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Joan Rutherford: A woman alone in the Marshall Islands - Part 2 of 3

Joan Rutherford: A woman alone in the Marshall Islands - Part 2 of 3

When Joan Rutherford, an American woman in her 50s, retired, she moved to the Marshall Islands where she lived alone on a 30’ x 90’ island in Mili Atoll. This is part 2 of her story. 

To look at Joan, you wouldn’t guess that she is such a rugged individual. In a lineup you wouldn’t pick her out as the person most likely to leave behind the creature comforts society has to offer. She’s of average height, her gray hair is short and neat, and her clothes are conservative. But when Joan talks, it soon becomes evident she packs a punch. 

Joan is drawn to places that are remote or difficult to get to. Before moving to Micronesia she lived in a fishing cabin built over Puget Sound. To get to and from her home butted up against a steep hill, she had to traverse a long flight of stairs. Before that, she lived in a secluded area of Washington in a house on a lake where trips to the grocery store occurred only once a month. As an adult, she has always lived on the water. 

Joan's desk that looks out on the entrance to the lagoon. (Photo credit: DK Howe)

Joan's desk that looks out on the entrance to the lagoon. (Photo credit: DK Howe)

Oddly, Joan ended up living in a culture where keeping to oneself is unheard of. In the Marshalls, no one lives alone—except Joan. Large families sleep in one- and two-room thatched huts, work is done in groups, and never does one venture out solo. The Marshallese considered her hermit-like existence peculiar. 

Though she lived by herself, Joan became a member of a large extended family. Shigeru and Kajnet, the heads of the family and the owners of the land on which Joan lived, took responsibility for her and made her one of their own. Their 11 sons and daughters became Joan’s children, too. 

Shigeru and Kajnet wanted her to stay with them on Tobago, their large island in Mili Atoll, but it was too crowded for Joan. They suggested Adjeleran with its store of rich soil in the center, but the dense jungle blocked not only the breeze, but the view of the ocean as well. Plus, there were mosquitoes. So Joan settled on her tiny island where there were virtually no flying insects, no people, and a constant breeze that cooled the sizzling temperatures. 

Go to Part 3

Joan Rutherford: A woman alone in the Marshall Islands - Part 3 of 3

Joan Rutherford: A woman alone in the Marshall Islands - Part 3 of 3

Joan Rutherford: A woman alone in the Marshall Islands - Part 1 of 3

Joan Rutherford: A woman alone in the Marshall Islands - Part 1 of 3