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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

Flag of the Republic of the Marshall Islands THE MARSHALL ISLANDS


Mar 23. AILINGLAPLAP (Bouj)  We had asked Alan and Coral to keep an eye out for us in the morning, just in case the YFU rolled into shore to pick up it cargo and get an early start for Majuro.  We had gotten ourselves up early and had our backpacks ready to go by 8:30 but there was no sign of movement from the YFU.  It had been a late night for many of the Marshallese and people were very slow to rise. 

We congregated outside the kitchen area with Ferdinand, Richard, Martin and Rion.  It seemed to be the only place where there was much activity since people were still sprawled out under the tents.  The only other congregation of people was at Mike Kabua’s table. We felt that we should make an offering of our own to Irioj Mike to show our appreciation for the hospitality we’d received all week.  The only thing of any value that we had, that was hard to come by in the Marshall Islands , was film. I dug 12 rolls out of my pack and we watched from the kitchen for the right time to present our gift. While we waited people came out of the kitchen to give us some ramen and tea for breakfast.  By the time we finished our food we saw and opening and walked over to Mike’s table to give him our gift.  We thanked him and handed over the film but didn’t linger too long.  Most people just seemed to make their offering and move on so we did the same. 

The information about what boats were going back when was a bit vague.  We were watching the white plastic chairs and tents closely since they YFU wasn’t going anywhere without its cargo but no one was making any move to tear down the tents or round up the chairs. The YFU hadn’t stirred and there was talk starting about how it wasn’t leaving until Monday and wouldn’t arrive in Majuro until Tuesday.  It was Sunday so nobody was motivated to work on loading the ship.  They were all getting ready for church. It didn’t seem to matter so much which church the people went to, some even went to churches of different denominations, but they did reserve Sunday for prayer and rest.

That sort of put a kink in our plans to fly out Tuesday morning so we had to explore some alternatives.  We lounged around in the plastic chairs and woven mats and pondered our options.  Getting a flight out was dubious.  The plea we’d made with Mary Lou and others for a new flight seemed to have left with their departure on Friday.  Catching a flight was unlikely and not worth the drive to Aerok village. 

As we were lounging Martin came to up to us and said that Mike wanted to see the young woman from California .  One by one we’d seen people materializing with gifts of large mats from the Irioj but didn’t expect that we would receive anything.  When we approached Mike’s table there was a stack of two mats and a couple of woven fans sitting beside him.  He greeted me in the local word for grandfather, having remembered that my name was similar to his grandfather’s.  I was flattered that he remembered.  Then, sure enough, he presented us with these mats as a gift.  He received so much over the course of the week and this was his way of redistributing his wealth.  We thanked him again and we off in complete awe. 

Martin and Rion also needed a ride back to Jeh so Martin went swimming out to the remaining ships to see when they were leaving.  The Oleanda had left on Saturday night but the tugboat, the Ratak, was still around as well as a field trip ship.  It turned out that the Ratak was going back at 5:00 and would accept passengers so that seemed like the only real option for us.  We watched some dinghies go back and forth to the tug and decided that we should get on sooner rather than later.  We’d learned that schedules were mobile in the Marshalls so we didn’t want to press our luck.  We were aboard by about 2:30 and were very fortunate to find a dry spot for our things in a storage closet.  One of the crew even roped our bags onto the shelf so they wouldn’t move. 

The boat wasn’t very crowded initially but as it approached 5:00 more and more people started to board.  There were people of all ages and loads of luggage.  Everyone was jockeying for a place for themselves and their goods. There were piglets.  There were cages of chickens.  There were sorry chickens without a cage that had to lie on the deck with their feet tied.  There was a cocky rooster that stood on edge the engine compartment.  His owner had tied his leg to something on the deck and in mid cock-a-doodle he yelped and disappeared. He was soon returned by his owner to a safe spot on the engine cover near the wall with his foot now tied to a hook in the wall. We were glad that we’d staked a spot on the large platform that covered the engine.  It was warm, a bit greasy and scattered with soot but we had a plastic tarp over our heads and we would learn just how lucky that was!

The boat started moving at 5:00 , showing the difference between public and commercial ships.  It exited the channel on the ocean side and we were soon being tossed around by 20-30 foot swells.  Sea sickness set in soon so we took some Dramamine and kept horizontal under our tarp.  Waves started washing across the back of the boat but we were pretty well protected on the engine cover.  Occasionally I felt the water splash against my legs but the air was warm and I was dry quickly.  It was 18 hours until we would reach Majuro and it was looking like a very long time.

As we got farther into the open ocean we experienced sporadic heavy showers and the waves became more turbulent. Many of the places on deck where people thought they would ride out the night were soon drenched in water.  As it got darker the Dramamine was helpful in getting intermittent bits of sleep.  The corrugated steel surface was hard and I had to adjust my position every hour or so to keep part of my body from going numb.  Each time I awoke I found my small area of space further encroached upon by someone new.  I couldn’t blame them until it began to reduce my space to an unmanageable size.  The family that had staked out a large area next to us had a large plastic mat underneath them and offered me a sheet to use as a pillow.  It was a kind gesture but I think partly motivated by their desire to get rid of the crunching plastic bottle I had been using as a pillow.  The Marshallese people were amazing in the way they could lay in seemingly impossible positions, sleeping through the tossing and turning without stirring a bit. 

Midway through the night I woke up to see the corner of the tent that was covering the back of the boat loosen from its frame.  The back of the boat was wet but people were still holding space there under the tent.  The smacking corner of the tent soon caused the corner to pull out of the tent leg and it crashed onto the desk.  Rob leaned out to shine his flashlight on the problem as a few men tried to tie the corner down again.  Before the succeeded the whole corner piece of the frame went plunk into the ocean. 

Regrettably, I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  I wasn’t thrilled about making my way around the engine cover and wading through the waves to the compartment where the bathroom was but the closer exit off of our engine cover was blocked by a cage of chickens.  I carefully climbed down and half squatted as I shuffled around the lurching boat, grabbing at anything stable that I could find.  On the backside of the engine compartment I saw Richard holding his own in his camping chair and Ferdinand squatting on something, wearing his rain poncho, both undoubtedly wet but still managing to catch some shut eye.  When I reached the entrance that led to the bathroom I found someone teetering in the doorway.  I squeezed my around him only to discover that every square foot of the floor space and every piece of furniture in each cabin both upstairs and downstairs were covered in people. A father and his not more than 2 year old baby were sprawled on their backs side-by-side.  I carefully stepped around them and made my way to the toilet, a tricky maneuver in a violently rocking boat.  When Rob later made his visit to the same compartment he said it was clear that Dramamine would have benefited many other people.

MARSHALL ISLANDS Majuro March 11 March 12 March 13 March 14-15 March 16 Alinglaplap March 17 March 18 March 19 March 20 March 21 March 22 March 23 Majuro March 24

FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA Kosrae March 25-26 March 27-28 Pohnpei March 29-31 April 1-2 April 3-4 April 5-7 Chuuk April 8-9 April 10-11

GUAM April 12-23