Note: This is the second of fifteen parts. Click here to read from the beginning.
Majuro is a dichotomy.
Located in the South Pacific, about 6,000 miles from New England and roughly 2,000 miles northwest of Australia, it is a tiny place, maybe three quarters of a mile wide at its widest and 30 miles long. It is as pristine as it is soiled, and it is temporary landing zone for a minority of very wealthy and/or quite comfortable visitors and home to a majority of the very, very poor.
I arrived on a United jet after crossing over the international date line from Monday, Dec. 21 into Tuesday, Dec. 22.
After I walked through customs and the door that led to the airport’s open-air lobby, where I greeted Molly very emotionally and joyfully, I could clearly see polar opposites at work.
There was the family of four I saw seated in first class with their designer clothes and luggage, standing amidst Marshallese women in their modest muumuus and sweaty, unamused taxi drivers waiting for passengers at the curb.
From the sidewalk, I could see the vivid blue-green ocean—and mounds of trash.
The divergent images were everywhere.
The first time at Molly’s apartment, I stood with my back to the concrete structure she and the other teachers live in—my home for the month as well—and faced the ocean. A small stand of palm trees offered a frame on the left side, and along the center was a barrier of volcanic rock and coral that divides the turquoise sea from the sparse and spotty grass.
The surf in the distance rose nearly 10-feet high. The sky was pure blue with puffs of cumulous clouds. There was really nothing more beautiful. The word “paradise” came easily to mind. At my first viewing, I breathed in the glory of it, knowing there was a much more sullied view to be had in this world.
Upon closer inspection of the rocks I stood on, for instance, I saw mounds of trash caught in many of the crevices. There was a rusty truck bed in the water off shore, several of its rubber tires still on the rear. To my right was a handful of island homes constructed of sheet metal.
As I took it all in, a rat scampered by down near the water line.
Turning 180 degrees, I saw the row of water tanks I’d walked past to get to the water and ahead two rusting trailers, roughly 20 to 25 feet long, one that is home to a family of eight. There were children in their bare feet playing in dusty grass, a dog tied to a tree, whining, and there was trash, bits of coral and other random bits of rubble strewn about.
Definitely not what I was expecting to find here, but it should have been.
After all, in speaking to friends and colleagues before my visit, I referred to Majuro as a developing country many times. I think I thought I would be more removed from the poverty; that it would be “somewhere else.” Once I’d arrived, it began to sink in that this entire world is Third World.
I have been here for almost a week at this writing, and what I see happening in my mind’s eye is that, more and more, the beauty is what stands out for me.
The first time I went running in the early morning, I only saw the homes made of scraps of plywood and sheet metal and the filthy tires that a half dozen children were sitting on, inches from the roadway. I saw the damaged teeth of the males who chew betel nut. And I saw—and smelled—so much trash.
The last time I ran, though, I noticed so much more.
I saw the pride in the Marshallese women who rake their yards, gathering up organic debris that falls almost constantly so that even on these ramshackle pieces of property, things are tidy and in order. I noticed that most of the yards actually have no trash, only a handful do, and I realized this is as you might find things at home.
I saw the delight and wonder in the children’s happy faces. They play so well together in large groups with whatever they have at hand. They don’t need video games, iPads or the Internet.
I saw a place to put trust in the men who came to my rescue when a snarling dog threatened to bite me.
I saw that the real beauty of the island lays not just in its geography and natural resources but in its people.
And I felt humbled, and just a little bit more at home.
**Top picture is view from front step to the east; Bottom picture is view from front step to the west**
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