Saturday, August 13, 2005

I'm not dead yet

The first week of not posting was pure hell.

The second and third weeks I didn't even consider blogging, given I was experiencing a world like I've never experienced before: in an American protectorate of all places. A tiny island in Micronesia, part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. A little place called Saipan. North of Guam. Just a quick boat ride from Rota. You probably heard of Rota last week. It's where the A-bomb headed for Hiroshima was launched, 60 years ago this month.

It was an honour to work, for a short time, on Saipan, with folks working to protect the coral reefs in that region. Felt disingenuous to be ranting about bad journalism and unethical pharma practices in a place where history is so rich and I am so obviously just a (mostly) insignificant player in the circle of life. (Okay, significant to my son, but aside from him...not so much significant).

Coral reefs, baby. That's where life on this planet starts and stops. Gotta keep the coral healthy or every other ecosystem, first in the ocean and then on land, will suffer.

Despite the fact that the USA uses one of the islands in the CNMI as a target for aerial bombing practices, I think the US government is doing more good than bad for this set of islands. It was a hard pill to swallow, coming to that realization. Given that self-loathing of my half-American-blood is a key definer of who I am, I didn't know how to come to terms with liking that part of me I've always loved to loathe.

Makes me rethink all of my firmly held beliefs. Relax my stridency. Look at the world from outside my fishbowl - a fishbowl that has been focused on looking inside the American fishbowl.

Where will it all lead? Who knows. But I pray to god that it doesn't lead me to finding God...that would be just too much. Finding some good in US foreign policy AND finding God. How could a Canadian socialist atheist resolve that kind of Christian Republican identification? The only way I can think of is with some of those pharmaceutical drugs I'm usually too happy to condemn... or maybe if I licked one of the fluorescent blue fish I swam with around the reefs...

Oh dear. Encouragement, anyone?


Blogger Herbinator said...

"The peaceful, communal Chamorro culture was matrilineal and matriarchal, with its folkways and culture passed on through the female line. None of Guam's occupiers realized the crucial role of women in maintaining the island's way of life and thought. By now, American influence may have eroded the special position of women"

I suppose a mono-paradigm world order is a good thing. May as well be an American one, eh?
Oh, yeah, welcome back. I've been incrementing your hit counter daily.

August 14, 2005  
Blogger Gina said...

Hey, maybe you could become a bleeding-heart libral pagan (it works for me) it's closer to Canadian socialist atheist than Christian Republican.

embrace the really some good seeps out of the pit we call government occationally.

August 14, 2005  
Blogger The Fly said...

Interesting that you didn't mention that Saipan was the site of one of the major battles of the Island Hopping campaign in World War II.

August 16, 2005  
Blogger Donna said...

I didn't get to Guam, but I understand that it's quite a different island culture to Saipan, despite the shared Chamorro roots. I was told that the number of mainland Americans on Saipan is under 1,000 in a population of 70,000. The influence of the US is certainly there, but in many ways it was a positive influence according to locals.

And yes, Saipan's history includes lots of WWII activity. On many beaches and in the jungle and the ocean, you can still see tanks, and sunken ships and even find unexploded ordinance and soldier skeletons!

There's a huge cliff on the island called "Suicide Cliff" where hundreds of families jumped (in the case of children, were pushed) to their deaths when the US took control of the island. Japanese propaganda about what life under American rule would entail scared people that badly.

I saw photos of the island - which is tiny - from after the war. There was nothing left. 60 years later, the ecosystem is strong - albeit many of the indigenous plants have been replaced by plants from the Philipines, Hawaii and Japan. The US contributed to the destruction, certainly, but so too have they helped in rebuilding. And they continue to support environmental stewardship. That's why I was there.

So today, you have the USA providing significant economic support for infrastructure needs on the island (of course, in return for using their waters and air as strategic military space). The Japanese are still there en masse, but in the form of tourists - about 700,000 every year (with a smattering of Koreans Philipinos).

Another very interesting thing about Saipan in that despite the horrible history, there is very little drug or alcohol addiction among locals. Poker has recently become a problem since the local gov't doesn't regulate poker houses, so they're everywhere. But the indigenous population, although mostly poor, I was told, are mostly quite happy and healthy.

Of course, I'm no expert, having just spent 2 weeks there - but the experience shifted my thinking about US foreign policy JUST A TAD. I still believe the Iraq invasion was and is a war crime, but if the Canadian gov't ever kicked me out of Canada and I was forced to live as an American citizen, I'd choose Saipan and the CNMI (Rota and Tinian islands) as home.

August 17, 2005  
Blogger Greg Mills said...


Bastard fun fact! I once edited a travel guide to Micronesia. I'd love to go.

Did you eat any spam?

August 18, 2005  
Blogger Donna said...

There was a crazy PR campaign going on while I was there - people with bumper stickers that said "I love SPAM." The local radio station was giving away SPAM prizes to people they spotted with the stickers on their ride.

And, being a vegetarian, I passed on the SPAM sushi. I kid you not. A lovely buffet with all kinds of gourmet food - including SPAM wrapped in rice wrapped in seaweed. Yum!

August 18, 2005  
Blogger Greg Mills said...

And don't let the US off too quickly, cuz God is next and that means making bean cassarole for coffee hour.

A lot of US protectorates aren't covered by federal labor laws, (in the Marianas especially) so you get sweat shop labor slapping a made in the USA label on whatever product.

Did the fam get in on the action, or was this a solo mission?

August 18, 2005  
Blogger Donna said...

Oh boy...acid flashback to all the Church Lady sandwiches I ate as a kid. And those super sweet, very tiny squares...barf!

The Chinese garment factory workers, and the factories themselves, are actually one of the greatest environmental threats to the Marianias - Saipan, at least. And the benefit to the economy, I was told, is nil. The gov't gives them a break so they don't pay taxes, the workers live in company barracks and buy from teh company store, so they aren't spending their $3/hour at local shops. But the companies create tons of waste and the individuals treat the beaches as their personal trash can.

And this gig was pure work! NO family involved. In September, my husband, who works for Canada's largest purchaser of organic cotton, heads to Turkey for 2 weeks to attend and speak at a conference all about organic cotton. No family invited for that gig either. Damn him!

August 18, 2005  
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November 03, 2005  
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November 05, 2005  

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