Postscript to Molokai

Postscript to Molokai
One of the treats of our home away from home on Molokai was our stay at Hotel Molokai.  Our little room was right behind the bandstand.  The guidebook we consulted prior to our trip warned about the noise in the evenings as locals gathered.  We chose to see this another way.
We love music, so we enjoyed having the opportunity to experience six unique performances during our stay.  We tried to stay awake until they ended, but we were so pooped from our full days that we drifted off, awaking only when the music stopped.  What a lovely way to fall asleep! 
My favorite of all the musicians was the one playing the night we arrived, Lono.  We bought his newest CD, Passage to Pono—Old Style V.  Our cold nights back home can be warmed up by the playing of this CD.
We also enjoyed the Saturday night hula group, people of all ages dancing their love, and the Friday afternoon play and sing-along.  We sang along to the songs we knew.  I hope nobody minded.

I want to say once again mahalo to Noelani Keliikipi, our tour leader, to Cookie and Squeaky who drove the vans and did much, much more, to Mike and the volunteers at the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center for an experience far richer than we may ever realize.  Malama Pono and A hui hou.

Kalaupapa Peninsula and Settlement

Before we left for Molokai, my friend Mary suggested I read Molokai, by Alan Brennert, and I’m so glad I followed her advice.  This novel tells the story of a young girl ripped from her family and sent to live at Kalaupapa, where victims of Hansen’s Disease were sent to live in isolation from the rest of humanity.  There are many more novels and first person accounts concerning Kalaupapa and reading any of them will make a visit there even more meaningful.
In 1865 King Kamehameha V signed the “Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy,” which authorized forced isolation of those who showed symptoms.  Inspectors visited schools regularly, sending children who showed signs of the disease, as well as adults, to a holding pen in Honolulu before they were shipped to the peninsula, Kalawao at first, and then to the less windy side at Kalaupapa.
How would you answer the question of what to do when a contagion breaks out?
No one knew what caused leprosy, nor how to treat it, so having it was a death sentence.  No one knew it was one of the least contagious of all modern-day communicable diseases.  So fathers were ripped away from their families, leaving mothers and children to fend for themselves.  Mothers were torn away.  Some parents lost all their children, one by one.  If two residents in isolation at Kalaupapa had a child, that child was immediately taken away so as not to be inflicted.  8,000 patients have lived at Kalaupapa. 
Adding to the pain is the knowledge that Native Hawaiians who made this place their home prior to 1865 were asked to re-locate and so they had to leave the homes they loved to make way for the patients.  When the first patients came there was no housing, no clothing, no food, no medication, no law and order.
Imagine the spirit of heartache that surrounds this place. 
One also feels the sacred spirits here as well.  Quoting the National Historical Park pamphlet:  “…a remarkable sense of community endures through the countless stories of love, compassion, support, faith, and perseverance among the afflicted as well as those kokua (helpers) who came to serve.”  Many people come here not only to learn what transpired, but also for spiritual renewal, an understanding of service and sacrifice.
In 1873 Father Damien volunteered to come to Kalaupapa and later sent for sisters to come help as the young girls and women sent there were prey of the less genteel of the men patients and he wanted them to be safe.  He eventually succumbed to the disease himself.  He was canonized in 2009 and will soon become a saint.  Mother Marianne Cope is on her way to becoming canonized as well.
In 1949, forced isolation at Kalaupapa ended, but where would those residents, many severely disfigured, be welcomed?  The isolation policy was finally abolished in 1969 so residents could travel or move elsewhere, but most choose to remain in the only home they’ve known.
As our group flew in, plane by plane load, we noticed the beauty of the peninsula, bordered on one side by the high cliffs which made this at one time such an effective prison.  When the first patients came, they encountered a barren and windswept place, but now abundant flora exists. 
Patrick Boland, who was a friend of patient Richard Marks for many years before his passing, was our guide for the tour.  He had spoken to us the night before about the history of Kalaupapa and his impressions, having visted there often and speaking with patients. 
If you go to Kalaupapa, you must be sponsored by one of the patients.  In our case, we are indebted to Gloria Marks for our visit.  You may also be able to visit through Damien Tours.  100 visitors a day are permitted.  Some come by plane, as we did, and others hike down the cliff or ride mules.  No one can come without invitation and those who try are sent back up the trail with warnings and/or fines.
The first thing anyone encounters on the road from the airport to the town are the fields of headstones.  There are also many resting places without headstones as many patients were abandoned by their families and there was no one to mourn when they died. We were told to remember that many people died rapidly because there was no treatment available and grave spots filled up.
Kalaupapa Settlement’s residential community is lovely and quiet and we enjoyed a stop at the snack bar to stimulate the economy there by purchasing a beverage or ice cream snack.  At the boat landing we could imagine the barges bringing food and supplies and new patients.  Close by is the Long House, the visitor-patient meeting hall, where loved ones were separated by a pane of glass, and the remains of the hospital.  We also visited the St. Francis Church, and the bookstore.  We saw the Bishop Home for Girls and the monuments to Mother Marianne and Father Damien.  I saw the beach where the character in my novel surfed and I imagined her living in one of the small homes.
Then the old schoolbus transported us to Kalawao to see the Siloama Church and St. Philomena Church, the site of the old Baldwin Home for Boys and the remains of the U.S Leprosy Investigation Station.  We marveled at Father Damien’s building skills, and noted the spit holes in the floor so churchgoers could get rid of their mucus while worshipping.  Next to the St. Philomena Church are even more gravesites.  Many of the headstones were from 1926-1929 and many more graves lie unmarked.
A new Kalaupapa Memorial will be located at the Old Baldwin Home site across the street from St. Philomena Church.  Building materials were already in place at the time of our visit.  We ate our picnic lunch in the park and were entranced by the lovely landscape and vistas overlooking the two islands off the coast and the cliffs straight up on our right.
Also on the island is a volcanic crater which is featured in a scene of my novel but the timing of our day did not allow us to visit either that or the lighthouse.
After flying out again, plane by plane load, we took a trip to the overlook topside to see Kalaupapa from another perspective.  Two whales breaching, a gift from nature, added to the spiritual aspect of our day.
The National Park System and the state of Hawaii are deciding what to do with Kalaupapa Peninsula when the last patient has passed.  My husband and several others were given a survey to fill out regarding the decisions to be made, one of which is to continue to limit the amount of visitors in any one day.  Every one of our group was humbled and grateful for the opportunity to visit.
I leave you with the words of Henry Nalaielua, a Kalaupapa resident:  “Don’t desecrate what happened here, not because of my lifetime, but because of those who came before me…I would really like to see this place stay sacred…sacred in honor of those who died here because of the disease, those who fought for allowances, fought for their clothing, fought for their medication, fought for their freedom.”  (National Park pamphlet)  


Part Four:
Our second day we traveled to the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center up the mountain close to Kualapuu, and were shown the 1878 R.W. Meyer Sugar Mill which has been lovingly restored from a fallen-down heap back into a showpiece.  If you’ve ever wondered exactly how sugar was made from cane in the old way, this tour would explain it all for you.  Lots of heat and manpower, mulepower and steam.
Glenn Teves, an extension agent, spoke to us about how Molokai residents are trying to live sustainably, with wind and solar power and water-saving devices. Some, such as Pilipo Solatorio, who grew up in the Halawa Valley, have researched how to grow crops in the manner of their ancestors.  More about Pilipo later.  Most of the food for the island is barged in every week, so in order to be more self-sufficient, some small farms are beginning to experiment with growing vegetables and there is now a farmers’ market once a week.  Having enough water is a key issue.
After the museum we visited Purdy’s Macadamia Nut Farm, where again we were reassured these nuts had never had any kind of chemical treatment whatsoever, from start to finish.  On one tree, we saw nuts in the growth chain, from blossom to fruit to fallen nut on the ground.  This farm is the only place in Hawaii where a person can be where the trees are because there are no pesticides.  Also, one is able to purchase raw nuts without processing which means without a lot of extra oil and salt.  Yum.  What amazed me most at this stop was that the owner looked like my grandmother.  They could have been brother and sister.
My favorite stop of the day was at a junior high Hawaiian Language Immersion school.  The teacher, Iolani Kuoha, like others her age, was not allowed to speak Hawaiian growing up and so had to go to school to learn her own language and the hula.  Her students speak and study in their own language now.  As we arrived, they performed the “Here we are.  May we come in?  Yes, we are these people and you are welcome” chant.  That whole process is just good manners, don’t you think?
The students did a couple of hula dances for us and explained the various instruments they used besides a ukulele.  They came to us a couple of nights later, showed us some more instruments, did another hula, and then taught us a portion of a hula dance.  Three men in our group agreed to participate as well they should, since hula was originally danced by men, not women.  However, they all donned the same skirts we women were given to wear, and my husband, at 6’4” and in a skirt, made everyone laugh, especially the boys.  The boys stayed with the men to help teach them and the girls stayed amongst the women, and we learned our hula step by step, following Iolani in front of us.
What I loved about that evening was seeing young people sharing the knowledge of their culture with us.  They were so proud of who they were and what they knew.  That was a moment of all things being the way they should be, the kind of moment you’d like to hold close to your heart and not let go.  We got big hugs from the kids as the evening ended and one seventh grade boy whispered to me as we hugged, “You was a GOOD hula dancer!”  That’s going down in my memory bank so I can pull it out at will when I need something affirmative in my life.  My only regret is not having any photos of the event.
During the week we visited Hawaiian Homestead farms to see what people are doing with their land.  At Weymouth and Jule Kamakana’s farm, we saw vegetable gardens and a demonstration on salt making.  Rudy and Mary Bongolan have a lovely flower garden full of orchids and hibiscus and palm trees.  Rudy told us that coconuts are found along the beaches because they like to grow in a combination of salt and fresh water.  He showed us a variety of products made from the various stages of a coconuts growth and showed us two tools he designed to help with the production of shredded coconut and husking coconuts.  We ate our lunches in their beachside covered patio.
Ishmael Stagner had shown us a poster of the ancient methods of farming and we saw it in action when we visited the Halawa
Valley.  “Halawa Valley is the oldest recorded habitation site on Molokai, 650 A.D.  Halawa was the home of a large agricultural community and remained well populated until 1946 when a tsunami struck.  Well-preserved house platforms and garden walls are scattered throughout the valley, as well as a great number of religious structures.  Halawa Stream, which once irrigated the farms, winds through the valley until it reaches the ocean.” (from Noe’s notes)
Pilipo Solotorio was a small child and remembers the tsunami very well.  He has returned in his retirement to farm his segment of the river by the ancient methods.  For us, he pounded poi from his taro patch, and he offered us some baked breadfruit as well.  His wife made a passion fruit sauce for dipping.  They live in a small shack, having sold their big house to their daughter.  They have no cell phone because there is no reception in the valley but he says they do have a generator and other amenities because he says he does live in the year 2011 after all.  The road out to Halawa twists and winds in a similar manner to the road to Hana on Maui.  I couldn’t help noticing, however, that road is in better repair and is better marked on the sides than many of our roads in the county where I reside.
Arleone Dibben has turned her beachside property into a wetland area for the protected Hawaiian goose, the Nene.  Our visited there coincided with the arrival of a pair of black and white Hawaiian stilts.  She is also coaxing native plants to grow on her sand dunes in order to stabilize them, and her neighbors are following suit.
Our final adventure with flowers was the creative endeavor of making our own leis.  Cookie and Squeaky, Noe’s compatriots and van drivers extraordinaire had plucked flowers for us while we visited the Nene and Noe showed us how to sew ourselves a lei. Mine was a lovely adornment at the pa’ina as was everyone else’s.
More to come…


TIDBITS FROM MOLOKAI, the Friendly Isle.
Pronunciation according to Hawaiians who grew up there:  MO LO KI—long O, long O, long I.  No accent and separation between the A and the I.  And the letter W in Hawaii is pronounced like the letter V.
Part One:
We attended one full day of Hawaiian history, my favorite part of which was this, the attributes of Polynesian people.  The five F’s.  These make sense no matter who you are or where you live.
FAITH—pule which is prayer and huikala which is forgiveness and humility.
FAMILY—kamalei—the family which is always around our shoulders protecting and supporting us.  Makua, the parent who observes, listens, and keeps the mouth shut.  Kupuna, the elders with wisdom, experience, and knowledge.  These would be the seasoned seniors and the aumakua, ancestors who can bless or curse, depending.
FOOD—for our growth and nourishment and for which we give thanks.
FUN—“Grief is all around us; humor is hard to find.” 
FEELINGS—which we acknowledge
Seems to me none of can get through life very well without those attributes.  Makes me proud to be a funny, seasoned senior.
Part Two:
How to tell directions: 
I don’t know from north, south, east, west, when traveling somewhere or giving directions.  I go by landmarks and landscape and street names and house numbers, of course.  This drives my husband crazy because he uses compass directions to navigate.  We have learned to compensate for each other when giving directions.  Now we have learned the Hawaiians navigate like I do.  (Must be my First Nation blood.)
mauka—to the mountain
makai—to the ocean
Go three blocks mauka and turn right at the green church.  When you come to the Cook Pine tree, turn makai and go to the blue house with the white van in front.  We live right across the street in the brown house with the blue plastic kids’ swimming pool on the lawn.
Hawaiians call this method “Wayfinding.”  You pay attention to your surroundings to figure out where you are.  On the ocean, traveling, they used the stars, the types of winds, the types of currents, the matter in the sea, all to tell them where they were.
I learned about wayfinding from Penny Martin who came to talk about being one of two women who sailed from Tahiti to Hawaii on The Hokule’a (Voyage of Rediscovery).  Inspired by Thor Hyerdahl in the 70’s, a Hawaiian crew sailed to Tahiti and back using a double-hulled vessel and the same methods as their early ancestors.  The crew had to learn all the old ways because they’d been lost as white man culture took over.  As she spoke, I thought how I wished I could have had such a role model when I was a young girl.  The young people she teaches now are so lucky to hear her story and know that they, too, can do whatever they dream of doing in life.
Part Three:
Luau means taro leaf and not the big feast of celebration.  The word for the celebration is Pa’ina.
Noe, our tour guide (not a comprehensive enough word for what she really is), and van drivers Squeaky and Cookie, and museum volunteers gave us a final pa’ina with authentic Hawaiian food, not the commercialized offerings of resort hotel fame.
There were two men playing guitars and singing and a woman who danced the hula for us and sang for us some chants.  When you go to visit another house or village, you stand outside the door and chant your hellos, your lineage, and you always bring a gift.  The people who lived in the mountains might bring a pig or a deer down to the people who live at the beach in exchange for some fish or sea creature.  (I know from Tony Hillerman’s novels that Navahos have the same custom.)
When she sang her family’s chants, I heard the same kind of tonal qualities I’d heard last summer during chants at the First Nation cultural center in Sitka.  Earlier we’d been told the common belief now is that Polynesian peoples visited all the continents in their travels and that the same qualities can be found thousands and thousands of miles apart.  We are all one big family, truly, and wouldn’t it be nice if we all could get along?
Noe explained that attending a pai’ina meant using manners.  Once the poi pot was uncovered, there could be no bickering, dispute, violence, or negativity.  There could be only positive actions and words, and discussion of things uplifting.  If someone broke the rule, the poi pot was covered up, and no one got to eat.  Everyone had to go home hungry. 
Wouldn’t this be a great custom for decision makers from hostile countries?  If some agreement could not be reached, the poi pot would be covered and everyone would have to go away hungry.
More thoughts and impressions to come…

New Year’s Eve 2010/New Year’s Day 2011

A friend of mine once spent Thanksgiving Day on the lonely side of rehab in a Waffle House, the only other customers two old ladies.  I think my New Year’s Eve 2010 approached that same level or is at least straddling the fence between one arrow up or one arrow down.  The celebration (in the bleakest sense of the word) wasn’t all bad, mind you.  Let me tell you, and you decide up or down.
I cooked a good dinner, I grant you that.  Then what?  My husband and I each pulled out the movies we had and settled on The Kids Are All Right.  The movie wasn’t.  The most ironic part came when two straight actresses portraying lesbian characters say what they hate about films portraying lesbian characters are when the actresses are straight. 
Otherwise, the dialog consisted mostly of a few words repeated:  “Wow” “Yeah…No…Yeah” “I understand” and “F— you.”  Sex was gratuitous and involved females with females while watching two males having sex on TV or female-male sex while Mexican gardener is working below the bedroom.  And one young girl who talked about sex all the time and one young boy who wanted to pee on a dog. 
I cannot understand why a fine actress like Annette Benning took this job.  She was marvelous in her part.  I hated her as a person. 
The script sucked.  I truly can do better. I’m not just saying that.  I can.  How the hell did this get made?  What needed to get resolved at the end was just dropped and continues to flap there in the breeze.  A fake ending was attached and had nothing to do with the rest of the film.  I asked my screenwriter friend to please promise me he will have nothing to do with anyone associated with this film.  Unless they offer him lots of money.  Of course. 
Another irony is that my husband and I missed the ball dropping while engrossed in this shitty film. Now we have to wait another year when years are in short supply.  We could find no good after-balldrop celebration on the entire offering from Dish Network.  Not even Hardcore Abs on two separate channels enticed me.  We did stop for 15 minutes to watch some really wonderful entertainment called “The 25 Christmases” on some channel I didn’t memorize.  Jack Benny was doing a routine showing how radio had been done.  It was the old year bidding goodbye and giving advice to the new year.  That’s where I heard some good writing and saw some even better performing.  We channel-flitted but found nothing good after that.  The only good thing about our night was that I had two glasses of Prosecco tainted with a bit of Limoncello. 
I ended the evening on a high note by going to bed to read about lepers in Moloka’i.  I went to sleep and didn’t wake up until my husband was the groggy recipient of a phone call asking him for a search warrant.  One of the county’s other two judges has not yet been sworn in and the other took off for tall timber this holiday weekend.  Guess who got the fun stuff?
My friend Sharon said she fell asleep last night and woke up at 12:02 and then missed the Rose Parade by an hour this morning.  I feel her pain.  I forgot all about the Rose Parade, so blinded by the third straight day of sun here in the land of Wet and Drear.  I watched another crappy Julianne Moore movie instead that was supposed to be a thriller but wasn’t.
I wonder if our “celebrations” signal some new turning in the aging process?  I spent part of the first day of the New Year, 1/1/11, ironing and doing laundry.  Should someone be feeling my head for a fever? Is this where joie de vivre takes me these days?
I have no answer.  I do have one suggestion, however.   I suggest you all start writing marvelous scripts.  Obviously, Hollywood needs some.  Happy New Year!