If I once visited a dark star, then Guam is a dead planet whose children are smothered by urine stained cement walls hidden behind a thin layer of glittery gold paint. Just behind the brightly painted and gaudy Micky D's on Harmon Loop road four children play in a cement lot with a couple pieces of broken concrete and a length of rebar.
The poorest child in the poorest family in Wone has more toys and a forest of green lovingly surrounding him. Behind the children are cubicle sized tenement apartments packed together tighter than eggs in a carton. A friendly "Morning!" yields only a cold angry stare. Yep, money and development will make you happy. All you need is a casino. All you need is a five star hotel.
Yesterday I saw the "Guam has everything" side of the coin. What is reputed to be the world's largest Kmart, the Micronesia Mall, and filet mignon steak marinated in 21 different sauces. Restaurants with waitresses that physically run when they move and restaurant floor managers with portable radios to call in tables to be bussed. Speed is of the essence. Life lived at 130 mph. Driving 55 in 35 zones. Gotta get there faster. Sooner. With the bestest and mostest stuff. Get where? We are all going to die, does moving faster change the destination?
This morning, while running, I turned off the eight lane roads and joggled in behind the commercial veneer. Behind every "Guam has everything" is a child living in absolute poverty.
0525 The morning joggle. Outbound from Harmon Loop Hotel. If they made a pill that would take away your culture, would you swallow it? I passed a long green and white building where they make that pill and put it in bottles. Some people so love that pill that they spend their entire paycheck on bottles of it. If I came along and used a pill to wipe out people's sense of self and culture I would be internationally condemned and locally stoned to death. Yet there sits that pill on shelves with names like Budpweipwei.
As I ran a lap around the Micronesia Mall I could feel a twinge in my upper right leg. I knew the muscle that was twinging, it can leave me limping. I called out loud a name in the wind, calling on the spirit of Kisihn Tikitik, ceaseless motion forward forever smiling, and the twinge was lifted from me. In my mind's eye I could see Kisihn Tikitik turn towards me and smile.
I passed a Chuukese chap who was waiting with his three most precious things in the world. The big yellow bus came, they got on, and the proud father watched as disappeared from sight. Then he picked up worn backpack and headed for work. I do not know what he was thinking, but I'd like to guess that he's hoping they'll have more opportunities than he might have had.
I opted for the turn into Tumon Bay at the North end, hoping to catch a glimpse of ocean. At the bottom of a hill I found mountains of concrete blocked me from reaching the waters on the others side. A bit tired by now I must have begun to take a slight leave of my senses as I screamed out, "Oaulik en Pahnais mahwki klang nanset!" I trundled south past the Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood, trapped in a canyon of concrete. Not even tangan tangan could be seen. Go figure. People travel eighty quad gillion miles to go to a tropical island and hang out in a cement canyon. Why leave Chicago or Tokyo? The concept that all humans are intelligent is not one the North end of Tumon bay calls to mind.
Blocked for a long time from the ocean, I finally found a road to the ocean, Chamoritta Way, which had neither Chamoritta's living on it nor was it the way to go anywhere. I burst out onto the beach right in front of two lovely Palauan women. Stopping at water's edge, I leaned over and splashed the good salt water on my face.
On my return joggle a bus spewed diesel upon its passing, leaving me choking and gasping for air. I love running in Chicago, the smell of diesel in the morning, the morning commuters dashing by in their cars to get to offices they will run from as quickly in the evening. As I swung again past the Hard Rock I noticed large letters, "Love all Serve all." Yeah, right. If they going to serve all, how come they didn't send a car out to help that Chuukese guy get to work this morning. That sign just means "Love all with money, serve all the rich people."
I find Guam really lifts my spirits, reinvigorating me. My cynicism and sarcasm certainly soar. I battled my way down the last length of road through a fog of early morning commute carbon dioxide my mind filled with childhood memories of expressways and cement.
0551 Morning joggle. There is a sign by the road that says that the traffic signal has been adopted by McDonalds. Adoption traditionally means loving, caring for, and feeding a child who is in deep need of love. In Guam traffic lights are cared for and children are neglected. This is not some mehnwai plan to oppress mehn Guam either. This place has local rule, this world is being created by mehn Guam, not mehnwai. Independence is seen as the answer by many mehn Guam to their social ills. If independence solved social ills then Chicago would have no ghettos. What can't be fixed under the current political status will not suddenly get fixed under independence. Not in a world where McDonald's adopts traffic lights and not children. Reality is never what people say it is, it is what they actually do.
Suzanna attended college on Pohnpei from Fall 1996 to Spring 1997 and now she is working at the Kmart on Guam, a popular work destination for our citizens. She feels her education helped her, but when asked what was helpful she responds, "Nothing specifically useful." When asked what we could do differently she says, "More talking a lot in English. Do not make us feel ashamed to speak English." She has been working at the Kmart since 30 September 1997, starting just eight days after she arrived on Guam. She still thinks of herself as a student, just a student on a work break, and hopes to return to college in the Fall of 1998. When asked if she misses home she looks wistful for a moment and then quietly says, "Yes."
On a second trip to Kmart on Sunday Suzanna is working the Little Caesar's Pizza Station. I see her only briefly when she emerges from a back room at 2:20, sweat pouring down her glistening, smiling face, her eyes still bright. Her name tag says "Salsha" on it. I watch her work rapidly and deftly amidst the heat of the continuous ovens. She is working hard, sweating and slaving on a Sunday. The name tag may be the least of the alterations in her identity.
Saturday night I went to the annual Memorial day weekend Micronesian Cultural Fair at Ipao beach on Guam. I saw various groups including Taotaotano, Ame dancers from Taipei, and the Samoan families of Guam dance troupe.
At the conference I sit at a table with an American couple. My travelling companion Eric asks, "Are you tourists?"
"I wish!" said the woman. "No, we live here. We introduced junk mail to Guam."
"When I came here I noticed my mail box was empty. I realized there was no junk mail. So we now send out coupons, flyers. We brought junk mail to Guam," continued the woman. "Are you military?"
"No, we work on Pohnpei," responded Eric.
"Oh! At least we have it better than you," said the woman in a self-satisfied tone.
Wait, I thought to myself. You do not like living here, you hate this place, and yet you assume we must be more miserable than you? Is that your world? A world where everyone lives desperate little lives of misery? Hey, I live in a great place with wonderful people filled with love, life, joy, enthusiasm, children, happiness, and a sense of group worth.
As we left I told Eric that people like her reconfirm my belief that not all humans are sentient beings.
The Guam I will work my mind to remember is the place that still has a welcoming spirit rising above the cement and the noise. The beauty of her people and the spirit of Taotaotana. It may be a weakness of aging but a powerfully emotional performance such as that of Taotaotana brings tears to my eyes.