An isolated island in the Pacific is often everyone’s dream of Paradise. Hell, I had an awesome time on a recent trip to Fiji. But if you take yourself away from the fantasy of what the Travel Brochures tell you, there are some Pacific Island Nations that aren’t so idyllic. Peter Rudiak-Gould’s book, Surviving Paradise, is a Travel Memoir illustrating this concept.
Peter recently contacted me to see if I would be interested in receiving a copy of Surviving Paradise, One Year on a Disappearing Island, and I was happy to check it out.
Surviving Paradise is set in the Marshall Islands: which are most famous for having the crap blown out of the by the Americans to see if their nuclear arsenal worked.
Peter seems to share my love of off the beaten track places (check out my posts on Kosovo and Kazakhstan). He rolls up to a small atoll called Ujae, where he will spend a year of his life teaching English to the local children. Ujae is a remote speck in a big pond – the closest place are the Philippines (just down the road at 2500 miles to the west) and Hawaii, 2000 miles to the east.
Peter’s Travel Memoir
As would most people would, Peter arrives at Ujae with a number of assumptions and preconceptions, only for them to be immediately shattered on arrival.
Unlike Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway, Peter doesn’t start to have amourous feelings towards a volleyball and he writes about the emotions of dealing with massive culture shock, isolation and sheer boredom. In fact, his first night finds him wanting to swim back to somewhere else.
But after a while, he warms to the Marshallese Culture and people and is accepted as one of their own. If fact, he has a go at spear fishing himself.
He doesn’t view the Marshall Islands as a bastion of outstanding culinary importance (I love the description of one local dish as ‘liquified flatulence’). I guess it probably looks the same on the way in and out of the body!
Peter analyses almost everything about Ujae, including the fairly ordinary education ‘system’, how people socialise and adjusting to a self-subsistence culture.
There is also an environmental theme running throughout the Surviving Paradise Travel Memoir. Peter discusses the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change on the low lying Marshall Islands, which has the potential to displace its population.
Overall, Peter provides some great cultural observations, which were obviously in his face for his entire time there. Things like students that view education as optional, to practicing bizarre church dances in the middle of the night.
So what’s my verdict?
As a Travel Memoir, It’s a good read. I enjoyed the transformation of Peter throughout his writings, and his insights on Marshall Islands life. I’m almost keen to check out the Marshall Islands myself!