Of all the things I’ve pictured myself doing in life, I never imagined that I would one day be digging through garbage. Yet there I was at the Liberation carnival Saturday night, burrowing through containers of trash, searching for plastic bottles, removing their caps, and putting them in the “Plastic Bottles Only” container that sits right next to the trash container at each of the carnival’s recycling “atolls.” Same with the cans. The worst, though, is the food. You have to (well, you don’t really have to – they tell you at recycling training that you don’t have to do anything you consider too gross) open those Styrofoam containers that everyone throws away when they’re finished eating, remove the napkins and plastic utensils or whatever else people have tossed in, and dump someone’s leftover congealed red rice, chewed on spare ribs, and salad into the pig slop container labeled “Food Waste Only.” Yuck. Even if you wear gloves.

As you can imagine, not many people volunteer for this dirty job. In addition to its overall grossness, the hours are killer: 6:30 p.m. to about one or two in the morning (if you can last that long). There is one person on the island who is passionate about this work, though. She deserves more props than Mike Rowe. Peggy Denney, the “i-Recycle Dynamo,” is nothing short of amazing. Actually, Denney is pretty short – maybe five foot nothing if she’s lucky. Within that tiny frame, though, she’s got more drive than the Los Angeles Lakers. Denney is the program administrator for Guam Business Partners for Recycling, Inc., a non-profit organization “dedicated to promoting aluminum recycling island wide in order to help the schools, help clean up our island, and help keep aluminum cans out of the Ordot Dump,” according to their web site, www.irecycleguam.org. Denney says Ambros and Anheuser-Busch came up with the concept and recruited the other partners, each providing financial support and in-kind services.

The partners are worth mentioning here: of course Anheuser-Busch Recycling Corporation and Ambros, Inc.; Matson Navigation; Guahan Waste Control dba Mr. Rubbishman; Coca-Cola/Foremost/Subway/Glimpses; South Pacific Petroleum Corporation –76/Circle K; Perez Bros., Inc.; and Ernst & Young. Kudos to every one of them for supporting such a worthy effort.

And it is worthwhile. I saw this firsthand even while picking through garbage. People are actually recycling. Sure, you have the usual percentage of suspects that accidentally put their plastic bottles or cans into the wrong bin or are just too lazy and throw everything into one container. But for the most part, people approach the atolls, take the time to read each bin lid, and at least separate their cans and bottles from the rest of their trash. Most refreshing is when they ask a volunteer, “What do I do with this?”

Denney has proven an amazing thing on Guam: People WANT to recycle. They are ready, willing and able to do it. If the new dump builders wanted to institute a recycling program, you might hear a little grumbling, but for the most part, we would all be on board.

“It’s very gratifying,” Denney said of the success of this year’s recycling atolls. “Much improvement over last year.”

So, gachongs, here is how you can help. At the carnival, pay attention to the bins. Aluminum cans in one; plastic bottles (please remove the caps – those go in the trash because they prevent the plastic bottles from fully compacting!) in another; food waste in one for the pig farmers; and everything else in the trash bin. If you have a truck and nothing else to do in the morning, you can show up around 10 am and help Denney and crew haul the aluminum cans and plastic bottles to Pyramid Recycling in Harmon. Of course you could volunteer to dig through garbage for an evening, because it’s a lot easier when volunteers go around every 20 minutes or so to “sort” the bins so you don’t have to dive too deep into the food muck at the end of the night, but only the few and the brave are cut out for this tough job. At first you may silently curse those “non-sorters,” but after a while, it becomes a mission. You feel like you’re really helping our environment. Especially when you see little kids making an effort to put cans and plastic bottles into the appropriate bin.

This Liberation, honor the sacrifices made by our manamko’ and the soldiers who fought for Guam by respecting what they left for us. Denney’s mantra, posted on the irecycle web site, is: “Each one of us can make a difference.” Will you?

The Quinata family has done it again. For the third year in a row, they’ve turned the common area in the St. Fidelis Friary into a magical winter wonderland, complete with snow-covered mountains, skiers, ice skaters, old-fashioned shops, Christmas trees, twinkling lights, a midnight sky, Christmas carolers, Santa Claus, and of course, Christmas trains – five of them to be exact – plus one trolley.

This labor of love is truly a family affair, starting with patriarch Roman Quinata, who does the electrical wiring, his wife Mae, and filtering down to their sons and spouses, Roman Jr. and Anne, Frank and Pam, JQ and Donna, and daughter Terri and her husband Mike Doyle, and some of the grandkids, too. The tradition actually started about two decades ago at the Quinata home in Ipan, and then in 2007, Fr. Eric Forbes asked them to move it to the friary.

This year, they started out in early October with directions from Fr. Joe English – he wanted to be able to walk down the center of the display and have the balcony used, too. So the Quinatas designed their train village to cover both sides of the room all the way to the ceiling, with a trestle bridge over the door to the balcony connecting the two sides.

“This year we wanted the San Francisco effect,” said JQ. Both sides are snow covered hills that zig and zag, with miniature houses, shops, a golf course, soccer field, ski jump, several performances of the Nutcracker ballet, and the five Capuchin churches on Guam: Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Agana Heights, St. Francis in Yona, San Miguel in Talofofo, St. Jude in Sinajana, and Santa Teresita in Mangilao, all tucked into the nooks and crannies of the hillside.

The magic of this 1800-foot display emanates not only from the twinkling lights, six giant bolts of cotton that created the snow, the trains, figurines and all the Christmas symbols; it is something inherent in the care and workmanship that goes into creating this idyllic scene. Pam Quinata explains that someone will fix the lighted crystal snowflakes into a chandelier-like shape in the middle of the room, and then have to leave, and when they come back, someone else has taken that concept and put crystal snowflakes at the end of the streams of dark material that symbolize the night sky. They each build on what the others have done. “It evolves,” said Pam.

This year, Pam’s son Carlo Pangelinan and his cousin Derrick Quinata are one of the major sponsors with their used car lot Auto Traders. Pam made a miniature of their business, using dental floss and little stickers she found to create the flags so commonly equated with car sales. It’s that type of detailing – tying red lights to each of the railroad ties along the front edge of the display – that gives the display its special touch.

Many other sponsors and two other families joined in this year’s effort. The Quinatas refer to Rick Fegurgur as the man with the “Midas touch,” because he engineered the train, and brought back to life display items that had sat broken for years – including some 20-year-old strings of lights. “That’s a bad rumor. I just fix things,” Fegurgur said. He and his wife Donna helped out, as did the family of Julia Villagomez in Sinajana, who arranged the beautiful Christmas dolls and Nativity display on the enclosed balcony, and decorated the foyer of the friary.

Why do they all do it? “Heart – we do this for the church, for the community,” explained JQ. “When we see families challenged financially or with each other, they come here, see the display, it gives them a whole different perspective… when they say, ‘Wow! How could this kind of display happen on Guam?’ – that’s what makes it worthwhile.”

Behind him, a family posed by the Christmas trees at one end of the display, the children’s faces beaming.

Very worthwhile indeed.

The Quinata’s “2009 Christmas Around the World” is on display at the St. Fidelis Friary in Agana Heights through January 3, 2010, from 6 – 9 pm.

Chances are that many of you have, either framed on the wall or lying around somewhere, one or more photographs taken by Eddie Siguenza. For even longer than I can remember – for nearly 50 years, Eddie took pictures of everyone and everything.

I first met Eddie when I came to Guam in 1984. He was at every news event I’ve ever covered here, clicking away, recording the island’s history with his unique style. As far as Guam photographers go, he was the icon. Did it for longer, and I would venture to say, took more photos than anybody else. His death over the weekend in Texas has left yet another void in Guam’s band of photographers.

They say tragedies come in threes, so after news of P.J. Borja’s death from cancer on Oct. 25 in San Diego, and the shocking death of 44-year-old Roel Santiago just nine days later, I was saddened, but not surprised, to hear of Eddie’s passing. In his late seventies, he had been ill and was staying with his family over on the mainland.

One story stands out in my mind that I think sums up Eddie’s attitude about his role as Guam’s elder statesman of the craft. It was May of 1999, and Guam was hosting the South Pacific Games. Maureen Maratita and I were in charge of corralling the media and keeping them on the media stand for the opening ceremonies at the John F. Kennedy High School stadium. Suddenly, one of the crowd control guys comes running over to us in a panic and says something to the effect of, “There’s a guy way over on the other side taking pictures of the crowd. I told him he had to get over to the media stand, but he won’t leave.” Maureen and I looked at each other. “Gotta be Eddie,” we said to each other. I ran over and Eddie was arguing with another crowd controller who was trying to tell him that he had to go to the media stand with all the other photographers, and Eddie was telling the guy that you can’t get good crowd shots from there. When Eddie saw me, he scowled. “Tell this guy to leave me alone. He doesn’t know who I am.”

I took the young man by the arm and led him away from Eddie. He had this, “But, but…” look on his face. I explained that Eddie was one of Guam’s oldest and most renowned photographers, and that you don’t tell Eddie where he can shoot pictures – he tells you where he wants to go. “Just let it go,” I told the guy.

When Eddie took your picture at an event, the next event you went to, he would come up to you and give you copies of the photos he took of you at the last event. His generosity is something we’re all going to miss much more than we realize.

Last week, in tribute to Roel and PJ, I wrote that the rest of us just take pictures, but that photographers capture the soul of a moment. Eddie Siguenza was one of Guam’s original soul-catchers. I’m sure that Roel and PJ were waiting for him with cameras ready. Between the three of them, heaven is going to have one amazing photography crew. 

Photographers, prepare your gear for another 21-camera salute.

With the advent of digital cameras and cell phones, all of us are now amateur photographers. We’re always snapping away at people, places and events. The difference between what happens when we press that shutter button and when a professional gets the shot is that we just take pictures; true photographers capture the soul of a moment.

In the span of just nine days, Guam lost two of its beloved soul-catchers: P.J. Borja and Roel Santiago. P.J. passed away on October 25 in San Diego while fighting a brain tumor. He was 53 years old. Roel was only 44 when he died suddenly on November 3 of an apparent heart attack.

I knew both as fellow members of Guam’s small journalism community. Although I hadn’t seen P.J. in a while, I remember he had a unique way of kind of walk-running – I usually saw him when we were both hurriedly covering a story. But he always had time to say hello and chat for a minute or two. Roel I just saw a couple weeks ago at the groundbreaking of the Guam Community College Learning Resource Center. We spoke briefly, and he flashed me his trademark smile – I don’t think I ever remember seeing him without that bright smile on his face. It’s hard to believe both men are not in our midst any longer, and utterly ironic that Roel supplied a photograph of P.J. to some of the media when P.J. passed away.

Both shot news at one time or another, and Roel also worked for the Camacho administration. When I worked at Guahan Magazine, if we had two events to cover at the same time, our photographer, David Castro, would always say, “I’ll call Roel and see if he has any pictures.” Invariably, Roel always did.

Anyone who has worked with photographers knows that they are a breed apart. The way they view the world is completely different from the way we amateurs see it. Their images project thought and feeling more so than just showing the surface view of a person or situation. A good photograph can make you cry, laugh, be angry, wonder – thus the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Both of these men will be remembered as having helped to capture the spirit of Guam – whether it was at a hot news event, a fiesta, procession, or in a photograph of a pretty Chamorrita posing on a beach as the blazing sun was dipping into the horizon behind her. Their photographs are their legacy.

During Roel’s funeral on Saturday at St. Anthony’s Church in Tamuning, nearly every professional photographer on island gathered to bid farewell to him. All of them lined up on the right side of the church, and just before Mass, they all walked up behind his casket to give their fallen comrade a 21-camera salute. High-speed shutters clicked and camera lights flashed simultaneously in honor of Roel – a fitting tribute to a man who spent his life behind the lens.

It’s difficult to understand why two men so relatively young were taken from us. The only thing I can figure is that maybe God needs some good photographers in heaven. So, as newscaster Mana Silva Taijeron wrote in her tribute to Roel, the next time you see a flash of lighting in the sky, it might be him or P.J. capturing an image from above. Or maybe they’re just reminding us to look past the surface of the moment and into its soul, the way they did.

For the past three years right around this time, I step into a former life and judge the annual gymnastics meet put on by Island Twisters Gymnastics Club in Tamuning. And every year, the progression of these young athletes amazes me.

Like other sports, gymnastics takes skill, coordination, training and focus. It is unique in that it also takes patience, daring, and something called “air sense” – you have to be able to know where you are upside down. Several years of strength training and progressive moves are required in order for a gymnast to develop the “core” muscles (the muscles deep inside your abdomen) needed to do moves like a kip – a trick (in gymnastics, the skills are called “tricks”) in which you stand several feet back from the low bar of the uneven parallel bars, take a small jump toward the bar, grab it, and with your body in a slightly bent, or pike position, you glide your pointed toes and ramrod straight legs along the floor with out touching it until you extend your body almost fully straight and then bring your toes up to the bar and smoothly pull your legs along the bar until you are resting on the bar in a front support position. Sound complicated? It is, but once the gymnast gets the hang of it (no pun intended), she makes it look effortless.

Several of the girls at Island Twisters are now at that level. They are performing Level 6 and 7 skills – including back handsprings and aerial cartwheels on the 4-inch wide balance beam. The sport has 10 levels, and then junior and senior elite status. Senior elite is considered Olympic level. So the Guam girls are doing fairly well, considering that we don’t have a lot of competition here.

All of this progress is due mainly to two very dedicated people – Melinda and Rick Heath. The couple came to Guam to work at Sandcastle when it had the Las Vegas-style show, and when the show closed, they wanted to stay. So they invested in Island Twisters (Melinda is a former gymnast who can still perform some awesome tricks), and despite the fact that gymnastics is not immensely popular here, they’ve made it work.

The Heaths have nurtured a small but growing group of girls and honed them into very good intermediate level gymnasts over the past three years. Will any of them reach Olympic level? Probably not. Few gymnasts ever do. According to USA Gymnastics, there are nearly 69,000 participants in the sport of women’s gymnastics. The number of gymnasts currently at the elite level is 79. But the rest of the gymnasts don’t let that statistic get in their way. Why? Because gymnastics is fun. Let’s face it – being able to kick a soccer ball or spike a volleyball or swim really fast are admirable skills. But being able to flip around in the air, twist, turn, and then land on your feet (most of the time!) is awesome. It definitely turns heads.

It is my belief that a few of Melinda and Rick’s girls could compete at the college level – and maybe even earn a scholarship – if they keep at it. They’ll need help, though. And this is where the Guam National Olympic Committee, from which we hear very little these days, could come in. Gymnastics could form a federation, and maybe get some scholarship money to send these girls off island for a summer training camp somewhere in the states. Believe me, they’ll get noticed. The sport is not that big, so “the girls from Guam” will definitely get some attention. Even if we only get one or two gymnasts competing at the college level, the investment in the sport would be well worth it.

Gymnastics teaches much more than just tricks. It teaches discipline, dedication, poise, and confidence. It teaches you perseverance. Keep working on that new trick, and eventually you will get it right. Gymnastics teaches you that when you fall, you put a smile on your face and you get back up and keep on going. Those are life lessons that these girls from Island Twisters will take with them forever when they leave the gym, and they will be better persons for having learned them.

Great job this past weekend girls! And to Melinda and Rick – thank you.

“All or nothing will leave us with nothing.”

That’s what Senator B.J. Cruz told listeners on K57’s Breakfast Show last Friday morning, in reaction to the news that the Guam war claims bill had been removed from the U.S. defense spending bill. The bill would compensate descendants of anyone who was killed on Guam during the Japanese occupation of the island, those who suffered during the occupation, or the descendants of those who suffered and have since passed away.

It’s that last provision that Congress always seems to have trouble with, yet Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo rejected a compromise proposal that would have compensated only first generation descendants of those killed during the war and living survivors of the occupation.

Bordallo acknowledged that some members of Congress objected to payments to descendants of war survivors who have since died because of the legal precedent it would set. So far, the United States has only compensated those people that are alive on the date of enactment of any type of compensation bill. 

 As a member of the Guam War Claims Review Commission, years ago Senator Cruz pointed me to a section in the back of the nearly inch and a half thick report released by the commission in June 2004, entitled “Legal Experts Conference.” During that conference, which took place in February 2004, Jim Hergen, an attorney for the State Department with experience in claims cases, said something Cruz considers essential to Guam’s war claims case:

“…I suggest that the Commission, in its further deliberation, should be very attentive to the possible precedential impact (my italics) of any report it may issue on other claims and other pending claims programs,” said Mr. Hergen.

In that same meeting, Tink Cooper, an attorney in the Department of Justice who dealt with the claims of Japanese Americans interned during WWII, noted that a key provision of those claims, covered under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, was to pay the oldest individuals first. She pointed out that the first criteria for eligibility of those claimants was that they had to be alive on the date the act was passed.

The precedent has been set in black and white. For anyone killed during the war, only their immediate survivors (parents or children) are entitled to compensation and only war survivors alive on the date of enactment of a claims act are entitled to compensation.

But certain political elements here continue to insist that descendants of survivors who have passed away should be compensated. In response, my friend Cathy Gault once put it this way: “How is my buying a new washing machine going to compensate for what my mother suffered during the war?”

Senator Cruz is right, and he has been right all along. Not listening to him is costing his mother, my mother-in-law, and all those who actually suffered at the hands of the Japanese on Guam during World War II any sort of redress.

“The house will pass anything to give its members a chance at re-election,” Sen. Cruz said last week, in response to a query about why the section for payment to survivors of survivors was included in the first place. The inference is that house members know their counterparts in the Senate will not let something go through that would open a Pandora’s box for the U.S., and this section would do just that. Cruz said it was included in deference to the late Speaker Tony Unpingco, who was adamant that everyone who suffered be acknowledged, whether they were living at the time the act was passed or not.

Similar versions of Guam war claims bills have been passed by Congress before, only to see the provision compensating survivors of survivors kill it every time.

Toward the end of that legal conference, there was an exchange between commission member and former Congressman Robert Lagomarsino and former Speaker Joe T. San Agustin regarding a claims proposal brokered by former Congressman Ben Blaz and Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii in 1990 that would’ve paid survivors of those killed $20,000, and given a lesser amount to war survivors alive at the date of enactment.

Mr. Lagomarsino: “And my understanding is that the government of Guam or at least the Guam Reparations Commission turned that down.”

Mr. San Agustin: “Yes, you’re right…”

Mr. Lagomarsino: “In my humble opinion, it was a big mistake.”

Mr. San Agustin: “I think so, too.”

Several thousand people who suffered during the war that were alive in 1990 have since passed on, and more will pass away this year, and the next, and the next. Congress seems ready to compensate the actual survivors. Will it be enough? Of course not.

But it’s better than leaving them with nothing because of a pie in the sky notion that people who were not even alive during the war should get some extra spending money in acknowledgement of the sufferings of their parents.

War survivor Eloy Hara had it exactly right when he agreed with Senator Cruz last week: “It is a survivor’s issue.”

At the ripe middle age of 50, I am studying Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Again. I actually read Hamlet back in high school, some 30 years ago, when it was just some stupid play where people talked funny and everyone died in the end. Three decades the wiser, as a master’s degree student at the University of Guam, I can now appreciate the brilliance of William Shakespeare’s nuances, his mastery with words, his humor, and his statement about life in 1600.

Hamlet, for those of you who may not remember the play from your high school days, is the prince of Denmark, who arrives home upon hearing news of his father’s death only to find his mother married to his Uncle Claudius, who has taken over as king, which was of course supposed to be Hamlet’s role. The speed with which all this has happened is illustrated when Hamlet tells his friend Horatio, “The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.” Remember, back at the turn of the 17th century, they didn’t have refrigeration, so to have cooked meat for a funeral and then to have used the leftovers for a wedding, the wedding had to have taken place the following day.

Upset by the speed at which his mother has jumped ‘with such dexterity to incestuous sheets,” (what a line!) Hamlet becomes even more traumatized when the ghost of his father appears and tells Hamlet that his uncle poisoned him. To top it off, the Norwegian army, whose king Hamlet’s father had slain, is planning to invade Denmark’s shores. Hamlet hatches a convoluted plot to exact some sort of revenge on his uncle (but not on his mother, because his ghostly father has told him to leave his mother out of it). He feigns madness and writes a play that reveals the exact way in which his uncle murdered his father and then married his mother in order to assure himself of his uncle’s guilt. While confronting his mother about her wantonness, he stabs at a curtain in her chambers and accidentally kills the king’s counselor, who has been hiding behind the curtain to listen in on their conversation. This guy, Polonius, is the father of the young woman Hamlet loves. She becomes so distraught over her father’s death that she drowns. The king, knowing that his stepson is on to him, hatches a plot with Polonius’ son Laertes to have Laertes exact revenge on Hamlet by poisoning the tip of his rapier (sword) and stabbing Hamlet with it during a duel. The king decides to add some insurance by having a cup of poisoned drink standing by for Hamlet. During the duel, the queen drinks from the poisoned cup; Laertes stabs Hamlet with his poisoned rapier, they scuffle and switch rapiers and Hamlet stabs Laertes with the poisoned rapier; the Queen falls, says she has been poisoned, then dies; Hamlet stabs the king and forces him to drink the poison; the king dies; Laertes dies; then finally, Hamlet dies.

It is the ultimate soap opera; a story of “carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts, of accidental judgments, casual slaughters, of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause…” says Hamlet’s friend, Horatio, says while standing amidst dead bodies at the play’s end.

The brilliance of Hamlet seems to be that as a troubled hero, he transcends time. Four centuries later, parents are still doing things that mess up their kids, people are still committing adultery (this is never actually stated in the play, but it is assumed that the queen would not have jumped so dexterously into her brother-in-law’s sheets had they not been doing some jumping before he poisoned her husband), plotting against each other, making political deals, and accidentally or intentionally killing each other.

People are still struggling with depression, contemplating whether “to be, or not to be,” and dealing with the issues that life hands them. Sure, we have refrigerators, the internet, cell phones and other technology that Shakespeare never imagined, but his play proves that human nature, despite all of our advances, hasn’t really changed that much. Turn on the TV or log onto the internet and we still have “the whips and scorns of time, Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely (insolent abuse), The pangs of dizprized love, the law’s delay, The insolence of office, and the spurns (insults) That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes (received from unworthy persons)…”

Studying Shakespeare proves one thing above all others: That the more things change, the more they stay the same.