Professor Gabriel Andrade: "Majuro is the ugliest place I have ever visited" (Part I)

Having Lived in the Marshall Islands, I Understand Greta’s Concerns

By Gabriel Andrade 09/30/2019

Following her much-publicized United Nations speech, Greta Thunberg has been mocked, diagnosed in absentia with mental disorders, and compared to the poster girls of Nazism. Let us leave this child alone and allow her to enjoy her fifteen minutes of fame. After all, when she becomes an adult and loses her juvenile charm, she will likely fall into oblivion, though, of course, the ideology of her sponsors will persist, and they will then launch another young girl to be their mouthpiece.

So, instead of throwing low blows at poor Greta, I’ll instead share my experiences living in the Marshall Islands, perhaps the country that has suffered the most as a result of global warming. In 2016, fleeing Venezuela’s socialism, I took a teaching job in Majuro, the capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Upon arrival, I immediately realized that even with Maduro’s dictatorship, Venezuela is not such a bad place, compared to Majuro, that is. I have travelled quite a bit, and I can safely say that Majuro is the ugliest place I have ever visited. Not for nothing, it is called the “Garbage Dump of the Pacific.” The amount of trash is overwhelming; it is all over the place.

Stray dogs are everywhere and fierce. The Internet is terrible. Power goes off frequently. Buildings (if you can even call them that) are succumbing to rust. You cannot run away from the flies, which are everywhere. Occasionally, there are floods due to the rising sea levels, and, consequently, corpses from graveyards close to the sea end up floating by the shore. If you travel too far away from Majuro to other islands in the country, such as Bikini, you will be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. (The United States nuked the bejeezus out of those God-forsaken places during the 1940’s and 1950’s.) You get the picture; perhaps the welcoming sign in Amata Kabua International Airport, apart from Yakwe! (“hello” in Marshallese), should be Dante’s infamous, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Yet despite all this hardship, the Marshallese always have a smile on their faces. I promised not to take low blows at Greta, but I can’t help agreeing with one particular charge: this girl is angry, yet immensely privileged. Real victims, such as the Marshallese, are not particularly angry, even though, of all countries, theirs is the most likely to be swallowed by the sea. But nobody gives a damn about them; it is more trendy for a millionaire to finance a cutie in a fancy yacht, than to let real victims speak. Social Justice Warriors, please take note: now is the perfect time to talk about white privilege; sadly, your silence is deafening.

The Marshallese themselves are aware of how this game is played. With an unemployment rate in the ballpark of 35%, they desperately seek a way out. Many are now in Arkansas, working for Tyson Foods earning minimum wage. But, that is a grim prospect. Global warming activism provides better opportunities. Some Marshallese have come to understand that being vocal about global warming can put them in the spotlight, and hopefully will enable them to earn the patronage of some self-proclaimed “eco-friendly” millionaire, and consequently become as privileged as Greta, seizing the opportunity to leave the “Garbage Dump of the Pacific” for good.

But, who gets to be an activist? Predictably, this is only for the privileged few. The Marshall Islands is basically a feudal society. Local chiefs, known as iroijs, get all sorts of privileges from the commoners. (J.G. Frazer, the famous anthropologist, even claimed that Marshallese chiefs had the “right of the first night” not so long ago, though this is doubtful). So, in order to achieve a high profile as climate change activist, you need to come from an important clan and have connections based on your birth. Thus, you won’t find betel nut-chewing (and often overweight) Islanders giving speeches at the United Nations about what it is like to

have the body of your grandfather washed away from the cemetery by the Pacific waves. Instead, you will see American-educated snobs recite poems about the evils of carbon emissions but drive big cars on a tiny island; you will see these people tell the regular Marshallese people not to abandon their country, but those who tell them this live in big houses in Hawaii or Oregon.

(Continued in Part II)
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