Humbled on Majuro

Shortly after we arrived on Majuro, Eddie told me that they wanted to have a big party at Jendrik’s house Saturday night with all of the relatives.  As Saturday approached, details of the party got more specific, like they’d pick us up about 5:00 at the hotel, and the party would start about 6:00.

A bit of cultural knowledge we’d gained by this point was that Marshallese time was tricky.

“Yeah,” someone told me,  “if they says 5:00, be ready at about 7:00.”

Many years ago when Sherry and I lived on the Navajo Reseravation, people joked about Navajo time, too.  It was more or less accurate, give or take 67 minutes.

We were very excited, and also apprehensive.  We’d been to jima’s house, and it was small.  We also felt a little guilty that they would put on a big party, and we hadn’t even asked them if they wanted us to come to Majuro.  We’d just announced (albiet several months in advance) that we were coming, and here are the dates.  We never bothered to ask if this was a good time.

Anyway, 5:00 came and went that Saturday night.  So did 6:00.  Being we were Americans, we started to get anxious, especially Maritha (she’s learned Western culture well).  After 7:00, Maritha was hopping up and down, worried that maybe “something had happened.”  I figured she and I just had to find out, so we went out to the road and got in a taxi.  I was pretty certain in my heart that, indeed, something had happened, too.

Of course, when we arrived at jima’s house, it was a beehive of activity, and we’d missed Eddie coming to pick us up in his car.  Sherry, Kylie, and Maia arrived shortly after we got there.  In all of this “hurry up and waiting,” we made one tragic gaffe and forgot both cameras, which still makes me gnash my teeth, because what followed was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

In jima’s house is a kitchen/living area that’s about 20×15 feet.  When we’d visited earlier, the only furniture there was a bed in the corner.  That night, there were two tables.

The first table was heavy with an amazing feed – roast chicken, rice, salad, breadfruit, apples, oranges, cookies, and drinks all in very large amounts.  The second table had five places elegantly set with glasses and five fresh coconuts ready to be broken into for drinking.  Of course, these places were for us.  Feeling very humbled, we sat down and took in the rest of the guests.

There was a little more waiting as a few guests were still not there, but by the time everyone arrived, there were 35 people in the room – 28 on the floor, 2 fanning the food (flies were not a problem – just a precaution), and the 5 of us in the chairs, wishing we were on the floor.

When everyone had finally arrived, jima gave a speech, and Eddie translated.  He was thankful that we’d taken care of Maritha so well, and honored that we’d come.  The feelings were mutual.  Then he prayed (they are pretty devout Mormons).  Finally we ate.

The food was fantastic.  Everybody tried everything, and we pretty much made pigs of ourselves.  During the meal, Sherry dropped down to the floor near Maritha’s cousin Torine’s family so she could interact more.  I did the same thing, which was fun, but I think that the whole idea of conversing while eating may be a Western practice.  Most of our hosts were pretty intent on eating.  Talking would come later.

When everyone had eaten their fill and things had been cleaned up, jima made another speech, and then Arum led the whole room in a song, acapella.  Later, we were told it was a Marshallese welcome some.  During a second, giving song, a string of cousins and aunts started bringing out gifts and laying them around our necks, on our heads, and in front of us.  I have never seen such an outpouring of graciousness and generosity.

Mostly, they were necklaces and jewelry made from woven pandanus leaves and shells.  I think the girls each had six of seven around their necks.  I got several great bolo ties.  Here are a few pieces.




A bolo.


A wall hanging.  We got four.  They’re about 18″ in diameter.

wall hanging

A tree with birds of woven pandanus tied to the branches.  Thanks to Majuro ACE Hardware for a box, the U.S. Post Office (which serves the Marshalls – zip 96960), and the Hotel Robert Reimers (who gave us air bubbles), we got it home in one piece.


We could hardly speak.  Smiles and looks of wonder, with much handshaking and hugging seemed to convey our gratitude, though.  Eventually, the singing died down, and jima gave another speech.  Than Eddie annouced, “Now we’d like to hear from you.”

As head man of my tribe, I got up and gave a humble speech of thanks.  Words seemed inadequate, but it was clear that at some level, we were one great family, connected through Maritha, and we were all very happy about that.

After a few more formalities and some chit chat, jima announced, “Thank you for coming.  Time to go home.”  I’m sure he was glad to get 35 people out of his living room and go to bed.  We piled in the car, happy, thoughtful, laden with generosity, and headed back to the hotel.

After this experience, we arranged to host a gathering our last night on Majuro in our hotel’s pavillion called Boknake (a pretty heavily used island meeting place, I was told).  There we were smart enough to have video and still cameras ready, and we got them to sing again (actually, they were quite willing).  I’m working on getting the video ready.  I don’t know if I’m tech savvy enough to get it up here, but it may be coming.

Below are are some pictures from that event.  In one week’s time, we didn’t get all the names, so forgive the gaps below as I attempt to identify people.

Sherry and Edison sharing an educational moment.

sherry and edison

Maritha arm wrestling Edison.  She claims to have won.  Tommy (left) and I split.

arm wrestling

Erickson.  He told his mother he wanted to come back with us.


A Marshallese welcome song.


Arum and Antony, Erickson, Ali and baby.

arum fam

Nancy and Medji, Jennifer and baby.

nancy fam

Chunda and Patrick.

chunda and patrick

Torine and David, and Mwesap (named for jima’s wife, bubu, who died spring 2006).

torine and david

Jendrik and many of his grand and great grandchildren (he has more).


Our picture of Maritha, Edison, Doji, and Merdik and Eddie sadly turned into mush.  Luckily we have other pictures of them, though not in that nuclear family group alone.  Unbelievable.  Here’s the whole gang, though.

whole gang

As the party was ebbing, Doji seemed pretty happy.


Mwesap was enamored with my guitar.  (Yes, I brought my guitar.  I pulled it out and someone shouted, “Play Kenny Rogers.”  After a rough verse of “The Gambler,” jima was forever asking me to, “Play cowboy song.”  Hopefully I’ll get video up here, and you can all hear cowboy song.)


Sherry got her hands on the baby again.

sherry baby

As they say in the Grygla Eagle, a good time was had by all.


This entry was posted in Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Humbled on Majuro

  1. Jocelyn says:

    So you got me a little teary here. Think of the life-transforming choices you’ve made, from marrying Sherry to having and choosing the kids you’ve had, to sharing an office with me.

Comments are closed.