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Can’t imagine living anywhere else

April 14, 2017 - 12:05am

In Hawaii, you don’t start life, you live it.

I snorkel. Shop at farmers’ markets. Run Alii Drive. Cycle the Queen K highway. Eat healthy and exotic looking fruits and vegetables and I found breathtaking hidden beaches (don’t ask, I won’t tell you) I swim with the dolphins in the mornings off Kailua Bay and I take pictures of rainbows. I surf and I paddleboard. I love being in the warm ocean water. Being Hawaiian (but not born here) saying aloha and mahalo has become part of my language naturally. I love Spam. Yes, I do. And I fell in love with acai bowls. Most of all, I fell in love with The Big Island of Hawaii, its people and culture. I found where I belong in this world!

The aloha spirit is what keeps me here. There is simply nowhere else I could imagine living life so fully. Living aloha can be difficult to comprehend but the complex concept of aloha is incomparably significant in Hawaiian culture. Those who live in Hawaii know the idea well and it’s one of the state’s unique characteristics that keeps people from coming to the islands again and again.

You’ll recognize the spirit of aloha when you feel it. A good example of this is when you visit a friend’s house and are welcomed by their family with open arms and when you come home after a long day to find a neighbor has left you a bag of mangoes and apple bananas on your lanai. A moment of aloha can be as simple as exchanging smiles with locals or visitors.

But if you’re moving to the islands and joining the laid back atmosphere that is Hawaii and live off the land, grow dope, live in the jungle, use social services for medical treatment, go on welfare, get food stamps, ride the unemployment train or utilize some other form of public assistance that’s readily available in our liberal loving democratic island state — please think again.

Allow me to go off course here for a minute, so bare with me. In my observations of island life, what nobody ever talks about is the growing size of the homeless population here. Our local state and county government is simply overwhelmed and underfunded. Drug use and mental health issues go hand in hand with the homeless population. In the Hilo/Puna district, the hippies have taken over. They move here, go organic, start growing their dreadlocks, farm dope quietly for medical use and barter with each other to get by. It works for them. But there is a unseemly atmosphere around these people and the communities they gather in. Locals don’t dig it. They tolerate it. But there is a big difference.

Hawaii has a unique history and at a pivotal point in time was the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy and the takeover by American business interests. This forever changed the course of events in these unique islands. Some would say for the worst, forever. I subscribe to that belief and still today there is an underlying resentment within some members of the Native Hawaiian community. This is an important concept if you ever choose to become part of the population here.

Some people describe a subtle tension between Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians, pointing to racial fights between locals and haoles. One could easily write a book about this issue and many have. But suffice it to say, if you want some insight into cultural differences between local Native Hawaiians and everyone else, Google the Hawaiian Sovereignty movement. Lots of opinions, stories, history and most of all, emotion. Ongoing is the battle with the Native Hawaiian concept of caring for their land and the ocean and all the destruction they see at the hands of greedy developers, tourists, politicians and finally, unknowing visitors.

So back to the point. Please be sensitive to the Hawaiian culture. Understand your place and the Hawaiian sense of stewardship of the land and sea. Don’t become part of the problem. Be part of the solution. If you understand that, living here will be an amazing life-altering experience and you’ll love it. But most people don’t get it and usually leave after a few years. They call it island fever.

I’m asked by mainland friends if I get island fever and the answer is no. They say they could never live so far removed from everything and everyone. The whole island living thing is surreal but it allows you to approach life differently. There’s nowhere else where the community bands together so easily and loyally and where people feel lucky to be alive every time we see the mountains, the oceans, the majestic awe-inspiring sunsets, the gentle trade winds. I appreciate the ocean I can see from my condo lanai, every apple banana, strawberry, papaya and avocado from my friends’ trees and farmers market, a well-made acai bowl and awesome surf. I made new friends and adjusted to a new culture, adapted to a different climate and acclimated to a completely new way of life.

In the spirit of aloha, I said goodbye to my life in California and hello to my new life in Kailua-Kona, a chapter that is currently being written and in the spirit of change, I am equal parts scared and excited, an intoxicating combination of emotions that will carry me across the threshold as I reinvent myself.

Vincent Regner Struan is originally from Huntington Beach, Calif., who’s lived in Kailua-Kona for 1.5 years.

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