epidemic on this island. And cultural exchange takes on a whole new meaning.

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LETTER TO THE MARSHALL ISLANDS JOURNAL August 6, 1999 From F. Fielding, Majuro


I like to think of myself as a sort of neophyte anthropologist. A professional traveler. A person who loves to meet new people, learn exotic languages, experience different cultures, and see how other people live---after all the "West" is NOT the center of the Universe. I have done this already in 45 countries around the globe, over the past 15 years. Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East---all glorious places to visit that I recommend to friends for quality travel destinations. It’s all part of the wonderful experience of travel: communing with the ‘locals,’ discovering their values and cultural history, tasting the food; learning the greetings, seeing the things and places they are proud of, and sharing American ideas as well.

This is called a "cultural exchange." After all, that is what travel is all about, and as the world become smaller, this ‘exchange’ happens more easily, more frequently, and is becoming ever more important.

Aside from the occasional hotel thief, train pickpocket, or mischievous guide, it is a mutually positive and educational experience. People invite you into their communities and homes, hospitality is something that brings pride, and a foreigner can expect to be treated with a modicum of respect, if not only to be gawked at from a distance, like a visitor from Mars. But that is OK, it is part of the deal: we stare at them, they stare at us, but everyone is smiling and respecting one another’s differences.

Here in the Marshall Islands that ‘exchange’ takes on a radically
different form. The people here apparently are not interested in cultural
differences and appreciation thereof. They don’t understand the importance of
international exchange and mutual benefit. They only seem to care about how much
money comes in from other countries, but are unwilling to work and make an
effort toward improving themselves, empowering their nation, and taking pride in
doing so. Inaction and disinterest are of massive proportion. Apathy is an
epidemic on this island. And cultural exchange takes on a whole new meaning.

As for myself, I have never been invited to dinner, never had a genuine exchange of interest from the Marshallese, and never in my travels been treated with such disrespect, contempt, and outrageous sexual innuendo. In the course of only three months here in Majuro, I have personally had to endure more abuse than any "ribello" should be forced to withstand under any circumstances, and certainly beyond the limits for what some consider is a "civilized" nation, worthy of UN status, and world financial support and collaboration. I have been robbed, harassed, threatened, abused, and then passively ignored. I have been left to fend for myself by my sponsoring agency and colleagues, and treated rudely by people in positions of power.

This Marshallese hospitality took on an even more vicious form when last Sunday, while returning a video, two National Police officers felt it necessary to stop me in my vehicle, haul me forcibly out of the car, frisk me, arrest me, put handcuffs on me, sexually harass me, impound my vehicle, and detain me in handcuffs in the patrol car for two hours, waiting painfully while they had lunch and smoked cigarettes along the roadside in Ajeltake, smug and pleased with themselves with their feeing of power over this white visitor. They laughed throughout my ordeal and captivity. All this, ostensibly, over the administrative oversight of not having the "special permit to drive on the weekend." As a newcomer, I was not aware of this rule. So sorry, my mistake.

As the Compact negotiations draw near, and many people are discussing the position in which the Marshall Islands finds itself, I seriously question whether paying the salaries of "public servants" such as these two fine upstanding police officers is on the priority list of what hard working American tax payers should have to finance. If I was offered the chance to vote on the compact, quite frankly, those officers would not be paid to sexually harass foreigners, particularly those who have come here with their skills and services to help this tiny but troubled country. And as for travels in the Marshalls, I, as one among many, have not found this a pleasant "cultural exchange," nor will I recommend this particular group of atolls a necessary stop for a traveler going through Micronesia, but rather to find a direct flight across the Central Pacific as fast as modern means of travel can take them.

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