Give and Take
People who dream of going off cruising often think of how great it will be to relax and play all day sipping a cold adult beverage while anchored in the aquamarine water off a tropical island. Okay, there is quite a bit of that in this lifestyle — but for many people only doing that doesn’t lead to a very fulfilling life.
Then there are the cruisers who work at sharing their skills with the local population, whether it’s fixing a fisherman’s outboard motor, guest teaching at a local school, handing out glasses from the Lion’s Club, dentists and doctors providing check-ups, or helping to set up a solar panel and battery array so the island can have ubiquitous Internet not dependent on a generator.
One thing that many who dream of cruising don’t know is that many Pacific Islanders are experiencing severe health problems due to the change from their traditional lifestyle that interaction with the outside world has brought. Of course it’s not just cruising boats that have caused this, but when cruisers find themselves in those wonderful ‘off the beaten track’ places where islanders are living a traditional lifestyle, we need to be conscious of not causing harm.
Here in the Marshall Islands the harm started with the strong American presence after the war. Fifty years ago diabetes was rare in the Marshall Islands. People ate local fruits and vegetables like coconut, breadfruit, taro, pandanus and fish. They walked and got plenty of exercise. Today, there is a diabetes epidemic in these islands: an estimated 28 percent of people over the age of 15 have type 2 diabetes. For those over the age of 35, the figures are closer to 50 percent. At the hospital, the most common surgery is amputation, and studies have shown this is all due to the change from their traditional diet to a diet of processed foods and sugars and a lack of exercise.
There is now a church sponsored Wellness Center next to the hospital in Majuro, and for several years there has been a strong effort to change the local diet from the current donuts, white rice, fried chicken and sugary soft drinks back to more nutritious, high-fiber foods.
That’s why on Wayne’s birthday Friday, instead of me cooking a dinner for the captain, we found ourselves tasting and voting at the Mieco Beach Yacht Club’s Chili Cook-Off. For this fun event, the yacht club partnered with the Wellness Center and EZ Price Mart (who provided the tents, tables and the space). There were 11 entries, including the Wellness Center’s own vegetarian chili, another super spicy yummy veggie chili made by a Marshallese lady on behalf of EZ Price Mart (can you tell she got my vote?), and several entries by yachties and other island residents that included green chili, chicken chili, hominy, black bean and garbanzo chilies. The variety was amazing. Across from the chili tasting area, the Wellness Center had a booth set up offering free health check-ups and information on the offerings at the center. The money raised will go toward the yacht club’s Out Island Health Initiative where the catamaran Pogeyan, captained by a physician, takes meds, reading glasses, and sports equipment to the the outer islands as they have for the last 3 years.
Once again, I am struck by how great it is when cruisers don’t just show up and take from a community by expecting an island to take their trash while the yacht’s crew goes out spear fishing in the island’s local waters. There are some yachts who do that, but thank goodness they aren’t the majority. The majority of cruisers seem to have learned the lesson that, as Wayne often says, the giver gets the gift.
The cruising lifestyle is much more fulfilling when you can think of ways in which you can give as well as take, whether you cruise on a local bay, an inland waterway, or among far flung islands. And it’s not always easy to figure out how to do that in a way that won’t do harm to the local culture or cause the local people to look to yachts only for money and handouts. The Seven Seas Cruising Association refers to this as their clean wake philosophy: “To leave a clean wake is to show respect for others and for our environment so that those who follow in our wake will be warmly welcomed. It is our most cherished tradition.”
As we waddled back to the dinghy, our bellies full of chili, I thought, Kudos to the Mieco Beach Yacht Club! They figured out a way to make feeling full fulfilling.