life lessons of gratitude from a disappearing nation.
From the front lines of a nation struggling with climate change.
So my daughter and I live in the Marshall Islands.
Well, the Marshall Islands. A tiny island nation in the middle of the Pacific. Halfway between Hawaii and Australia and nothing. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
We live here for adventure, culture, weather, paradise, simplicity, and inspiration. We live here so that we can live at the grounded level of life, leaving room for amazing moments and realizations found in the simple beauty of nature, and quiet, and among a culture of different, in order to be strong and challenged everyday, and in order to see gratitude from a healthy angle. In order to swim in azul seas and lagoons and eat coconuts five times a day, and fresh tuna and other fishies and feel the sunshine and wear no shoes. In order for soulshine and amazing memories, in order to meet native Marshallese with incredible stories, in order to live at the edge of the world, and in order for our life to be a moving adventure and continuous learning experiment of what happens when we give it all up, and follow our dreams. We live here so that I can teach kindergarten to Marshallese children.
Here on the last frontier, a place that will be gone someday, we can say, that we lived that life and saw that land and loved those people. And this very fact keeps life very humbled everyday. And I feel that that is a good way to live. We had already very thankfully been living this way in Mexico. And oh do I love Mexico for teaching us this. And now, being a part of the Marshall Islands makes these lessons even louder, the humbleness even more humble, the adventure even more of an adventure, and the life even more real. Because here, rather we are thankful just to have land to walk on. Land that has not yet disappeared into the ocean. And when you are humbled and grateful down to the ground like that, life looks very different. More beautiful, more fragile, more blessed. And the other world far far away looks very different too. Because there, life is so different. And because those people dont know. They dont see the global destruction first hand, they dont know the people whose worlds are in danger, they dont stand to loose their beautiful enchanted land of kings and coconuts and coral and sunsets and flowers and palm trees.
The Marshall Islands are very fragile. Atolls as thin as roads, and a culture on the brink of political destruction from the past, globalization of the current, and geographical destruction of the future. But tucked away from time and space, we live day to day in this sunshine. Soaking it all up as we go, embracing the peace of the pieces of culture and environment that are unlike any other place, and seem too beautiful to be real.
Living in a place unknown to the world is a strange phenomenon.
We wake up to the sunrise outside our door. We fall asleep to the crashing of waves five feet from our window, barricaded by a wall of rocks full of crabs and coral. Nearly everyone lives on the water, because water is everywhere. On one side of the atoll is the Pacific Ocean, with waves and coral reef formations too rocky to walk barefoot and too beautiful to ignore. On the other side is the lagoon, with rainbow fish and coral gardens and turquoise water and puffy clouds. We see rainbows everyday. Coconut palm trees are everywhere, and we eat coconut in everything, and drink it straight with a straw. We wear beautiful flowers and pretty dresses. The waters are everywhere and life is based around that in every way. An ancient Micronesian seafaring nation of spearfishermen and canoe geniuses, and palm fronds basket weavers, and fish and coconut eaters. The breezes are unreal. As a Pacific breeze is, gusting perfectly from the ocean to the lagoon, flowing the palms and filling the air with bliss. The fish are amazing and the coral is spectacular, like a magical adventure through the sea. Purples and pinks and blues and greens and formations that seem from another planet. I call it my daughter’s Disney World ride. The water color is captivating and the sky a piercing blue, the sun rays scorching down in powerful rays of capture. Ukeleles are everywhere, and the sound is a normal part of everyday. Walking here and there, groups of teenagers or adults or children, gathered around a ukelele under a palm tree, sitting relaxing or swaying to the tunes of the beautiful simple machine.
With all of this amazement comes strange sidenotes, that make this an interesting place. We live on one road. There is one road on this atoll, in a nation with a population the size of a town. Taxis anywhere are 75 cents. As there is only one road, as long as you get into a cab heading the direction you want to go, there is no need to tell the driver where to go. You just ride on the road until you are ready to get out. The groceries are all imported and very expensive. Expired as well. Think of the journey they have taken to be here. Produce is hard to find fresh and when you do it is very expensive. Marshallese culture is caught in a midland of before, current, and future, and rely on foreign sources for mostly everything. I feel that they are a nation of waiting until the next change occurs. Much of their culture has been abandoned for globalization and much of it remains. The impending doom of the climate change issue is a sensitive subject. It is known to exist but not wanted to be true, and the people all live here for the beauty, as it is a homeland as well. And not wanting to leave their precious land. Life goes on as normal here where we laugh and sing and swim and work and be, just like the rest of the world. Saying, its no one’s fault. It’s just that our nation and the land we live on happens to be in the line of fire. The way the tide floods in and then disappears at low tide. Here on the edge of the world, we see nature changes moreso, we see more stars in the sky, and we see change more directly, because of the geography, because of the location. Because of the place in the world.
The times I am proud to be here are many. When I wake up to the sunrise on the water every morning, and go to sleep to the crashing waves. When I drink coconuts and swim with fish too amazing to be real. When I step into the hot ocean, and swim in a turqiouse abyss, when I float for hours on end, gazing around me at endless sea. When I look at the stars in the sky, not clouded by lights of a city. When we sing the national anthem and raise the flag, and dance and sing in Marshallese, knowing how united and fragile the life is here. When my daughter laughs with her native friends, and I know she is learning about life. When we boat to tiny islands and freedive, and bask in the spectacular Pacific sun. When I hear a ukelele, when a day is beginning, and when a day is done. When I teach my students about life, and I know they are listening to every word. And when I remember that I have choices, and goals and dreams, and that they led me here. To be part of these challenges and blessings, and to see a life that most will never see. For every overpriced grocery item, I think of these things and I am proud. For all moments of personal challenge in paradise, I am proud to have dreams that bring me to such beauty and blessings.
So I can at least help to get the word out. I can write and share, and try to be any voice I can. And at least my daughter will know. About the delicate balance of life. And the blessings we have when we start at the humbled position of being thankful for the very land we stand on.
A Marshallese poet said it way better than I can here: Matafele Pienem Please watch this. Please share. Please be aware. Please remember. The effects of climate change. The Marshall Islands. Us all, way over here. On the edge of the world. Under a coconut tree. Without a car. And maybe you can make a change too. We are one world. And we are all in this together.
With love, from the Marshall Islands.