Monday, July 9, 2012

"You Dropped The Bomb on me, Baby!!"

When l landed in Majuro (Capitol of the Republic of the Marshall Islands) a couple weeks ago there were many tell tale signs that I was in a foreign place. The
most obvious of these was the visual surroundings. There was a little thing known as the Pacific Ocean which was visible in
virtually 360 degrees. There were palm trees, pandanus trees, and tropical bushes. There were the buildings that had obviously
been built in the time of the American occupation during WWII (late 1940's-1950's) which had been highly weathered by the
salty rain and winds combined with 60 years of heavy use.

Another sign that I was in a foreign place was the smell. The scent of salt air is definitely not foreign to me. However the way it was
mixed with the smell of Majuro vegetation and the aromas of a densely populated island was unique. The nose is a sensitive organ. And my nose was telling me I wasnt "in Kansas" anymore.

Another sign I was far from Alabama was my interactions with the Marshallese people. Of course they have a distinctive look.
They have what l'll say is an island look (i.e. coarse black hair, dark skin, etc) but it's a version of that island look that is
discernibly Marshallese. However their appearance isn't the reason for this blog. lt's their attitude.

The phrase I heard most while l was in the Pacific was "lsland Time". lf someone was late, he was said to be on "lsland Time". lf store hours
posted on the sign outside didn't really match the actual hours the store was open ..... "lsland Time". lf a 10 minute break lasted
30 it was chalked up to "lsland Time".

The people in the Marshall Islands are just laid back. They get their business done but they aren‘t overly stressed about it. And
this general attitude is instantly obvious.

A perfect example of this laxness is why I am writing this blog.

We landed in Majuro and had a 45 minute layover before taking our short flight to Kwajalein. Majuro airport is only a 40'x60' room and they probably get an international
flight once a week and maybe 5-6 island hoppers a day. Majuro is a tiny tiny airport.

We had travelled through multiple times before so we knew what to expect (for the most part). When you land in Majuro
half of the plane (typically everyone sitting in rows A, B, and C) have to get their carry on and get off the plane. Once they have
left the plane the security force comes in and checks all the overhead compartments and all the seat back pockets and seats. All passengers who are in rows D, E, and F have to hold their carry ons and awkwardly dance around the security folks as they check the other side of the plane. Therefore I always get off the plane in Majuro regardless of which side I'm on. It's usually time to stretch out tired legs when ya land in Majuro anyway.

So the rest of the Ugli Stick and l get off the plane while they check it. We head to the small airport to use the bathroom while
we wait. Once we had done that l noticed that there was a bar in the airport. You have to understand, this airport only has
enough space for probably 20-30 people to sit and yet they felt it wise to have a bar. I like the way these people think. The bar consists of about 6-7 dusty bottles. Only some of these bottles are of a brand I have heard. I looked at Tim and said, "Let's have a drink. lt's burning up. We are both
sweating. We‘ve just flown 30 hours. We‘ve finally made it (minus a short little jump to Kwaj). Plus we need to support this lovely
establishment." Tim wasn‘t so sure but he was a good sport and eventually agreed.

We walked up to the bar accompanied by the 3-4 flies that were circling. The bartender was a sweet smiling older Marshallese
lady with more than a couple teeth missing. She greeted us warmly with her half empty smile and said "Want some drink?". l said "Yes
please" then turned to Tim. “What do you want to drink, man? Selection is highly limited and we probably need to have a shot
not a drink since we will be re boarding the plane very soon." Again Tim agrees. l begin looking at the selection. lt's 1 bottle of scotch, 1 bottle of whisky and some weird beer ...... and Jager. Jager isn't the first choice for Tim nor myself but a) J├Ąger is something we are familiar with and b) this shot was about commemorating not about
getting enjoyment so much. So we reluctantly ask the bartender for two shots of Jager.

She grabs the bottle down and dust from years past erupts into the air. l was gearing myself up for the vintage cough syrupy onslaught when I hear the lady say the last two words any one ever wants to hear in regards to Jager ....... "No Ice".

Oh god! We are sweating in this tiny swelter box of an airport and about to "quench" our thirsts with hot Jager.

The sweet lady is already pouring. There is no backing out now.

At this point, Federal Aviation regulations are the farthest thing from my mind. I am simply trying to gear up for this self imposed
punishment/commemoration shot then get back on the plane.

Federal Aviation regulations were inadvertently and instantly brought to my mind by the sweet lady. And it was then I knew i was truly in a foreign land.

With complete disregards to her surroundings or any institution controlling said surroundings, the sweet semi-toothed barkeep says very loudly , "MAKE A BOMB?"


She was pointing to a half empty can of hot Red Bull on the shelf. But all I could think was .... "did she really just say that in an
airport?" I realize this is a more relaxed atmosphere than at say....JFK or something, but it's still an airport.

I'm sure the blank look on my face confused her because again she asked loudly, " MAKE A BOMB? MAKE A BOMB?" It then officially sunk in that this was really happening so I was able to gather myself . I waved emphatically and say "NO NO NO! Thank you though"

She smiled calmly and went about pouring our hot Jager into styrofoam cups. I paid her and Tim and I gagged down our "treat".

That sweet lady yelling "Make a bomb?" repeatedly in a packed yet silent airport is a moment l'll always remember. It was so incredibly peculiar to
me but it was also extremely memorable for me because it vividly displayed how differently the Marshallese live.
She wasn‘t yelling "Make a bomb?" in an airport as any sort of defiant act. I'm positive she had no idea what she was saying was a severe no no. She was just being friendly and happy. She may not even know the rules of global, international airports. But even if she did I get the feeling she would still have said it.

It is refreshing and relaxing to be on "Island Time" but it‘s also refreshing to be around a culture of people who have the island mind set.

A little of that mindset rubbed off on me I think.

Don‘t worry, I haven‘t made such a drastic transition that l‘lI be yelling "Make a Bomb"
in LAX. But I am a lot less stressed about all this travel when I think the Marshallese way.

“Life is good. Eat well. Have some rum, If I somehow miss the plane that comes today I will just try to catch the one tomorrow or next week.

It‘lI all be fine."


(By the way, on the way back through Majuro as we were leaving the Pacific, we went inside the airport and the same lady was working. Of course Tim and I had to revisit our friend (it was too great of an experience to not repeat. Besides I'm feeling a Marshall Islands tradition forming). Our "leaving the isIands" shot of hot Jager tasted exactly as horrible as the first one did. But there was a difference this time. When the little lady once again yelled "Make a
Bomb?", I just smiled, waited for her to ask again and calmly said "No Thanks")




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