Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press. -Walter Winchell
Dateline: Marshall Islands
You are what you eat.
The working vocabulary of island languages are limited by comparison to western languages. It makes sense–if you and your family have been living in a confined space for generations, there really is no need for a large vocabulary. Picture, if you will, Martino and Jerlyn coming across each other on a path.
M:”Hello, Jerlyn.” J:”Hello, Martino.” M:”How are you?” J:”Good.” M:”Good?” J: “Yes. Good.” ’nuff said. Move on.
In many cases the same word or phrase may mean different things. In a store heard a customer say to the shopkeeper, “Mei wor puu.” (“My good man, I would like to purchase some beetle nut. Do you perchance carry any in stock?”) The shopkeeper replied, “Mei wor puu.” (“Yes, I do indeed have beetle nut. It is right here, wrapped in banana leaves. Allow me get some for you.”)
Well, on the Marshall Islands, the word for “sugar” and the word for “diabetes” is the same–toñal (todall).
Imagine the conversation. “Myoleen had sugar. She lost her leg, went blind, and died.”
Or better yet on the other side of the looking glass—Would you like a little diabetes in your coffee? Run to the store and pick up a pound of diabetes. What would you like for breakfast, children? Diabetes Smacks?
Used car lot.
I have mentioned in past dispatches the inordinate number of derelict autos–overgrown with vines in the the jungle, rolled into the lagoon or just sitting on the side of the road serving as community sofas– cluttering the island. Recently an altruistic philanthropist offered to remove all the abandoned vehicles on Weno. I’m sure, he had some profit motive in mind–scrap metal sales perhaps. But anyway, he was speaking to a local chief and said that he can remove all the scrapped cars on the island. “What?” said the chief, “You want to buy my car?”
“No, I am offering to get all these trashed autos out of here. I have access to the tools and ships and wreckers. I can haul all of them out of here.”
“Oh, I see,” said the chief. “You want to buy my car.”
“No, you don’t understand. Your car–all these cars–they’re broken down. They don’t run. They’re an eyesore and propose an ecological and health risk”
“Oh, thank you. I’m so glad you want to buy my car.”
The philanthropist is long gone. The cars are still here.
This ain’t Monte Carlo.
A small pleasure craft was anchored off of Yap. Some of the women on the yacht noticed that native women on the coastline were topless. Excited with a new found sense of freedom, they donned the bottom halves of their bathing suits and went ashore in a dingy. The chief came running out, shocked, revolted, and angered at the obscene display on his beach. How dare these indecent women carry on like this–landing on his beach dressed as they are. The audacity of… baring the upper half of their legs!!!! You see, breasts are functional. “Loins” however are sacred. They are the source of life. They must be respected. Ladies! In the name of all that is holy—-cover your thighs!!!
Like cats and dogs.
It was once rumored and now verified, that here dogs are not pets. They are food and quite a common dish. A woman here, Ruffina, takes giggling delight at my reaction whenever the issue comes up. There was a dog lying down in a driveway. “Don’t worry, I know that dog. She’ll move when you pull in….If not, barbecue.” (Tee-hee-hee)
I wondered if the same held true about cats. I asked an American teacher who had been here for over a year. “Oh no, it’s really taboo to kill a cat in Chuuk. The Chuukese revere cats.” Apparently they are seen as the keepers/protectors of ancestral spirits.
“Oh, so do they keep cats as pets on the island?” I asked.
“If by ‘keep as pets’ you mean, don’t feed, let run around everywhere, pay no attention to, and let them reproduce like rats–Yes, the Chhuukese keep cats as pets.”
From the sublime to the ridiculous
Sarcasm and mistrust rarely enter into the scene on Weno. There is a branch of the Bank of Guam in Nepukas, the “downtown” area of the island. One morning, just as the bank was opening, two men entered and informed the woman working that this was a robbery–the classic, “Reach for the sky–give us all your money and no one gets hurt!” scenario. The woman told them that she cannot get them the money, only the manager has access to the safe, and he won’t be in for another hour or so. “But if you wait outside, he can let you in and get you the money.” The men agreed and stepped out for a seat on the front step to wait for the manager. The woman locked the door and called the police who arrived an hour and a half later to find the two men still sitting on the step waiting for the manager with the key to the safe.