As I wrote in my last post, Christmas in Lukoj, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, was all about dancing. EVERYONE participates. Now, I am by no means a skilled dancer. In fact, I find it impossible to stay on beat and have no rhythm. However, I do have no shame, don’t get embarrassed easily, and enjoy a good time. Which meant I had all I needed to star in the Christmas performance. And yes, I mean star. The sole fact that I was the only white person in the performance meant that I was the major celebrity. My students bragged to kids from other towns that THEIR riballe (aka foreigner aka white person) was dancing. I imagine they greatly exaggerated my actual skill during this bragging.
For weeks leading up to Christmas, I joined in on practice sessions. These sessions always took place on rimajol time (Marshallese time being very fluid and flexible and starting simply when everyone showed up) and often late at night. Even on nights when I myself did not have practice, I could hear it as my house was less than 50 feet from the church where they practice and the louder the better was the philosophy for the music.
As a side note, these practices obviously took place in Marshallese. Have I mentioned that my Marshallese was pretty limited to social niceties and not to dance moves? This meant practice involved a lot of me simply trying to copy what the lady closest to me was doing. Combine that with my general lack of rhythm and I was woefully far behind and hilarious looking. I am fairly sure that people came just to laugh at my attempts.
Finally Christmas Day arrived and I was ready in my white RMI t-shirt (new from my host mama), black skirt, and new flip flops (this way I would match the youth group I was participating with). Word went out that it was the riballe’s turn to dance and the church got very crowded. I danced. I shook my booty. I clapped. I attempted to stay on beat. It was a blast and I don’t think I sucked as badly as I had worried.
Later I also sang some songs with my host family. My host family were some of the nicest people. In an attempt to make Christmas away from home easier, they had me teach them some English Christmas songs while they taught me the Marshallese ones we’d sing. So we joyfully sang Deck the Halls in English and a Marshallese carol to the entire churchful of people. It was wonderful.
Photo Credit to fellow WorldTeach volunteer Amy (or possibly her visiting sister) who both came to visit me for Christmas.