Wednesday, August 10, 2011

About Oahu

Four blocks up from the Hilton Village is an Oahu few tourists choose to see.

It's just past the canal that runs through Waikiki, a vessel for rainwater run-off and hotel sewage, that crew teams paddle their boats over. Just past this canal, barely out of range of the luau ukulele, are high rise apartment buildings strewn with strings of drying laundry, with strings of children running up and down the stairways. With skateboarders in the parking lots.

Between these skyscrapers are tiny, flat-roofed huts, upon which mango trees release their fruits that roll onto the dirt. The siding of the huts is plywood and aluminum, and lizards slip in and out of the chain-linked fences.

Piles of trash wait on street corners: stained, saggy mattresses; broken bookshelves. Diapers spilling from opened bags.

In the afternoons, tents sprawl around swings and slides: a city park for the homeless, whose scruffy shoes park outside the door flaps.

There are feral cats and enormous cockroaches and birds who sing above it all.

There are few big gas companies and no "mainland" banks.

Each street you cross has a disabled pedestrian with a tiny arm, a shortened leg, a hunched back. The result of lack of prenatal care? Of alcoholism? Of nuclear fallout?

For these kama aina ("Children of the Land"), Life Cereal is $9. A loaf of French bread is $7.29. It is cheaper to eat a McDonald's Big Mac than an apple. And a two-bedroom apartment costs

There are lots and lots of service jobs--hotels, restaurants, shops--but really, no other industry.

And the public schools are irreparable.

You'd think this poverty and collapsed infrastructure would get these natives down.

Not so much.

On Saturdays, they open their trunks and drag their Weber Grills over the sand, and they raise canvas roofs and play the guitar from their tattered Coleman camp chairs. They gather as brothers and sisters and cousins and grandmas, and they grin and flip their ono chicken, and shoot around the soccer ball at Ala Moana Beach.

The sun sets and the coffee-colored babies sleep on turtle-printed towels, and everyone listens to Auntie talk-story about the time before the Hilton Village and the skyscrapers, the time before the '60s. Before Life was so expensive. The brothers and sisters and cousins, they listen. And they eat the bread Auntie has made from the bananas in her yard.


Anonymous said...

Amazing, wonderful, and colorful description, Jennie. The first time I went to Hawaii was in 1957, it wasn't a state yet. Only 3 hotels on Waikiki Beach.

Jennie Englund said...

Carol, you would really have something to compare to now. If you go sometime, I would love to hear about it.

What were you doing in Hawaii over 50 years ago?

It must have been lush and wild.