When I first returned to Hawaii this year, I was here alone for two weeks. Roger, the caretaker, was here, of course, and he is wonderful and helpful if I really need something and he works and has his own busy life.
So, anything I needed to do, I needed to do myself.
Since my living and sleeping space had been cleaned by a wonderful friend, I did not have to face that ordeal. It seemed that my only task (other than my usual work!) was to do the food shopping and let the people, the culture, and the aina (the land), perform their usual healing on the wounds that I had gathered from dealing with Western culture. This healing is why I came here and it is always needed and essential and it starts when the wheels of the plane touch down on the aina.
My first task was to head into Costco and “put in stores” (i.e. do my one-stop shopping so I would not have to go out and leave my precious aina until I needed to pick up Pete, my manager, in two weeks.)
My important experience started at the checkout counter at Costco. There, the woman packing my cart, seeing that I was alone “suggested” that because I was alone (and 81-years-old) instead of packing my items in boxes as they usually do, she would put the items in loose, and put the boxes on top so I would not have to lift any heavy boxes from the cart to the car. I was touched with such unsolicited concern and kindness.
As I was slowly unloading my items into the boxes in my car, several people stopped and offered to help (this had never happened on the mainland!). When I was loaded, someone appeared and said, “Here, let me return your cart for you.”
I had returned to my “home” and felt my soul slowly easing back into my body.
The next time I went in to pick up a few necessary “forgotten” items, the same thing happened. How much difference a little difference makes!
The next time I went in – with Pete – I encountered the haoles.
For years, I had heard the native people here refer to “haoles” and I assumed that the term just meant white people and had accepted it as that and accepted myself as “one of them” even though that identity never fit for myself and, as it turns out, others.
Then, sometime during the thirty-some years that I have been coming here and living here, I discovered that I am over half Cherokee which now makes more sense to me. So, I am Cherokee, Irish and English. I have become more accepting of the English bit since I can now see that it helps me understand white minds and white culture which, at some very basic level, is completely not understandable at all to me.
So, during this process of discovering my Cherokee-ness, I also discovered that haole did not just mean white people. Ha – is the breath – the breath of God (Akua) and ole is without. White people, then, as the Hawaiians experience them are “people without the breath of God.” Harsh – and I see that this has been their experience.
Even Costco – one of my favorite stores – is different here.
When Pete and I were at Costco checking out, at the register next to us there were a couple who were tourists and “haoles.” She was heavily made up and wearing some black draped thing that was very, very short and draped very low in front and back, falling off the shoulders – maybe appropriate at the beach. He was a plain, non-descript, obviously well-to-do man who would be married to her (you know the type). (My, I sound judgmental, don’t I? I feel sad about that and their behavior and demeanor were very hard for me to swallow even though I usually am accepting of most people. I was a bit shocked by them and it gets worse!).
As they neared the checkout with what seemed like an attitude of arrogant entitlement, they huddled and then, carefully looking around to see if anyone was looking, I guess, unloaded over a third of their cart (not the abundance of liquor, of course) AND HID IT UNDER THE CHECKOUT COUNTER WHERE IT COULD NOT BE SEEN BY THE CASHIERS OR BAGGERS!!
As they say in Australia, I was gob-smacked and filled with a rush of feelings – horror, anger, hurt, protectiveness for my island and my people here, and embarrassment. I was embarrassed that anyone of my race, my relatives, could behave that way. Clearly, they knew that they were doing something “wrong” as they were very, very sneaky about it.
On Kauai, if “we” had buyer’s remorse at the checkout, most of us would have stepped out of line and re-shelved it – or as it sometimes happens here, we would have said that we did not have enough money and asked if the staff could re-shelve it and apologize, or do something that took some responsibility.
At that moment I felt ashamed for the human race and protective of the native people here knowing what it feels like for them for over two hundred years having people who do not have the breath of God swarming all over their healing aina, dressed inappropriately and having no regard or respect for them, their land, or their customs.
I informed our bagger of the stash of items there in case some were perishable. His response was, “I don’t have one more confrontation left in me.”
And, because I knew that no one else would say anything to them, and since their car was parked close to ours, I went over and told them that I was offended by their behavior.
Their attack was vicious.
And, at the very least, I knew that they would have something to talk about and justify for the rest of their vacation.
Sometimes futile gestures just have to be made, I guess.
It’s the Irish in me. No Cherokee or Hawaiian would have ever been so rude.