Strangers in Paradise
When you live in Boston, Massachusetts, and it's February, the thought of visiting Hawaii can defrost you. Over and over again, like a multi-sensory mantra, I'd close my eyes and conjure up pictures and sounds and soft feelings about a place far away . . . off the edge of some maps. Palm trees came to mind, with waving fronds like ballerina arms, and teal water washing over whole-wheat sand. There would be big red friendly hibiscus and smiling people.
And then I'd bolt awake from my tropical meditation. The soothing images of Hawaii would be repainted instantly with the scene right in front of me: packing tape and cardboard boxes. My husband and I were two days away from moving to Hawaii and leaving New England for good. Good as in forever, not good as in goody.
We were leaving our home, our friends, our families and two jobs, for one job and the hope that it would all work out. I was counting on what they called the "aloha spirit"uthe kindness of the Hawaiian peopleuwhich I had read about. I just hoped the aloha spirit was a real thing, not the invention of a gifted travel writer or the Hawaii Visitors Bureau.
If only I was as thrilled about moving to Hawaii as everyone else was on my behalf. "Paradise, wow! You're so lucky!" they all said when they heard about my husband's new job. Coworkers, friends, even our families seemed to be more fixated on sun and surf than on missing us. Well, maybe not our families, but they, too, were pretty excited about the prospect of a free place to stay. I think Hawaii has a hypnotic attraction, even for those who've never been there.
I was scared of moving to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. To an island that I couldn't drive off of. To a place that is closer to Manila than Manhattan.
Yes, Hawaii would be warm, but sunshine alone is no elixir for happiness. If it was, there would be no suicides in summer. I would need more than good weather: I would need friends and a job; I would need to learn my way around and figure out how to pronounce all of those vowel-filled mouthfuls.
By the time our plane touched down, thirteen hours after leaving, it was 12:30 a.m. in Boston. I later learned that the thunder, wind and heavy rain that greeted us upon our arrival at the Honolulu International Airport is something called a Kona storm. The winds change their usual direction and dump a nasty bit of weather in their confusion. The rain was actually pouring sideways, in horizontal sheets. They say it doesn't happen often. And my feelings were hurt that it happened to us.
When morning finally found us at our new address, the sun was shining. Not just shining; it was pouring brightness into each room, like it was making up for last night's outburst. I walked from our unfamiliar bedroom to our kitchen to our living room and saw them all for the first time with daytime eyes. Our landlords, Mr. and Mrs. Higuchi, had kindly left a futon for us to use until our stuff arrived. I thought the fridge would be as empty as the rest of the little house but opened it anyway and found fresh banana muffins and guava juice inside. We enjoyed that first breakfast on our futon-cum-couch-cum-dining room table.
At the front door, I kissed my husband for longer than usual and wished him good luck at his first day of work; he wished me good luck, too. Down at my feet I was surprised to find a bouquet of long-stem red ginger, tied with raffia, and a note which read, "Aloha, friends." It was signed, "The Kalanis, next door."
From the phone in the otherwise empty living room, I dialed information and thought I had gotten a wrong number when a real person answered. "Aloha. Thank you for calling GTE Hawaiian Tel. This is Leilani. How may I help you?"
"Oh, Leilani, I need a lot of help!" I said.
After she gladly gave me the number of the Kalanis, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the closest bank, Leilani asked if there was anything else she could help me with. "Yes, Leilani," I said, "Could you be my best friend?"
Leilani didn't end up becoming my best friend, but she did take the time to give me explicit directions to the grocery store, the recommendation of a woman who cuts hair for $20, an explanation of mauka and makai-and her home number, in case I had any other questions!
I had a lot of questions for Leilani. Ones I'd never bother her with. But I realized, by the end of that first morning, that one of my questions had already been answered. Hawaii was filled with strangers who could be my friends. And it wasn't the sunshine alone that makes Hawaii feel warm.
?2003. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Chicken Soup from the Soul of Hawaii by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Sharon Linnea, Robin Stephens Rohr. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.