Stuff got me thinking roundabout July/August 2012, somewhere in the Pacific.

Before we volunteers set off to our respective destinations, they had us spend about a month in the capital, Majuro, preparing for what we would face. We stayed in a few elementary school rooms in a place called Ajeltake. The school sat alongside the two lane road that stretched basically the length of the atoll, and we learned what it was like to sleep in close quarters on foam and do battle with cockroaches and mosquitos. You might be surprised that we all seemed to get along just fine.

Before I ever forget, let me tell you a story that actually is real. I was sitting on the concrete walk that went the length of the school, talking with some other volunteers. I was wearing a wrap skirt at the time, legs crossed at the ankles, and I kind of felt something in my skirt, so I shifted. When I still felt it, I thought to myself, “There is seriously a cockroach in my skirt. Ew.” But I wasn’t quite freaking out. I figured I would squash it and get rid of it. I’m still sitting down at this point, so I reach down to capture it in my skirt, and I am surprised to find that it was SQUISHY. Reality dawned on me and I realized that, undeniably, I was holding a mouse in my hand, only fabric between. This is when I die.

I held it there because the alternative was even more unimaginable. But my heart is beating at an alarming rate and I decide that it’s time to do something. Without explaining my behavior much to those around me, I quickly get up and, holding this little mouse in my hand, run to the bathroom, untie my skirt, and throw it in the floor along with its occupant. Sure enough, this little mouse runs out of it and a little part of me dies.

Sometimes mice crawl up your skirt. Sometimes it just happens.

Anyway, that’s not why I’m writing today. While we were there, we had a decent amount of downtime and therefore time to get to know the local kids. This was cool, and sad, because we would be leaving these kids we were getting to know in a very short time and not coming back. Right behind the school there was a basketball court. I love playing sports, especially in an unorganized fashion, so I was happy to find that these kids played all day and were open to joiners.

They were good. Most of the time it was boys, ages seven to fourteen. They played barefoot or in flip-flops, and it never stopped shocking me how fluid they could be in those things. I did not have those skills, so I opted to go sans shoes. We didn’t share a language, only intermittent words that we had learned in each other’s, but you don’t need that to play. We rocked three on three or four on four multiple times a day for days on end and I learned that you can do almost anything in a skirt, that no one cares – in the good way.

I remembered for the millionth time that being out of breath feels good, the happiness that comes from the feeling that your body is literally emanating heat, that play is such a good part of life. Do you know that? Because you should. It’s unique in what it brings out of you, the things it does to and for your mind. And can any deny that it’s a release?

I can still feel the simple happiness that I felt when I played with those kids. It’s been over three years and I can still feel it. Because it wasn’t just about sports, it wasn’t just about kids. I can play basketball here. Those kids were special to me. They were all poor and let me tell you, you never knew it by their faces. They seemed to be fed adequately, but I never, not once, saw an overweight child in the Marshalls. Not once. And that’s not meant to be a positive note. From what I saw in ten and a half months, sores were not treated well and many kids live with runny noses. Continually. All in “paradise.” But at those ages, they were, not completely, but at least occasionally, unaffected by the harshness of their lives. They did not have it easy, but somehow they often didn’t seem to know it. Kids need playtime, you know? They need it.

But kids grow up. And explaining the prospects of a joyful life for teens and adults in the Marshalls is about the same as predicting it here. It’s impossible to say. The factors are incredibly different, but the outcome is still anybody’s guess. Because the same things don’t bring joy to all people. And my ideas would constitute a novella.

It is impossible for me to describe collectively how I feel about that place. But one thing I know now is that, even if it’s for a day, I have to go back.

The ideas and thoughts expressed here are not the views or opinions of WorldTeach, but my own personal views.