Article, My Year In Paradise, 0620 UTBJ, Vol. 33, No. 3. 38

AuthorBy Eli McCann
PositionVol. 33 3 Pg. 38

Article, My Year In Paradise

Vol. 33 No. 3 Pg. 38

Utah Bar Journal

June, 2020

May, 2020

By Eli McCann

A court marshal stood at the front of the airport holding a sign that said, “McCann counsel.” That was referring to me. It was 10:00 p.m.; it had been dark for four hours already – the sun sets on the equator at 6:00 p.m. year round. I had just discovered all of my baggage had been lost by China Air. Looking back, I can see it was foolish to pack all of my clothes for an entire year in two large bags and check them through an itinerary that consisted of three tight connections across Asia.

It took me four flights to get to Palau, a country of 22,000 people spread out over hundreds of islands in the Equatorial Pacific. I had applied for a job with the Supreme Court of Palau nine months earlier when my co-clerk at the Utah Court of Appeals, Shea, forwarded the job listing to me. “You’re always complaining about winter,” she wrote. At that January moment, it was snowing outside. I had, in fact, been complaining about winter often enough in recent weeks that someone might accuse me of “always” doing it. Shea’s email forward read more like a dare than a referral. “If you really think coconuts and palm trees are your jam, then you shouldn’t have a problem moving to this small dot in the middle of the Pacific,” she seemed to challenge me.

I applied for the job. The Supreme Court was looking for three attorneys from the United States to come spend a year in Palau, a country I had never heard of, and act as counsel for the judiciary. The court functioned mostly in English, and the country had patterned its legal system after the United States. I was mostly unqualified per the job listing that required more experience than I had as a recent law school graduate who was only four months into a judicial clerkship. I figured I would never even hear about an interview. There was no way this would work out. But somehow it did, and that’s how I ended up looking into the eyes of a court marshal holding a sign with my name on it at 10:00 p.m., 7,069 miles from home.

I was already sweating, standing in the barn-like airport on this tiny jungled island. I had over my right shoulder a backpack with a laptop and my passport – nothing else. “That’s me,” I told the court marshal. He spit a stream of red betel nut[1] saliva out of the side of his mouth, something akin to islander chewing tobacco, and directed me to his van just a few feet away. We drove through the islands connected by causeways and bridges. The dense jungle hugged and threatened to overtake the roads. Occasionally small huts or dim store fronts poked through the trees and vines. After twenty minutes we reached the island I would call home. It was one square mile. Atop the hill at the center of the island sat a white-bricked apartment complex.

The court marshal walked me to the apartment door, deposited me inside, wished me luck, and walked away. There I stood, on laminate flooring, a few flickering lamps and some basic furniture in front of me, a refrigerator humming at the volume of a running diesel engine. Two geckos were skirmishing across the wall above a moldy couch. A pile of boxes sat in the kitchen, looking worse for the wear. I had shipped these boxes to Palau a month or two before. They were full of dented pots and pans and silverware that barely survived the journey. “And not a scrap of clothing in a single one of them,” I thought to myself. Why had I not shipped a box of clothes?

It was about eighty degrees inside, and so humid that every surface felt damp. I had been traveling for over thirty hours by this point, hardly catching a minute of sleep during that time, and I was supposed to report to work in about eight hours. “I should shower,” I thought. A minute later the shower head flew off and hit me square in the chest. Ice cold water sprayed me from a hose. I had no hot water. And the shower was obviously broken.

One thing no one told me about tropical islands is how dark and remote they sometimes feel. On top of that hill on the one square mile of land and far away from any reasonable amount of civilization, I shivered in an icy shower and staved off a panic attack. “I have made a massive mistake,” I thought to myself. “Massive.” Just then the power went out. When I climbed out of the shower I located a candle and lit it, and then noticed a note left by the apartment’s prior occupant, Megan. She was counsel for the supreme court until just a week before when she relocated back to the United States. I had moved into her old apartment. I had taken her old job. I had bought her old car. “Welcome!” Megan’s note said. “I hope Palau, and this place I called home, treat you how they treated me.” It ended, ominously, without further exposition.

The power came back on just as I climbed into bed, nothing more than a ceiling fan to cool me. I slept on top of the sheets. There were no blankets. I would never need blankets. The skittering of animals I couldn’t see wooed me to sleep.

The next morning I woke up to a sunny nation. My front door looked out over dozens of islands and tropical bays. I walked down to the street below, passed packs of street dogs and shirtless men lounging in front of their houses, already spent from the day’s heat. It was 6:30 in the morning.

Thirty minutes later, I found myself...

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