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EmailPrintI was given a free copy of Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Islandfor review, and I’m very thankful for it.
At the ripe age of 21, Peter Rudiak-Gould landed on Ujae, a remote atoll in the Marshall Islands that is 70 miles (by plane no less) from the nearest telephone, car, store, or tourist, and 2,000 miles from the closest continent. For starters, he immediately discovered that the last volunteer who had been there was much better than him. Peter discussed what it is to live in a country that is technically part of the United States, but at the same time is so far from it – both geographically and culturally. There were other ways in which the customs and people of Ujae were entirely foreign to Peter too.
While on the topic of men and women, I found myself wondering how different the volunteer and living experience on Ujae would have been if Peter had been female.
The book wended its ways into my thoughts and actions each day, while I followed Peter in his – at times – agonizing experiences and eventual cultural immersion (of sorts) to the Marshallese way of life. Although the book was written (at least in part) because the Marshall Islands disappearing due to global warming, it isn’t the primary focus of the book, as you might suspect given the title. Feel free to pick up a copy of Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Islandand see for yourself. Disclosure: In accordance with FTC guidelines, I disclose that I may be compensated if consumers choose to utilize links located throughout the content on this site. Privacy Policy: TheProfessionalHobo will not share your personal contact information, such as your e-mail address, with anyone. A cultural castaway writes winningly of life on a remote island in the Pacific that may be one of global warming’s first casualties.
Arte Latino Americano, Artistas, Obras de Arte, Galerias de Arte, Museos, Comunidad de Arte y Recursos de Arte.
What made you decide to live and teach on the Mar­shall Islands in gen­eral and Ujae in particular? Mostly it was an obses­sion with faraway places that began in my teens, the same obses­sion that still makes me pin­point remote islands on maps and then look them up online. I also wanted to get a sense, firsthand, of whether mod­ern­iz­a­tion was a good or a bad thing.
On the other hand, the chil­dren don’t always get enough food, and they are shouted at and insul­ted fre­quently by the adults.
We’re used to think­ing that you can divide the world into tra­di­tional things, which come from inside the coun­try and have been the same for thou­sands of years, and mod­ern things, which come from out­side the coun­try and are recent inventions. There was almost noth­ing on Ujae that would com­fort­ably fit into either of those cat­egor­ies. Another example is Chris­tian­ity, which has been around for long enough that you could almost call it traditional–and people do talk about it as part of being Marshallese–yet is also the quint­es­sen­tial for­eign import.
What are some cent­ral Mar­shallese val­ues and how do they help people sur­vive in a con­fined space? In some ways, they are like us: they are com­ing closer and closer to accept­ing the real­ity of the prob­lem and plan­ning ahead, but they still have a long way to go. Some say that they don’t trust what sci­ent­ists say, that God is more trust­worthy and that he prom­ised to Noah in the Bible not to flood the earth again. I’m sure I’ll go back to the Mar­shall Islands–for some reason, I can’t keep away for too long–but not for sev­eral years. Do you have any advice for our read­ers when it comes to liv­ing in a for­eign cul­ture for an exten­ded period of time? There is often an idea about liv­ing in another cul­ture that equates under­stand­ing with lik­ing, and respect­ing with enjoy­ing. This entry was posted in Interviews and tagged Book, Marshall Islands, Surviving Paradise, Ujae by Boris.



Boris used to be a bulldozer operator, dive instructor, furniture importer and airport worker. Copyright & UsageAll images and text are copy­righted to the respect­ive authors or owners.
I love travelogues in general, and this one is written absolutely beautifully and strikes a few chords within me. He turned to face a sea of 450 unsmiling brown faces who made up his Marshallese community for a year, while he taught English to the island’s school kids. Not remotely being what he expected, the learning curve was huge, and life was far from the exotic tropical paradise he had envisioned. This was something the locals reminded him of multiple times a day, plaguing him with merciless comparisons.
He became fluent in their language, learned to fish (not very well by Marshallese standards mind you!), and painstakingly tried to teach the island’s children some English.
Don’t we as travelers tend to identify more with our upbringing and culture once we are removed from it? This hasn’t been helped by the fact that the Marshall Islands (Bikini Island in particular) was the major site of nuclear testing during the Cold War. I especially enjoyed how Marshallese society dictates that you’re never in too much of a rush to chat. But during his year as a volunteer, Peter received a marriage proposal from a girl on a neighbouring island, and even unwittingly offered up a marriage proposal himself!
Men and women in Marshallese society don’t commingle much, and their set daily tasks (as well as the quantity of work to be done by each gender) vary drastically, usually in favour of the men. I found myself giggling out loud at the humour and general semantic brilliance of various passages, reading paragraphs aloud to anybody who would listen. Instead the theme of global warming is incredibly subtly hinted at throughout and formally introduced beautifully in the Epilogue, once the reader has already unwittingly fallen in love with both the author and the people of Ujae Island.
Like many websites, TheProfessionalHobo might collect information in the form of cookies to store your preferences. Just one month after his twenty-first birthday, Peter Rudiak-Gould moved to Ujae, a remote atoll in the Marshall Islands located 70 miles from the nearest telephone, car, store, or tourist, and 2000 miles from the closest continent.
A few days ago I pub­lished a book review of “Sur­viv­ing Para­dise” and now we’ve had the oppor­tun­ity to ask Peter Rudiak-Gould, the author of said book, a few ques­tions.
You find that it’s hard to build your vocab­u­lary because words that you assume must have an equi­val­ent in Mar­shallese don’t, and vice-versa. A lot of chil­dren seem to have a pent-up resent­ment towards author­ity fig­ures as a result. Know­ledge of local plants seems to be the per­fect example of tra­di­tion, but what if they are using that know­ledge to clean their snorkel­ing marks? As a Mar­shallese per­son, you would be com­mit­ting social sui­cide if you insul­ted Mar­shallese tra­di­tion. Most Mar­shall Islanders have heard the idea of global warm­ing, and many see envir­on­mental changes that seem to con­firm it. But cer­tain local organ­iz­a­tions have tried to raise belief and aware­ness, and suc­ceeded to some extent. I’m still fas­cin­ated with the Pacific’s most remote spots, and I’d love to travel through Melane­sia, espe­cially Vanuatu.
I can only imagine how stark this realization would have been living as culturally remote as Peter was. Some of the islanders could recite the medicinal properties of native plants and the hit singles of the Backstreet Boys with equal ease….it had been surreal to live here, with a people who were in equal parts hunter-gatherers and yuppies, in a place exactly halfway between jungle camp and New York City – a place where a man might spear fish for subsistence in the morning and play half-court basketball in the evening, a place where the same person who shared with you the ancient meaning of the colored lines on the back of a crab could also recite Snoop Dogg lyrics”. As much as work needs to be done, the pace of Ujae island life was generally relaxing with regular conversations along the way.


When I neared the end (as I tend to do with books I like), I slowed my pace so as to make it last as long as I could! Instead of the book being an environmental soap box as I had suspected, it was a true travelogue of Peter’s bizarre and enchanting experience on Ujae, with an environmental (and cultural) reality check at the end.
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He spent the next year there, living among its 450 inhabitants and teaching English to its schoolchildren. If you haven’t read the review yet, I sug­gest you head on over there first as it gives you a little bit of back­ground information! The outer Mar­shall Islands (and Ujae was about the out­er­most that I could visit) seemed like a per­fect place for this.
Sure, it’s got some tricky pro­nun­ci­ation, like two dif­fer­ent rolled r’s, three dif­fer­ent n’s, two dif­fer­ent l’s, and some unusual vow­els, but it’s easy enough to put sen­tences together. They can go any­where — no one will kid­nap them because there are no strangers, and no cars will run them over because there are no cars.
Fish­ing with spears also seems tra­di­tional, but what if I told you that the spears were made of iron or fiber­glass, and they used swim­ming flip­pers at the same time? Inter­est­ingly, though, rather than blam­ing indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries for the prob­lem, these organ­iz­a­tions are more likely to place blame on all people, includ­ing Mar­shall Islanders, who (they argue) con­trib­ute to the prob­lem. For now, I’m just happy to liv­ing abroad in a place (the city of Oxford, Eng­land) where I feel like I’m trav­el­ing every day. But as much as he integrated, he also realized something pretty important: that he is still Western. And I believe that in presenting the environmental issues as he did instead of as a constant theme through the book, they will have a deeper impact on the readers. At first blush, Surviving Paradise is a thoughtful and laugh-out-loud hilarious documentation of Rudiak-Gould’s efforts to cope with daily life on Ujae as his idealistic expectations of a tropical paradise confront harsh reality. The lan­guage chops real­ity into such dif­fer­ent cat­egor­ies than Eng­lish, and this dif­fi­culty never really goes away. The con­fined space makes things a bit tense, but is also the reason that this ten­sion must be kept in check.
This dis­cour­age­ment of tinker­ing with the status quo was prob­ably valu­able in a pre­cari­ous envir­on­ment where a single mis­take could lead to death.
This self-blame is empower­ing in that it gives loc­als some­thing they can do to help, yet also detracts atten­tion away from the much lar­ger culprits. But Rudiak-Gould goes beyond the personal, interweaving his own story with fascinating political, linguistic and ecological digressions about the Marshall Islands. Most dis­putes fester in private, which keeps the com­munity out­wardly har­mo­ni­ous yet also pre­vents cer­tain issues from being resolved. Of course, people do break rules, and cus­toms have changed, but this is almost always spoken about as a bad thing.
That does not mean that you dis­respect them; it only means that you are dif­fer­ent from them.
Most poignant are his observations of the noticeable effect of global warming on these tiny, low-lying islands and the threat rising water levels pose to their already precarious existence. To say that you can, and should, enjoy everything about another cul­ture is like say­ing that you can, and should, jet­tison your entire per­son­al­ity and all of your beliefs. Surviving Paradise is a disarmingly lighthearted narrative with a substantive emotional undercurrent.



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