A New Opportunity

Wednesday, Feb 27, 2019

It was meant to be, at least that’s the way I see it.   I have often told people that in one way I’m like the Grizzly bear, if you know what I’m going to do next, you know more than I do.

I had been looking to serve with Mennonite Disaster Service ( MDS ) in March or April, possibly in Puerto Rico or Florida.   I was hoping some of the young adults who had accompanied me to West Virginia last November might be able to join me, but I knew that was a long shot because of school and work.

I had been thinking about this during the last few days in Africa and as we arrived at the airport in Toronto on Sunday morning, I activated my phone’s data plan, only to receive an email sent on Saturday evening requesting assistance in Saipan.    As some people recall, I went to Saipan in 2016 to help rebui ld after a typhoon ( a typhoon is the same as a hurricane.   The difference is that it only occurs in the Northwest Pacific ) created significant damage to the homes on the Island and I journaled my daily experiences at that time ( https://ralfhamm.wordpress.com/category/saipan-2016/ ).  I took this as a sign that I should volunteer to go.

As we started to drive home from the airport, I sent a reply to Roger Sharp, the new Region 4 Board Chair, informing him that I was available and interested in helping out.   The need was for the first 4 weeks, starting on March 11 and volunteers were required to stay a minimum of 2 weeks.

By Tuesday I received confirmation that I had been booked for 3 weeks with an option to stay 4 weeks, if there was an urgent need to get my border crossing papers and flight itinerary in order so that I could leave on March 8th.  I am currently scheduled to return on March 30, but I could stay until April 7.

Below is the FEMA information that was sent to me:

Saipan is one of the larger Islands that is part of the Commonwealth of North Mariana Islands of the United States.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) forms a chain of 14 volcanic islands: Agrihan, Alamagan, Anatahan, Asuncion, Farallon De Medinilla, Farallon De Pajaros (Uracas), Guguan, Maug (three islands), Pagan, Rota, Saipan, Sarigan and Tinian, stretching over 375 miles north to south, with a land area of 181 square miles. Although Guam is technically part of the geographic grouping of the Northern Mariana Islands; it is not part of the Commonwealth.

The islands are located approximately 1,550 miles south of Japan, 3,600 miles west of Honolulu, Hawaii and 1,550 miles east of the Philippines. The islands are located between 13o and 21o N latitude and between 144o and 146o E longitude in the Western Pacific Ocean. The islands are about as far west of the United States as Tokyo or Melbourne and about the same distance north of the equator as Mexico City or Manila.

The CNMI is a commonwealth in political union with the U.S. While there are 14 islands in CNMI, there are three major inhabited islands: Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. Most residents live on Saipan.

The standard time in the CNMI is Chamorro Standard Time (ChST), ten hours in advance of Greenwich (GMT + 10). The International Date Line is between Hawaii and the Marianas. Daylight Savings Time is not utilized in the CNMI since there is little variation in the length of daylight hours between the winter and summer months. Consequently, Monday 6 PM EDT is Tuesday, 8 AM in CNMI. Telephone communication from the U.S. west coast & Hawaii, when conducted during normal business hours and workdays can only take place 4 days a week, Monday-Thursday in the U.S. (Tuesday-Friday in the CNMI).

According to the 2010 Census, the population of the CNMI is 53,883, with 48,220 in Saipan, 2,527 on Rota, and the remaining 2,527 on Tinian. Of the total population, 50% are Asian (including Filipino, Chinese, Korean, and others), 23.9% are Chamorro, and 4.6% are Carolinian.

English is the official language, though Chamorro (related to Indonesian) and Carolinian are the native tongues and are widely spoken. You will hear Japanese in most hotels and some shops. Hafa adai (Hah-fuh-day) is the standard greeting, though the slang term “howzit” is becoming nearly as common. Many other languages are spoken due to the tourism and worker population, as well. Shaking hands is an appropriate way to greet people, and bowing the head is a respectful gesture to greet the elderly.

CLIMATE – The climate is tropical marine, hot and humid. The Marianas enjoy a tropical oceanic climate characterized by relatively high and uniform temperatures. The seasonal variation in mean monthly temperature is less than 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun shines year round, except for the rainy season, and humidity is very high, with monthly averages between 79 and 86 percent, but fresh breezes provide a measure of comfortable relief. The months of greatest humidity are July to November.

  • Trade winds: Beginning in December and running through March, these islands are cooled slightly as the northeast trade winds bring comfortable breezes to the islands. The Marianas experience three wind patterns, the trade winds, doldrums and typhoons. The islands lie near the border between the Asiatic monsoon and the belt of northeast trade winds. On Saipan, easterly winds prevail about 45 percent of the time. From November until March or April, winds tend to be easterly and northeasterly. Average annual wind speed is 10.5 mph.
  • Rainfall: The wet/rainy season runs from July through October/November. Annual rainfall averages between 67 and 98 inches, with a mean approximately 83.8 inches. Sometimes the islands experience droughts generally occurring from December through June. Some rain does occur during the dry season.
  • Storms: Two principal types of storms influence the climatic character of the Northern Marianas. The first is type is small-scale storms, consisting of thunderstorms and squalls and generally occurring between June and October. The second is large systems of tropical storms and typhoons which can dominate an area as large as 300,000 square miles and persist for a week or more. The season of most serious storms is from August to mid-December. While typhoons do not occur every year, when they do pass over the islands, winds of 115 mph with gusts of 160 mph can be experienced.

2 thoughts on “A New Opportunity

  1. You amaze me Ralf. If I wasn’t so wrapped up in helping family (especially Samuel), I would consider joining you. God bless you for all you do!

  2. Les,
    What you are doing is much more important and admirable than what I’m doing. I wish all the best for you and your family, especially Samuel. He has been through a lot. I pray that his health continually improves.

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