I was in my second year at the University of Pittsburg’s Anthropology Ph.D. program when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Almost instantly, I lost my vision, ability to talk, and walk. Rushed to the hospital, I was diagnosed and placed on a disease-modifying therapy within hours.
A few days later, with everything restored, I met with my Ph.D. adviser. “Well Mike, what are we going to do?” I had no idea. The diagnosis annihilated any chance of completing my original HIV/AIDS research plans in Kiribati. I first went to the Pacific Island Nation of Kiribati as a Peace Corps Volunteer. While there, an acquaintance died from mysterious health complications. I eventually learned he died from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS. Two years after service, I returned to the country to work in partnership with the National HIV/AIDS Taskforce. With intentions of returning to continue my work, I was accepted into a Ph.D. program.
MS changed everything. The medicine was not available in my research site, and the availability of refrigeration to maintain it was minimal at best. My advisor asked, “Is there anything else you would want to do?” Maybe, I thought. Having been involved with the country for seven years at that point brought attention to the strange but significant environmental changes I witnessed. The tides were getting higher, droughts longer and storms were getting stronger. Several nights I watched the ocean rise to be level with or on top of the land. I began to fear the sea.
There is this thing called global warming that I’ve heard a lot about. Many doubt it, but I worry that if real, and nothing is done to stop it, Kiribati may be one of the worst impacted countries. I think it needs attention. Unknowingly, my intense love for the nation and search of other I-Kiribati abroad paved the way for more returns to Kiribati.