Marianas Variety

Last updateTue, 22 Oct 2019 12am

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    Sunday, October 20, 2019-9:06:07A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Rep. Sheila Babauta voyages north

THIS month, Rep. Sheila Babauta traveled aboard the Super Emerald on a five-day voyage to Agrigan, Alamagan, and Pågan. According to Northern Islands Mayor’s Office or NIMO chief of staff Valentino Taisakan, Rep. Babauta is the first female Precinct Four House member to ever visit the Northern Islands while in office.

“When I got into office, I made it a point to create a relationship with the Northern Islands Mayor’s Office,” she told Variety. “Because they’re part of my precinct, I wanted to ensure that I heard everyone, not just the Saipan residents.”

Click to enlarge
Inside the Super Emerald.
Rep. Sheila Babauta passes Pagan aboard the Super Emerald.
The crew of the Super Emerald lowers its dinghy in preparation to sail to shore.  Photos courtesy of Rep. Sheila Babauta

Rep. Babauta has since made it a habit to drop by NIMO, educating herself about projects up north and offering assistance where possible. She said NIMO’s hopes to repopulate the Northern Islands have been bolstered by DPL’s new Pagan agricultural homestead regulations, but remain restricted by limited transportation opportunities; until Northern Islands Mayor Ben Santos can find a way to repair the partially destroyed airstrip on Pågan, the primary way north is by sea. And as Rep. Babauta discovered, that commute is tough enough to turn away all but the most adventurous.

“That’s the longest I’ve ever been on a boat,” she said. “It was strenuous… not just physically, but emotionally.”

Because voyages north require delicate and unpredictable windows of good weather, boat trips tend to launch into action opportunistically, with little notice beforehand. Rep. Babauta received her invitation with only one day’s warning, and in the flurry of preparation she neglected to take her nausea medication one hour before departure. She spent the 17-hour sail to Agrigan plagued by sea sickness, but awestruck nonetheless.

“The first island I saw was Anatahan. And I was just so amazed because it was this huge silhouette of the island, and the stars were out, you know, shooting stars! It was magical; I was so grateful to be introduced to the North that way. It was so beautiful.”

As the Super Emerald passed Guguan, Alamagan, and Pagan, Rep. Babauta spoke with crew members and NIMO staff about their experiences living and working in the Northern Islands.

“Why are you interested in coming up here? Why do you want to stay?” she asked them.

“I like it up here,” was their simple response.

“I guess that lifestyle just fits for them,” Rep. Babauta said. “But I wish we saw more women.”

She added that many Northern Islands residents and staffers have wives and children, but they’re reluctant to bring their families up north because of the lack of educational and medical infrastructure. She also spoke to them about how the military buildup in the Marianas may render the islands of Gåni inaccessible.

“We had a great conversation,” she said. “It just brought me to tears because it was such a beautiful place and experience and the very thought of destruction by our own military was heartbreaking.”

They dropped anchor by the coast of Agrigan on early Sunday morning. Rep. Babauta said she grew increasingly restless as she waited for the crew to sort out some mechanical issues that came up while attempting to lower the boat’s dinghy. She could see Agrigan’s trio of residents — Eddie Saures, AJ Saures and Christopher Kaipat — gathered at the shore with staffers of the Northern Islands Mayor’s Office.

“You could see all the men that were waiting for our arrival and they were swimming, and they were racing on the beach,” Rep. Babauta remembered. “They were just running on the beach, keeping themselves entertained while they waited.”

“I wanted to jump off the boat,” she said. “I can see them, and I know I can swim to them. So I asked the captain and he said, ‘No, the sharks…’ so I went and asked a crew member, ‘Can I just jump in?’”

“Oh no, you don’t do that. Because there’s sharks around here,” he told her.

“So then I went and asked Keli [Tenorio]!” Rep. Babauta laughed. “I was just trying to find a ‘Yes’! But everyone said no. I was like, ‘Okay, fine, I’ll wait.’”

“I was even more excited to step foot on the longest black sand beach I’ve ever seen.”

To be continued