In one area of the vulnerable communities in Jenrok that are affected by the escalation of prices in fuel, taxi fares, and food resides a 63-year-old unemployed widow named Tita Gideon Jorlang. She is from Demon Town weto.
Originally from the island of Tobal in Aur Atoll, Tita used to live a life full of abundance in her home islands. This was before her husband, the late Jorlang Jorlang, a man known during his time for being strong and resourceful in Aur, moved their family of seven children on a ship to Majuro. They migrated in the late 1990s to Jenrok’s Demon Town, the village of Jorlang’s mother Martha.
Life in Jenrok was totally unlike the life in Aur, where she had many local foods such as taro, breadfruit, and pandanus to eat and coconuts to drink. She was first introduced to eating American canned foods and sweets for the rest of her life and became accustomed to canned food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
One of her daughters remarked that after eating ice cream for the very first time soon after moving to Majuro, she experienced her first brain freeze, something she’d never felt before.
They live in a modest house made of plywood and with a tin roof, which is similar to many of the dwellings in the Demon Town area.
Tita told the Journal that life back in the late 1990s was good for her and the price of things was okay. Rice was five dollars a bag, taxis cost 10 or 20 cents for children, and canned food wasn’t over a dollar.
Still, there were times when it was difficult at times for her and her family to find food and water. Sometimes on school days, her children had to either eat rice with soy sauce if no meat was available for breakfast or just drink water the entire day to survive.
Her husband would go to work with an empty stomach just to make sure there was some food on the table for the rest of his family. As her children grew into adulthood, most of them moved to the States and raised families of their own. Only the second eldest daughter, the fourth child she had with her husband, stayed back to care for Tita.
When her husband’s health deteriorated from a stroke and dementia, she was his caretaker and was by his side until his death in 2017.
Tita currently has a household of eight people that she manages. Most of them are her grandsons and one granddaughter who is the youngest among them. Two dropped out of school, four attend school, one has a part time job while being a high school student, and her daughter has a full time job as a teacher in a public elementary school.
Tita is dependent on her daughter living with her and her children who are living in the US to provide her income to survive and support her and her family’s needs. Often times she has to pay on account in local and Chinese stores to be able to get food and other necessities. She promises the stores that she will pay them back little by little until she receives enough money to pay off her bills.
On a daily basis she and her grandchildren eat a diet based on canned foods, chicken, rice and bread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They do not often vary this diet, she said. If were to eat local or “healthy” food it might be once a month or even once in a year — because local foods are generally not available to her and the prices of so-called healthy foods like vegetables and fruit are beyond her limited budget.
Most of the time Tita walks when she goes somewhere, never complaining since she can’t afford the recently increased taxi fare for adults of $1.50. She finds the medical fee at the hospital of $5 affordable, adequate enough to send her children for any medical reasons.
When asked about any plans to migrate to the US, she said with a giggle, “I don’t want to go to the States because it is not my place. I will be confined as a captive there given the pandemic situation and frankly because I don’t have money.”
She added that although her children offered her money to join them in the States, she would rather stay in her home country where we can roam around from place to place because we are Covid-free. Her eldest child is in Hawaii, while the rest of her children live in the Enid, Oklahoma area.
Tita’s biggest challenge is putting food on the table for the family members in her house, most of whom are unemployed.
Today, bringing up her grandchildren in Demon Town feels like she is reliving the past, doing what she did with her seven children 25 years ago. However, she is optimistic because she is investing in the future and all she wants is a better life for them, just as she wanted for her children who are now independent and mostly living in the US.