Enid was once home to the now-closed Phillips University, a religious school responsible for drawing the first Marshallese to the town in the 1970s.To newcomers from the humid islands, however, landlocked Enid is plenty strange, starting with the weather.There was no electricity, and when it rained, water came through chinks in the walls. He walked to school, several miles one way down the skinny island’s single road. When there was no food at home he climbed coconut trees. Years later, he would represent the Marshall Islands at the Micronesian Olympic Games, and ran on the 4×400 relay team that still holds his country’s record. military control of their territory, COFA allows citizens of the Marshall Islands (and of the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau; collectively they are known as the Freely Associated States) to move to the U. In Enid, there’s work in meat processing plants and at big box stores. S., Mote worked as a curator at a museum, traveling to outer islands to collect folktales.Mote is 41 now, with a round face and a demeanor that shifts between earnestness and jest. is based on a treaty called the Compact of Free Association (COFA). His first job in Enid was at the circulation desk of the public library.He is one of nearly 3,000 Marshallese living in Enid, a town of 51,000 built on oil and wheat. That’s where I first met him, on a warm March afternoon.He wore beige slacks, a red and white checked shirt, and wire-rimmed glasses.He’d driven a hundred miles the previous day, to Oklahoma City, to buy bitter melon and small fish that he placed delicately into the frying pan with a pair of tongs.They were among the things he missed from the Marshall Islands, where he grew up.
Today, thanks to a treaty signed when the Marshall Islands gained independence from the U. in 1986, Marshallese citizens are allowed to live and work in the States. This mass migration is driven in part by poverty and lack of services in the islands. It was as if he’d been locked in the hallway of a beautiful house: inside, but not really. Rent and groceries are expensive, and there is the problem of the funerals.The elderly get sicker when the weather changes, he’s noticed – though the friends dying lately aren’t all that old, and they aren’t dying just because of the weather.One breezy evening in April, on a weekend with no funeral, Mote’s kitchen filled with steam and the snapping sound of hot oil.Fresh seafood is hard to find in the dry, windy city where he lives now – Enid, Oklahoma, a hunkered-down prairie town at the eastern edge of the Great Plains.To Mote (pronounced “mo-tay”), a hundred miles isn’t so far.Mote works for the county health department as a translator and adviser.