Yowke: An Introduction to the Marshall Islands
For one year of my life I taught high school students on Majuro, the capital city of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Here's a bit of information for anyone considering a vacation or extended stay in the beautiful Pacific.
Take a globe and spin it until all that you see is the Pacific Ocean. Now take your finger and point right in the middle of the ocean where there appears to be nothing. Chances are, you are either pointing at the Marshall Islands, or right next to them. These islands are almost perfectly centered between Hawaii and the Philippines.
The Marshall Islands are made up of 29 atolls and 4 islands with a total of about 70,000 residents.
The rest of this article will explain several useful things to know before you begin your trip.
The Marshall Islands has a culture very unlike America's, but probably similar to other island nations. Marshallese is the native language spoken - a somewhat loud language due to the need of the original Marshallese people to speak above roaring waves. The people look similar to those in Hawaii or Samoa and will greet you with a quite hospitality.
There is a strong Western and Christian influence on the islands, with the majority of people being mostly Protestant, but still believing and occasionally practicing forms of witchcraft. This strong Christian influence has changed the natives from being almost completely nude (hundreds of years ago), to being very conservative - men almost always wear long pants and women wear long dresses, skirts, or Mu-mus. Imagine the most hideous looking dress, essentially a bag with a hole for ones head and arms, and you are envisioning a Mu-mu.
The government, though officially a democracy, is still heavily based around it's royalty system where a king (Irooj in Marshallese), will own either an entire island or part of an island, and his extended family lives on this plot free of charge. Even though politicians are elected by public vote, most of the politicians are also the royalty of the islands. No one except for royalty can own land, and it is passed from generation to generation through the women.
Although it can be difficult to initiate the first steps in forming a friendship with a Marshallese person because of the cultural quietness, the people truly are friendly and caring. If one respects their religious, clothing, food, and other cultural norms, it should be easy to make many new friends from the other side of the world.
Living in the Marshall Islands may be very similar to living on any tropical island, except for the fact that you are about as far away as you can get from any other piece of land. If you look at Google's map of light pollution, you will discover that the Marshall Islands have about the lowest levels possible - and the night skies truly are beautiful.
Most foreigners come to the Marshall Islands for one of three reasons: they are with the military, they are sailing across the Pacific, or they are young volunteer teachers wanting an island experience. Not many people come to the Marshall Islands solely for a vacation - quite possibly because the cost of traveling out to the islands could pay for multiple vacations to an equally nice location closer to home.
I did not go to Kwajalein (the military base), but I know that they have several fast food restaurants available that we did not have on Majuro. On the capital island it is possible to purchase almost anything that you could buy back home, but at 2-3 times the cost. One thing you will be able to eat plenty of is coconuts. However, there is almost no other fruit grown on the island - which means that oranges, mangoes, etc, all cost a significant amount of money.
Although the island of Majuro is only about 7 square miles of land, there are a variety of activities that one can enjoy on the island. From water activities such as surfing, snorkeling, and boating, to, well, that's about it. One incredibly fun activity for long weekends is to go island hopping - walking to outer islands during low tide and camping on whichever island you ended up on when the tide comes in.
If you are looking for a new experience where you will live a more relaxed life, have plenty of time to think, fight of cockroaches, and enjoy the beauty of both the sea and land, then a Marshall Islands experience may be exactly what you need.