I have now been back on the mainland for almost two weeks. Being back here has been nice, but strange; I am reexperiencing Seattle now after being gone for almost a year, and truly realizing how different I am. I am so grateful to have lived in Hawai’i for a year. The sun and aloha spirit have pervaded me, melting out the “Seattle freeze” inside me.
As I’ve been reflecting on where I’ve come over the last year, I have been looking back at our posts on this blog from before we left Seattle. You can read one of my first posts where I talk about my expectations of what Hawaii might be like.
The most interesting thing looking back at that post was how little I knew about what the actual culture of Hawai’i is like today. Having seen pictures and researched the environmental and geological history of the island, I knew more or less what it would look like. I knew a little about Hawaiian culture, but in the back of my mind the only image of people in Hawaii I had was like the one above.
Everyday Hawaiian life usually doesn’t make it on to our radars. I knew that there would be people there for whom Hawai’i was not a tropical vacation spot, yet I still figured that resort-type beaches would be everywhere, that they would be dominant.
What I found instead were wonderful, small communities all over the island made up of all sorts of people. I got to experience the melting pot of Hawai’i, where it is not unusual for most people you meet to be of mixed race backgrounds. I got to meet people who fished for a living, learned about people who still live in caves up in the hills, and generally got to know what the aloha spirit looks like outside of a hotel.
While these people weren’t living the tropical fantasy life that I had imagined, their real lives turned out to be even better. The effect of smaller communities and year round sunshine is that people talk to each other more, people are friendlier; in our town it was unusual not to wave to one another walking down the street or even in the grocery store. Striking up a conversation came easily in a culture that goes slower, that tells the passing of time more by the lapping of waves and the phases of the moon than by the ticking of a clock.
I wish that more people could experience this side of Hawai’i. Unlike visiting the islands for a vacation, where the relaxation is overemphasized as a compensation for stressful mainland lives, living there for a year allowed me to integrate that laid back island feeling into everything I did. I learned that the aloha spirit is something you can have even at work or in traffic. It isn’t limited to beaches or verdent valleys. It’s a way of life.