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Off to Paradise

After Sean and I moved to our rinky-dinky freezing cold apartment in Branchville, we started to get an itch we couldn’t scratch, and knew that we wouldn’t be able to scratch it in our hometown. We started wondering aloud where we would be able to — maybe spend a year working in the Caribbean? Maybe see what California’s all about?

We didn’t know what awaited us, but after a few months living in town and seeing what town-life was like, we realized that we needed to spread our wings a bit.

While planning my next semester with my college advisor, I shared with her our itch for adventure and asked if she knew of places “somewhere warmer” where they needed teachers.

Oh yea, Hawaii always needs teachers.”

I came home that day thinking that was crazy — Hawaii? — but figured I’d just bring it up over dinner that night as a funny, “haha, Hawaii, can you imagine?” kind of thing.

Except, when I brought it up to Sean, he didn’t think that was too crazy at all. He tilted his head slightly to one side, chewed on a bite of whatever dinner I had made, and said, “Hmm. That’s actually really cool, maybe we should go check it out.”

We started planning a trip out there for a week just to look things over and see if it felt right. Upon our arrival, we immediately fell in love. As we ventured through, we realized that it was going to be expensive and that our life would be different, but we fell in love – fell in awe – of Hawaii. People there are kind and diverse; they are dreamers and visionaries. They are creative souls with a deep attachment to nature. We knew that living there would fuel individual growth in us beyond our wildest dreams – and it did.

We came home, shared with our families our plan, and began the two-year process of implementing it: I needed to finish my degree, we were getting married, and we had things to sort out to make it all possible.

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Spaced a few years apart. First one in 2013 & second one in 2015 — Prednisone Chipmunk Cheeks galore.

We spent our first year in Hawaii living on the leeward side of Oahu in Ewa Beach, specifically, in a small community on Iroquois Point, right across from Pearl Harbor and Hickam Airforce Base. God, it was lovely. We lived in a duplex, right across from a lagoon, a less than ten-minute walk to a private beach where we could look at the Waianae mountain range, Honolulu’s skyline, and the outline of Diamond Head in the distance. On Wednesdays, the farmer’s market set up across the street from our house, along the lagoon; we always had our jalousie windows open to let the trade winds blow through, and I’d hear the Hawaiian reggae music, and we’d walk over to get our fruit and veggies for the week and get a cookie from the cookie lady. After coming home, we’d make guacamole (thus the beginning of our tradition of ‘Guacamole Wednesday’). The rich smell of pineapple encapsulated the house just by sitting on the countertop. At night, we’d go to the beach around 10 PM and lay directly in the sand and look up at a sky that I’d never imagined could be so clear, so speckled with stars and Milky Way that I could be happy if I never saw daylight again if I got to just look up into this unbelievable universe.

 

The beach overlooking Diamond Head & Honolulu and the lagoon across from our house.

After living there for a year, we moved to Maunawili, a part of Kailua on the windward side, to a tiny one-bedroom ‘ohana-unit’ of only about 350 square feet, but was perfect for us, with windows lining our living room and kitchen area that looked out to the Ko’olau mountain range, and when it rained hard, we’d sit inside and watch dozens of waterfalls form along the mountain range. We fell in love with our landlords that lived in the house attached to our apartment — their five-year-old came over every day to play with Bosco and lightened up our lives in every way with her curiosity and innocence and perfectness. She’d come into our house and call the tapestry that hung between our living room to the hallway the “palace walls” and create stories about Bosco being the king and that we “must go beyond the palace walls for safety!” We’d sit in the lawn and look up at the clouds and I’d come up with some fairy tale about the castles and kingdoms that lived in the clouds and she’d look at me, confused, and say, “Um, no, clouds are nothing but condensation,” and I’d laugh because here’s this kid turning my apartment into a kingdom with her imagination, but then look up into a wondrous sky and drop some truth bombs on me, and I’d smile and say, “Well, that too.”

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Our backyard in Maunawili.

About a year later, we ended up moving to Kapahulu, a part of Honolulu — our first time living in an actual city. That took some adjusting, especially for Bosco, who, as our trusty guard dog, thought every sound from outside was an axe murderer. We were only a stone’s throw to Queen’s Beach in Waikiki. At night, we brought Bosco up to the rooftop terrace and, though it had a bit more light pollution from the city, we still reveled in getting lost in conversation, looking into the universe. My body always felt so heavy that I loved getting lost in the cosmos; it made me feel so wonderfully insignificant, and during the day, I yearned for those moments of getting lost there, alongside Sean, dreaming up dreams and reflecting and wondering the what’s and the how’s and the why’s and the where’s of existence.

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Just me and my bumble. Tourists from China and Japan loved watching him frolick in the waves and would laugh and take pictures of him. It really inflated his ego.

Nonetheless, despite the incredible beauty we experienced, we also learned quickly what it meant to be an expat in Hawaii. Tension festers between the kanaka maoli, the military, and the transplants that ran away to these islands. In Ewa Beach, there is this one road, Papipi Road, that is the most literal way to view the symbolic struggle to co-exist on these islands; the juxtaposition of two worlds divided by pavement is an electric shock. The right side of the road is perfectly manicured – in this case, the grass is, in fact, greener on the other side. Emeralds sprout from the soil; bougainvilleas blossom in the hedges. Priuses wait in driveways and homes are insulated with promise and security. The left side of the road isn’t featured in the real estate ads that sell the other side’s homes – the grass is burnt, the soil is dry, and the windows are protected by rod iron bars.

Native Hawaiians have faced incredible oppression over the last century; early on, their language (Olelo) was outlawed, along with their cultural practices and religious traditions. They weren’t allowed to meet in large groups, and right before the dawn of the 20th century, American and European businessmen, led by U.S. Minister John Stevens and a group of U.S. Marines, staged a coup and overthrew the monarchy. Eventually, they imprisoned their monarch (Queen Liliuokalani) in her own palace, charging her with treason. Thus began a long line of pain that the Hawaiian people still feel to this day.

Living there for three years opened us up in ways we never would have imagined, and I’m forever grateful to have been humbled by newfound understandings of things left out of our history books.

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