This day we would spend with my parents. After they got up. Dear daughter awoke at 5:30 AM singing a song she wrote about loving Guam. I hurry the kids into their day clothes and we explore the lobby as hubby and my parents sleep in. At the hotel cafe, they proudly serve Starbucks. It’s funny how with so many other American chains represented, There are no Starbucks places within 300 Miles of Guam.
The Familian awakens and we walk to breakfast at Eggs & Things, a Hawaiian chain. We line up outside, place our orders and pay, all before being seated. Clever crowd control for limited seating. The cashier totaled our orders and confirmed: so that will be 22 pancakes on the table, you are okay with that? So we took away one of the orders of 5 coconut pancakes. (Turns out they had miscounted, we’d originally ordered 25 and after removing 5 we still had 20 pancakes on the table for 6 people.) Guava syrup. Mmm. And shaved coconut on top. Pineapple syrup, okay but not as good.
My mother insisted she know exactly where the War Museum was. Turns out there are two and she knew where the other one was! The one I had been to 14 years ago had moved locations and expanded, adding to the confusion. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the visitor center outside the Naval Base, which featured an enormous 2 man sub outside. This museum was filled with many clever interactive exhibits, and videos. In fact, we were warmly welcomed and invited to the theater, where she cued up the video especially for our party of six. This was a brief but quality movie, mostly black and white, depicting World War II on Guam. It was very well documented and narrated, and the video was oft times difficult to watch. I asked my six year old daughter to sit in my lap and give me hugs, rather than watch the screen.
For those of you who don’t know, Guam was captured and occupied by Japan during the war, actually hours before the Pearl Harbor attack. The Chamorro people were quite brutally mistreated, and this is the part that breaks my heart. My dear mother was JUST BORN when her family was force-marched along with other Chamorros to a concentration camp. Her oldest sister, who was NINE at the time, was in charge of carrying my newborn mother. (Auntie is no longer with us, but she told my sister her memories of the march before she died.) My uncle, the only boy, became separated from the family during the March and they didn’t see him for like a day. Can you even imagine the horror? I cannot, really. I imagine, and my heart breaks and my tears well. But my family LIVED it. I’m grateful my mother doesn’t remember it.
So my daughter is not watching, my tears are welling and my mother is crying. But it is important that we acknowledge this history. After many many months of occupation, Americans liberated Guam and reclaimed the island. Guamanians were granted U.S. Citizenship in 1950. After the movie, we entered the main hall of exhibits, the feature exhibit being a triple screen video and giant topographical map of the island. We huddle around the map like the Rebels in Star Wars with Princess Leia. And as the video narrates, lasers light up showing the Japanese arrival and capture in red lights. Then green lights arrive and we are mesmerized. The battle for Guam is happening right before us. We watch the Green lasers and lights reclaim the island and the red lights retreat up to the high ground and jungles. And we are Thrilled.
The rest of the exhibits include weaponry and graphics of children in distress, so I bring my daughter to the gift shop, where she happily reads an entire book while sitting in a child-sized chair. My son and husband puruse all exhibits. My parents strike a conversation with the lovely visitor center coordinator who had setup the movie for us. She’s Hawaiian, and has even been to our hometown in the East Bay Area. Small world.
After the museum, my mother wants to just quickly visit her niece, as we are near their village. She doesn’t have their phone number, but it will be rude not to visit, in this culture. So we head over there, not really knowing exactly where that is, only that it is a 3 story building off some main street. She makes one wrong turn, and introduces us to the Guamanian concept of directions, being “See that street? That’s not it.” Part of the landmarks direction giving system includes the courtesy of telling you when you will have gone too far.
We find the house. It’s an apartment building which they manage and live in, and they built a 3rd floor outdoor party room atop. It has a flat roof (all Guam houses do- typhoon proof) and railings that are strikingly painted, and fluorescent lights and a kitchen & bathroom. This is the place to be. With views of the ocean and open sides, we catch the breeze. They say you can see dolphins from there. I love Guam.
My cousin Marie is not at home, but her husband Pacifico is. He is a wonderful jolly fellow and he welcomes us upstairs. In the giving spirit of the island, he offers my mother food galore and a bottle of Tuba. (Tuba is local coconut alcohol, well-loved by Guamanians, feared by Haole’s.) He spills the beans that they are arranging a surprise party for us later that week. We beam.
Now we head to the Lina’Li Chamorro park. I’d been so looking forward to this recreated ancient Chamorro village (prior to Magellan’s arrival and colonization by Spain). It was dripping hot by this afternoon hour, and thankfully we received the local rate. We enter the amazing space via a tropical garden and jungle, and then an air conditioned theater. Here we see a short video on the Creation myth of the Chamorros, it’s delightful and new to me. It is beautiful and indigenous and I think how the young actress resembles my younger self, bright eyes and smiling but not beautiful, quirky odd facial features, some too big. I’m reveling in this story when we step outside and my dear sweet mother says to us: “I think that’s all made up.”
Insert needle scratching vinyl here.
My mouth gaped and my husband smiled as he watched us. Mom saw me and knew. I walked away, confused and a little hurt, until I remember. My mother idealizes Post-War Americanized Ultra-Catholic Guam. This is what she wants to share with us. She has little interest in her indigenous Chamorro ancestors (pre-Spanish colonization). It’s the younger generation (mine) celebrating a resurgence of awareness of our ancient Chammoro heritage.
We walk through the ancient recreated village and a guide appears. He is a young teenager, dressed in an orange loincloth, barefoot. He shows us how to open a coconut, we drink from the shell, then he uses ancient tools to scrape and shred the coconut meat for us, and we eat it fresh with our fingers. OMG it’s delicious! He shows us the bamboo huts and woven baskets, and latte stones. He tells us of ancient Chamorro life, and shows us how to feed the animals. We complete the tour and find ourselves on The Beach, an outdoor beachside bar. Hubby buys my fathera Mai Tai and dear daughter dances her dance on the stage with the ocean behind her. The breeze blows away menus and coasters and I wonder how the volleyball players fare in the wind. It’s a beautiful time.
We make our way back to the hotel and freshen up. I suppose we must have had snacks at some point, but I can’t remember other than cheese sticks from the hotel convenience store.
I text my dear friend Shana, asking for her mother’s address for the party that night. She texts back:
HAHAHAHA. That doesn’t work here. I’ll bring you a map.
Sure enough the map (computer generated) documents intersections and markets and landmarks. It’s delightful.
We reach my friend’s mother’s house for the party, which I am told is “just a barbeque!” but there will be nearly 50 people there before the end of the night. I should say that my friend is likely a second cousin, our mothers are cousins. (I have to check this, actually. If our grandmothers are cousins, then we are third cousins. Fact check. Will get back to you.) Of course, everybody on the island is related. We are all family.
So all these wonderful people are welcoming us to the house to the party, I mean BBQ, and the island. Shana’s sister spends quite a bit of time with us, it’s so fun getting to know each other. My parents have found their peers and they have created the Table of Respected Elders. This is a fabulous home and the party area is outside. There is a full kitchen outside. This is dedication. The guys ask my hubby, Blue or Red? He says, I don’t know what that means. Turns out, that’s code for beer. Red is Bud. Blue is Bud Light. There is also Green and Yellow, meaning Heineken and Corona, respectively.
We can’t believe this is such a big occasion for us, while they act like it’s nothing. And it’s a Tuesday! So many people whom I have never met greet us with kisses, and they say Welcome Home! My heart just melts.
We gather to bless the table of food. Shana’s oldest children say a blessing in the native Chamoru language, and it’s beauteous. I only recognize a few words, Si Yu’us Ma’ase which means “Thank You.” The food includes our beloved Red Rice (which is actually orange), smoked beef, shrimp patties, titiyas (tortillas), Potu (steamed rice flour cakes made with the aforementioned Tuba), and latiyas (custard over pound cake dusted with cinnamon). So much more but these are my favorites.
We stay past 9pm and dear daughter sleeps in the car.
More on my Guam Journey to come!
Also, if you have questions, please ask!
Si Yu’us Ma’ase.