Monday, May 2, 2011

Hafa Adai from Saipan

Hafa Adai is the Chamarro greeting. The Charmarros are the first known people on the islands of Saipan. Saipan is a small island in the Pacific Ocean with a big history. The Chamarro people are known for the large stones called lattes that were used to support their houses. Tinian has the largest latte stones. Tinian is a 10-minute flight on a 5-seater plane from Saipan. On Tinian there is a place called House of Taga where the latte stones are 20-feet high. It was built around 1500 BC and was the home of Chief Taga who was much admired and very powerful. Legend says that when the last stone falls Chief Taga will return. There are only a couple pillars left standing.

The island of Tinian is very small with about 3500 people but in 1945 during World War II the island had the world’s busiest airport, North Field. Today most of North Field is overgrown with weeds. We were the only people there the day we visited. The most interesting sites are the glass coverings over the pits where the atomic bombs were kept. The American planes that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan during World War II took off from North Field. On both Tinian and Saipan there are Japanese Air Raid Shelters. It was a safe place to go when the bomber planes attacked.

World War II was a difficult time for the people of Tinian and Saipan. The islands were controlled by the Japanese and the Americans invaded and took them over. Today the islands are part of the United States. They are not states but there are several places in the world that are part of the American family but are not states.

On Saipan we stayed at the lovely Hyatt Hotel where they have a beautiful pool and beach. Today Saipan is a resort island where people come to have fun in the sun. Most of the visitors are Japanese. Just a short walk along the beach is the American Memorial Park where we learned more about World War II and the Battle for Saipan. We visited a sad place at the tip of Saipan. The American troops drove the Japanese army and local citizens to the tip of the island. There was no place to go and as the American army moved closer and it was obvious the Americans were going to win so hundreds of people including families jumped to their death. They were told that it was a disgrace to surrender and that the Americans would torture them. The American servicemen tried to stop them and tell them that they would be treated fairly but most did not believe them.

Today the island is a happy place with people swimming, wind surfing, and generally enjoying themselves. Near the Hyatt there is a weekly street market with Chamorro dancers entertaining the crowds. We visited three schools while on Saipan: Gregorio T. Camacho Elementary School, Brilliant Star Montesorri School, and Whispering Palms School. It was great fun because everyone speaks English and they use the same textbook. After all it is American. We showed them pictures of other places and schools around the world. They especially liked our pictures of snow. They all want to experience snow! We told them we thought it was amazing that they could look out their classroom window and see the beautiful ocean and palm trees. We had an exciting time another day because the Hyatt Hotel brought in students from a high school and we did the same Schools Around the World program. It is fun sharing and learning.