Note: This is the fifth of fifteen parts. Click here to read from the beginning.
There is a lot to be learned when you enter another culture. Here are some things I am learning about life on Majuro.
Food. Fresh food is very hard to come by, produce especially. Apples, oranges, potatoes and onions seem to be in good supply—perhaps because they have a long shelf life—but fresh vegetables like lettuce, beans and broccoli are hard to come by, and they are very expensive. The meat seems to be of a good quality, and it didn’t seem terribly expensive to me, but packaged goods are crazy high in price. A box of Kraft mac and cheese, for instance, costs $2.50, compared to four boxes for $1 at a Big Y at home. Also of note in the grocery store: check the labels for the expiration date. Because I had Molly with me, I didn’t have to learn this the hard way. On my first grocery outing, as I reached for a quart of half and half, she said, “Check the date.” Good learning. There were several dozen quarts—all expired, some by more than a month. All of the yogurts in the produce case were also long passed the “Best used by” dates.
Water. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, water is a golden commodity. Drinking water comes from the store, or if you are hearty, the community cistern, but you really need to have transportation to lug the full jug back home; it’s too big of a hassle in a taxi and impossible on foot. Water for the toilets comes from the ocean, and all faucets are supplied by the huge vessels you see dotting the landscape. Outside Molly’s apartment there are about a half dozen such supply tanks. On my first day, Molly let me know if it doesn’t rain, and the tanks run dry, there will be no washing of dishes or bodies. I have been praying for rain since, and it has obliged. But this is the dry season.
Taxis. Molly doesn’t have a car; most people don’t, so taxis are everywhere, and they are cheap, with a complicated fee structure. It’s 75 cents per person for a ride in a taxi, but 50 cents per if the taxi is a van. If you cross the bridge toward one end of the island, there’s an extra fee, and it’s $5 per person to the airport. To signal a taxi, you hold up the fingers to represent how many passengers. If the driver can accommodate you, he pulls over. (I have yet to see a female driver.) If the driver doesn’t have room, he gives a little toot on his horn. When you get in a taxi, don’t expect conversation or acknowledgement of any kind. It’s all business. And, don’t be surprised if the driver’s children are in the front seat. You don’t tell the driver where you are going, until you are almost there, and again, when you speak the destination, don’t expect to be acknowledged. You only know the driver heard and understood when they turn in to let you off.
Safety on the roadways. For starters, most of the cars are sedans that have seen better days. Many ride very low to the ground, have damaged seats in the interior and damaged bodies on the exterior. Only the driver and passengers in the front seat are required to wear seatbelts, but you rarely see the children buckled in. There seem to be few other regulations on passengers as well. On Christmas Eve Day, Molly and I saw sedans built for five passengers going by with a dozen people stuffed inside. We also saw one car pass by in which the driver, a man, was holding the steering wheel with his left hand and a small child under a year old in the other. Car seats? Forget about it. They don’t exist here.
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