Sunday, July 25, 2010

Great Expectations

One of the first calls on my new Guam cell phone back to the States was to my dear friend Kristin in Texas. After filling her in on our first days in Guam, she caught me a bit off guard, asking, “Has Guam been what you expected so far?” Excellent question…

This first week has been quite the roller coaster of experiences, emotions, and ideas about our future here. Reality struck first thing Monday morning when we went to the housing office to see what base housing had to offer for a future home. They gave us keys of three places to look at. One was a 50-minute drive away from base (never would have thought you could have an hour-long commute on this island). One was a duplex 15 minutes away, older, one bathroom, no thank you. And finally one was worth going to see… a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom single family home on base in the same neighborhood as our friends.

Our home here is something we’d really been looking forward to about Guam. After living in a shoebox apartment in Coronado with neighbors beside and above us, we were thrilled about the idea of not sharing walls with anyone AND having real guest space to host all the fabulous people who have vowed to come visit us (ahem). But once inside the house, I was struck with the reality that my expectations of a dream home in Guam were not to be. The place isn’t awful, but the drop ceiling tiles you’d find in an office, the dull yellow paint throughout, fluorescent lighting fixtures, and 80s-inspired kitchen countertops put a stain on the Pottery Barn pages that have been turning in my mind ever since our friends here sent us pictures of their house on base. Turns out they got lucky with one of the awesome newly renovated houses (with a garage… and landscaping).
We weren’t so lucky... but not destitute either.

A few days after coming to terms with reality, I’m thrilled about our new home. It’s very close to friends, Nick’s work, a gorgeous beach, etc. We will no longer need quarters and three free hours for laundry. Being on base is extremely safe (no one locks even their bikes here), and I know we will make this place feel like home once our stuff gets here (Wednesday!).

The bigger issue, I’ve come to realize, is that in order to make leaving San Diego, Texas, and all of my wonderful friends and family easier, I convinced myself that Guam was going to be the most incredible experience I’ve ever had. The scenery would be breathtaking (and it absolutely is), our house would be amazing (almost), I’d meet just as many close friends here (we’ll see), and I’d fill my days doing meaningful, soul-searching, career-furthering things (uhhh…).

All that wishful thinking and positive future outlook business did wonders to help me get through the awful goodbyes that seemed to come one after the next for two solid weeks. After all, what’s there to be sad about when you’re moving to paradise with the man of your dreams? But we’ve arrived there now and from here I have a better view of whom and what we’ve said goodbye to. Time for expectations to meet reality and for life to move forward in real time.

In addition to battling expectations this past week, we also got to do some exploring around the island. We fit in two rounds of golf, two scuba dives, snorkeling and a boat ride through the harbor on the navy base. We also keep running into people we know all over town, which is strange because I swear we still only know 10 people here. And each day we find ourselves stumbling upon vistas even more beautiful than the last one, many of them below sea level. So even in light of my high expectations, this place definitely is not all bad. I suppose it’s just a matter of time before expectations and reality align once again. Until then, I’m off to the beach… :)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

First 24 Hours in “Paradise”

Hafa Adai from Guam, everyone. After about 22 hours of traveling starting Friday morning, July 16th, we arrived exhausted but excited in Guam on Saturday at midnight. Immediately tomorrow began and I realized an entire day of my life had disappeared watching movies (five), reading, snoozing, and crossing the international date line while crammed next to Nick amid rows of Japanese tourists on various flights long (12 hours) and short (22 minutes) between our old home and our new one.

A buddy of Nick’s who he’s known since the Academy (Pat) picked us up along with our 9 bags and took us to our hotel. Finally, sleep in a bed. Two beds actually… all they had was a room with two singles. Welcome to Guam.
Sunday we woke up bleary eyed and foggy brained. I was wide awake at 6:30a but Nick chose to snooze. I snuck out of the room to explore a bit. Our room overlooked the shores of the Philippine Sea. In front of me was a beautiful light blue bay framed by palm trees that led out to a lush overgrown palmy island a short swim away. It was even prettier than I’d remembered.

Hours later we got organized enough to make it out of the hotel. Our rental car keys were waiting for us at the front desk. Got in the car and were deciphering the rental car agreement and where to go for breakfast when we hear, “Hey stranger.” Leaning over our driver side window was the guy Nick and I got our sailboat from in San Diego three years ago. He’s one of five people I know in Guam that I’ve met before, and here he was showing up at our hotel to have breakfast with two buddies from the command, with no idea that’s where we were staying or that we’d even shown up yet. Small island. Not a bad coincidence for the first 12 hours here.

Breakfast was a whirlwind of information. From the guys we got the skinny on the best cell phone plans, cable & Internet packages, housing options, places to travel to. From the server we got our first taste of island life… a menu claiming twice as many food options as they could actually make (“we’re out of that”) and island time… a one-hour delivery on our order of eggs and toast for five in an otherwise empty restaurant.

Off to base where pleasant surprises sprinkled the day. After wondering what I was going to do for two years without a sailboat in a place surrounded by water (we sold ours in San Diego), we stopped by the marina to discover they have 14-footers they rent out for a mere $8/hour. Not only that, the cove they rent from is what I would call vacation blue… a rare shade of water only visible somewhere that requires a passport to get there. Absolutely gorgeous! And from where we hope to live, just a short bike ride away from home to sailing.

After a trip to the old familiar NEX (where they had golf clubs on clearance 30% off… hello new driver!), we rode around the different housing neighborhoods scoping out our prospects for a place on base, then wound our way around to our friends’ house (Pat & Ashley) where we got to see their two year-old Bryce and meet their two-week old baby for the first time. They moved to Guam from San Diego in January so they have 6 months of experience and information to share with us newcomers, especially about the work Nick will be doing. The best part was knowing we already have great friends here, and now that Wyatt made his appearance, the bonus of someone (hopefully down the street) I can join for a glass of wine. They invited us to stay for dinner (restaurant experience diverted), and they shared with us the fancy cheese we brought them from the States as a thank you (no fancy cheeses in Guam… yikes!). It was a perfect first evening in “paradise.”

From what I’ve learned so far (more details to come), I must use the term “paradise” hesitantly. All day Sunday I caught myself blurting out over and over, “It’s sooooo pretty here!” with Nick replying, “I’m really glad you like it!” Indeed, the rolling hills are frosted with the greenest green grass I’ve ever seen, layered with bushy exotic trees and silhouetting palms. Even from base, views are of mountains in the distance overshadowing the bright blue coves that my eyes can’t get enough of. The sun shines warmly around puffy white clouds, and the breeze, though humid, feels heavenly. It doesn’t get much more breathtaking than this.

But this is day one. And though we’ve come a long way to get here, there’s still a long way to go. Two years is a long time to be away from the wonderful friends, family, and career opportunities (not to mention the food, TV football schedules, trips to Trader Joe’s) we are so accustomed to. And it sounds like Nick’s new job will have him traveling a lot---already we know he’ll be gone two weeks in August and most of September. Already wondering what I’m going to do for so many weeks without him here (visit anyone?).

But then I remember that as far as I know, Nick won’t be traveling to a war zone for the two years we are here. We won’t have any of those awful days where we have to say goodbye knowing the next six-plus months will be spent worlds apart. He will be gone here and there, but for the most part, we are here together. And at the end of the day, our first day in Guam, that, even more than palmy green hills and vacation blue water, is what makes this the first day in paradise.

I look forward to sharing more thoughts and experiences with you sporadically, as I please, on no particular schedule or predictable format. Because after all, we’re on island time now. And I have two years to do whatever I want. Paradise, indeed :)