When her year-long adventure in the Marshall Islands drew to a close, WorldTeach volunteer, Sarah Lipson, reflected on the year behind her, the departure ahead of her, and the difficulty of leaving a new-found home. —

 “All I ever needed, wanted or sought after existed within a ten-mile radius of my childhood home (from basic needs to entertainment to education) and as such, I never knew the reality of life without love unconditional, support unending. Visible, audible, tangible, intangible love and support. When I moved to Rita Village in Majuro, one of the most densely populated areas in the Pacific, I was, incongruously trite as it may seem, alone. My happiness, my sadness, my bewilderment, my disorientation were mine alone to grapple with. No one within 7,000 miles really, really, cared about me. This simple fact was justifiably overwhelming. Now, 9 months after I arrived in the Marshall Islands, I am overwhelmed by the reverse reality. The knowledge that there are Marshallese people who genuinely care about me is both my greatest comfort and the chief source of my distress. Approximately one year ago, from the comforts of Hurlbut 305, I was researching this emaciated archipelago with certain dubiousness; does this country truly exist? This “Marshall Islands”? If I write a book about this year, the first chapter will be titled “Suspicion” because that, very honestly, is how I began this adventure: laden with doubt. I knew nothing. That was then and this is now. Friends from a landmass barely visible on a standard map or globe, have changed me, inspired me, redefined my philosophies on even the most basic concepts (ownership, privacy, sympathy, family, success, time).

“Eight weeks til you’re home!” my mother cheered at the conclusion of our phone conversation this week. Eight weeks. There was a time when I would have paid good money to accelerate progression towards departure but now I would shell out cold hard cash for a little slow motion. Every hug from the children at Abacca’s house, every success with my students at Marshall Islands High School, every brunch with Mona, every aerobics class, every day, every night, every adventure. Just a little slower, please. Ever so slightly slower, please. That’s just what I thought this week, one of my best ever in the RMI.

On Friday night I attended a fundraising concert sponsored by and starring Abacca’s immediate and extended family. The concert, typical of this vivacious, effervescent clan in scale and energy, was scheduled to begin at 7pm. I showed up at 9:45pm; perfect timing. The event easily drew a crowd of 400 plus and was held at a large outdoor venue in downtown Majuro. The first act had just begun when I turned up and I took a spot as close as possible to the stage, cheering for the young performers. The first dance was a partner routine with 5 couples, ranging from age 4 to approximately 12. The four children I tutor at Abacca’s house every Saturday comprised nearly half of the ten performers (Yuli/KNC, Neibol, Hayden and Jabolik). The older dancers (Yuli/KNC, Neibol and Jabolik) noticed my presence almost immediately and smiled elatedly, never missing a step. I cheered loudly, impressed by their dance and thrilled to see their happy faces. Hayden, the youngest and smallest of the 10 performers, noticed me well after the others. When he did, he dropped his partner’s hands, mid-performance, and waved enthusiastically, rising from flat foot to tiptoe over and over in his excitement. His partner continued to twirl and side-step but Hayden just stood there waving as I waved back to him, laughing from the crowd. Slower, please.

This week Hayden and I are going to work on identifying the letters “S”, “T” and “R” at our weekly tutoring session but honestly how can anyone focus around this level of cuteness? He could barely spin his partner (adorable in her own right – see first picture of this entry) because of their height difference. 

On Saturday night, I attended a kamem (first birthday celebration) for little Peaches. After celebrating her birthday for at least three consecutive nights, the culminating event was an enormous party at a large hotel/banquet hall, which was extravagantly decorated in the event’s color (purple) and theme (‘Dora the Explorer’). At one point I thought, surely we’ve reached capacity. And at this point, I was oh so wrong. The guests flooded the banquet hall by the hundreds (the total attendance was well over 1,000). Mona and I were in charge of dishing out dinner for the small army of children, including the obvious kamem crashers (kids from the local neighborhood who arrived dirty in search of dinner). “Eat and shower”, we instructed them in Marshallese (by now, with the driest of El Nino behind us, most families have enough water for weekly, if not daily, showers). The kamem began around 7pm and lasted through the early hours of the morning. At 2am, I accepted a ride from a few friends heading to Rita and over our 40 minute journey we blasted some Marshallese remixes with no regard for the hour. “My Sweet Sixteen” could easily be redone RMI-style as “My Kick-Ass Kamem”. Peaches’ first birthday celebration would incontestably be the season finale. ”