Friday, May 29, 2009

Adjusting to Paradise

This island is nothing short of a world entirely different from any I have ever lived in. From the day-to-day realities (I can go outside in a tank top and shorts after dark?!), home life (bug spray before bed is a NECESSITY), and community (what makes the front page news here is a trip, to say the least -- there has been a very controversial peacock killing updated on the news nightly), to everything in between that comprise island life has made for a unique adjustment period. But after a solid couple of weeks, I feel like I am starting to get the hang of it.

I've had a couple experiences that have taught me more about the local culture and I have learned a few things. I had the GREAT pleasure of attending a (very) local party to celebrate a friend of Jason's graduation, with all her family, relatives, and close friends. It was my first real introduction to true locals, which without an "in" can be a tricky situation when your a fresh-off-the-boat haole girl trying to call their island "home." There are definitely those who want nothing to do with the likes of me, and I can certainly empathize with them. The rich heritage of these islands has been completely trivialized and commercialized in many areas into a cash cow to be milked by mainland American corporations. While the tourism industry is necessary for Hawaii's economy to thrive (or survive, as the case may be currently), it still bears a nuisance for natives. As for those who move here, depleting limited local jobs and housing, without good reason, they stand to be dismissed by the people who were born into this land as undeserving of all it has to offer. There are about 4,000 homeless individuals on O'ahu alone, arguably for this very reason.

Anyway, don't get me wrong -- Hawaii isn't filled with nothing but a bunch of white-hating locals who want to see you off their island. Their culture is based on principles of respect, hospitality, and graciousness. There are plenty of wonderfully warm, welcoming people who are more than willing to embrace visitors or newcomers to their community. At the party, in fact, I found myself literally embraced, and then some! I quickly learned that it is customary to kiss (and be kissed by) the cheek of someone you meet if you are a woman, or if the person whom you are meeting is a woman. It is also customary to eat a TON of food! I wish I had pictures from that evening, but I didn't want to stand out any more than I already did by having a camera glued to my wrist, being the sole haole girl. The food is a mixture of influences from all the cultures that make up the "melting pot" heritage of the islands: Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Samoan, various other Polynesian nationalities as well as true native Hawaiian, of course, just to name a few.

While the heaps and piles of food loaded onto a buffet table were enough to satisfy a Jason-sized appetite (Jay ought to weigh at least 300 lbs for the amount of food that he puts away. It is decidedly "a gift."), I struggled to try as many different things as I could without leaving much left on my plate. The strangest local food I have seen yet was in a deli at a market down the road... I am still not sure what it's called exactly, or what it even is, but what it looks like is tiny bright red octopuses, with their little tentacles curled up, and all the little suction cups sprawled out to see! I think they are actually squid -- a squid salad. I have got to go back to get a picture, and perhaps a sample for curiosity's sake.

I didn't see any squid salad at the party though, and most everything I ate was delicious! Before we ate though, one of the family members gave a brief speech to congratulate the graduate, and then announced that they would be "saying grace." Suddenly a wave of shushing came over the crowd, with everyone rather loudly making a "SSSHHHP!" sound, mostly directed at the kids, and then the man began praying -- in HAWAIIAN! It was, to date, one of the coolest things I have experienced here. Head bowed, I whispered under my breath to Jay, "This--is--SO--AWESOME." There is nothing like hearing that language spoken. It is so regal, so graceful, yet powerful, and indescribably beautiful. It fits the land, the people, the feeling of the islands so perfectly. I left that night wishing so badly that I had even a drop of Hawaiian blood in me, if for no other reason than to warrant my growing obsession with this culture.

Aside from my introduction to "true" Hawaii, there have been a number of other things that I have learned to become accustomed to. I'll see how many I can come up with:

1.) Don't expect to go to the local lunch cafe after 2pm. Many Hawaiians especially here on the North shore like to be pau hana (finished with work) as early as possible, and who could blame them? I'd rather be hitting up the surf than catering to tourists all afternoon, too!

2.) You are never "alone" at the house. You may be greeted by a friendly lizard scurrying past your feet from under the couch, or have a giant flying roach soar past your head! You can also hear gangs of feral felines duking it out just outside your door. At sunrise, though, you hear the most beautiful choir of tropical birds singing in the trees. It's worth giving up a few minutes of sleep to be serenaded by them before drifting back off.

3.) Even the horse must adjust to island life. On the mainland, a horse's diet consists by-and-large of grass hay, of whatever variety you may choose. While many horseowners these days are complaining about the rising costs of hay, Hawaiians are forced to simply bypass buying bales and opt for bags of processed "hay cubes" and pellets. A bale of even the cheapest hay here costs about $30. I was buying hay last summer in Oregon at about $6 a bale. So dear Novalee must munch her meals out of a bucket each morning and evening, rather than a hay trough. OH, a horse must also become familiar with the roaring lake of terror that is the ocean. Nov's first introduction to the beach left her literally shaking in her boots, paralyzed in fear, refusing to go anywhere near that splashing, crashing, watery beast. We'll be making a more gradual introduction next time we attempt to traverse the territory of the scary sand monster.

4.) Waves are strong. I had enough of jealously looking out at surfers zipping along the shore and decided I was gonna drag my boy and his two boards out for a lesson. Well, what I got was a lesson in ocean dynamics, and the effects of a big 5 foot wave on a not-so-big 5 foot girl. (And yes, I realize that to people who actually know what they're doing, a 5 ft wave is not "big.") As that sucker came barreling toward me, I nervously tried paddling away from it, only to position myself directly in its path, and was suddenly shot like a bottle rocket as I gripped onto the board for dear life (quick thinking in that moment was, "THIS FLOATS! I'm not letting go!!") while it launched me all the way up onto the shore. A small scrape on my palm against the coarse sand made for a commendable battle wound and I decided that the swell at Sunset was a bit too much for me that day!

5.) Going to the grocery store to snag a few quick ingredients missing in your recipe generally means walking out the door at least $50 poorer. A normal trip to the store to get rations for the week or so can easily cost upwards of $200. Living thousands of miles away from most major exporters gets pretty spendy, but even the local fare is not much easier on your wallet. The milk I would be drinking on the mainland costs over $10 a gallon at "Foodland" (Hawaii likes very straightforward names for things. Another great example would be the public transportation line on the island, simply named "The Bus." Commuter ferry? "The Boat."). But on the plus side, the tap water here is naturally filtered by lava rock in underground aquifers and tastes great, so there's no need for the bottled stuff!

I'm sure I'll be coming up with dozens more of these, but I figure it would be best if I start keeping the posts at less-than-novel length. I'll hopefully have an update on my new job that I'll be starting this week most likely, and maybe even both Novalee's and my progress with overcoming our fears of those frightening ocean waves!

1 comment:

  1. I like your novel length posts :) It doesn't take too long to read through them and the pictures help! Sounds amazing over there...the talk of food has made me hungry even though I just ate my lunch haha.