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The surreal and cubist world of Guam after typhoon Mawar

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

By Jeni Ann Flores

Trees are white, as if shocked into paleness by the fierce winds of typhoon Mawar, stripped naked and shamed by the assault of violent rain. Driving is confusing; the landscape looks familiar and strange at the same time. Some of the usual landmarks are gone. It is like my home, or my intended destination is playing hide and seek. It is there still. But it is not how I used to find it.

Inside, my house is clean and comfortable. But I bump into things in the dark. I have to navigate hampers full of dirty laundry. Pots and bowls with water collected before the typhoon, and buckets of rainwater. Familiar objects not used as intended and not in their usual place. All the plumbing and light fixtures work. But for now, they are purely ornamental.

Outdoors, a giant malevolent hand knocked down even the tallest and strongest. Flotsam and jetsam everywhere, but switched up. I have my neighbors’ and they have mine. I like things to be sorted and aligned. (I surreptitiously organize shelves at department stores.) The fractured lines that surround me are visual purgatory.

I am able to make calls and go online, but the variation in speed is disconcerting. I never know from one moment to the next if, or how fast, I can download or send anything online. Sometimes someone sends me something today but I do not receive it till the next day. When a friend says “today” it may mean yesterday or tomorrow. Or today. I am in a digital time warp.

The beauty and tranquility of the ocean beckons, and could have soothed my troubled soul. But I could not swim; the beach is toxic with runoff. This is jarring.

My mental health is teetering on the edge. I have to keep telling myself I am fine, and my world is fine. Others have it worse. I am not in a war zone. This is temporary. Until another week passes. This nagging drip may yet drown me.

The sense of despair is inescapable; it is in what people talk about. At first, the conversation in stores, chat groups, post offices or banks sounds like bluster, my-situation-is-worse-than-yours one-upmanship. Until you hear about the father who died because there was not enough power for his health devices. Death by typhoon. Then there is a painful silence. When people walk away you realize they were not sharing battle scars but open, hurting, wounds covered by a thin veneer of laughter and smiles.

Salvador Dali’s painting “Persistence of Memory” is set on a brown beach. Unproductive, bereft of life. There are sagging wristwatches, one draped on a tree branch. Without their metallic rigidity, they look like microwaved cheese. A rocky cliff is in the background, and a distorted, disintegrating face is on the foreground.

This dreamlike scene challenges the traditional way you look at familiar objects. And that was his whole point, that reality when seen from a different perspective, can be strange and illogical.

This is what Guam has become for many people after typhoon Mawar. The impotence of public services to fulfill expectations is real and ongoing. There is powerlessness, a loss of vibrancy, of joie de vivre. It is not dark as in black. It is depressing as in brown.

Guam after typhoon Mawar can also be like “Fillette au bateau (Maya),” Picasso’s full-length cubist portrait of his daughter Maya. In this painting, one eye is distorted, looking straight ahead, the other eye is higher, on the side of the face and looking to the right. Her nose is on the side of her face where her ears should be, and her mouth is underneath her nose. Her hands look like barnacles. Her legs look abnormally thick.

Picasso had just finished painting “Guernica,” portraying the horrific chaos and violence of the Spanish civil war. In contrast, Picasso’s portrait of his daughter is joyful and tender, full of vibrant and playful colors.

Like Maya, I, too, have a Father. And He is more than a Picasso. I have looked around but not up. My view, I’m sure, will improve if I change how I see things. And like Picasso, I might discover life, beauty and hope in the distorted parts.

Jeni Ann Flores of Hummingbird Enterprise, is an educator and drone pilot wanna-be. You may read more of her writing at Send feedback to

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