When I returned from Peace Corps service in 2002, America was a different place. It was not home to me any longer. Not like it was before I left. The buildings, the streets, seemingly everyone had cell phones, and food was everywhere. Everything was different, everything was bigger. Friends and family alike were happy to see me back, but I could not relate to them like I used to before. Striking up conversations was different. They talked about movies, clothes, money. I could only stare in amazement at the amount of things that existed in stores and water fountains. I loved water fountains like no one else. The water was cold, safe to drink and tasted delicious!
Sleeping in a bed was difficult. I froze when temperatures dropped below 90 degrees. Things which I cherished in the village (talking, relationships, a slow-paced life) did not seem to be valued in America. Here it was all about the go go go. Going to work, going to school, going to appointments... just going without stopping. Most of the going seemed to revolved around money. It was a far cry than what I had become accustomed to in the village. Reverse culture shock was the bane of my existence at that time. I often cried myself to sleep just wishing to be back home in Kiribati.
The Republic of Kiribati, located in the Central Pacific, is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries facing devastating consequences from rising sea levels and changing weather patterns. Most of the nation is composed of low-lying coral atolls, which rise just feet (2-3 meters) above the Pacific Ocean. Since taking office in 2003, climate change has been an issue of great importance for President Anote Tong. As ecological problems have increased within the country, adaptation and migration strategies have been utilized to cope with the changing environments.
Transnational migration opportunities (higher ed scholarships and migrant labor schemes) have increased since my first time in the country. Today Kiribati students are traveling to Cuba, Taiwan, Fiji and Australia on scholarships for their education. Once receiving their degrees, many students hope to find employment overseas since employment opportunities within Kiribati is limited. The few who do find employment largely work for the government or on foreign ships as contracted seafarers, commercial fishermen, or merchant seamen. These, typically males, employees earn far less than the U.S. minimum wage their first few years and only slightly above it the following years. Most of their earnings are remitted home. It is easy to see in the villages which families have connections to overseas wage employment. These are the families with televisions, radios, generators, DVD players and even refrigerators. With greater access to money and manufactured imports, the outside world impacts village life greatly. However, even greater of an impact is found on the local environments in which these villages exist.
***As I sit here in an air-conditioned office with a water fountain just steps from my door it is easy to ignore climate change. If I get too hot, I turn down the air conditioner, too cold I turn up the heater. I live a life of privilege and convenience. Ignoring the science of climate change allows me to continue living this way without needing to think about my own actions and the impacts they may or may not have on others in this world. As long as MY world remains intact, I have the power to do what I please, when I please and where I please. Climate change holds no real threat to MY way of life. And besides, changing MY lifestyle to cater to climate change would cost money and ultimately inconvenience ME. Therefore, I don't believe in climate change. Science has not proven it 100%.
Believe me, I understand these kinds of perspectives. I have heard them for years. Whenever I make talks or presentations on Kiribati and climate change, I can always count on a handful of skeptics to speak up. I get it. It is not in our best interest to think about others when we are too busy thinking about ourselves. However, at a time when climate change, immigration, and economies are sociopolitical hotbeds across the world, it might be time to start thinking about ways to solve these problems by changing our own minds and putting others first. Even if we will never meet them face to face.
This blog brings forth these individuals, and perspectives less commonly heard from in the nightly news broadcast or highlighted in high level international meetings and popular discourse. Small Island States, the ones most impacted and least responsible for what is happening to them, often find themselves placed in side events at COP conferences while the bigger nations decide on how to delay meaningful action on climate change.
The title, When There Was No Money, is inspired by just that. In the village, there was little to no money. We survived. Money did not drive our society, humans relationships did. The U.S. society was like this at one point in time. I worked with an older gentleman who confirmed this. He talked about how things had changed in our country and how the world was better back then. To him, the thing that broke our society was air-conditioning. I think he was right.
When air conditioners were put in houses, people stopped sitting on porches, we used to see and know everyone in our neighborhood because we were hot. When we needed to cool down we went outside, like everyone else, and we talked to our neighbors.Then them dang things got put into cars. No longer could you just pull up next to someone and start a conversation. They had their windows closed. At the intersections, you couldn't just stick out your arm and wave people through. Your windows was up. This was how traffic jams got started on my street. It was maybe one or two cars at the time, not like today. But people couldn't communicate like before. That ain't the point though. The point is how can you connect with people when everyone is closed up.
We lost our connection to others when air conditioners came around. It got worse with computers and cell phones. Heaven forbid you try to strike up a conversation with someone at the grocery store. Hell, we don't even know half the people on our own street. You see it all started with air conditioning.
You should call this dang blog thing of yours "when there was no air conditioning" because it sounds to me as if that's what it really is all about.
Metaphorically speaking, lets turn off our air conditioners and open our window for the sake of living life again.