Guam, known for beautiful pristine beaches and warm waters year round, has been a tourist hub for many Americans and Japanese travelers looking to escape away into paradise. While the beaches of Tumon are truly breathtaking, and the coral reef that surrounds the island provides some of the best year-round scuba diving and snorkeling, spending more than a month on this island might leave visitors with a different impression of this “paradise.”
The first thing I noticed upon arrival was the humidity. Guam is a tropical marine climate and has a rainy season from July to November, and a dry season from December to June. It was August, and after a total flying time from New York of 43 Hours (layovers included), I was just glad to be at my final destination. My purpose for my journey was to study abroad for a semester at the University of Guam in the rural village of Mangilao.
The second thing I noticed were the bugs. While I have traveled to places where bugs were a factor, I have never lived with bugs like in Guam. The living conditions were a lot to get used to; ants, flies, rats, and cockroaches inhabited the dorms with us and getting used to them definitely took some time.
The first half of living in the University’s outdated dorms was very tough. Most of the exchange students caved into renting a car while a few of us opted out of this convenience due to financial issues (the plane ticket alone was $2100).
Getting food and water was an every day battle since the grocery store was a mile and a half away and all the water on the University was considered undrinkable. I myself bought a Brita filter and drank that undrinkable water right up to the last day I left, but many purchased their water for the entire duration of their stay. Another important aspect of my experience was the amount of communication I had with the outside world. While here in America we are constantly talking with family and friends from across the country, this was not the case in Guam. Cell phone services were another a luxury I chose to do without. While at first it was difficult to not have that handy device to phone a friend to meet up, it became a total advantage. Not only were people not able to demand me whenever they wanted, communications between others and myself became more vital and real. If someone wanted to see me or contact me, they would have to do so physically by coming to my dorm and knocking on my door. The instantaneousness of these gestures gave my friendships and relations with people a sincerity and bond that many have long lost in the technology of modern communications.
Energy from the Land
It seems wherever I travel there is a different energy felt from the people and land. It’s like a flavor that runs through the earth and sea and flows up through your feet into your body and soul. The energy I felt in Guam was different from any I had ever experienced. It felt rigid and somewhat merciless. The people were respectable but somewhat hesitant about befriending us. Whites do not have a good representation since most on Guam are only stationed there in the military. It took time to make friends and become accepted by locals as well as by people from other Islands who were studying there. But I did indeed make friends; most of whom were also from other places. My closest friend who gave me rides to the grocery store was from Rota, a small Island north of Guam. Another friend who I just saw in Colorado a month ago was from Saipan, a larger Island north of Guam. They viewed Guam as the big city, as did many other students from other small Micronesian islands such as Palau, Chuuk and Yap. On Guam they were able to go to College, meet people from all over the world, and be in a more modern and westernized society that their cousin islands lacked.
I soon learned that there was as much going on in the ocean around the island as there was on the island itself. Many times when it felt as though my solitude and isolation was getting the better of me, I was able to walk down to the University’s Marine lab that had an unforgiving rocky shore where locals would body-board and fish. This became a place where I could abandon all social issues and become one with the island and the waters surrounding it. To snorkel among beautiful schools of fish and surrender to the flow of the ocean waves gave me a sense of ease and acceptance even when things above water were so difficult, and ironically, more turbulent.
If I learned anything from my 4 months spent on Guam, it was Guamanians social and psychological juxtaposition. While the indigenous people, Chomorros, are trying to preserve their ancient cultural and religion from being polluted by the modern day rat race of American society, they could not help but be pulled by the ever advancing technology of cars, phones, and communications as mimicked by their big brother, Hawaii. This differentiation created many social and economic issues where some believed that America was contaminating their culture and simply using the island for strategic military operations, while others wished that the US would get over their 100 year negligence and make Guam a legal state just like Hawaii if they are going to continue to inhabit and control the island as they are.
Overall my experience on Guam taught me a great deal about the issues and situations that Pacific Islanders face. I also learned a great deal about myself and the difficulties of being judged based on the color of my skin. While the cities of Tamuning and Agana offer opportunities and recreation for tourist and locals alike, living in the rural villages gives a much simpler and actual perspective of what life is and how happiness can be gained in the simplest ways.
By Carolyn Dean