Tethered Within the Storm

IMG_4481This strange time we’re all in during the current pandemic calls for change. Changes in society, changes in lifestyle, and changes in self. I was originally going to write this post on the importance of food sovereignty and why the food security of my island home has become so much more pressing in the face of market disruptions worldwide. I was going to write about how, while living in the most remote island chain in the world which also happens to have at least 90% dependency on imported foods (I’ve heard the figures vary within the ninety range), such disruptions in global food supply chains can be a bit disheartening. I was also going to mention how this food dependency is quite frustrating when one considers how the Hawaiian islands were once capable of sustaining its native population of around 1 million without a single imported good. And then, after explaining all of that, I probably was going to wrap it all up with a bit of call to action to buy local and support local food initiatives. Simple. Easy.

(If you want to read more of me geeking out about food sovereignty, check out this AdobeSpark page I did on it for a project this semester)

But the time we are living in right now isn’t easy. Even as the tumultuous state of the outside world crashes in chaotic waves around us, inside we remain, in the little lifeboats of our houses and apartments, waiting out the storm. And, as I’m sure is the case for most of us, even within these lifeboats of our homes, there is no escape from the potential tumult inside of our heads. We are spending more time with ourselves right now than we probably ever have as a society. People are cooking more, reading more, keeping themselves occupied in the little ways they can. But, even with these little distractions, there comes a time when everything becomes still, no more voices are heard, and we must face ourselves. Completely.

This might seem a bit overly philosophical, but I’m going to take a shot at it anyway. I often feel that, throughout my life, I create all these little worlds for myself. Each experience and group of people becomes a new sphere, a new dimension of my existence. And, as time passes, the spheres shift, or collide, and a new world is formed within which my constantly shifting identity can once again comfortably reside.

It happened in Burkina Faso and Bangladesh, when the extent of my existence lay within the sphere of humanitarian efforts in other countries. I saw myself then as someone who would travel to help those in need.

It happened in London, when the sphere grew to greater scope as I became more comfortable in my own skin, as a young woman, searching for independence while reveling in the brilliant impermanence of the present moment.

It happened back home on Oʻahu, once I had all of those spheres hanging from my belt of experience, and those fragments of self came together in my passion to mālama the ʻāina of my precious island home.

But who am I? A humanitarian? An activist? A naive girl facing a hopelessly disfigured world?

Well, Iʻve come to accept that I am all of those things. And yet, as the days go by, and I find myself neither in a far away land nor feeling the mud of kalo patches between my toes, those defining fragments of the self seem a little less clear, a little faded around the edges. It is easy to forget, even when those familiar spheres you have created for yourself define who you are.

As I sat today on my livingroom couch, with the blissful freedom of summer stretched out before me, I felt a bit unteathered, unsure about the surety of my meaning, my existence. I wanted to relax, to feel relieved that the work from this past semester was finished, to be trully in the moment. But the spark that fueled my endless endeavors was struggling to ignite.

Familiar faces flashed through my head, blurs of memory streaming through my mind, and I began to scroll through pictures of my past. Little by little, as the pictures came and went, the the indefinite images of memory in my mind began to gain a little more clarity. I could once again feel the biting chill of London air that had become so familiar to me, see the sunlight shine between the puffy tendrils of Ohiʻa Lehua blossoms. I could see familiar faces of friends and family, capturing moments of silliness with faces contorted in laughter and shakas waving in the air. Suddenly, I could feel a tug at my chest, a tether not to the outside world per say but to my very innerself, reminding myself exactly who I was with this accumulation of experiences. The loves and passions that have gathered throughout my 20-year-long lifetime gathered in my chest, and I once again remembered who I was.

They say that we all must live in the moment, and I agree. Living either solely in the past or the future prevents us from appreciating the moment we are living at this very second. I do think, however, that that tidbit of advice can be modified slightly. I’ve come to realize that my life comes in waves of action and reaction, that I often have these chunks of time where I am experiencing completely in the moment, and other times when I am looking back and feeling the depth of that past accumulation of moments. It seems that, if we all go through life only living in this moment right here and right now, without looking at all at where we came from, things might begin to lose their depth. It is when I feel totally in the moment, but within that immediacy I still can feel behind me the tethering weight of my past accumulated experiences, that I am trully happy. What is this chipped tea cup when not connected to the little thrift market in the backstreets of London, where I got it as a set for only 6 pounds? What is that kalo plant in the mud when it is not associated with the memories of sweat and back-ache and laughter under the blazing sun with my Kupu teamates?

The world around us does indeed have its own beauty. But, the experiences we have within it are what can turn it from a simple scenery to a rich, meaningful landscape of life.

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Peace in the time of COVID-19

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What a time, am I right? Here I am, my fingers dancing over the keys of my laptop as I sit at home in quarantine. The ocean waves beackon, the trees in the mountains call to me, and yet here I must remain on my gluteus maximus numb from sitting. Oh the horror.

But wait. While I am here, “stuck” in my house, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are unable to breath. There are even more out there who are too scared to go out and see their loved ones, many who are racially discriminating about an extremely indiscriminant virus which has run rampant worldwide. People are walking on opposite sides of the sidewalk, if at all, and worried eyes dart around above face-masks as people avoid each other in the grocery store. As if our society was not untrusting enough. As if such worried glances between total strangers did not already pass before the viral hysteria of an entire planet. This is the straw on the camel’s back, right? We can’t take all of this anymore.

And yet, that’s the thing isn’t it? This isn’t new, not really. Don’t get me wrong, the numbers of dying are staggaring, and the numbers of infected that are continually growing are overwhelming as well. And I am so sorry that those people are suffering. But for those of us who are lucky enough to be healthy, to be safe (rather than “stuck”) at home, we must remember that this big moment in human history cannot occur in vain. We cannot sit back and whine about the state of things without doing anything about it.

This is the time to right past wrongs that have reoccured over and over because of the complacency which arises with habit.

This is the time to stop discriminating with the onset of a virus that doesn’t care about the color of your skin, about your social background, about your political views.

This is the time for us to realize just how fragile our world system is, how we’ve all been dependent on a faulty global system to provide for us for so long.

This is the time to appreciate the simple things that life offers us, when we can’t go out to cafes and restaurants and enjoy the “finer things in life”. Life is the very finest thing about life. We’re alive, we’re breathing. That unto itself is a pretty fine thing, don’t you think?

The other day, I went with my dad on a solar service job (his job is considered essential, so he still has work) and sat on the roof as he went down to grab some tools. Normally, this would be a bit of a hassle, climbing onto the hot roof under the full blaze of the sun, the heat of the shingles preventing me from sitting down for too long. But at that moment, I was awestruck by the feeling of sunlight and wind, feeling the warm glow of sunlight on my skin and the wind caressing my arms, flicking the heat away. I hadn’t been outside for so long, so my senses were heightened. I looked around me, past the many houses and developments, at the lush green mountains to my left and the bar of blue ocean on my right. Laundry hung in the next door neighbors yard, and the rainbow of strung-up garments answered to the wind’s call as they too billowed. A boy across the street played basketball with his dad in their yard, the same wind carrying their laughter to my ears.

It was so full of life.

And we can all find that within us. As we are all faced with the impermanence and instability of our day-to-day lives, as we are faced with the eminent reminder of our mortality rather than taking for granted that inevitable day when we will each close our eyes to the world one last time, we must find the life flame that remains within. Life blazes within us, and in this crucial time we must remember it is there and nurture it, tend to it. We must remember not to look outside of ourselves, but within, and appreciate all of the little daily blessings we live through as we go through this tough time.

And most importantly, we cannot forget. We cannot forget the suffering happening right now. Nor can we forget whatever trials we each have experienced during this time. We cannot forget when this is all over and go back to our previous tendencies of discrimination, of fear, of ignorance. This is a trial for all of us, but we can take it as a lesson, and right the wrongs that have become so much clearer with the onset of COVID-19.

So here I stay for now, safely typing away during my stay-home quarantine with a mug of steaming tea beside me. And I am so grateful to be here.

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A Momentary Monologue on Moments

The summer is a time of wonders. It’s insane how many songs and poems are written about summer, and yet it makes sense; some of the most carefree and amazing moments I’ve experienced have occurred during summer, when school is no longer an issue and we are all free to be ourselves…for the most part.

In reality, being the overachiever I am, not only did I take part in an internship this summer at an arboretum, but I’ve also been studying throughout the break in preparation for a Chinese placement test at the end of August. So although my summer has been great, I definitely wouldn’t call it completely carefree.

And yet there come the moments. The moments of wonder. The moments of total relaxation where all those studies and people and things just melt away from my consciousness and all I am left with is the pure essence of the “now”.

I’ve been feeling that more this past week, after my internship ended and I have had a little more time for myself. These moments of “now-ness” were echoed in the untamed shadowy glow of a campfire beneath the stars, in long meditations looking out at chickens roaming as the setting sun painted its colors in the sky. They were embodied in those long talks beneath the moon, with the sand between our toes and the ocean whispering in waves beyond.

And yesterday, after a long farewell party which marked the parting of ways from many people I had come to love this summer, the “now-ness” which struck me most came at the night’s end, when we drove home and I sat in the bed of my friends pick-up truck and was able to just watch the whole world unfold before me at rapid speed. The cool night air whipped stray hairs out of my loose ponytail still salty from the ocean, and the stars shone above the urban jungle of Honolulu which gleamed with its own constellations of apartments and houses, closed shop windows and streetlights. I looked at all these scenes unfolding before me as the truck sped along the road, all familiar but made strange with the darkness and the changed perspective in the back of the truck. And at that moment, I came to both feel the total insignificance of us as individuals in the face of this massive society full of life and loss and love, and yet also feel the total preciousness of each of our tiny existences within this mass of human experience.

In feeling this, those beautiful moments from this summer shown ever brighter in my mind’s eye, and I reveled in the feeling of total freedom as my hair whipped in the wind and I looked out both at the overwhelmingly alive city before me as well as at all of my experiences I’ve had over the last few months. And I found myself feeling totally, utterly happy. But not in the shallow instantaneous sense of the word when people feel happy because they’re having a good time. I mean really happy, and this happiness comes from a simultaneously present sadness which remains with the knowledge that these moments and memories are all finite and transient. Despite the bittersweet nature of this happiness, the accumulation of all of these “nows” into our life experience is beautiful enough to bring about a happiness that transcends instant gratification, and makes one feel a connection to all the people and places that have been experienced.

And that connection seems to be the key to it all. It’s those brief moments of connection, true connection, whether it be with people or places or even ideas, that seem to catalyze these feelings of fuller happiness. It’s those moments of silence as you stroke the hand of the one you love, those moments when the view is just so damn beautiful that it almost seems like it’s all part of some bigger picture that we’re just not quite seeing yet. When you’re in the ocean and it no longer feels separate from you but rather seems like an undulating organism beneath the vast blue sky, or looking at the stars for so long that you feel sucked into their vastness.

And the best part? When people can understand you when you feel this way and experience it with you too. That’s what I’ve been feeling lately. That’s why I’ve been living in a constant limbo between total happiness and utter sadness as I grope my way from moment to moment and try not to fall into the abyss of futile impermanence. Instead, I’ve been letting these memories and moments accumulate within to the point where, looking out at the moving road in a truck bed under the stars, I felt connected to all the people and moments that I’ve come to love, and came to feel them all become a part of me.

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Too much love? What a hard life

IMG_2264Ok, I know I’m probably tiring you all with my constant sentimental posts, but there’s something you must have realized about me by now– as gung-ho and into adventure as I am, deep down I’m a mushy sentimental person who loves romantic comedies and lights candles with every meal. Shhh, don’t let out my secret. I’m trusting you all to hide these gooey insides of mine and go along with the explorative, daring identity that I like to project of myself.

But what am I saying; that is just as much a part of me as the mushy insides of my sentimental heart. Only, I find myself in a constant inner battle between my inspired, adventure-hungry side and the other part of me which could spend hours listening to songs and looking at pictures from long ago, living in an over-romanticized past. Did I ever mention that I was a bit of a confusing character? But then again, aren’t we all?

One thing I’ve realized through all this reminiscing, and through these bittersweet recollections that I am constantly making of the beloved experiences and people that have come and gone, is that the core to my sadness is something that is not at all unfortunate. Do you want to know what it is? Drum-roll please…and prepare yourself to want to barf out of my utter cheesiness. Have you prepared yourself? Well here goes…

The core to all the inner torment and sadness that I have come to experience is due to too much love. Which is the most fortunate type of sadness anyone could ever wish to experience. How could I complain about feeling bittersweet longing for all the love that I’ve experienced, either through something I am completely passionate about or through meeting amazing people that I had the privilege of creating undeniable bonds with? The sentimental aspect of me grasps firmly to those beloved people and moments in my memory and urges them to return to the present, and yet I cannot deny that this is the most beautiful saddness one can come to experience. How fortunate is someone to not feel sadness for not having any love in one’s life but instead feeling this sense of longing for loves which have come and gone?

As the wise Tennyson urged so earnestly in his famous In Memoriam (a work which, I must admit, utterly dwarfs my sentimentality in comparison), “’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Ok, I am sorry to those out there reading this who are gagging at all this lovey-dovey talk, but my man Tennyson has got a point there. Even with the overwhelming saddness and emptiness which can follow the loss of some sort of love, just the fact that you even had the chance to experience anything that pure and beautiful is a miracle unto itself. Better to see the light and have it shatter before your very eyes than to live your life in total darkness.

Of course, there’s that whole perspective of how “ignorance is bliss,” and that love just brings with it a bunch of unnecessary pain and sadness. But hey, maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but I’d very much rather have something beautiful come and go than just live a mediocre life of always being “ok” and nothing more.

This whole little written speech of mine is not saying that all you single people out there have got to get a significant other right this minute or else you’re not living your life. Not at all. In fact, of all the young people I know, I had always been the person in the least rush to get romantically involved in any way. Youth is an amazing time full of opportunity that reaches far beyond a first kiss or the loss of one’s virginity. What I mean to say is, life needs SOME sort of love, whether that be familial, romantic, or even regarding one’s career or aspirations. Look at writing for example. Whether you judge my writing to be good or not, it is one of my many passions which I have found meaning in for a long time, it being a conduit through which I can express myself and create with the beautiful art of words. Therefore, I’d consider writing one of the many loves of my life, and hey, it comes with no strings attached! The same couldn’t be said about romantic love could it 😉

But I digress. The point is to love what you do and the people around you to the fullest, for you never know when, poof, they’ll be gone but for a gleaming memory in the innermost part of your heart and mind.

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I had time to think about all this today as I sat in the swaying branches of a tree, looking up at the brilliant blue sky and the vibrant splash of green leaves against that backdrop of the heavens. I had found myself by a water reservoire which was supposedly not for public access, but the Absolutely No Entry sign before it had not at all prevented me from entering the beautiful deserted spot. The wind was blowing just enough that everything looked alive; the needles of the ironwoods, the leaves of the overlapping canopy, even the sporadic and unpredictable ripples in the water. And they all glowed with the glaring sunlight which was softened only by the sifting shade beneath the leaves. I had sat in that tree to read my book, and yet I found myself just gawking at the beauty and soaking in the scene like a sponge for at least an hour or more, just letting nature make its impression on me.

In this little meditative moment of mine, I came to realize that all this rapid change and constant engagement I’ve been going through in the last few months have been so overwhelming and attention-absorbing that I had not really had a chance to process all of the experiences that had passed. I had just spent three months in London, England studying abroad. I spent another month traveling all around Europe, hostel hopping from place to place on a budget. And I had made it back home to paradise. Whoa. That’s a lot to swallow. So I had been wondering why in the world I hadn’t even gotten sad when I left my London home-away-from-home and I realized it was because I had never been given the time to just process all that I had gone through and really do justice to such amazing life experiences. Such love for that place and those people which I had had the privilege of adding to my already swelling heart.

But today it happened. I finally sat in a tree all alone, not distracted by any friends or family or studies or plans. Just me sitting in the forest with the wind whispering through the ironwoods. And, along with the vibrant colors and shapes of nature that was laid out before me, I began to see images flash before my inner eye as memories congregated in my unsilenced mind. The feeling of London filled my heart, scooching in to make room for itself among those other inner feelings and aspects of self-identity from my humanitarian trips to Africa and Bangladesh as well as those from my very island home of O’ahu. Were all of those experiences part of the same person? Were they really all bits and pieces which made up my very unique identity, just as all experiences people go through become integrated into their own identities?

And at that moment, I realized how silly it was to be sad for losing finite moments of an amazing lifetime. Because, yes, these moments and these friends and acquaintances come and go with the ebb and flow of life experience. But when they really mean something, when they trully make an impression in one’s heart, they never really leave. Instead, these memories imprint themselves in our very hearts and become manifested in ourselves. We become vessels through which otherwise random experiences are condensed are expressed.

So even with love that is discovered and then lost, the loss of that love does not make the whole experience irrelevant. No, instead, these experiences and people that we come to love become essential elements to our very unique identities. So, sitting there in that tree which swayed in the ebbing wind, I laughed to myself knowing that I had been and still am the very same girl who had stepped in the lo’i to malama the ‘aina in Kupu last summer, the same girl who had gotten to play with the beautiful, smiling children in impoverished huts in Burkina Faso, the same girl who sipped Earl Grey tea and read by the silverey window of a cafe along the Thames river. And I could still feel the love of the teammates with whom I had grown so close last summer, and that of the village people in Bangladesh, and that of my beloved group of friends who became more like family in our little communal kitchen in London.

Looking back at all these amazing experiences incites a twinge of longing in the heart, and yet it also reminds me how amazing it was to have had the opportunity to experience those many manifestations of love and still allow them all to be a part of the person I have become and continue becoming today. I am so fortunate to have been able to undergo all of these life-changing experiences, and am damn lucky that the greatest sadness in my life is the imperminence of these beautiful connections and experiences. For, looking back at it all in rapid succession in my minds eye, I still get goosebumps not only from bittersweet sentimentality, but also of exhiliration and excitement for what lies ahead. After all, I’m still only nineteen; many new experiences and acquaintances await me in the near and far future. And the passions which my past experiences have stirred within me make me excited to see what the future holds.

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Musical Flashbacks of Times No Longer

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Its pretty weird yet magical how certain pieces of music can be like little portals into memories, jolting you back into a moment in time when you were jamming to that song or just hearing it as the soundtrack of the moment. This happened to me suddenly tonight, as I was washing the dishes with my earbuds in, starting my newly-made Spring 2019 London playlist, as images and feelings suddenly flooded my being with all those little moments from that wonderful time back in London piecing themselves together in my mind’s eye.

I was washing dishes in my home in Honolulu, and yet listening to those London jams I was thrust back into our crummy but sweet communal kitchen in our dorms where I would feel my hands both burning and freezing simultaneously under the water which spewed from the building’s ancient plumbing system. Sitting at the dining table there as Adele’s Daydreamer sounded from my little pink speakers, I would look out the large window and take in the bare trees suspended in wintery death and the squirells scuttling across the grass, hoarding bits of food from the dumpsters just beyond them. As the music resounded in my ears I could see a compilation of images and moments that had occured in that very kitchen with my little pink speakers blaring, creating an everlasting soundtrack which I did not predict would eventually become a tear-jerking portal back to that wonderful, precious time.

And here I was, washing my dishes back in Hawaii, everything uncannily normal, eventhough so much has happened since I stood there washing dishes four months ago, before any of these new experiences had accumulated in my heart and in my mind.

This isn’t the first time I was musically transported in time like this. Take my much over-mentioned internship last summer with Kupu (was that really a year ago?). I have a Summer 2018 Booty Jams playlist from those beautiful days out in the blinding heat of the sun and amidst the rich ‘āina that I had come to love so much, and every time I would listen to those songs my heart would lurch a little in bittersweet longing for moments long gone but also appreciation for having been able to have such an amazing experience. It’s quite pathetic actually; it’s been almost a year since and yet I still cannot deny the amazing impact that experience has had both on my heart and my mind. In fact, it seems to me a sort of unrequited love, as I have found over the last few months that the rest of my crew had found the whole thing fun, but not life changing like I had. And yet in that summer I had experienced a connection both with the people I met and the land on which I worked which I feel was precious beyond words, even if the very people who I had felt this for had not experienced it in the same light. So I find myself still stopping in my tracks every time I hear Kolohe Kai’s Heartstrings, as I feel my very heartstrings being strummed in tune with the music which had played during such an amazing moment in my life.

And here I remain, in a way back to square one as I wash the dishes in my childhood home. And yet so much has changed since those earlier days, and the magic of music wafting into my ears reminds me of all that I have gone through to become the person that I find myself today. Everything has supposedly gone back to “normal”; I’m back at home and the “swing of things”, and yet as these pieces of music sound in my ears I am hurled through memories which have all accumulated to fill my heart with bittersweet  feelings of love for the ‘āina, for this great big world, and for the people that I meet along the way.

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Longing for London

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So this is both a moment for me to show off some pictures from my new baby Canon SL2 camera I had gotten before studying abroad, as well as one in which I may finally be able to reminisce and wrap up the amazing experience that had prolongued itself for my last four months abroad.

I had entered this new collegiate and international world of study abroad expecting to be traveling and blogging constantly and really soaking in every moment, as I often do during my travels, so as to grasp onto them in the midst of their ineviable dispersal into memory. However, because this was way more significant than any trip I had previously embarked on, due to the sheer length of time as well as my first big break from my parents, this became less of a trip and more of a chapter of my life. I get to say I lived in London now, really lived there, even if only for three months.

Yes, I went to see the London Eye and Buckingham Palace and the Big Ben (which was under construction by the way, so not so impressive). Of course I did; I was in London. But I also got to stress about assignments there, spending hours walled up in the University of Roehampton’s newly renovated library and doing research till my eyes threatened to fall out. I got to take a shower every day in that coed shower with no ceiling that dripped cold water now and then, and which would go dark every three minutes until I opened the door to activate the sensor yet again. I got to get used to sleeping in a small room all alone and learn to feel complete in the silence, and when my boyfriend visited and left I got to learn how to sleep in that same small room all alone and try to feel complete once again. I even got to brave against the wind and snow, shivering in my coat as I awaited a bus that wasn’t to come for seventeen more long, frigid minutes.

So yes, London was amazing, but it was a different sort of amazing than most of my other trips had been before. It wasn’t purely fun like those action-packed vacations you go on where everything is planned out and paid for. And it wasn’t exactly inspiring in the way that my humanitarian trips to Africa feel when they expose me to people living less fortunate lives than ourselves. No; it was a holistic experience in which I came to slowly find myself a little more in the midst of this crazy, very different, slightly overwhelming city that came to be my home away from home.

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I will never forget going to Asda and hunting for cheap deals in broke-college-student mode, going with my best friend on the 265 bus sometimes late at night to scour the shelves for cheap fresh produce and guilty-pleasure sweets. I will never forget our club nights when we would all get together in the same kitchen and play Kings Cup to get tipsy before stumbling over to the on-campus club night called the Bop. I will never forget the bruises my friends and I got on our legs and arms from attempting to progress in our newly-aquired aspiration for pole dancing, and our late night tea-times where we would just talk together into the smal hours of the morning.

I will never forget these moments, because they have become a part of me. As cheesie as it may seem, this was more than a trip and a fun time; it was the start and end of a beautiful chapter of my life in which I got to live and breath my beloved London, and grow just a little more along the way.

And now I sit here in this black leather chair I had once lugged up the hill with my dad to salvage from the dumpster, surrounded by all these strange yet familiar things of this place I once called my home and I call my home once again. Stepping off that plane and back into the wall of warm Hawaii humidity had been an uncanny experience of the unfamiliarly familiar. It was all too natural to be outright strange, and yet it was still so different from the London home I had made for myself that I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I must admit, I never really felt homesick at all the whole time I was gone. And yet, that basal craving for ahi poke and spam musubis, and for the undulating ocean under the setting sun, still called to me and gleamed in a more endearing, beautiful way in my minds eye as I reminisced about London and looked forward to going back to my island home. Now that I am back, I find myself not so sad as I am grateful for this amazing accumulation of experiences that are piling up in my beautiful little flip book of mine called life.

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Gender and Hegemony: A Surprising Account on What it Really Means to be “Me”

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So I can tell you’re a bit confused right now. Gender? Hegemony? How does this have anything to do with this girl Jocelyn’s trip to England and all that stuff about her finding herself, blah blah balh? Well weirdly enough, with this being my first experience ever away from places of familiarity, as well as my parents and others who know me as I have been throughout my life, I have experienced a surprising sense of liberation and begun to question the very essense of myself and how I express my identity.

Take gender identity. Now here’s a disclaimer: I am not about to make a grand confession that I have suddenly discovered my queer gender identity, and that my whole life just consisted of me acting out my female gender role due to hefty societal expectations. Not that there would be anything wrong with that, but I am very much a straight, female being. However, something quite similar to that on a slightly more subtle level has been happening slowly but surely during this time of self reflection and discovery.

Ironically, throughout my life I have not been so much sucked into gender norms as I have been focused on defying them. Of course, as a little girl, I had been forced all throughout elementary school to wear super frilly and brightly colored dresses, many of which I ruined on account of climbing trees and tearing the fabric ;). However, once I was given the amazing power of picking out my own clothes, I made a point of choosing the most basic, if not witty and sometimes punny, t-shirts, making the basic t-shir-and-shorts combo my style for many years to come. I declared myself a tomboy; No, I never joined the basketball team and yes, I did wear actual wire-frame bras, but in general that is how I identified myself. Jocelyn Grandinetti, the tomboy who loves to go out in nature to climb trees and mountains, to get her hands dirty doing mālama ʻāina work, and all the while enjoy a good book now and then.

This self image came along with a hard set of principles. Of course, I had always considered myself quite an open-minded person, getting along with most of the people I meet and coming to an understanding with even the most hard-to-understand individuals. But when it came to what I myself would stand for, I had accumulated a strong set of convictions over time. Many of these derive from my past trips to low-income countries, in which I have seen the superficiality of material obsession and excess in our consumerist society while in other parts of the world people cannot even access basic necessities. And these convictions created from experience were reinforced in school, as I learned in my sociology and geography classes all about not only social stratification worldwide, but also of how we socially construct our realities through the images that we reproduce in social media and in our day to day experiences.

Ok at this point my thoughts might seem all over the place, but I promise there’s a point to this. Learning all of these things and having all these experiences made me yearn for authenticity, for genuine human interaction, and therefore made me driven to reject all things mainstream and deemed “superficial” by their pervasiveness in this materially-obsessed part of the world that I was brought up in. These hard principles of mine led me not only to stay away from social media, but to also (I must admit, much of this was unconscious) to hold onto a certain self-image of being uncaring about looks, fashion, and femininity to the point at which I was trying to present myself as purely a genuine human being taking part in my own individual experience, without gender-specific expectations weighing me down.

And these are all great principles to have. But I never realized until I came here on this little London me-time experiment that I had become overattached to those convictions of mine, to the point where I may have been preventing myself from exploring new potential aspects of the self. Part of it might not only have stemmed from my drive to stick to my own personal philosophy, but also from my desire to perpetuate this image of myself to those around me as this ideal “person” without the need of superficial embellishment.

However, something I learned from this class on popular culture has stuck with me, and echos in my mind as I write. There is this concept called hegemony, which is the dominant social structure within society. And here I am attempting to defy what is considered “mainstream”, in other words taking part in counter-hegemonic actions. But here’s the catch: ironically, counter-hegemony is just as much an ideology as hegemony itself. So by completely attempting to defy all that is “mainstream”, I am actually inadvertently reinforcing the line drawn between “mainstream” and “other”, thereby perpetuating the very hegemonic structures of society.

Is my nerdy moment getting too much for you? I apologize. I was just lying in bed unable to sleep as these thoughts whirred through my head so I had to jot them down.

But in all seriousness, this realization has changed me. Throughout my stay in London thusfar, I have gone from a total tomboy who refused to wear skirts and other silly girl things like that to one who thinks, what the heck, I’m going to wear some girl clothes today. It all started when my friends insisted that I get some clothes for the times when we go out to experience the rich night life here. As stuck to my principles as I was, telling them “What? I don’t wear skirts and dresses. Who do you think I am?”, the curious, fun-loving side of myself got the better of me and I came around, thinking when in London…

It ended up becoming sort of a Princess Diaries moment (of course my transformation was MUCH less glamourous but you get the point) in which I went from totally clueless tomboy who had spent a lifetime ridiculing and defying female fashion to one who picks up a skirt and decides “well why the hell not?”. And don’t get me wrong; this definitely does not mean that I am a born-again girly girl who will forevermore be painting my nails with the girls and spending long hours shopping for fashionable clothing that I don’t need– the principles that I have held so strongly to still stand strong now. But I have come to realize that just because I do not approve of a certian social phenomenon does not mean that I need to reject it outright, and that by doing so I may inadvertantly be reinforcing those social distinctions and not really doing much good.

Look at gender: just because I don’t want to be a girly girl does not mean I have to reject all girlish clothing outright. That’s just reinforcing the distinction between societally-established gender roles. And look at how one presents oneself to the world: my conviction to keep myself from showing a superficial, false version of myself to both the real and virtual world shouldn’t mean that I don’t fully embody my personal potential just because I don’t want to be associated with certain “mainstream” tendencies. Instead, we should all find ourselves somewhere in the middle, chasing our ideals all the while enjoying a little bit of fun here and there, because why not be all that we can be?

To prove my point, I have just joined a pole dancing society on campus here in London, just cuz can. Who said a tomboy who loves to play in the mud can’t like pole dancing too?

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A New Adventure: London!!!

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There I was, stepping off the plane, the crisp cold air blowing through my hair as goosbumps raised on my arms from the chill and excitement of arriving in the great city of London. As I left my island home, my iPod filled my ears with sentimental reggae as I watched beautiful O’ahu shrink into nothingness upon the horizon. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I looked back on my island life so far, and as I looked forward to the great study abroad adventure that awaited me, feeling that all possibilities were unfolding before me, and that the world was at that moment not my oyster, but my very own little opihi (for nonlocals, this is me trying to make a clever and sentimental connection to a special shellfish well-known in Hawai’i).

This may seem like quite a dramatic moment as a new chapter of my life began with the very starting of that plane engine and that very last glimpse of the island that I love.

And it almost was.

Except those romantic and inspirational violins singing in the background all screached to a halting silence when our plane had to turn back an hour after we had taken off. And when we had to evacuate into a new plane. And then when we had to get a new connecting flight to Newark in LA when we had missed our original one. And THEN when I started feeling feverish as we finally landed in Heathrow and we still had an hour wait in the immigration line, when all I wanted to do at that moment was lie down because my head hurt.

In other words, reality kicked in and yelled straight into our eager, excited faces.

Despite the ruined dramatic entrance into the amazing city of London, it has nonetheless been amazing since we got here. The architecture of many of the ancient buildings here are absolutely stunning, and it amazes me to see all the extremely useless but breathtaking frills and decor that were added to the ceilings of some of these places. “Deliciously creepy” was the phrase my professor used to describe them, which I loved.

What’s more is the stark contrast of rich history and sleek modernity. Beside the aged Saint Paul’s cathedral and historically based Shakespeare’s Globe stand tall and proud the Shard and the iconic Walkie Talkie building as well. This city, so intricate in its meldings of past and present, oozes a sort of magical charm that I have not experienced anywhere else.

And lets not forget the wonderful accents. As horribly touristy as it sounds, I am absolutely obsessed with the variety of British accents I’ve been exposed to here. Even if class isn’t always edge-of-your-seat intriguing, I still nonetheless sit mesmorized at the melodious sound of the accents of my professors here. Have a boring class? Throw in a prof with a sweet accent and I’ll listen all day.

On a personal note, this has certainly been an extremely valuable experience so far just in terms of finding myself. This is the first time in my whole life in which I am living away from my parents for an extended period of time. Even though it is only for a semester, I nonetheless have quickly grown accustomed to this new and very different lifestyle of lone nights in the dorms (they’re called flats here; it’s pretty great) and late nights out with friends (not that I didn’t have friends before ;)). I have even started cooking for myself, which may not seem like a big step to most, but for an only child who is spoiled (but not rotten) like myself, it’s quite a miracle that I haven’t completely ruined anything I’ve made so far… knock on wood.

So here I leave you, as you’ve been introduced to the excilerating new chapter of this amazing adventure. Stay tuned for more…

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Moving On

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After living in a purgatory of sorts for a few months, maneuvering in a daze between a newly cultivated and treasured mālama ʻāina mindset and the return of  collegiate responsibility, I have once again come to a point in my life where I feel another vibrant aspect of my world becoming integrated into my identity. The Jocelyn that I knew before with thoughts of idealism and a passion for learning still remains, and yet these tendencies have become more inspired and enhanced by the intimate experiences with nature and with community that I had this summer with Kupu.

As beautiful a process as this transformation was, it was also very difficult to transition back to school-life, moving my hands away from the earth and back onto the keyboard for hours on end. This fostered a yearning for the natural places, beautiful people, and native flora that I have since come to know as my friends.

I have since adjusted back to daily life, but the enchantment of the summer lingers. To mark this transition, I would like to share an essay that I wrote about my experience this summer. It’s a bit lengthy, so if you’re not up to a long read you can stop where you are. But I poured my heart and soul into it so for those who are willing, here goes…

*        *        *

The summer of 2018 started off like any other: the air was charged with potential, full of that sense of freedom that is so fleeting during the school year, and I found myself ready to charge into that expanse of the unknown known as summer vacation. This summer marked the denouement of my first year in college, becoming a milestone in my hesitant yet inevitable progress into adulthood. Within the span of a year I have found myself to be a totally different person from that Kalani graduate I was some time ago. Since then, I had experienced one amazing summer of traveling around the world, as well as an entire year of collegiate study that was able to expand my mind even further. The result of these two major events was that, by the beginning of this recent summer vacation, the face that stared back at me when I looked in the mirror was no longer that of a naive and confused high school student, but instead a young idealist who felt for the plights of the world and was passionate about doing what she could to help solve them.

Little did I know during those first few weeks of summer freedom that I would get to experience yet another life-changing event that would alter the very fabric of my identity and change the way I saw the world. But it caught up to me soon enough. The Kupu HYCC Summer program, which started off merely as an internship that appealed to my interests and happened to be paid as well, became a life-changing experience that has altered my world view within the span of only seven weeks.

Friends for life

Our first week at Camp Palehua certainly got us prepared for the more rugged lifestyle required of the Kupu program. Almost right when we arrived we were informed that each person was only allowed 3 minutes of running water per shower, which ended up in chaos on the girls’ end as we waited in ridiculously long lines for our turn and ran from bathroom to cabins dripping wet and wearing nothing but our towels. At night, rain would come in through the open windows of the cabin and loud whistling sounds in the trees would keep the superstitious campers awake. Although most would say that these are not exactly the ideal living conditions for a week’s stay, they ended up being the perfect conditions both for initiating us into the art of “roughing it” and for strengthening soon-to-be lifetime bonds.

Starting off with those awkward hellos and generic self-introductions, my teammates and I nonetheless became a tight-knit group in no time. We were already comfortable with teasing each other and finishing each other’s food by the end of the week. As the program went on, we got so close that we would have therapy sessions together as a group during our breaks and quickly came to know almost everything about each other. Believe it or not, we got a little too close sometimes: one time when I left my already damp and muddy shoes in the car over the weekend, I had a wonderful surprise when I caught a whiff of it on Monday and discovered to my disgust that two other pairs of socks from my male team members had also been festering in them for days. But even those not-so-perfect moments became precious memories as we all grew closer throughout the program.

Although I entered this program purely with the notion of taking part in something not only altruistically-oriented, but also related to my interests in Hawaiian culture and environmental studies, I had no idea the extent to which it would alter my social wellbeing as well. Not only did I end up experiencing a refreshing social environment in which like-minded people concerned about the state of the natural environment and our place within it worked side by side, but because of this I was able to make much deeper friendships than I would have ever expected prior to the program. 

A Hawaiian way of thinking

Starting at camp, and extending throughout the program, I became awakened to the Hawaiian culture, which I had previously appreciated from afar but had never really felt a part of. In fact, part of the reason why I had initially made the decision to join Kupu was because I had felt bad that I was so disconnected to the culture of the land on which I have lived my entire life. Before Kupu, Hawaiʻi was merely a place where I happened to live rather than an environment where I truly had a strong sense of place. Instead, I pulled my culture from the cultural melting pot of my neighborhood as well as my mother’s Taiwanese heritage. Of course, this upbringing of great cultural diversity is a characteristic of Hawaiʻi unto itself, so in that sense I am indeed a product of my environment. But this nurtured aspect of my cultural identity did not include the true core of Hawaiian culture and values, so I always felt foreign to them despite my interest and respect for that lifestyle which I only observed from afar. Because of this, I never felt that strong sense of place in my own island home, since my life experience had never given me the chance to truly connect to the ʻāina (land) in the totally immersive and spiritual manner with which Native Hawaiians have been connected to it for hundreds of years. However, Kupu initiated me into these cultural practices and ways of thinking, not only increasing my understanding of Hawaiian culture but also allowing me to take on such principles in my own cultural identity.

One significant cultural practice that we learned was to oli, or chant, in order to show respect for certain people and places. This humbling action was not only a great opportunity to learn some ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language), but also to understand the extent to which Native Hawaiians have shown respect when entering new areas for example, exemplifying their great reverence and respect in many aspects of society. Really learning an oli by heart and being able to recite it with the wind blowing through your hair and the grass between your toes is an extremely invigorating and sensational experience, in which, if only for a moment, one feels totally immersed in the beautiful surrounding environment. This very spiritual relationship that the people have with the land is one of my favorite aspects of Hawaiian culture, and stems from their cosmogonic genealogy which ties their ancestral roots to the very earth from which they were born.

This genealogical connection to the land explains the very responsible subsistence lifestyle that the native Hawaiians had always practiced, which starkly contrasts with the idea of nature as the “other” according to nonindigenous thought. By respecting the ʻāina they are in turn showing reverence to their land-based gods, which therefore leaves no room for environmental abuse. This perspective is exemplified with the fact that there is no word for “nature” in the Hawaiian language, since nature was so integrated in the people’s daily lives that there was no need for a distinctive word for it. However in English, nature and mankind are very distinct linguistic and conceptual categories, further emphasizing the much more dichotomized mindset of nature being a completely separate entity from ourselves. Seeing the world through the more Indigenous mindset of nature as an integral part of life allows one to better embrace and respect it, while the alternative dissected view seems to make it much easier to ignore nature’s existence and therefore exploit it without giving much thought to the consequences. The existence of global climate change exemplifies this idea, since the more urbanized and segregated from nature humankind has become, the harder it is for people to not only be aware of the negative implications of a wasteful, environmentally-harmful lifestyle, but also to have much empathy for such matters as the very end of nature. After all, as many may think, if the natural world goes down hill, we at least have our AC units and fake turf to create our own artificial world alongside it. Or better yet, with today’s rapidly changing technological innovations, we could just find ourselves a new planet to inhabit for that matter. But to a young, idealistic naturalist as myself, this mindset is appalling, and should be replaced by the rich Indigenous mindset that is so much more holistically considerate of the wellbeing of both people and their environment. To the Hawaiian people, the Earth is more than our home: it is family, it is deity.

Being surrounded not only by pristine and beautiful ʻāina as I worked, but also by people who were integrated in the Hawaiian community and culture, really made me feel more a part of the culture that I had for so long considered myself foreign to. The words and values of Hawaiʻi which I had heard here and there throughout my lifetime had now become personal to me and were in turn integrated into my evolving identity. This cultural awakening not only made me better understand the general aspects of Hawaiian values and ways of life, but it also allowed me to actively live the culture by seeing the world through an Hawaiian cultural lense and adopt these perspectives into my everyday life experience.

A richer geographical understanding

Getting to experience and participate in the indigenous relationship between people and the land was not only an extremely rewarding and awakening experience on a personal level, but it also gave me a new perspective vital for an enhanced understanding related to my field of study and career aspirations. Being a geography major, my studies are focused on the link of people to the land, referring both to how the physical environment affects its people as well as how people in turn influence their surroundings. In looking at these kinds of processes, the stark contrast between the Indigenous and foreign mindsets in regards to nature became brutally clear to me. It was quite disheartening to realize that pretty much all of the work that we did throughout the summer involved the cleaning up of some environmental mess made by foreign powers in places that were once pono (in balance).

At most of the sites at which my team worked, we not only got to learn the original Hawaiian moʻolelo (stories) of the land, but also the more recent history of the colonial occupation and alteration of those areas. When we worked at Ulupō Heiau, our first site, we got to learn about the history of Kawainui marsh which was located alongside the heiau. What used to be a pristine natural habitat has since become an overgrown marsh full of invasive plant species and subject to illegal dumping. Before foreigners arrived in the islands, the Hawaiians had not left the area in its purely natural condition either; however, rather than altering the environment with total disregard for potential negative implications on the surrounding ecosystems, the native Hawaiians had merely enhanced the landscape to make it even more bountiful all the while sustaining the natural balance. In the case of Kawainui Marsh, before foreign contact it had once been a vast, abundant fishpond of about 400 square acres, with approximately 1,000 fish per square acre. In other words, the native Hawaiians were able to recognize a nutrient-rich area and harness that natural characteristic for the nourishment of their own people. The creation of this fishpond allowed for a communal food source from which people from all parts of the ahupua’a (land division) could acquire food.

Since then, as foreign influence took over the islands, the fishpond was blocked by development along a sandbar which lay adjacent to it, preventing circulation between the stream and ocean water to create the brackish conditions that were so ideal for the formerly abundant fishpond. When these new housing developments were discovered to have flooding problems, a wall was built extending the entire width of the pond, completely ceasing waterflow and in turn causing excessive deposition and vegetation growth in the formerly pristine fishpond. This drastic change from aquatic environment to marshlands was not only detrimental to the organisms that were part of that ecosystem, but also became yet another example of a retraction of sustainable food practices, bringing the islands one step closer to the almost total foreign food dependence of today. This is just one of many cases throughout these islands and beyond that echo the same sad story of colonial dominance and destruction of a once pristine and Pono way of life.

Conclusion

Learning about the complex factors that came into play to make Hawaiʻi’s landscapes as they are today really fit perfectly in the holistic geographical perspective with which I was receiving this information. Place-based cultures like that of Hawaiʻi are directly linked to the land on which they originate, and this makes sense of place even more important in these sorts of cultures. On a personal level, I must say that I had certainly experienced a sense of place prior to this program, having felt that deep connection of people and place on my many travels around the world. However, I did not so much have a sense of place within the context of my island home, instead merely enjoying the beauty of the ʻāina on my hikes in the Ko’olaus and my swims in the ocean.

However, after this program, after becoming not only a steward of the land but also a member of the island community, my entire perspective of my island home has drastically changed. My internalization of the Hawaiian culture made me more aware and concerned about the plights of the Hawaiian people as well as the environment, both of which have not been given their fair share due to foreigners’ disregard for Hawaiian culture and values. And alongside my sense of social responsibility and my passion for change on these fronts, I also find myself experiencing my island home in a new light as I go on seeing the world through this newly adopted Indigenous lens. Now, when I pass by Koa or a Ohi’a Lehua trees on my hikes in the mountains, I no longer merely see beautiful plants but instead feel a deep, inherent connection to them. This personal connection stems from their representing a call to action regarding my passion for environmental conservation in the face of a world so prone to environmental abuse. This sense of connection also stems from their being triggers of the memories from this amazing summer, bringing me back to days under the beating sun where I laughed together with my Kupu ohana. However, most of all, these pieces of nature, of ʻāina, are now perceived to me as an embodiment of the spiritual quality and mana of the islands which I have only just recently come to truly understand and love.

 

 

 

 

An Ode to This Summer

I saw the skies reflected in their eyes

and the grasses bending in the breeze

all grace and ease

rippling under sunshine and dancing trees.

Little did I know,

in that recent time now long ago,

that the ‘aina I would come to love

would not compare to those whose hearts I’d come to know.

It came on slow,

between silly talks and idealistic prose

as we worked beneath the beating sun

catching crayfish together when we were done.

We worked as one,

sweat forming little streams down our backs

like those that roar down time-etched valleys

leaving fluvial formations in their tracks.

The soundtrack of our summer carried on

as we sung our hearts out to our favorite song

those beloved karaoke sessions in the car

struck the heartstrings like a slack-key guitar.

We came far,

yet time, that infuriating power,

too soon took us to that final hour

falling like beach-sand through our fingers

and blowing away with the wind.

Yet the feeling lingers

as I watch the ocean undulate beneath the setting sun.

I know it’s done.

But the memories remain like fading pictures

that cascade like a waterfall behind closed eyelids

accumulating in our minds and in our hearts

in an amazing kaleidoscopic work of art.