.

4/30 MIHS day
Today was the day for the Marshall Islands High School students to come tour the CMI campus. I have to admit, I didn’t get much sleep last night; I was tossing and turning, thinking of last-second things I needed to do.

I am not an event planner. I am not good at it, I don’t think things through enough, so doing this made me really quite nervous. I was on campus about 45 minutes early, setting up, getting people to help me get water for the punch, move the table, etc.
When my students showed up, I gave them their nametags and talked them through the tour plan. Then we all sat down to wait. At 8:20 the bus still wasn’t there. At 8:30, I began to worry. At 8:35, I heard that the bus was on its way. It’s a good thing I had told students that they might be late to their next class.

Finally, finally the bus pulled up. I cheered, and ran to meet the students. I positioned them all under the walkway and asked that they line up with the CMI students who had written them letters. I began calling off names and was disturbed when no one moved. Uh-oh.

Yeah, turns out that the school sent the wrong group. This is the group that my afternoon class wrote to. The MIHS students who this CMI class wrote to will be here promptly at 4.

The students all smiled patiently and agreed to just kind of pair off and go off in groups. No one seemed all that bent out of shape, and soon students were sharing their wisdom about CMI and college life in general. We reconvened about a half hour later, ate some cookies and had some punch while the dean of student services talked to them briefly about how happy CMI would be to have them.

Then the kids got merrily on their buses and headed home. And I was done. Until 4 p.m., when I did the whole thing over again. So the good news is I can officially cross “event planner” off my list of potential future careers.

4/25 Goodbye to Papa
Today Randall left to go to the U.S. to begin our new life there. He literally is flying this weekend and will start his job, jet lag or no, on Monday. We will be trudging along here, working hard at staying busy to keep our mind off him.

This decision was not made lightly. It took weeks of discussion for us to come to this choice, which I really believe is the best one for us. Although it will be very tough being without him for such an extended period of time, it will allow us certain advantages when we are traveling.

For one thing, we will have health insurance when we are flying across the ocean with our two littles and my bulging tummy. And R will likely be paid for his Seattle conference, which will help us quite a bit. Also, he’ll have a chance to get to the house, turn everything on and make sure we have necessities like water, electricity and trash pickup when we move back in late June.

Still. Three weeks is a long time. So I’ve done the only thing I know to do in such situations: plan fun events. Our weekends as I have planned them are going to include a dinner with the beloved Mr. Robin, a playdate at the hotel pool, a trip to Eneko, and a trip to Enemanit (for Employee Appreciation Day, which is tomorrow). I will not be able to stand bored, whiny children, so I am going to run them into the ground with fun. Then when we all collapse at the end of the day, there will be little energy to think about the hole in our life right now.

At least, that’s the plan.

4/21 MIHS revisited
This MIHS unit is really getting good. The students are busy working on their drafts, and I am excited by what I’ve seen so far. Once again, the students are showing me drafts that are better than normal. Students who don’t turn papers in are suddenly finding reasons to do this paper.

I can’t help but believe it’s because the assignment, as cheesy as it is, is a bit more authentic. They aren’t just writing another essay. They are giving advice to someone, encouraging a young man or woman to consider college. As they are doing it, they are realizing how far they’ve come and how much they’ve learned.

For my part, I am working on the details of the tour. Libbey suggested that I involved student services and see if someone from there would like to talk briefly to the students when they’re here. She gave me some cookies, and also helped me figure out where to go to get a jug to make punch in.

She also suggested I give a heads-up to the greater CMI community so that they’d know why 60 high school students were being taken around campus. I realized that perhaps I should also alert the vice president of academic affairs, the chief of staff and the library staff.

As it stands now, the plan is that the MIHS students arrive at 8 and 4 (the times of my Eng 101 class) have a short ice breaker with the students who wrote to them, then go on tours of the library, classroom building, student lounge, tutoring center and dorms. Then they’ll head back to the place where the tours begin where we’ll hand out punch and cookies and someone from student services will talk to them briefly. The whole thing should take about an hour, and hopefully both sets of students will enjoy it.

The purpose of the whole unit is twofold: to give my students some practical experience writing a persuasive essay (using either the cause and effect or comparison/contrast model) and also to perhaps make a difference in the lives of some teenagers. I’ll let you know how the experiment works.

4/15 MIHS unit
Last semester I had the Nitijela essays, and I was impressed with the quality of work that my students showed on the project. I wondered if lightning would strike twice and as I planned out this semester’s English 101 course, and I decided I wanted to do another non-traditional assignment.

But I had no ideas what to do. I talked to the Dean of Student Life and asked her if she had any ideas. I explained that I wanted it to include an essay of some sort, involve the students in the community, and ideally have some sort of field trip included. She suggested that the students have some sort of “aspiration building” exercise where they encouraged people in their community to consider college. Together we came up with the idea of my students writing to students at the largest high school on the island, Marshall Islands High School.

That was all well and good for syllabus time, but as the time approached for the actual unit, I realized that I needed to follow up on this idea. So I asked one of my former students, who was president of the MIHS club on campus, if he’d be willing to help. And of course, the Dean agreed to help out. All that was left was to make sure the high school was interested.

I called and arranged a meeting with a vice principal and explained our idea to her. She was enthusiastic about the idea, and even was game for a field trip for the students to CMI to get a tour of the campus. She handed me a list of names, and we were off and running.

Now all I have to do is make sure my students write the letters, plan the tour and hope all goes well.

4/11 Foundation day – CMI
Foundation day here at CMI is a really big deal. I had no idea how big until I had already agreed to help out. It’s a day when CMI essentially holds a giant open house for the children of Majuro, trying to encourage them to think about college. Our education teachers and students read books to the kids. Our nursing students checked blood pressure and weighed kids. Our Japanese teacher even showed the kids how to do origami.

My digital photography students were out en masse trying to capture the day’s events. They also were supposed to help out at the Liberal Arts table where I was offering to take pictures of people and print them out for $2. Somehow, that part of the deal slipped their minds. So there I was, with the chair of the department, hanging out, taking pictures of kids and projecting them on a big screen behind us.

And sweating. A lot. But it was a great day and the kids really seemed to enjoy themselves. And who knows? Maybe seeing the cool things that the college offers the kids will inspire them to stay in school a little longer, work a little harder. If so, then today would be worth it.

4/10 A compromise with Nate
Our friend Doug is leaving tomorrow, and will not be back before we leave in May. So he asked us if we wanted to have dinner out with him as a last goodbye. Of course we said yes.

When we told Nate about our plans and that his evening would be a “nighttime playdate with Melissa,” he was pumped. His one request: “Mama, can you and Papa stay out late? PUUULLLEEEAAASE?”

Ah yes, we have a good life.

4/9 Coral in my eyes
Today I got some coral in my eyes. That’s right, in my eyes. This place is just whacked sometimes.

Some background: I am working on the college catalog and was trying to track down the official CMI logo today. My search led me eventually to one of our marine science instructors, an incredibly talented man who also happens to be an artist. He had done a re-creation of the logo in the file form I needed.

He was outside of the building with a bunch of students. And because this is the Marshall Islands where anything can and usually does happen on a daily basis, he was taking a hammer to some coral as I walked up.

I explained to him what I needed, and he said no problem, he’d get me the file. I couldn’t resist, though, and asked him what the heck he was doing.

Apparently there’s little creatures living in the coral in the sea. And if you take a hammer to the coral, you can yank them out. He demonstrated. THUD. A piece of coral smashes in to smaller chunks. Whaddaya know, out comes a little white wormy thing. He drops it in a watery container, where it joins some other crabs and wormy things.

This is amazing. I had no idea. OK. Wait. Let me go get a camera. I’ll be right back.
I rush over to a friend’s office. I head back, where they let me take some shots of the hammering of the coral and also the cool stuff inside.

And somewhere in here, on a particularly strenuous whack, I get some coral in my eye. But that doesn’t really matter. I got some pictures. And talk about hands-on learning. Our students have no idea how lucky they are sometimes.

4/8 Now where is my classroom?
I was walking to my classroom today when I turned a corner to find a wall where a hallway used to be. It was a moment where I seriously doubted my sanity. There was a building here before. Right beyond the library there. Now there’s just a wall.

So I backtracked, found some Marshallese women who looked amused by my confusion. They redirected me to my building. Halfway there I remembered hearing about the library getting torn down. Today must be the day.

Construction is a constant here at CMI. The campus itself is fairly old – built on the old hospital site. When I say old, I mean by Micronesian standards. I think it’s less than 60 years old. But things degrade so quickly here, you have a hard time finding things that will last all that long.

As part of a 5-year plan, CMI is planning on building a bunch of new buildings, a student center, administrative offices, etc. R and I joke that if we do come back in even 5 years, the whole CMI campus may be different. And as much as it is a pain to teach with the sound of constant jack hammering, it is also exciting to be a part of something that is changing this quickly.

Anyway, I found my way to the building and headed up to my classroom. I noticed that my students were lingering outside. That’s not uncommon though. It usually means that the classroom’s air conditioner is too cold, and they’re uncomfortable. So I gave them the wave and then headed into my classroom.

Only to find that my classroom was full of students I didn’t know. And that I had interrupted the lecture of one of my fellow teachers. OK. I am officially confused. Is this Tuesday, 9:30? Am I in the right place? Is there a camera somewhere recording all this?

The teacher followed me out and explained he was put in the classroom because his was being torn down. The construction I passed on the way in had landed him in my classroom.

But I teach in this classroom now, I explained. Where am I supposed to go? He offered that there was empty classroom down one level. My students and I trudged down to an empty classroom, and I tried to move on with my lesson. Of course, there were no air conditioners in this room (perhaps the reason why the other teacher didn’t want to move) and the windows opened to – you guessed it – a construction site.

So I spent the remaining class period yelling over the various construction noises and sweating it out alongside my students. After class ended, I went looking for the dean, who had forgotten about my class and whose problem it was going to be to find me a better classroom.

I didn’t have to go far. She was in the hallway, full of apologies. No, this classroom certainly wouldn’t work, she agreed. She took me to a third classroom that was huge, quiet and air-conditioned. So the good news is that I have a good classroom again. The bad news is that there is a very good chance that next week I will forget about the new room and do a repeat of today.

4/3 A fun game at home
R and I played the best game last night. The kids were in the bath, happily playing, and we started talking about places to eat in Ohio. So I decided to make it into a game and asked R what he would buy for me at Rockne’s for instance. He picked correctly, of course. A cheeseburger, with mushrooms and mayonnaise and fries and a mango milkshake.

I love that guy. He knows to BS (be specific).

So we kept going: I am eating lunch with Sandee at Pufferbelly. What do I order? (OK, all my Davey pals, all together now) “Cheesy pasta pesto, sauce on the side, toss up salad with cheese dressing, and an ice tea.”

Ah, but what about the appetizer?

“Oh! The artichoke dip!”

Dude, he rocks. The best thing about this is that it’s a low-calorie activity. It was really fun, also because I felt so KNOWN about things that really matter (regular fries or notso fries at Yours Truly? Totally the notso fries).

Now that we have hit the less-than-two-months-to-go point in our journey, discussions of Ohio life are pretty commonplace. R sees the writing on the wall and is working to institute a limit on the number of times we eat out during our first few months. I am working all the angles:

“So if each of us gets to choose two places to eat out at, do I actually get four? I AM carrying your child, you know…”

“What about if someone else pays? Does that count?”

“Do I get to choose for Katie?”

Coming back is going to be SO MUCH FUN. Everyone, prepare yourselves now…

4/2 Hero
I found out a few months ago that one of my students was in the armed forces. I was suspicious early on because he has an amazing vocabulary compared to his classmates, and has a Go Army bag that he carries around. I finally worked up the nerve the other day to ask him the question that had been rolling around in my head for weeks: Had he served overseas?

He had. He was in Iraq, in fact.

I was aghast. And amazed. This is a guy from the Marshall Islands. He didn’t vote for our president. He didn’t ask for our policies. But yet he felt called to serve this country (a country, mind you, that bombed the berjeezers out of the Bikini atoll here, causing decades of damage to both the humans and the environment) in one of the most dangerous places on earth.

I asked if I could shake his hand. He seemed embarrassed, but agreed. The rest of the day I kept spinning his decision in my head. It made no sense to me at all.
Then today, Patrick chose to speak about his time in Iraq for his “number idiom” speech (they had to use 7 idioms correctly in the speech). I happened to be recording it as an assessment tool, so I got his speech on tape. He agreed to let me post it on this site.

So here’s the link (125MB) to his speech, where he talks about his time in Baghdad. I couldn’t figure out how to remove another student’s speech, so you get two for one on this link.

3/31 Shipping worries
As we approach our departure date, Nate’s questions have gotten more pointed.

Somewhere in here he figured out that going to the States meant, well, leaving here. And all his friends. And his teacher. And the dog he so loves.

And as we have begun packing (albeit slowly) he has begun to worry that his toys will be sent away too soon. We have assured him that nothing will be sent without his OK, and that we’re going to save his stuff for last.

But his fears are actually well-grounded. When my friend Francine left here last May, she packed up a cargo container, paid for it, and got on a plane. As of today, they still did not have their items – more than nine months later. So sending stuff out of here is a little worrisome.

Of course, I also am approaching the “no more boxes” deadline, as I’m worried that we won’t receive any boxes sent at this point. After all, a box sent by R’s sister Debbie in October has still not arrived. And some boxes sent by R in January just made it here, apparently by going through Guam, somehow.

So packing up is a tricky business here. R leaves in less than a month, and we want to have most of our packing done before then. Of course, we’ll also still be living here for a month after he leaves, so we can’t send too much stuff. But he’ll arrive back only a week before we leave, and I don’t want to spend that week madly packing up our lives.

I have to admit, I’m looking forward to a time when changing a job doesn’t involve this kind of stress.

3/27 An official job offer
This is how I emailed some of my friends to tell them that we were coming back, and that R had a job, and that I was pregnant. The email was entitled, “I know, I should just update the blog…”

But I'm behind, I have other stuff to do, yada yada yada, so I'm sending out a mass email. For my news buddies, think of it as a flash on the AP wire. More details to follow later...

1) R has received a job offer and has accepted from Kent State University's Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness office. It's the same place he had an internship way back in the fall of 2003, so it's a great choice for us in terms of location, job responsibilities and also in terms of the team there. He really liked working there. I really liked him working there. :) And they have great insurance (UGH. When did I become an adult!?). He'll actually begin in late April, stay in Kent for about 3 weeks, and then come back here to help shuffle us all home. So when we are traveling this May, we will have health insurance. (!)

2) I went to the doctor today and everything is fine with me and the baby. The doc gave me a due date of Oct. 9 (this is for those of you who weren't satisfied with my "oh sometime in the fall" answer). Nate's due date was Oct. 5, for those of you keeping track. So yeah, he may get a baby for his bday on Sept. 28. Lucky, lucky kid. :) Oh yeah, and related to point #1, yes, the LAST time R was at RPIE, I was pregnant with a kid. I am thinking if and when he leaves this job, we don't come back to RPIE. :)

3/26 You had a WHAT?
At the end of class today I asked one of my students where she had been. She was a regular attendee and had all of the sudden stopped showing up to class.
She apologized, said she had been in the hospital. I asked if she had a note, and she said she did, but she had forgotten to get the doctor to sign it, so a nurse had signed it. Fine. Show me the note, I said.

I was writing “excused” in my grade book when I actually read why she was in the hospital.

“Um, Christina? It says here this was for ‘post-natal care’… This is awkward, but when were you, ah, natal?”

She laughed. Explained she had her child about 2 weeks earlier. I was flabbergasted. I had NO CLUE that she was pregnant. And she is not a big girl. I said she looked great, we’d work out the missed assignments, etc.

She mostly seemed embarrassed by all of the fuss. Like you can just have a kid one day and have it be no big deal. Me, I’m telling everyone I’m pregnant because I want the sympathy.

She didn’t even want to give me the note.

3/25 Princess time
So I stopped by Aue’s today to see the kids and was met by a little princess. Anabelle had apparently decided that Katie needed some princess action and picked out this outfit, complete with shoes, wand and crown. I was charmed and immediately took her on a tour of CMI.

We stopped meetings, dropped in on people and stopped people walking by so they could admire my little princess. Katie, of course, was up for the show, and had a great time showing off her new identity. I had to admit that I loved getting the compliments on how adorable she looked. Further proof that Nate’s spring break idea is a good one!

3/24 Spring Break
Somehow, the CMI and Co-Op spring breaks are different. I am not sure how this happened, but we were on break last week, while Co-Op is on break this week. This means that Nate’s spring break will be spent mostly with Melissa. Now he loves Melissa, but that’s not exactly what either of us had in mind.

So today when he got up from nap, Nate wondered out loud if maybe he could play with Anabelle in the mornings as a special treat. The idea had merit, so I asked Aue if she’d be willing to take the kids for the mornings.

To everyone’s delight, she agreed and now Nate is thrilled about the transformation of his break. I gotta say that I feel less guilty about the arrangement as well.

P.S. And no, Katie never showed signs of the mumps or chicken pox. Bullet dodged.

3/18 Katie panic
We have a bunch of very friendly neighbor kids. If they see us, they always drop whatever they are doing, run at us full steam, screaming “YOKWE! YOKWE!” Then they grab our hands to shake them. This has been going on for months and it’s one of the highlights of my day.

But today, one of the older girls, Baby, was grabbing Katie’s arm (I was holding Katie at the time) when Katie started to scream and cry. So I pulled Katie away, but she continued to cry. While we walked toward home, I noticed scratches on both her arms. Apparently the Yokwe gang (as we have dubbed them) was a little too enthusiastic. I felt awful, but not as bad as I did when R came home just a few minutes later.

“Hey, did you notice that Baby has mumps or something? She’s got marks all over her face,” he said when he walked in the door.

CRAP. I tossed Katie in the tub, figuring that washing her might keep some of the germs off. And then panic ensued as I tore the house apart trying to find Katie’s immunization record. I even trekked to Melissa’s to see if maybe it was still in our diaper bag there. When I got home, R calmly found it in a drawer, where we saw that she was indeed immunized against mumps, measles and rubella. Of course, not chicken pox. So I spent the rest of the night just SURE that Katie would get chicken pox, need hospitalization, etc.

If you’re wondering, yes, this is what I most hate about living here. I would be OK with anything happening to me or Randy. But if my kids get hurt, I will never, ever forgive myself for coming here. 

3/17 Report card for N
Nate got his report card today, and as usual, it was stellar. I feel like I haven’t bragged about our oldest in a while, so settle in for some serious lauding. The hilarious thing is that he’s only 4, so it’s a bit hard to find things to assess in the kid. But Mr. Robin and Co-Op did an admirable job, rating his ability to write his name, follow directions, get along with others, etc. Nate is apparently doing quite well on all parts.

And I got a glimpse into Mr. Robin’s day. The fact that they have to measure some of this means that it has been a problem in the past. My three favorites were: “I can keep my hands to myself when I am sitting in a group”, “I can adjust to change”, and “I demonstrate self-control in school”.

Anyway, to celebrate we offered to take the big N out on a victory lunch, which I was really excited about. N unfortunately, instead chose plastic dinosaurs as a gift. Bah. So I’m going to give him a day or two with the dinosaurs and then offer lunch again. Sure, it’s his victory, but I should get some food out of this, don’t you think?

3/15 A Surprise Party
We had made kind of casual plans with N’s friend Teia today, but when they didn’t show up at the appointed time, I figured that meant things weren’t going to work out. But then, at around 11:30, there was a knock at the door. There was Suzanne, Teia’s mom, with her truck still running, explaining that she was taking the kids to a birthday party and Nate could come along. Oh yeah, it was at the hotel, and there would be swimming involved.

I have never, NEVER seen Nate get changed as quickly as he did at that moment. In less than 3 minutes, he was out the door, piling into the back of the truck (!) along with the other kids and thrilled to be heading out.

I, of course, then spent the next half hour worrying if he would be OK. Katie fell asleep and R and I had a quiet lunch. While R & K napped, I decided I couldn't take it anymore and went to the pool party.

When I got there, Nate was playing safely and happily on the beach with Teia. He wanted to know what I was doing there, and promptly asked me to leave. So I hung out with Suzanne, had some yummy chicken and cake and we all left together about an hour later. What a great day.

3/11 A True Gourmet
It has become clear in our house lately that we have a culinary explorer on our hands.

The other day Katie was eating some Kielbasa (she loves the stuff), and R had finished his lunch and was eating some chocolate pudding cake. Katie long ago determined that whatever Papa is eating is probably a whole lot better than what she has.

So of course, she wanted some cake. So, of course, R gave her some.

This is what she does. She takes a bite of kielbasa. While the kielbasa is still in her mouth, she takes a tiny bit of cake.

I am practically gagging at this point.

R laughs. Katie laughs (showing the beautiful colorful mash in her mouth, of course).

Then she sees that I have an orange.

You guessed it.

So then it's kielbasa, cake and orange! I was practically doubled over at this point, as was R and N. Katie again laughs, showing an even more multicolored mixture than before! I was completely grossed out. Everyone else was rolling with laughter.

I remember when our dinners were quiet. And not so visual…

3/10 Swimming with Squishy
Living here in the RMI means that we have to share our house. Now, for most people here, that means that their family shares the house with about 6 other members of their extended family. Seriously. I once read an essay from a student who said she sat around in the evenings with her 9 relatives and talked about how they were lonely.
Anyway, for us, knocking around in our big, 3-bedroom house with just the four of us, the extra space is great. But apparently some of the local wildlife is afraid we are lonely, so they have moved in.

For instance, we have geckos of various sizes and ages. I learned a while ago that if you attach a name to something, it’s a lot more fun and less creepy. So we named a baby gecko that was in our bathroom Squishy. Now, I’m pretty sure that Squishy (named in honor of the little jellyfish in Finding Nemo, BTW) has actually seen more than one incarnation as he has been quite small for quite some time. But the kids don’t know that, and I am not going to point it out.

Tonight the kids were happily playing in bath when there was a lot of excitement. Apparently Katie or N spotted Squishy, who was on the wall of the tub. They seemed to think it was cool to have a gecko so close to their naked bodies, and I mostly tried to ignore it. But then things reached a much louder level, and when R poked his head in to see the excitement, he found that Squishy had decided to join them for a swim. After some quick acrobatics by R, Squishy was saved, the kids were calmed and life went back to normal.

But now we can say that the kids have swum with geckos, a feat few in Ohio can claim.

3/6 Coming Clean
I have decided that I am close enough to the 3-month mark that I’m telling people about the pregnancy. R told his boss today, which was where the news had to begin for a couple of reasons. One, this information meant that R had to say he was leaving also, and we had to do it at a point where Jim had plenty of time to get someone to fill R’s job. Apparently, getting Institutional Researchers here also takes quite a bit of time. Also, we wanted to tell Jim and Aue as they’re our closest friends here, so we wanted them to know anyway.

So that left me to tell everyone else. Which was actually fun, because people are usually pretty excited about hearing that someone is pregnant. I told just a few people and then decided to let the rumor mill filter down to everyone else. And it’s nice to know that I don’t have to keep my complaints in anymore. My poor, poor colleagues.

Boy, are they going to get an earful about how I’m feeling.

3/3 How am I feeling?
The worst part about the first three months of pregnancy is that it is a study in contradictions. I feel nauseated all the time and yet, in order to feel non-nauseated (un-nauseated?) I have to eat. And more importantly, I need to eat healthy food, and that requires cooking. Cooking, you see, is a very smelly ordeal. And the smells, well, see point #1, above.

And I’m tired all the time. All I want to do is sleep and lie around on my back. I believe this is part of the reason God thought of marriage and partners. Luckily, I have a partner who is tolerant of this behavior, and has taken over the role of house CEO for the moment. The flaw in this plan is that the children have apparently not gotten the memo and think that me lying down just means that they have a platform (literally) for more fun.

But here’s the kicker: YOU CAN’T TELL ANYONE THAT YOU FEEL THIS WAY. So when you feel like you’ve been run over, like you’re going to puke, like you want to just curl up and die, and people ask you how you are, you smile and say, "Fine, How are you?"

You, dear reader, get the truth. How do I feel? I feel pregnant. Enough said.

3/1 Storytelling
I took Nate out to Tide Table tonight for dinner. R and Katie hung out at home and we brought food home to them. Nate clearly enjoyed the one-on-one time and after a few games of “What’s Missing?” at the table, he turned his attention to one his enduring requests.

“Tell me a story, Mama.”

“OK,” I said, “One day a long time ago…”

“WAIT!” he said. “Don’t make it too scary. It can’t have monsters in it. Or robots. But tigers are OK.”

I love it when he’s specific. This was actually no problem, and I used the story to encourage him to eat his food. I’d tell a few sentences and then say he had to have a bite if he wanted to hear more. He was a great audience, eyes wide with excitement and lots of reactions and questions as the story went on. Pretty soon his plate was empty and we headed home.

Hopefully, he won’t have any bad dreams about tigers tonight…

2/28 Eneko trip
We headed out again to Eneko as we had so much fun there when we went over Christmas break. We took the Abbotts with us and spent a great day playing in the shade, eating lots of food and swimming in the water.

It’s always so surreal there, as it seems literally like we’ve jumped into a postcard. It’s actually probably exactly what most of you expect Majuro to look like. And it probably is what Majuro looked like 50-100 years ago.

This time, I remembered to bring my camera, so decide for yourself if it’s as pretty as I described. Just think, for a mere $2,500 plane ticket and two days of traveling, you too could be here. We are still accepting all visitors.

2/26 Piling on
I have a serious “yes” problem. I mean it. I cannot say no. This is not an opinion, it is fact. It has been proven over and over again to me, and I know it. And yet, YET, I cannot stop myself.

Take for instance, my life right now. I teach full-time here at the college, and have agreed to take an overload, so I actually am teaching 6 classes. I’m also a full-time mom, which you may have heard about. And then I also help write and lay out the college’s newsletter. And I recently agreed to help with the annual report.

I was complaining to R today about how much I’m doing when he pointed out the obvious: I was to blame here. All I had to say was “no” and a lot of these problems would vanish.

I agreed with him completely. I even agreed to start immediately.

And then the dean ran into me and asked me if I and my photography students would be willing to help out with the catalog. So what did I say?

Yes, we’d love to.

UGH! I did it again! So now I have committed to a 65+ page document, not to mention all the extra things that go along with getting something printed on a tiny dot in the Pacific (printers? Here? Are you kidding?).

I seriously need someone to just whack me the next time I say yes.

2/25 Mixed Emotions
I love my kids. But this morning, I really hated being a mom. Those of you who don’t have kids might think that this is a contradiction. But it’s really not.

Take this morning. Or more precisely, late last night. When Katie was up a zillion times and I pulled her into bed with us, just to have her flop between us. And pull my hair. And kick R’s back. I really REALLY didn’t want to be there.

The worst thing about that kind of night is that the morning always follows, and no one really cares that you’re exhausted. Least of all the child in question. Who wakes up refreshed and full of fresh demands.

Luckily, child #2 was completely covered by child #1, who chose this morning to be a little angel (good timing, buddy!). Nate even accomplished the impossible when I found myself laughing at his antics while we were exercising. I mean, you really haven’t seen funny until you see a 4-year-old trying some yoga poses.

It was enough to keep me from turning in my resignation as a mom. Good thing, too, because I’m pretty sure I’d be tough to replace. Except maybe at 2 a.m.

2/21 Superstitions
One of the coolest things about my job is that I teach a wide variety of subjects and classes. I spend about half of my time in the “developmental” track, which means that I am working with students whose English skills are not quite up to the college’s credit-level classes. The developmental students are a mixed bag – just like any classroom – with some students who are incredibly determined, hard-working, etc., and some who seem to be just killing time. But, just like most of the Marshallese students I’ve encountered, they are usually up for just about anything and are very willing to share about their culture.

In the listening and speaking class I lead, we just finished a section on superstitions. I asked them about some of their superstitions, and was surprised by some of them. One was that Marshallese apparently like to have an even number of people in photographs. Otherwise, the implication is that one of the odd-numbered people would soon die. They also consider the sound of a cat meowing a sign of bad luck.

I had to admit that some of their superstitions sounded weird to me. I mean, the number of people in a picture actually determining who dies next? Come on. This is completely irrational.

Until of course, I started sharing some U.S. superstitions. Luckily, I grew up with one of the more superstitious people on the planet (my mom), so I knew quite a few. So, let’s see. A horseshoe is good luck. And a penny over a doorway, also good luck. Also good luck to pick up your feet when going over train tracks.

But the number 13 is bad luck (so much so that many hotels do not have a 13th floor) and Friday the 13th is very bad luck. (Of course, this is the perfect time to tell them the story of R and my wedding and how we had to get married twice – yes, that was on a Saturday the 13th. My mom never forgot that…)

And if you knock over a bottle of salt, you should throw a little bit of it over your shoulder. And don’t step on a crack in the sidewalk. And and and…

OK. Forget it. We’re all kooks.

2/18 Toenails (not for the fainthearted)
All my life I have been embarrassed by my feet. Mind you, it doesn’t keep me from sandals or anything, I just think I have ugly toes and toenails. My dad probably contributed to this idea as I often heard from him that I had the ugliest feet in the world. He was joking of course, but somewhere in me it sunk in.

But coming here has certainly not improved the health and beauty of my feet. Since I wear the broken Teva’s all the time, my feet are usually pretty skuzzy. And now, somehow, I keep losing toenails.

The first was in Hawai’i, where I hit my toenail hard enough on a couch to make it pop. A few weeks later, it was off completely. Then I managed to also hurt my other big toenail, causing another long, slow losing of that toenail. And then I hurt my tiny toenail, which is now also coming off.

So let’s see, that’s 3/10 in less than 2 years. I’m a little worried about what would happen if we stayed here for more than 3 years… The good news is that R seems to think my feet look better now.

2/15 Hospital, revisited
[NOTE: The advantage to getting really behind in my blogging is that I can now blog about things in the past that I couldn’t share at the time. Like, for instance, this entry, where I’m going to write about going to the hospital to have my first prenatal exam. I am writing about it in April (don’t worry, I took notes, and am referring to them), and don’t have to worry about people finding out I’m pregnant thru this blog. OK, that said, back to the blog... ]

I went to the hospital to get my prenatal exam and, after, of course, a few missed tries (apparently they only do these exams on Tuesdays, you need to go ahead of time and request an appointment, etc.) I actually knew where to go, and when. So I sat down in the office, the only ri-belli (white person) in a sea of pregnant Marshallese. It started normally enough, with the nurse calling my name to take my blood pressure and weigh me. Then I went in another room, where a woman interviewed me about my pregnancy history. Of course there were no computers anyplace to be seen and all my information was carefully documented in a paper file.

After the interview, I went back out to sit among the others waiting (probably close to 20 at this point) and went back to grading. Then a man came in (only guy in the room) and wheeled in a TV/VCR. He turned it on, had a short discussion in Marshallese with the nurse, and left. So I, like everyone else in the room, started watching the video. Luckily it was in English, so I understood what was going on.
That was also the unlucky thing as I found myself growing more and more offended. The video was essentially an ad for adoption. It included interviews with teenage girls all talking about how scary it was to hear they were pregnant, and then their various decisions from that point. One woman clearly had an abortion (though the word was not used) and she portrayed it as a wrong decision. Another decided to keep her child, and she talked about how difficult it was to raise a child alone. The others all had decided to give their children up for adoption. And this was what was so difficult to take, because they all felt very happy with their decision. No regrets. The adoptive parents were thrilled, white, and upper middle class couples. They talked about how wonderful it was to have these kids in their lives.

Now, I have NO PROBLEM understanding why people give children up for adoption. I think in many many cases it is by far the best choice. However, what I had a problem with is that this was essentially an advertisement for adoption, made in the USA, shipped out here and spoonfed to these Marshallese women. With no consideration of cultural or language issues. Pregnant? Great. Watch this video. Maybe you should give your baby up. The reality of this all, of course, was that many of my fellow viewers probably didn’t understand English enough to understand the video, so my outrage was probably for naught.

The video ended and I went in to see the doctor. I saw the baby for the first time. A little speck floating around in a larger, greyer mass inside me. All was well, the doctor said, and made me another appointment in a month. I walked out after the appointment, feeling mixed up, as usual. Life here is never ordinary.

2/12 See who?
Today we were talking about our upcoming trip to Seattle and all the fun we’d have on the trip. Whenever I get bored or tired of being here, I try to plan for the summer fun. It makes it all much easier to take. So on a particularly boring day, I had done some searching on Seattle and the fun things to do there. I made a list, including times, places, costs, and brought it home.

Nate was enthusiastic, but of course wanted more information (he’s definitely my son). Would the zoo have hippos? The aquarium – would it have an octopus? The plane museum: could we go inside the planes or would we just be looking at them? I confessed my lack of knowledge and left the conversation with a new quest.
He also had a lingering question apparently, and the next day I overheard the following conversation with Papa:

Nate: Papa, who’s Adle?

Randy: What? Adle? We don’t know an Adle…

Nate: But Mama says we’re going to see him.

Randy: What? See Adle? Ohh… Seattle!

Mama: laughing…

2/11 Resignation
I received a note the other day from my department chair attached to the fall schedule of classes. She wanted to know what classes I was interested in teaching this fall. And then the developmental chair a day or two later followed suit.

Shoot. I was really hoping to delay this conversation until after spring break. You see, I’m pregnant, but I’m not at the 3-month mark. I haven’t had any complications in the past, but I am 36, so I’m being a bit cautious. I am certainly not interested in telling a lot of people here, only to share news of a miscarriage shortly afterwards.

But, getting people out here to teach classes isn’t as easy as advertising in the local paper. And I don’t want to lie to everyone, only to tell them in a month that I’m not coming back. Especially since it takes so long to get people out here. I have grown attached to many of my colleagues, and the last thing I want to do is inconvenience them.

So. R and I had a powwow and came up with a fair alternative. I told both chairs that I would be staying at home with the kids next fall. That I wouldn’t be teaching as it’s too tough to teach here and be a full-time mom. All of this is true, by the way. This has been a hard semester, and I wasn’t completely sure if I wanted to teach in the fall anyway.

Everyone, of course, reacted well and has moved on. I have gotten over my guilt and am pleased with our solution.

I plan on telling people that I’m pregnant soon and that we will be moving to the U.S. The reality is that having a baby here scares the heck out of me, and I really don’t want to have the baby without R, or come back for just a few weeks. So we’re going to leave for good this summer; we just need to figure out where we’re going and what we’ll do there. Details, details.

2/7 Close to Home
I was flipping through CNN the other day and came across some pictures from a tornado that had swept through some town. I watched the devastation briefly, before moving on. It registered somewhere in me that the tornado had hit in Tennessee, but since we didn’t know anyone in Tennessee, I didn’t think anything of it.

Today I walked in to school to find an email from my brother-in-law, Micah, who was reassuring everyone that he and his family was fine. Apparently the tornado had come pretty dang close to their house and basically destroyed some dorms at the campus where he works.

Oh yeah, we don’t know anyone in the area. Except family. To be fair, Micah and Julie moved to Tennessee while we’ve been overseas, so it’s hard for me to remember sometimes that they’re not in New Jersey anymore. And all the U.S. news stories feel so removed from our lives here.

Still, my in-laws (including four of the cutest kids who have ever walked the earth) were huddled in a pantry, scared, and I had no clue. I hate that. Furthermore, if something had happened, it would have been very difficult for us to help.

We gotta get a different zip code.

2/6 Nate for President (this one’s for you, Mr. B)
I was watching some of the primary results come in and Nate asked what was going on. I explained that this was a presidential election year and that people were voting to decide who gets to be in charge of the United States. Nate got all excited and said that we should leave Majuro right away and go to the United States so WE could run for president.

I have to admit, I got a little excited at the thought of another political junkie in the house. I started imagining political discussions with Nate and thought of how incredibly cool it would be to have a little guy keyed into politics. Wait a minute. Something’s wrong here.

“Nate, why do you want to be president?” I queried.

“Because then WE could get all the PRESENTS!” he shouted. He was off and running.
Ummm. Pretty sure you don’t really get presents as president, buddy. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s frowned on by ethics people.

Suddenly the whole conversation seemed less interesting to him.

2/4 Better Homes and Geckos
R today was cleaning off our counter (we always seem to be in the process of cleaning off the counter, BTW) when he moved our Better Homes and Gardens magazine to the bathroom. Halfway across the room, he gave a surprised shout and we turned to see a little gecko running away.

I think it’s safe to say that the gecko was probably just as surprised as R was to find his cozy little home suddenly moving through time and space. My guess is that tonight he’ll crawl back in our house and bury himself under another pile.

2/2 Shoe trouble
I am in serious trouble.

Katie, for all my rantings about being a tomboy, has officially developed a shoe obsession. She walks around the house in my shoes, R’s shoes, Nate’s shoes, random passersby who stop in… Doesn’t make a difference. At Melissa’s, she wears Vien’s (Nate’s classmate) shoes and squeals with delight at the high heels.

Keep in mind that I have 3 pairs of shoes here. One pair is my Teva’s that have literally broken in two. I wear them because they’re still comfy. Another pair is the replacement Teva’s that R keeps trying to move me to (see above). The third pair is my tennis shoes. That’s all I need. I am good for all situations with those three pairs.
Katie, on the other hand, clearly needs more variety. Luckily, R returned from his trip bearing brand-new snazzy, sparkly Princess tennis shoes for Katie. She loved them so much that she insisted on wearing them during her nap.

I am in serious, serious trouble.

1/31 Pinkeye
There’s a pinkeye epidemic raging on campus, and everyone is paranoid. I am washing my hands like a fiend and wearing out my hand sanitizer. This may sound shocking to some of you, but basic hygiene is not always adhered to here, so when something highly contagious like pinkeye comes along, it really spreads quickly.

The local newspaper had a big story on the disease, and it mentioned that there were 8 times as many cases as last year. That’s a pretty big leap. Certainly those statistics have played themselves out in my classes as attendance has taken a hit.

Even wearing sunglasses elicits all kinds of reactions these days. I was wearing my sunglasses and walking to class when a fellow teacher asked if I had pinkeye. For crying out loud, no. It’s just pickin’ bright here. Like we’re just a few degrees off the equator or something.

So far, just one faculty has succumbed to pinkeye, and he looks just awful. This is not the place to have an eye infection as it’s just amazingly bright here. I cannot stand to be out in the sun for more than a few minutes without sunglasses. I can only imagine the pain of having an eye infection on top of that.

The outbreak has prompted a crack down on washing hands in our house, and Nate knows to wash his hands so he doesn’t get “the pink eye”. Perhaps using the term was a bad idea as he fairly frequently asks if he has the pink eye. But so far, so good.

P.S. I ran into my remaining Nitijela students today and asked why they weren’t at the event. One forgot (wharroj!), one said she was sick, and one had the only good excuse: his girlfriend was in the hospital, giving birth to their child. OK, so HE’s excused.

1/28 Nitijela ceremony
Tonight was the Nitijela ceremony, and I was quite nervous. I had arranged for the dean and also the vice president of academic affairs to come to the ceremony. I also had a video camera so we could record the students reading their speeches. Of course, the ceremony, supposed to begin at 5, didn’t start until around 6:30 or so. By the time the event began, both the dean and the vice president had left due to other obligations. But  here’s the worst part:

Only one student showed up.

I was so embarrassed and frustrated when after quite a few speeches, readings, etc., the clerk of the Nitijela called on the students and I had to explain that most of the students weren’t there. UGH. The one student who was there dutifully rose and read his speech, granted to a fairly small crowd and almost no dignitaries. I was proud of him and relieved that at least one person had managed to come.

It felt like perhaps the victory was a little hollow; maybe the students really didn’t care about winning. I left for home feeling a bit defeated and unsettled.

1/26 Language lessons
These days, Katie is picking up language at an alarming rate. She definitely is speaking in complete sentences – we just can’t understand most of the words. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that her babysitter, her beloved Melissa (or Lissa in Katiespeak) is Filipino, so a few Filipino words are now in her vocabulary. The “problem” part is that she comes home at the end of the day to parents who literally don’t understand the language she speaks.

Case and point, Katie now calls her bottle “Doo doo”, which means milk in Filipino. Melissa taught her this word, but somehow we had failed to get the memo. You can imagine Katie’s frustration when she made her requests clear and we were not acting on them. I finally figured it out one day when Melissa asked her if she wanted her doo doo. And then gave her the bottle. A-ha.

Of course, we are all picking up bits of the language here and there and incorporating those into our language. We are just as likely to say Yokwe as hello or Kommol as thank you. I have gotten used to hearing a foreign language all around me and am delighted when I can understand some of what my students are saying. They tend to say “warroj” (WHAH-rohj) quite a bit. It means “whatever”, as in you think the person is asking you to do too much.

A word that we hear quite a bit around the kids is “digadoo”, and although everyone always looked friendly when they said it, I eventually asked for a translation. It means “cutie”, and it has been attached to Katie for months now. People who don’t know her name use it like a name. Yokwe, digadoo, we hear. She smiles and waves or gets shy like she has a natural understanding of the compliment.

Come to think of it, she probably understands a lot more than we do.


1/25 Tracking them down
This morning I was on a mission to find the last two students. One of them had a class at 10, so I was pretty sure I’d be able to find him. Sure enough, a few minutes after 10 he came trudging up the stairs. He, like the others, was modestly surprised that he had placed in the contest. But the other student, the one not scheduled to be here today, proved much more difficult. I called the hospital to see if they could reach him.

They said he didn’t work there. I walked over to the local Catholic high school to see if I could reach his wife. Unfortunately, they were all at Mass, so I decided to try that later. Then I remembered that I had his wife in class over the summer. So I pulled the roster and tried the phone number listed for her. The person who answered sleepily said I had the wrong number.

I checked back with R to see if he had any ideas. He suggested checking with a few of the Marshallese staff. So I went to see Momity and explained the situation. She asked for the name and said it didn’t sound familiar. But then when I spelled it for her, she brightened. He was her cousin. Yes, she knew how to reach him. Yes, she’d give him the news. I just about kissed her.

I called my contact at the Nitijela back and triumphantly announced that I had tracked down all of the students and thought they all would probably be there tonight at 5.

Slight pause. 

She asked if maybe we could move the day to Monday, as the Parliament members couldn’t make it today. I just about collapsed. Sure, we could do that, I said.

So then I repeated most of my steps from the past two days. The great news is that I’m getting much faster at tracking my students down now. The bad news is that it’s only 11, and I’m exhausted.

1/24 They won!
I found out this morning that the students from my Eng 101 class last semester swept the Nitijela essay contest. To be fair, I am not sure that anyone else entered the contest. However, no matter what, it’s a big honor to have won a national writing contest, and they placed in first through fourth place.

I got the students’ names from my contact at the Nitijela, who told me that there would be a meeting tomorrow at 5 p.m. in the conference room at the Nitijela. Students would read their essays aloud to an audience composed of their friends, family and members of the Parliament. I was so thrilled that I practically ran over to R’s office to share the news.

Then came the hard part: tracking them down. I got their schedules from the registrar so I could find them. One happened to be in a common area, so I told her. I found another one late in the day. The last two had a class ending at the same time as one of mine, so I ended my class exactly on time, and ran to the classrooms. They were both empty. Bah. One of the students has a class at 10, so I’ll be able to find him.

Unfortunately, one of the students is not scheduled to be on-campus tomorrow. And of course his phone number is 000-0000. So I put out the word on the student grapevine. One student said she thought he worked at the hospital. And that his wife worked at a nearby high school. I guess I know what I’ll be doing tomorrow.

1/23 Coffee break
This morning, Katie got her first taste of coffee. I know what you’re thinking: Jen has gone mad. The child is too young for the stuff. Wasn’t Nate forbidden from even soda until he was like three?

All this is true. But, I swear to you, it wasn’t my fault.

Well, OK. It kinda was.

Here’s the deal: R and I have been drinking coffee for a few weeks now, mostly in moments of sheer desperation and exhaustion. This week (the first week of class) has called for lots of coffee as we have tried to adjust to all four of us getting out the door by 7:30 a.m. so that Nate gets to his school, I get to my class and R gets to work by 8.

So R had made a big cup of iced coffee for me, complete with the necessities (cream, sugar, soy milk and chocolate milk mix… did I call this “coffee”? perhaps another term would be better…) and I had been sipping it on the table.

Now would be a good time to explain that Katie is very dangerous because she is 1) smart and 2) physically agile. She spied the chocolaty mix from her spot in the living room, and rightly decided it was probably more yummy than the water that had been hoisted on her. She quietly walked over (the second ones are always sneakier, don’t you think?) and dragged out the wooden chair and climbed up on it without us noticing.

We, of course, were in the final stages of getting out the door when I heard the clank and turned to see the coffee (along with all the sugar and cream of course) spilling down Katie and the chair and the rug. She just sat there quietly like she thought maybe we wouldn’t notice.

The regular fire drill ensued where I took her to get cleaned up in the bathtub while R tackled the rug in the hopes to stave off an ant invasion. We still made it out the door by around 7:40, but it was not the kind of start to the morning that I had envisioned.

1/21 Exercise regulations
R has been trying to exercise more regularly, so the past few mornings, our routine has included some time for his workout. Of course, it’s always done in plain sight of the kids, which leads to some funny interactions. Case and point: This morning, R invited Nate to join him in the exercises, to which Nate immediately replied, “No, Papa, I only exercise on Sundays and Mondays.”

R pointed out that it was Monday, and Nate amended his response. “I meant Sundays and Wednesdays.”

At least he’s learned that it’s good to keep your commitments to a minimum.

1/19 Happy day
Today Papa came home. We were all very glad to see him, his actual welcome home was a bit chilly. You see, we were on our way to a party at one of Nate’s classmates in Wallaby Downs (the Australian Navy’s compound) and R came home early. I was afraid this would mean that Nate would want to skip the party, so when we saw R, I was not jumping up and down.

The kids, however, immediately began screaming “Papa, Papa!” and were all over him. I knew R would like a little time to rest after getting on a plane at about 3 in the morning, so I herded them into a taxi after a short reunion. Katie, however, was quite upset and screamed when she saw that Papa wasn’t coming with us. Luckily, when we came home a few hours later, we all had the joyful celebration we were looking forward to.

Don’t get me wrong, the kids were fabulous while he was gone. All the same, it’s great to have him home. 

1/18 Power out
Well, today was an all-day power outage, which was kind of my nightmare. But it wasn’t bad because Nate was in school in the morning, and then I had some work to do in the afternoon, so he and Katie hung out with Melissa. Since this was the last day before R gets home, I feel like we’re going to make it. I decided to splurge and go out to eat to celebrate. I invited Melissa along as she has been a big part of keeping me sane during R’s trip.

I think I’ve learned to roll with the power outages as much as possible, and have decided that they’re basically signs that we need to eat out. Since the power outages happen so often, the kids are getting pretty good at having good manners while we’re out. It was a great way to mark the end of a long haul without R. I even brought along a snakes and ladders game so Nate and I could play while we waited for the food. We headed home, full and happy, and ready for our last night without R.

1/15 A new room
One of my great embarrassments about living here is that we live in a 3-bedroom house and all sleep in one room. I had decided that over Christmas I would clean out Nate’s room and see if I could coerce him into moving into it. He has almost always slept in the same room as us, so I imagined it would be a battle to get him to sleep in a room by himself.

So today I was cleaning it during a quiet moment for the kids when Nate saw what I was doing. I asked him if he liked the way the room was set up. He said it just needed one thing.

And then he RAN and got his bed (just a little mattress on the floor) and DRAGGED it in there.

OK. So I guess he’s ready to move in.

Sure enough, he happily went to bed in his own room (carefully decorated with the Thomas the Tank Engine stickers that Gma Pam sent months ago) and we were done.
Now why didn’t I do this months ago?

1/12 A Marshallese canoe
I had on my “To Do” list that Nate and I would go on a Marshallese canoe as they are really incredible. Not only are they among the fastest in the world, but they are just cool. And a ride is just $20. So this morning I dropped Katie off at Melissa’s and headed off with N, Aue and Anabelle to take a ride.
The boat was just as beautiful as I had imagined; elegant, with warm-colored wood and a crisp white sail and yet very simple. Once we had donned our lifejackets, we headed out.

R had warned me that the canoes were fast, and it certainly felt like we were just skimming over the water. While we travelled I told Nate the story of the 12 brothers, or how the outrigger came to the canoe here in the Marshall Islands. I figured it was a perfect time and place for the story. He was not entirely enthralled by the story, but it was important to me that I told him it. Especially because of the moral of the story (listen to your mother).

After a while, I could sense the excitement wearing off, so I asked Aue if we could ask the sailors to turn us around. The trip back was fun, and we got off the boat feeling satisfied with our adventure. I had promised N a quick dip in the hotel pool, so we did that before heading home. Of course, when asked he said that he actually liked the pool time a bit more than the canoe ride.

Not me. I'm sure that I'll remember zipping along the water for years to come.

1/11 Hope-filled
I've spent the last two days attending a grant-writing workshop and it has been just inspiring. The best part was today when we all gave our proposals for grants. (I had done a modified version of what I plan to actually do in my digital photography class. I asked for $$ so we could hang the pics around the campus.) The best one was from CMI's nuclear institute who proposed a trip out to the outer islands to record the oral stories from the nuclear tests.

But perhaps the best overarching thing about the workshop was the overall attitude: Hope. This place is in such need of so many things that working here is all at once invigorating and exhausting. And many of the faculty here are sick of the same old problems, and are quite negative.

At this meeting, however, that wasn't the feeling. People were all jumping in with suggestions, ideas, networking possibilities, and I felt like almost anything was possible. Maybe we actually COULD start up a gym on campus and help our students make good healthy choices. Maybe a grammar camp is a possibility, and a way to help students who are falling through the cracks.

As one of the speakers pointed out, grants are usually given to the needy and desperate. And no one can be more needy or desperate than us.

1/9 Disoriented
Today was the first day of faculty orientation, and although it was nice to see everyone again, the day was a bit much. Here at CMI we have been struggling with accreditation of the college. When R and I arrived, we were on Probation (a step up from show cause -- as in show us why we shouldn't shut you down) and last year we moved up to warning (just one step away from full accreditation).

Those who have been involved in accreditation know that it's a lengthy process and an exhausting one at that. Before I joined the faculty, I had heard plenty from R about all the work that needed to be done on accreditation. I joined anyway, probably showing my ignorance with that simple move.

The president of CMI is determined to get the college accredited as soon as earthly possible, so everyone is working overtime trying to help out. The big push was in October, when CMI presented a progress report to our accreditation team. Then the team was out in December to tour the campus and to make their report.

Unfortunately, the team was not impressed with the work that had been done, and mostly wanted to know about the next step, which are program reviews. This was disheartening for faculty and staff, as I'm sure many were ready to take a break.

So when we got back together for faculty orientation, we heard a lot about these program reviews and what would be required of us. In addition to teaching, committees, etc., of course. In my time here at CMI, I have observed that things always manage to get done. So I wasn't all that panicked. I had taught most of my classes before, and this was good experience, I told myself.

Of course, for one of our two new faculty members, it was a little different. He literally had a seizure just after lunch. Collapsed on the floor, shaking, turned purple, lost consciousness. Someone called an ambulance and he was taken away, conscious at that point. I heard that they ran all sorts of tests on him, but couldn't find anything wrong, so that evening he was discharged from the hospital.

His diagnosis: anxiety attack. I'm thinking that's a HECK of a lot of anxiety.

P.S. I had a funny Majuro Moment today: Thea's dad offered us a ride in his truck today, and we all piled in. No, of course it doesn't have an extended cab. Yes, of course it was stick. Total count in the car: Two adults, four kids, two backpacks.

1/7 Mystery solved
Today was the first day of the Nitijela, so all eyes were on the government here. I got in a taxi and they were clearly playing a live broadcast. Alas, no speaker or president yet. As the day progressed, I heard bits from other people that the former speaker was now the president. So I guess it's back to rule by irooj (chiefs).

The interesting thing is the margins were so slim, that it seems clear everyone will have to work together to get things done. Whether or not they actually accomplish that remains to be seen. Of course, since there is officially a change in party, everything is kind of on-hold until people figure out the priorities for the ruling party.

The UPP (United People's Party -- they also changed their name from AKA just before the election) seems to be largely made up of irooj, which will have huge impacts to the way the government is run and ruled. Well, it will have impacts to some. There is a sense here that no matter who was elected, things wouldn't change a whole lot. But at least now we have a name -- President Litokwa Tomeing.

1/6 A modest proposal
We had a new friend, Thea, over for a playdate today. She's an "older woman" as a kindergartner, and Nate and she had a great time playing. To boot, she has a younger sister, Siena, who is about 2, and brought along all sorts of baby dolls for Katie to play with. The icing on the cake was that her mom, Suzanne, is officially friend potential. I had such a good time talking with her while the kids played, largely without our intervention.

When they arrived, they brought us a plant and a beautiful huge red flower. After they left, Nate wanted to see the flower again. He had a funny look on his face and he said, "Mama, if Thea held these flowers, and I stood next to her, we could get married!"

OK. I was expecting this at some point. But he's FOUR. So I pointed out that he was a little young for that. Let's at least hit the double digits, buddy.

1/5 Goodbye Papa
R left for the U.S. today to take his comprehensive exams for his Ph.D. It's been a tough few weeks as he has tried to squeeze in some extra studying into a busy holiday and finals week. Unfortunately, I could be of little help to him. He occasionally recited materials to me, but seeing as I know squat about this stuff, I could only smile and nod encouragingly.

He's going to be gone about 13 days, which is quite the haul for me and the kids here. While he's in the states, he's going to take a quick trip to see his mom and sister before heading home. Nate starts school on Monday, so my hope is that will ease the burden on me. My fervent prayer is that the power stays on. I think we'll do OK if we just have power for the whole time he's gone. Prayers for sanity and electricity would be appreciated.

My other plan is to keep the kids busy. So today I took Nate and Katie to Tide Table for lunch, and they were dream kids. I felt buoyed by the experience and keep thinking that we'll be OK after all. Tomorrow, Nate and I are going to the movies. Hopefully, an activity a day will keep the grumpies away.

1/2 Election mystery
A few weeks ago, I asked my students shortly after the election who would be the new president. They didn't seem to have a consensus. When he was a guest speaker in my class about 2 months ago, the editor of the Marshall Islands Journal said that he couldn't predict the elections either. He smiled and said anything could happen.

Case and point: Just before the election, there was a last-second shake-up. The speaker, who was in the UDP (United Democratic Party) became AKA (Our islands). This was a blow to the president who was UDP. The speaker also happens to be a pyramidal chief, (his dad was chief of one island chain, his mom a chief of another) so he's quite powerful. Remember that Kessai Note, the current president, was the first non-chief to be elected president. There's only been three presidents also.

A little background. Here in the RMI, the people don't elect the president directly. They vote for senators and then the senators pick the speaker, vice speaker and president. So theoretically, the ruling party gets all the top spots. But this election has been incredibly close. I don't know how many stories have been in the MIJ about re-counts, but it's been a lot. Often the senator is being decided on simply a handful (seriously 10 or under) votes.

The elections themselves seemed to be widely denounced as poorly planned and executed, with some people being turned away at the polls, some being asked to sign their names to the ballot envelopes, and some not being given a chance to vote at all. As an outsider, I have to say that I'm glad that I am not involved in the process. It's all way too confusing for me.

And it turns out that my students were exactly right. I also had asked them when we'd know who won the election. They laughed and said we'd know in January, probably on the first day of the Nitijela. So far, their predictions are holding true.

Click here for entries from 2007. Click here for entries from 2006.