Monday, January 10, 2011

If Only You Could Balutan!!

About four years ago, after we'd made our final decision to leave California and move to Guam, we went public; we began informing family and friends of our decision.  One group I informed were my volleyball buddies--people I had played with both competitively and recreationally for several years.  All responded with shock and, of course, the most common response, "Where's Guam?!"  However, my most die-hard volleyball buddy, Bill Sablan, replied, "I'm from Guam."  I about fell over!!  I had assumed all this time that he was from California.  Upon hearing of our need for housing, he suggested we contact his Guam home church, Agana Heights Baptist (AHBC), to see if they would rent us their empty parsonage.  The long and the short of this is that, although the parsonage was unavailable due to renovations, they asked Eric if he would guest preach for them.  This led to three and a half years of weekly preaching! AHBC desperately needed an interim pastor, and we desperately needed additional financial support in order to sustain our work at Pacific Islands University.  It was a match made in heaven--no pun intended!  Our three and a half years at AHBC will be remembered as some of the best church years of our lives.  The people at AHBC were incredibly kind to each person in our family, and despite our cultural ignorance, they patiently oriented us to their Chamorro culture.  I have written many blogs depicting elements of our Chamorro cultural learning curve (e.g. Chamorro cheek-kissing, pot-"faiths," non-performance-oriented performing, etc.).  So, although we were thrilled for the church when they finally secured a permanent, full-time pastor, it was difficult to say good-bye to the precious parishioners at AHBC.  On our last Sunday, in classic Chamorro style, they gave us an elaborate going-away fiesta.  I think that Chamorro people express their love in the food they bring to a gathering, and let me tell you, the fiesta tables were loaded!  And, that's when I realized that I MUST share with our readers, the wonderful Chamorro custom of balutan!  

Balutan is the practice of packaging food for guests at the end of a fiesta.  Chamorros are extremely serious about balutan.  They will have ziplock bags, plastic wrap, foil and "Chamorro Tupperware" (empty plastic containers, e.g. Cool Whip) ready for guests.  At a designated point, after all the guests have eaten, the host will encourage everyone to balutan.  Please understand, bulutan is not an insignificant activity tacked-on to the event.  It is part of the fiesta itself, something that would appear on the order of events if one were printed.  The reason is that bulutan is a reflection of the heart of Chamorro culture, which is characterized at its deepest level by gracious hospitality, making sure everyone has enough--and they sincerely mean enough.  Yes, that means that when you prepare your contribution to the fiesta, you prepare what locals specifically identify as a "Chamorro-sized" dish.  My experience tells me that this should be enough for at LEAST twenty people.  Again, the reason for preparing such mammoth amounts is not that people at fiestas eat until they explode, but it ensures that there will be enough to send home with others. 

When we first came to Guam, everyone laughed at how little I put on my balutan plate.  It was very difficult/uncomfortable to get past my skimpy stateside perspective of an appropriate take-home plate.  When you balutan properly, you honestly need to make sure you have enough room in your car!!  Actually, I'm still uneasy with the titanic portions that are heaped upon me here.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE the delicious edibles, and the idea of having scrumptious left-overs, but I'm terrified of being seen as a big pig--which is exactly how statesiders would view the mounds of food being carted off!  I don't think statesiders can fathom the heaps of food given to each guest in the balutan tradition, so I'll let the following pictures do the talking.