How do you describe a place so alien, that there is no vocabulary for it??
Mili Atoll sits near the southern end of the Marshall Islands. An under-sailed cruising destination, the Marshall Islands are free of hurricanes and typhoons, and are consistently cooled by the northeast trades. Once inside the lagoon of an atoll, one is free of the rolling pacific, anchored in crystal blue water off coconut strewn white sand beaches. Sounds like most of the pacific, but in the Marshalls, you get the feeling that showing up here, the islanders are asking, “Hey, how’d you get here? How did you find us?” They know perfectly well we exist out there in the "West", but it is clear, beyond simply our different appearance, that we are not of their world. Physically the atolls are so small, and the elevation so low, that they are barely visible at 10 miles away, half the time dipping below the swell. When you do navigate your way there, you feel you have crossed a threshold. This place exists apart.
These islanders are not topless in grass skirts. Copra sales go towards western clothing, rice, solar panels, and HF radios. However, I sensed a level of detachment from these material items. Although these modern conveniences have crossed into their plane of existence, the Marshallese understand the impermanent nature of these items, their sinking atoll, and themselves. Remaining neutral, they allow these items to come in and out of their lives, just as they themselves come in and out of existence.
“Yokwe, yokwe!” is the greeting in the Marshall Islands. It translates to, “Love, rainbows!” When you boil it down, not much is greater than love and rainbows. You are greeted this way, then handed coconuts and bananas. The next day you are given lobster and more coconuts. Gifting back via cakes and outboard engine repair only got us crab, and more coconuts! It was clear that the Marshallese would have the last word when it came to hospitality.
I love the Marshall Islands, the Marshallese people, rainbows, and atolls. One day I will again cross that threshold for a visit.
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