Monday, July 21, 2008

Viva Guam!

You simply cannot imagine Liberation Day. I suppose it epitomizes Chamorro culture. But first, let's set the stage.

Imagine 9:30 a.m. and what FEELS like 110 degrees because of the 83% humidity. Here, in Guam, they rate weather according to a comfort scale of 1-10. Liberation Day was rated with a 1--miserable! Unless you've actually experienced these conditions, it is probably impossible to comprehend. Factor into this that being so close to the equator, we are actually closer to the sun. There is something about the sun here that I have never experienced outside close proximity to the equator. In ten minutes, I actua
lly feel like I am literally being burned--like having someone hold a magnifying glass to your arm out in the sun; I'm talking sizzling hot. Not the kind of hot that makes you want to snuggle into the sand and snooze; no, the kind of hot that makes you want to run for cover. The kind of hot that makes you want to be certain you REALLY remembered to put on #30 sunblock protection.

Next, imagine hundreds of canopies. Here comes the quintessential Chamorro culture. Under these canopies you will find primarily extended family groups. Chamorros are so serious about their families, that many of these canopies actually have professional banners draped ac
ross the front touting their family name. Like chimneys on houses, seemingly EVERY canopy had a barbecue billowing the savory smoke of roasting meat. The Chamorros are VERY serious about their food. It is the cornerstone of every gathering--formal and informal. Tables are laden with vittles--never just hamburgers and hot dogs. Oh no! Ribs, chicken, steak, fish, pasta, salads, and desserts monopolize several large tables beneath each canopy.

And, the parade. Wow! We're talking four hours worth of parading in staggering heat. A significant number of the ent
ries were military connected. There were units from branches of the military I had never even heard of. But, the best part was the response of the crowd to the military. They were cheered and applauded. Eric and I joked that we should try this same parade in Berkeley (near our home towns). Sadly, for sure the reception would be quite different. At one point, Eric and I left the shelter of our friends' canopy and walked the parade route to get to the bandstand where a friend's daughter was to perform with the Guam Territorial Band. The heat was stifling and a fire truck was spraying water on the by-standers as it made its way down the parade route. As water shot out of the fire hose, no sooner did it splatter on the asphalt and the bodies of delighted bystanders than it evaporated. Speaking from personal experience, the water was a cruel disappointment. It was no match for the fury of the sun. As we plodded along, nearly fainting with heat exhaustion, several friends and acquaintances rushed out from under canopies to greet us. ALWAYS the interaction was the same, "Come! You must have something to eat with us!" Often these were people we didn't really know but "since we were friends with their cousin, we were friends with them!" This is classic Guam. A land where the hospitality and warmth (both human and solar) is nearly surreal.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Christmas, Easter, and Halloween in July?!!

As mentioned on a prior post, my mom and our son are here visiting for the first time. Since we have been apart for nearly a year, we decided we had a lot of catching up to do. Tonight we celebrated Christmas. We sang Christmas carols, played Christmas music, and exchanged gifts. It's funny, because the celebration seemed more "authentic" than when we actually celebrated Christmas on Christmas Day (See earlier blog entry entitled, "The True Christmas Spirit.") We have also celebrated Easter, Halloween, and Teyler and Chris
tian's birthdays (which really are in July), Independence Day, and on Monday we will be celebrating Guam's Liberation Day. We have five more birthdays to go. . .

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Storming Wasps, Fire Ants, Centipedes, Caribao, and Cockroaches

For those of you who know my mother, she is the sweetest thing you could ever hope to meet. But . . . as I told her recently, she’d make a terrible missionary!!! Here’s the story.

While Eric, the boys, and I used our mostly free boat dive coupons, Grandma (aka my mom), stayed with Katie and Noelle. As Noelle (8 years old) meandered by a tree that she often climbs, she shook a branch. Suddenly, she felt a sharp pain on her back and she realized she was being attacked by a horde of angry wasps. Shrieking, she bolted into the house, bringing two of the infuriated insects with her. Grandma quickly pieced together what was happening and decimated the evil adversaries. Poor Noelle had eight wasp bites, some actually having penetrated her tee-shirt! Grandma did what she could for the pain; thankfully, there was some Benedryl in the house which helped with the swelling.

A few hours later, Eric and I returned from our scuba trip to hear the distressing tale. As Noelle relayed the story, she informed Grandma that the wasps hurt worse than the fire ants that manage to attack her little flip-flop clad feet on a fairly regular basis. In response to this, my mother raised wide-eyes to me and queried, “Those aren’t fire ants on the kitchen counter are they?”

“Oh no,” I replied. “Those are some kind of carnivore ants. They don’t eat anything sweet—only meat. I don’t think they’d bite you unless they got squished between, for instance, your waist and your waistband. It’s the “boonie” ants you have to watch out for. They are forever biting me as I sit at the computer and type.” (I had explained earlier that what I call “boonie” (wild) ants are little larger than a speck of dust and they’re not in our kitchen but in the room where we keep the computer.)

My poor mom, I could see she was a bit uptight. Throughout the ensuing couple of hours, I noticed her scanning her arms and legs. As she finished making some chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen, she yowled, “Ouch! One of those ants bit me!”

Oh, dear! Maybe they do occasionally bite; but, I guess I’m so used to it that I don’t pay much attention. From that moment, my mom’s eyes roamed over all surfaces she passed—both human and furniture. After a time she inquired, “Do any of those ants go in your bed?”

“No, I’ve never seen any in our sleeping areas,” I assured her.

Soon my mom disappeared into her bedroom only to excitedly reappear a few minutes later proclaiming, “There! There WAS one in my bed!!! I’m telling you, there was an ant in my bed!!”

“Mom, I really don’t think it was an ant,” I reassured. “I’ve never seen one in our beds.”

I think she was just beginning to feel safe when there came a screech from Noelle, who had decided to take a soothing shower to relieve her wasp bites. As we all rushed to Noelle, there, on the shower floor, was a poisonous centipede. I thought my mom would expire on the spot. I tried to comfort her with the advice to always wear flip flops if you have to get up in the night so that you won’t accidentally step on one. I think I should have kept this helpful advice to myself because it didn’t seem to have a soothing effect on my mother, who, at this point, was running her fingers through her hair, certain she’d discover vermin.

The following morning, Mom looking a bit sleep-deprived, we headed out for the beautiful southern end of the island. This side of the island is a patchwork quilt of lush jungle and cerulean sea. The kids wanted to stop and swim at Inarajan, a fun place to jump off rocks into pools of 86 degree Pacific Ocean. After an hour of watching our kids frolic, Eric and I decided to take my mom to Umatac to see the spectacular vista and hopefully a domesticated caribao. There is a gentleman who brings his caribao to this location for tourists to ride (note our picture on the top of our blog.) Sure enough, there was the man pulling his caribao with a rope through its nose-ring as a thrilled tourist clung tightly for the bumpy ride. We were surprised when we spotted another caribao picketed near the edge of a steep hill dropping off into the ocean. What a perfect shot for a picture! Mom meandered over to the caribao as Eric readied the camera. Once Mom was within nice picture range, the beast, with head down, charged her! If not for the rope, Grandma might be presently lost at sea. We’d never had problems with caribao until that moment! Needless to say, my mom was NOT taken with caribao.

Rushing back home, we all changed quickly and sped off to PIBC where we were to have a fiesta with about ten students who were living and working at the college over the summer. We had given them money to buy the ingredients to make whatever they wanted for the feast. Not surprisingly, ribs, chicken, rice (ALWAYS rice), crab salad, and potato salad made up the fare. As we walked across the outdoor basketball court to greet the students, a two-inch-long cockroach scurried to get out of our way. Being as dumb as dirt, the bug kept scrambling in the same direction that our daughter, Katie, was strolling. Katie’s flip-flop clad feet were right in the path of the dim-wit’s frenetic escape route. My mother, convinced the cockroach had sinister intentions, frantically grabbed Katie and made a bee-line for the closest shelter. She hunkered down in that structure warning all of us of assailing cockroaches and barraging mosquitoes (the second part being true). As the students and the rest of our family feasted outside with a multitude of insects serenading us, Mom was hunkered down in her sanctuary. Finally, I approached the shelter and told her she REALLY needed to come out and join us. She gulped, and with pupils fully dilated, headed toward the door leading to “enemy territory.” It was at this point that I sighed, “You’d make a terrible missionary!” Taking no offense, she wholeheartedly agreed and tremulously plodded closer toward the door, her last barrier between safety and the certain onslaught of insect bombardments. I kindly handed her a bottle of mosquito repellant stating, “I’ve got your back, Mom. I promise we’ll get out of here alive.”

Monday, July 7, 2008

Finally Family Arrives!

On Wednesday night, after a 15-1/2 hour flight from
California, my mom, and our son, Teyler (19 years old) arrived on Island.
The fan club of our immediate family joyfully and loudly met them at the airport. Tears flooded my eyes as I greeted my mom with a kiss and a lei of Plumeria (made by Katie and Noelle). Our son was so big I hardly recognized him!

Grabbing the 200 pounds of luggage plus carry-ons, (I had my mom bring MANY supplies from Costco, e.g. toilet paper, salami, chocolate chips, etc.) we rushed to the college where I needed to teach the last session of my summer counseling class. My students warmly welcomed my mother and son who sat in on part of the class. The following day, they told me they were quite impressed with my Power Point slides, to which I flashed Eric a triumphant smile, broadly grinned, and gave Eric the “humph” look. (Eric has informed me that I am ridiculously compulsive about my slides. Me? Compulsive? Never!!!)

From that moment forward, it has been one big rush of activities. We will write more about those on a later post. For now, I’ve got to get to sleep because tomorrow will be another day of non-stop motion.