Wednesday, 12 December 2012
Home Sweet Home
By Mary Hertslet
In 1955, my husband and I flew to Guam to fulfill a teaching contract. We had no idea what our life would be like on this South Pacific island. We knew it would be a complete turnaround from our life in Missouri and we were pretty sure that our lives would change dramatically.
It was late at night when we approached the island for the first time. Looking out the window of the plane, we saw moonbeams dancing on the crests of ocean waves and silhouettes of palm trees in the distance.
As we got closer, we could see small, flickering lights through the jungle and along the main street of Agana (Guam's capitol city). The southern end of the island was in complete darkness; they had no electricity.
In the near future, coral roads would be built to completely connect the southern end to the rest of the island and adding electricity would soon follow.
An official from the Department of Education met us at the airport to drive us to the small village of Yona. It would be our home for the next five of our six years on Guam.
Our teachers' housing was located on the edge of the jungle. It was called Camp Witek, named after PFC Frank Witek, a Marine who received both the Medal of Honor and Purple Heart after his death for his bravery in the battle of Guam during World War II.
Our houses were Quonset huts that had been housing for the Marine Corps when they came to free the island of the Japanese in 1944. Before the Marines arrived, the land had been the site of a Japanese concentration camp.
The Quonset was a domed structure made of lightweight corrugated steel. There were no glass windows panes, only screens with permanent metal louvers on the outside.
Instead of solid wood doors that could be closed and locked, there were screened doors with a latch. Fortunately, there was little or no crime and most people didn't bother to hook their screen doors.
The Quonset consisted of kitchen, dining and living areas all in one big open space. there was one bedroom on each side of the living spaces and one bathroom. This open layout allowed the trade winds to blow gently through our Quonset, keeping us cool on hot, humid days.
There were only25 Quonsets where we lived. The rest of the teachers lived in Quonsets on the other side of the island.
The rain on our metal roof and sounds of waves crashing against the rocky cliffs in the distance put us to sleep every night. The roosters from Mr. Cruz's farm, adjacent to our Quonsets, woke us up early every morning. We all got used to it and didn't mind it after awhile.
We did mind, though, when farmer Cruz's cows would get loose at times and quite unexpectedly come stampeding and careening into the sides of our Quonsets as he tried to round them up. There were no fences on the island. Eventually, one of his sons would come along to help take them back home.
The Quonsets sat on concrete blocks and were held down with heavy cables to keep them from blowing away in a typhoon. When the cows came hitting against the Quonsets, it felt like a small earthquake had occurred.
The morning after our arrival was the first chance to see the outside of our house in daylight. We were enchanted by its beauty. Coconut palms abound against the , blue morning sky. The sweet scent of plumeria that grew outside our back door and colorful croton and hibiscus growing around our Quonset made it look and feel as if we had stepped into a James Mitchner setting of South Pacific.
Most teachers enjoyed this unique, free and easy style of life living near the ocean in a Quonset hut within a small village at the edge of the jungle. And so it was a sad day five years later when we had to move to Air Force housing on the other side of the island. NCO officers had moved into new quarters leaving their old housing to the teachers.
These were small houses cut up into little rooms that felt claustrophobic. Before leaving Guam the following year, we drove back to see our old Quonset. Sadly, the jungle had already started taking over. It would be our last memory of our home sweet home.
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