Note: This is the eighth of fifteen parts. Click here to read from the beginning.
So, Eneko isn’t always a place of solitude. Sometimes Steve brings overwhelmingly full boatloads of people for the day. And sometimes, people come on their own in rented boats.
At the end of the third day on the island, Molly and I were sitting around on the beach, reading and enjoying the quiet after the previous day with the rowdy helicopter pilots. Molly said, “Uh oh, Mom. You aren’t going to like this.”
I looked up to see a chartered boat coming in with about 30 Marshallese people on board. The boat soon made a second trip, and a total of roughly 50 people—all members of one family—overwhelmed Eneko for a child’s second birthday party.
They had rented the three remaining cottages, which sleep six people comfortably.
The shared kitchen became party and feast central, and Molly and I could do nothing but simply blend in.
Molly knew one of the couples and several of the children, who were students. I remarked that these must be some of her more wealthy students, and she nodded.
Some of the children—Molly’s students mostly—watched Molly and I play cards that night, and we watched the adults begin to prepare for the birthday barbecue the next day. There was a cooler full of ribs. A cooler full of hot dogs. A cooler full of chicken. I didn’t see ice in any of these coolers.
In the evening, mats were laid out on the grass, and that is where many people slept. It was loud with laughter outside as we worked to fall asleep, and the next day, the shared kitchen was difficult to maneuver in as women boiled eggs for potato salad and fried fish some of the men had caught the night before. (There was ice in the cooler with the fish…)
In the area of the island set aside for day visitors, where there is a pavilion, the men began to grill the food.
I did prepare my morning coffee, and while doing so, had a nice conversation with an older Marshallese man. He spoke English well, and when I asked him what he did for a living on Majuro, he said, “I’ve done a lot of things. Now I’m retired.” This was his family; he, the patriarch.
I will admit to being a bit annoyed over all this commotion. The island had been so quiet and peaceful and, with the arrival of this group, it was busy and noisy, and, well, inconvenient.
Later in the day, because Molly was the teacher for one of the children, we were invited to the feast, and yes, I grumbled a bit over this too. I was remembering the lack of refrigeration and also just simply wanting to stay put and relax in peace.
But, I put a dress over my bathing suit and dutifully sat next to Molly; Molly was next to the older gentleman I had spoken with earlier in the day. A friend of Molly’s, a teacher who is a friend of this family, introduced us to the man.
Vince said Kessai was the island’s president for eight years, from 2000 to 2008 and that he has been a senator for 36 years and continues to be a member of parliament. In less than a week, he would help to elect the island’s next president.
“So,” I said to Kessai. “When you told me earlier you’ve ‘done a lot of things,’ you were being a bit modest?”
He nodded and smiled, again modestly.
As the teacher, and perhaps as Americans, Molly and I were honored guests and were served first, before the other 50 family members; Kessai and his wife, Mary, were served next.
Everyone received a paper plate mounded with rice, potato salad, a broccoli salad with crab meat, a piece of what’s called “bread fruit” (which tasted like potato), a rib, a hot dog, a piece of chicken, a salad made with raw tuna and a fried fish head on top.
I sampled everything on my plate and tried not to think about the fact that none of this was refrigerated overnight. I thought it was all good, and the chicken was delicious. When we watched others cover their plates with a piece of tinfoil, Molly and I followed suit. I was relieved, as there was no way I could eat all that food, and the bite of tuna I took did not go down easily. (Later, we gave our plates to the caretakers, who were happy to receive them.)
There was a speech by the father for the 2-year-old birthday boy and a prayer from the boy’s older nephew. There were speeches, too, for Kessai and Mary, who were also celebrating their anniversary. (They wouldn’t say which year. “About 200,” was all Kessai would say.)
Molly and I didn’t follow the speeches, delivered in Mashallese, but we got that this was a poignant and celebratory moment, and we were proud to be part of it.
I told Kessai I was a former journalist and asked if I could pepper him with questions. He laughed and said yes. I learned that he has spent some time, as a politician, in the states and that he met President Kennedy. I learned he helped draft the Marshallese constitution in the 1970s and most recently worked on renewing the agreement the island has with the United States, in which all Marshallese are allowed entry into the states without a visa. He was also involved as president in the island clean-up efforts.
For the second time on the island, I was duly humbled. We walked back to our little cottage grateful to have been part of this gathering and to have made new connections.
**Top Picture is of Mary and Kessai; Bottom Picture is of the birthday boy**
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