Saturday, October 5, 2013


A brief stop in Hawaii gave me the opportunity to visit an elderly Chamorro lady from Saipan who is trying to recover enough strength in her Hawaii nursing home to get back home.

My half-hour visit opened my eyes to see how she and her family are not quite the same as other clients in the nursing home.

The lady is just one of three clients in the room.  In fact, she is the minority.  One out of three.  But she is the dominant flavor of the entire room.  It shows on her part of the wall.  Religious iconography cover every available inch.

But it's also because she has three adult children at her side.  They do not have shifts, since the home does not allow 24 hour visitation.  So, all three of her children are basically there the whole day and into the night, up till visiting hours end.  The other two clients, though residents of Hawaii, do not have any children, much less three, visiting all day.  One, unfortunately, gets no visits.  The other gets a visitor periodically.  Of the three Chamorro children, two live in Saipan and so have made the journey and taken extended leave from work to surround their mother with three children.  Not only does this provide the mother with a larger circle of family, it lightens the load on the children, who have three pairs of shoulders to share the weight.

The four of them pray in Chamorro and sing Chamorro hymns all throughout the day and night.  This does not disturb the other two clients.  In fact, one of them, the one who gets no visits, enjoys them.  Though not Catholic, she is Christian and appreciates the prayers and hymns.  Before I ended my visit, the Chamorro family asked me to bless this neighbor.  She was happy to be blessed.

The lady from Saipan is old enough to have learned Japanese in her youth when Saipan was under the Japanese.  Hawaii has many residents of Japanese ancestry.  The lady from Saipan told me that she would talk more with some of the clients in Japanese, except that many of them are not capable of conversing much.

Lastly, the children of this elderly lady made sure she had Chamorro food to supplement what she was being fed by the home.  I don't know whether they had the blessing of the nursing home or not, but there was saibok lemmai (breadfruit cooked in coconut milk) and I was given a Tupperware bowl of it to take with me, even though I would be boarding a plane in several hours!

The stark differences between this Chamorro lady and her children and the rest of the clients were very noticeable from the start.  Family, constant physical presence, food and the unashamed expression of religious faith were all strongly noted.

A sickly Chamorro woman was being nursed in Hawaii, but to a great extent in a very Chamorro way.

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