Tag Archives: Pahoa

Who In Their Right Mind Moves to Pahoa?

PahoaOffering

I’ve always had a rebel streak in me. Got it from my dad, a grown man who relished finding ways to break rules without technically breaking them.

Dad liked to say he didn’t “play according to Hoyle,” a reference to the famous book of rules for card games (see According to Hoyle). Clueless at the time about the Hoyle reference, I knew from context what dad meant: he liked to do things his way.

How dad navigated our expressway tollbooths speaks volumes about him, and by extension, me. He’d always have exact change in hand when pulling into what was then considered an automated tollbooth (long before the days of ipass scanner technology). He’d toss in his coins without coming to a stop, punch the accelerator, and race toward the tollbooth red light, his goal, to trip the alarm before the light turned green—ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!

And on the rare occasion the green light beat dad to the punch, he was visibly disappointed, a lost chance to stick it to the man–or at least tweak him–without technically breaking any rules.

I still remember asking dad why he did it. His answer was borderline blasphemous: “I don’t have time to wait for the goddamn light to turn green—I’m a busy man!”

And with all due love and respect to my dad he was full of shit; he blew those tollbooth lights because he didn’t play according to Hoyle.

These moments are still etched in my memory forty years later. And even with all the teenage relationship issues I had with my dad at the time, every time he’d trip those annoying tollbooth bells, I remember thinking he was about the coolest guy in the world.

With that kind of role model it’s no surprise I turned out the way I did. And not so outlandish that I ended up in Pahoa, a place where folks don’t play according to Hoyle.

From Outlaws to Barefoot Hippies With iphones

BarefootHippies

Pahoa has an outlaw reputation that was well earned back in the 1970s and 80s during its pakalolo heyday. Pakalolo (literally, “crazy weed”) is still around of course, but the heydays of yore are well behind Pahoa–for reasons beyond the scope of this post.

Hoyle and his rules notwithstanding, Dad wouldn’t have liked the old outlaw version of Pahoa, nor would he have been thrilled with today’s version either; way too many hippies for his liking, and not a single tollbooth to violate.

But dad would surely have appreciated the historical significance of Pahoa Town, and grudgingly acknowledged its funky Bohemian charm.

PahoaTown

Interestingly Hawaii’s own locals are harder on Pahoa than most mainlanders. Shortly after moving here it surprised me to learn that Pahoa’s reputation extended to our neighboring islands. I still remember exchanging business cards with a client in Honolulu who, upon seeing my Pahoa address, asked with tongue in cheek, “Who in their right mind moves to Pahoa?”

I’ve even heard of folks born and raised in nearby Hilo—just 30 miles away—who have never in their lives been to Pahoa Town, not even the Puna district, because of the bad rap we get. So bad is our rap, that even Dog the Bounty Hunter’s crazy wife Beth once warned viewers that, “Puna is a place you don’t want to be after dark.”

There’s a story behind Puna’s outlaw reputation, a topic for another day. Suffice it to say that the “Wild East” days of Pahoa Town are well behind us, but the reputation lives on.

Last time I ventured into Pahoa there were no outlaws, no bounty hunters, just some barefoot hippies drinking lattes and gazing at their iphones. (But let’s not tell Dog and Beth.)

TinShackDrnks

Who in their right mind moves to Pahoa?

Pahoa2

If my circle of friends is any indication, people in their “right minds” actually do live in Pahoa, but they tend to stand out. The good news is, Pahoa tolerates normal people too.

For context it’s worth touching on local demographics. In addition to the native Hawaiians, Pahoa and the surrounding area is populated by locals of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, many of mixed heritage, many third and fourth generation Japanese. Being that this is their turf and all, the local folks would logically represent “the norm” in this context–which by default makes the rest of us the oddballs.

The area has also had a new influx of transplants from around the world over the past decade, mostly from the mainland. Last I checked Caucasians are still in the minority in the Puna district, and that’s fine with me, as my former life in Japan taught me to embrace being the only white guy on the block.

PunaDemographics

It’s useful to think of Puna locals as a completely different culture, richly diverse, but generally much closer to Asia than mainland U.S.A. The fact that the locals speak English can almost lull you into thinking otherwise, but deep below the familiar linguistic surface, culture gaps abound.

To an outsider–even folks from Honolulu–the Puna district seems like a strange, exotic foreign country. But most Puna locals I know, within the context of their own cultural norms, tend to be a socially conservative lot. So let’s forgive them for thinking us newbie transplants are a little strange and not quite right.

KarateHouse

Pahoa1

But all bets are off for the rest of us who moved here in search of Hoyle-free horizons. We colored outside the lines of our respective cultures, and were just crazy enough to move to the world’s most isolated landmass at the foot of the world’s most active volcano. I think Pahoa is a better place for it.

After living through two disasters in just the past three months, you’d think I’d be ready to pack up and run for the hills. Amazingly these disasters have had the opposite effect: after being on the receiving end of so many kindnesses–through hurricane Iselle and now this sputtering lava flow–I’ve fallen deeply in love with my community.

I’d be remiss not to mention that Pahoa has more than its share of warts: crime, poverty, alcohol and meth addiction, spousal abuse, homelessness—the same stuff we had back on the mainland. So if you’re looking for trouble in Pahoa–or anywhere in Puna for that matter–it’s easy enough to find.

But if you’re looking for good-hearted people who have your back when the power goes out or the lava hits the fan, well, they’re even easier to find, and sometimes they find you. (Learned this firsthand in the aftermath of Hurricane Iselle, when on three different occasions during a 5-day power outage, folks showed up at our front gate with free ice, two of them complete strangers.)

No matter what happens with our ongoing lava flow, no regrets moving here: so much good has come to my family, so many new friendships formed, such a rich, meaningful life we live. Did I mention the weather is awesome? No, we’re not going anywhere.

And if my dad were alive today he’d tell me what a dumbass I was to live at the foot of an erupting volcano in a house anchored to a concrete slab sitting in the path of a lava flow. If he put it that way I’d have to agree with him. But I’d remind him that I don’t play according to Hoyle either, and he’d understand–at least I’d like to think so.

Stay tuned for more ramblings on Pahoa. If you like classic rock from the 60s and 70s, check out these two jams we stumbled onto in our town’s main parking lot behind Luquin’s one lucky evening.

Akebono

We ended up hanging with a bunch of old hippies, the real deal. (Unlike dad, I’m totally chill with the hippies). Together we took a musical trip down memory lane while we lamented the passing of Pahoa, now looking like a premature eulogy with the flow front stalled. But here’s what things looked like from town back then!

Plume2

What the clips below mean to me, is that Pahoa has the magic–the mana–to make a group of strangers hold hands and feel like old friends. (And please forgive the dark image, I took this at night with an iphone; but hopefully the spirit of the moment comes through):

Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2014

Glimpses of Culture Through a Lava Flow: Bomb the Crater or Clean Your House?

LavaStreet

Kalapana lava flow (photo by Kurumi Sullivan)

A contrived reality show couldn’t be more compelling. Survivor’s got nothing on this. If I made documentaries or movies or even cheesy reality shows, I’d be camped out in Pahoa right now.

Since yesterday our friendly neighborhood lava flow has advanced a paltry 50 yards, the continuation of a gradual slowdown that’s been happening over the past several days. Just days before that the flow had advanced a whopping 150 yards in a single day, and right before that it had stalled for almost a week. There’s no rhyme or reason to this flow.

And the longer I observe the flow the more I’m convinced it has a mind of its own, although I might just be losing my mind. This flow has given me a serious case of lava fever: it’s the ultimate mystery story because no one has a clue–not even our smartest scientists–how it’s going to end.

What I’ve learned in the past month about this particular flow (besides its unpredictability) is that it not only burns a swath of land in its downhill path, it also creates compelling human stories. Throw into the mix two distant cultures dealing with it in completely different ways, and the intensity level goes off the charts.

That’s what happened at a recent County-sponsored informational meeting on our lava flow conditions here in Puna. It was surely not intended, but the meeting ended up showcasing some mesmerizing cross-cultural exchanges. Thankfully Big Island Video News was there to capture the highlights.

Whatever your personal beliefs, life doesn’t get more real and compelling than this. And if cultural anthropology happens to be your thing—even if it’s not—prepare to be enthralled.

The embedded clip at the end shows a segment of the town meeting that followed the County’s presentation on the lava update, during which time those in attendance were invited to ask questions of the Civil Defense Director and Geologist from Hawaii Volcano Observatory. I can only speak to the footage on the linked clip since I wasn’t at the gathering in person. My guess is that some folks actually did ask questions during the meeting.

But not so for the folks in the clip. Well, technically they asked questions. But the questions were just thinly veiled attempts to give advice: Could we use D9s to divert the lava flow away from town!?

And the Hawaiian speakers on the clip were less concerned with asking questions, and more concerned with refuting the notion of messing with the volcano in any way, shape or form.

Keep in mind that the Civil Defense Director has stated publicly numerous times that no attempt will be made at diverting the flow. The stated reason for the county’s stance is the danger of unintended consequences: any attempt at diversion could conceivably create more damage to residential properties that are not currently in the projected flow path.  (And just imagine the liability issues!) The Director also mentioned, as he should have, the cultural sensitivities at play with Native Hawaiian religious beliefs.

As you’ll see, based on comments made subsequent to the Director’s remarks, the County’s stance against any kind of lava diversion apparently didn’t sink in with everyone, as the Director had to repeat it more than once during the question-and-answer period. (I think you’ll agree that he handled it with grace and impressive restraint.)

Bomb the Crater or Change Your Bedding?

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”—Genesis 1:26

As I type this a molten lava flow creepeth upon the earth just five miles uphill from my neighborhood. And as far as I can tell, no man has dominion over it.

What’s so fascinating about this slow-motion disaster, is how differently folks are dealing with it. And it’s a testament to the power of culture in driving not only our respective behaviors, but in predisposing how we choose to view events like these.

So it didn’t at all surprise me that someone from my cultural tribe would suggest diverting the lava flow—or even bombing the crater as the third speaker suggested. As a guy who stands to lose a lot should the lava keep coming, I completely get the rationale. Why would thinking people passively stand by and watch their houses and businesses go up in flames?

In contrast, some of the Hawaiian responses (certainly on the video and in local online forums) are completely counterintuitive to my culture’s way of thinking. The last Hawaiian to speak in the clip, Pi’ilani Ka’awaloa, did in fact make it a point to invite “tutu Pele” to come to her house!

As a product of the West, it’s a big cultural stretch to understand exactly where Pi’ilani is coming from. But as fate would have it, there’s a story behind the story to help us understand.

With lava in the news, a local TV news station recently ran a special segment in their newscast on Pi’ilani. The gist of the piece is that on three different occasions lava flowed up to her family’s home and stopped. Pi’ilani explains what her mother told her when lava reached their driveway:

Mother: “What do you do when an important guest comes?”

Pi’ilani: “You clean the house, mow the yard, change the bedding.”

Mother: “We are getting ready for a very important guest…And if the guest wants to stay at the house, the house is there. And if she doesn’t want to, then she can leave. But at least we made an offer.”

Putting literal interpretations aside, truth and humanity are clearly behind the symbolism. Woven into Pi’ilani’s mother’s words and actions is a resignation that the flow is going to do what it’s going to do no matter how she might feel about it. From that assumption she chooses to transform a devastating event, completely out of her control, into a positive experience within her control, by welcoming the encroaching lava as “an important guest,” rather than casting it as an antagonist.

(On a personal note, I’m learning firsthand that there’s an added psychological benefit to staying in a routine. Mowing your lawn, cleaning your house, changing your bedsheets and other mundane tasks have a way of keeping folks grounded and focused during times of stress and uncertainty. I’m still sane so it must be working.)

And this brings us to the essence of the gap: does your culture predispose you to repel lava flows with bombs and D9s? Or welcome the lava as an important guest? And why such starkly different responses to the same phenomenon?

Here are some of the key cultural drivers at play:

-My culture has traditionally put man above nature, and with that position comes license to control and manipulate it as he chooses. Hawaiian culture on the other hand, sees nature as a manifestation of divinity, and man as subordinate to nature’s whims, especially to those of the volcano.

-My culture separates God from nature. As an offshoot of a desert religion, the traditional Judeo-Christian view casts nature as a foe (albeit an unconscious foe), an antagonist to be feared, battled, fled from, and overcome. This metaphor of nature as foe is so deeply ingrained in the Western mindset, that bombing a volcano doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea. Traditional Hawaiian culture in contrast is shamanistic; it animates nature with spirits, and believes nature to be alive and conscious. The notion of bombing the crater is blasphemous.

-My culture believes that man can “own” land; Hawaiians believe that they are “children of the land.” This explains why the Western mindset laments the prospect of losing land to the lava flow, while Hawaiians believe it was never our land to begin with, and that we should all just be thankful to Tutu Pele for allowing us to live here as long as we did.

At the risk of stating the obvious, these are some incredibly wide gaps to fill. Some are too wide to even try. The trick is figuring out which cross-cultural connections are possible, which are not, and setting realistic priorities accordingly.

Where Does the Twain Meet?

Cross-cultural cooperation is the art of the possible.

It’s possible to not focus on issues beyond your control (like trying to change the beliefs of others).

It’s possible to respect others’ rights to believe what they want without accepting those beliefs yourself.

It’s possible to focus on common ground and cooperation for achieving mutual benefit.

All these are conscious choices that must be made by all parties involved for any kind of cross-cultural cooperation to happen.

Even as someone who is not a follower of Hawaiian spirituality, the Hawaiian justification against diverting the flow based on religious grounds is a non-issue with me, as it should be with everyone else.

I choose to be respectful and focus on points of agreement, in my case, that we should not mess with the flow for any reason. Admittedly my reasoning comes from a different place: I’m convinced that we do not possess the knowhow to do this, as our County still struggles just to design safe traffic intersections. It’s tough to envision these same folks diverting the flow without causing disastrous unintended consequences. There is much debate about whether anyone has ever successfully diverted a lava flow. I’m obviously on the non-believer side of the issue.

So I’m in lockstep agreement with the Hawaiians on leaving the flow alone, and I can’t think of a single reason to initiate a religious debate. It’s not my place to challenge others’ beliefs anyway.

And while I personally believe tolerance is all about showing respect for my neighbors whatever their religious beliefs may be, some folks from my culture struggle mightily to get past their disagreement with indigenous Hawaiian beliefs. The heated exchanges on local forums can be brutal.

But even for non-believers, there are a couple practical reasons to avoid a religious debate: it will not change the Hawaiians’ beliefs, nor will it change the County’s stance. So why bother? It will only serve to alienate people within the community during a time that we need to be sticking together. There are many more productive places we can focus our energies.

Differences aside, I think the County has struck a wonderful chord with the community by making their lava-update meetings an educational event. It is slowly turning all of us–Pele believers and non-believers alike–into amateur geologists.

The community might be scared and divided on some issues, but everyone I’ve come in contact with is engaged and interested in learning about the science behind the volcano. After attending three such meetings in person, these educational sessions with the geologists seem to have had a positive, almost therapeutic effect on the community. It also keeps the focus on something that can truly connect us: shared knowledge.

But Pi’ilani’s appeal at the end of the clip really drives home the reality: we need to put aside our differences and start helping each other if we hope to survive and get past this lava flow as a community. Can’t think of a better reason to link arms and work together.

There’s a whole other discussion on the role of myths in our respective cultures, a subject we’ll handle in a future post. In the meantime, some food for thought from the late and great anthropologist Joseph Campbell:

“Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.”

Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2014

Ramblings from the Wrong Side of a Lava Flow

LavaMalama

Plume from the lava flow approaching Pahoa Town

As a kid growing up on the north side of Chicago I never imagined my house might one day be in the path of a lava flow. (Lava only flowed in Saturday morning movies, and usually involved dinosaurs). Never once did I entertain the notion that I’d someday live on an active volcano; it was an undreamt future that, against all odds, somehow came true.

It happened eight years ago when my family decided to trade in the brutal Chicago winters for life in the subtropics. We up and moved to the Puna district on the Big Island of Hawaii, at the foot of the world’s most active volcano. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

When lava started flowing from the north flank of Pu’uo’o vent on June 27th of this year, I wasn’t paying much attention, nor were many other people. After all, the flow front was still well over ten miles away, plenty of time and space to sputter out.

So everyone went about their business: homes were bought and sold, progress on the new park and shopping center didn’t miss a beat. Restaurants continued serving food, stores peddled their wares, the town loiterers loitered. Life went on as it always did in lower Puna.

But the pesky flow kept coming. Weeks later it was advancing in an easterly direction with no hint of slowing down. It now had our undivided attention.

Clueless about the subtleties of our island’s topography, I rationalized: it’s clearly going east into the cracks in the rift zone; with a little luck it’ll drain into an old lava tube and come out somewhere downhill, far away from my neighborhood.

And the lesson here is, don’t believe everything you think, especially the wishful stuff. I had no idea.

Living On the Edge of a Lava Flow

For a while we were doing okay, right up until the lava overflowed from those darn cracks, spilled over onto the north slope, and started flowing in a northeasterly direction. It was now headed directly for our beloved town. And beyond Pahoa, downhill just a few more miles, is my subdivision, Hawaiian Shores.

Yikes.

FlowPath2House

Notice the location of my house: I’m living on the edge of the projected flow path. Red arrows are mine to indicate general anticipated direction based on paths of steepest descent. (Source: Hawaii Volcano Observatory lava maps)

And still I was hopeful—or maybe delusional is a better word. But even in the depths of denial I couldn’t help but worry. Surely the flow doesn’t have the legs to reach Pahoa Town…does it?

Well, as of today it’s had just enough “legs” to crawl within a few miles of Pahoa. And based on the topographical information provided by county scientists, it’s now poised to roll right through the middle of town in the general direction of our Post Office. It will literally cut Pahoa in half.

For better or for worse, the flow has stalled for the past several days, but it’s slowly starting to advance again, so who knows? Talking to the folks from the county, all their plans and actions moving forward are predicated on the assumption that the flow will continue to advance, and eventually cross highway 130, lower Puna’s lifeline to Hilo. They urged all residents to plan accordingly.

And that’s exactly what we’ve done.

Waiting for Pele

The downside to our holding pattern is how nerve-wracking uncertainty can be. And yet, we’re always being reminded that uncertainty is part of life. Intellectually we know it’s there, but it feels so good to pretend it isn’t. Slow-moving lava has a way of shoving uncertainty in your face.

And here we are–waiting for Pele.

This disaster is a strange one; so devastating and yet forgiving. It’s all happening in slow motion. On the one hand it will allow nine thousand souls to escape a fiery death in orderly fashion. But it will also leave every one of them to a future that promises only uncertainty. What we know for sure is that no matter what happens, life in lower Puna is about to change forever. Some would argue that it already has.

The worst case scenario for lower Puna would be if the lava ever reached the ocean, a potential reality that would cut off lower Puna from its only remaining direct lifelines to Hilo. In other words, the main highway and both alternate routes on the east side would all be covered in lava, and the twenty-five mile drive to Hilo would become a seventy-plus-mile trek on a very substandard road, at least a several-hour, one-way commute under the best of conditions. If and when the situation ever reaches this point, you can bet there will be lots of houses in lower Puna sitting empty.

We’ve resigned ourselves to accepting whatever Madame Pele throws at us, which we’ve concluded isn’t so horrible. In the event that we lose our home, we take comfort in knowing we’ll live to fight another day. We also know that things could be much worse, and it makes us thankful that they aren’t.

Still, part of me wishes Madame Pele would be a little more decisive here, just so the nine thousand people in my community can move on with their lives.

But we all know that’s not how the fiery lady rolls. Until the flow actually crosses the highway, those of us who remain on the “wrong side of the flow” will continue to flounder in lava limbo.

Life Goes On

Even with all the talk of gloom-and-doom, life goes on in Puna today. The postman just delivered our mail. Folks are hauling their garbage to the dump (now the closest point to the lava flow). The electric company is servicing power lines, our favorite restaurant is still packing in hungry crowds. Many other shops are open too. Even our loiterers seem to be sticking to their routines.

But beneath the façade of normalcy tension simmers, you can feel it. Uncertainty is in the air. People are scared. Some are desperate–they have no place to go if the lava flow cuts off access to Hilo.

But no one knows for sure what will happen, that’s why this story is so compelling. And it’s one reason my wife and I have chosen to stay: we need to watch it unfold and share our perspective, even if it’s from the wrong side of the flow.

For a perspective on the cross-cultural dimension of this flow, checkout Glimpses of Culture Through a Lava Flow: Bomb the Crater or Clean Your House? 

In the meantime, some recent pictures of Pahoa.

Kaleos

My favorite restaurant, their food rocks. Was thrilled to hear the owners say they’ll stay open “until the lava reaches our steps.”

MikesPizza

Ah Mike’s New York Pizza, an enigma. Mike and I had a rough start but I learned to like his pizza and overlook his shortcomings, lol. Mike’s not even there anymore. My wife says we should call it “Not Mike’s New York Pizza Anymore.” Need to eat there at least one more time.

BoogieWoogie

Boogie Woogie Pizza

Akebono

A true relic of the past. Based on current projections, it won’t be close to the flow.

Luquins

Luquin’s, our Mexican restaurant

PelesKitchen

Pele’s Kitchen, a great place for breakfast

PahoaPainting

Classic Pahoa!

Sukhothai

(Blogger’s Note: Through all the sadness and human tragedy associated with this flow, I am completely captivated by this story and can’t stop watching. The flow is creating genuine human drama in our community; a contrived reality show couldn’t be more compelling. We’ll cover the ripple effect of the flow in future posts, with a focus on the cross-cultural ramifications.)

Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2014

Hawaii Academy of Arts & Science Hosts Rainbow for Japan Kids

By now we all know the story: on 3/11 a 9.0 earthquake in Tohoku rocked Japan from the northeast to the Kanto plain. It was the largest recorded earthquake in Japan’s history, the fourth largest recorded ever. The quake was so massive in scale it actually moved portions of northeastern Japan 8 feet closer to North America. The ensuing tsunami left 15,451 dead, with 7,692 missing (presumed dead), and over 40,000 living in shelters. The estimated tally in material damage is expected to exceed $300 billion, an estimate that would make it the most costly natural disaster in history. (Data source)

Anyone who has read my ramblings on this blog knows I have close ties to Japan, starting with my Japanese wife, which by logical extension means we have family there, including my son who lives and works in Tokyo. In this sense, the disaster truly hit close to home. It’s personal.

When the disaster struck on 3/11, my wife and I felt helpless. We were heartsick and wanted to do whatever we could to contribute but our options seemed limited. We donated to the Japan Red Cross through various avenues; volunteered to open our home to refugees from the disaster area (still waiting for a taker); wrote about unfolding stories in Japan on my blog; and Kurumi even started a “Gambare Japan” fundraiser with her Japanese language students at Hawaii Academy of Arts & Science (HAAS).

We were glad to do what we could, but something was missing. We wanted to directly connect with folks who needed help, look into their eyes, embrace them, hopefully make them smile.

That’s why we were lucky to get a call from our good friends at Japan America Society of Hawaii (JASH), asking if we knew of a Big Island school with lots of aloha that would be willing to host 20 Japanese middle school students from the disaster area in Japan.

We said we knew just the school: of course Hawaii Academy of Arts & Science!

The Birth of Rainbow for Japan Kids

Let’s start with a very sincere plug for JASH: it is a wonderful non-profit organization doing lots of good deeds these days. Established in 1976 its mission is “promoting understanding and friendships between the peoples of Japan and the United States through the special and unique perspective of Hawaii.” To achieve these ends JASH provides programs that help expand knowledge, increase meaningful human contact, and facilitate discussion of important issues related to Japan-US relations.

We’ve been members of JASH since we moved to Hawaii five years ago and have seen firsthand the value this organization brings to Hawaii. My company continues to collaborate with JASH on projects when the need arises.

After the 3/11 disaster my friends at JASH really stepped up to the plate. As of this writing, they’ve raised $3,665,166 for Aloha for Japan and other donations, and another $106,757 for their new initiative created last May, called “Rainbow for Japan Kids”.

Here’s an excerpt from the Rainbow for Japan Kids mission statement:

“Hawaii is a place where people from different cultures and backgrounds meet and coexist surrounded by natural beauty. This combination of cultural diversity and natural beauty holds recuperative powers. By providing this opportunity here in Hawaii, we hope the affected children will experience the spirit of Aloha of these islands, and return to Japan with their eyes opened wide by the experience with new hope to create a better future for themselves and their community.

What I love about the Rainbow program is its commitment to helping the most vulnerable victims of Japan’s disaster. So when JASH told us about the program, it not only tugged at our heartstrings, it presented the perfect opportunity to contribute our cross-cultural skills to the cause.

The program concept is to bring to Hawaii, groups of Japanese kids from the affected disaster areas to “engage in educational and cultural activities designed to provide physical and psychological relief from their tragic experiences”.

The first Rainbow group would arrive on July 27 and stay for ten days. They would spend the latter part of their trip on the Big Island, and requested to visit HAAS on August 3rd.

HAAS Reaches Out to Japan

So we approached Steve Hirakami (Principal of HAAS) and Dan Biegler (campus director) to ask if HAAS would be willing to host the first group of Rainbow for Japan Kids. They were nodding their heads before I got the request out of my mouth.

The first group would be 15 girls and 5 boys, all Japanese middle-school children from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. One of the children in this group was actually swept away in the tsunami and later rescued; another was trapped on a roof for 2 days without food, not knowing if her parents had survived. (Thankfully they did.) Most lost friends or relatives; all the kids from Iwate and Miyagi lost their homes and are currently living in evacuation centers or with relatives or friends.

Classes began at HAAS on August 1st, so the teachers and students had only 2 days to prepare for the event. Our initial worry was lack of time to find enough student performers to entertain our guests for an hour. Happy to report that we had so many students volunteer, we ended up using some of the snack time period to squeeze everybody in!

The Festivities

The teachers came up with a great plan for the event. Here’s how it unfolded:

The students gathered at the school entrance, then cheered when the guests arrived in their tour bus. When each guest  stepped off the bus they got a lei, a gift pack, and a hug. (All leis were handmade by HAAS students and teachers just for this occasion, and gift packs also put together by the students.)

The performances took place in the HAAS Pavilion. We reserved the two rows of seats in front of the stage for our guests.

Principal Steve Hirakami kicked off the festivities by welcoming our guests. He talked about the depth and history of the Japan-Hawaii relationship, his own lineage to Japan, and the importance of nurturing students to become global people.

After Steve’s welcome we cut the students loose to begin the entertainment, starting with two Japanese-language students who sang three traditional Japanese songs. Our guests joined in and it turned into a Japanese sing-along!

Then the Tahitian dancers took the stage, followed by ukulele players, singers, guitar players, hula and hip-hop dancers. The Tahitian dancers came back to close out the show with a finale, at which time they invited our guests up on stage to join them.

During the performances, we kept our focus on the audience. Our guests were engaged and smiling.

Campus Tour

Afterwards, we encouraged our guests to wander the campus, even had them feed the tilapia in the HAAS aquaponics pond.  When the fish were full we headed over to Jeanine Baker’s class for an interactive game of “Fox and Rabbit”. Well, that turned out to be so much fun our guests decided to hang with us an extra 15 minutes even though their schedule was very tight.

Hat’s off to everyone at HAAS for a wonderful event that filled the campus with smiles. If you ask Principal Steve Hirakami he’ll tell you that the philosophy at HAAS is to mold students into being “good people”. The idea is that if HAAS students do good things for the community then the “smarts” will naturally follow. On August 3rd the students turned that philosophy into reality.

And the “goodness” of everyone present inspired us. To all the students, teachers and staff at HAAS who put together this event, you can feel good that for just a couple hours, you brightened the lives of some kids who really needed to smile, and in the process built yourself a beautiful rainbow bridge to Japan.

Rainbow for Japan Kids will be an ongoing program. We look forward to facilitating an ongoing relationship between HAAS students and Japan’s “Rainbow Kids”. Anyone looking for a worthy cause where 100% of your donation will go to helping the victims, please consider supporting the Rainbow for Japan Kids program.

Special thanks to Ed Hawkins and Kelsey Soma of JASH, Ryoichi Okubo (President of JAL Hawaii), Kaori Kano (Bikki), Hiro Ito and Kyoko Tomita (Kids Hurt Too), “Mimi” Izumi Nakano (our great interpreter!), and everyone else who made this wonderful program come to fruition.

Also a big mahalo to the donors and partner’s sponsoring the Rainbow kids. Check ’em out and give them your business if the spirit moves you.

Last but not least, thanks to my son Grady and his friends Babatunji, Trey and Junior–all dance instructors from Center Stage in Hilo–who volunteered their time and energy to perform for and interact with our guests.

Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2011

HAAS Charter School…Against All Odds

This evening, August 27th, 2010, a student-produced documentary on charter schools and educational reform will make its debut screening at the Hilo Palace Theater. The film, a year-long project of HAAS Productions, is entitled “Class of 2010”. The production team is based out of Hawaii Academy of Arts & Science public charter school and sponsored by the Pahoa non-profit Arts & Science Center. I encourage everyone who cares about our community, our children, our future, and educational reform in Hawaii to come support the students this evening. For more information click here

Here in the most depressed area of the State of Hawaii, we have a thriving charter school led by current candidate for Lt. Governor, Steve Hirakami. (Check out Steve’s website here.)

What’s amazing is that Steve and his cadre of dedicated parents and educators built this school against all odds, you might say “with one hand tied behind their back”.  Keep in mind that Charter schools get only a fraction of the funding that traditional DOE schools get. But what’s even more amazing is the quality of education kids are getting at HAAS. How do I know? My son graduated from HAAS, my wife teaches Japanese language there, I used to sit on the local school board, and I volunteer when my schedule permits. But don’t believe me. Check out this trailer produced by HAAS students.

And it makes you think: if HAAS can put quality back into education with minimal funding, imagine what the DOE could do with the same kind of leadership.

“Japan Wizards” Makin’ Puna Proud!

JASH President Ed Hawkins kicking off the annual Japan Wizard’s competition

Last Saturday 3 students from Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences (HAAS) competed in the annual Japan Wizards competition held in Honolulu, an event sponsored by Japan America Society of Hawaii (JASH). JASH paid all expenses, even airfare for participants from off-island schools.

The competition is conducted in a quiz format in which teams, each made up of 3 students, compete to demonstrate mastery of Japanese language and culture. Each school is allowed up to 2 teams, or 6 students total. Contest questions were all about Japan, topics ranging from education, culture, language, social trends and politics, to sports, pop culture, art and history.

The competition was set up for 2 levels: level A for students who have been studying Japanese 2 years or less, and level B for the more advanced students. HAAS students competed in level A. This year the prize for the top 2 teams in each category was an all-expenses-paid trip to Japan.

Keep in mind that this was the first time HAAS ever sent a team to this competition. (The Japanese language program at HAAS is in its 3rd year.) But these wonderful students–whose names I won’t list for privacy reasons–really did their school proud! And while they did not win the big prize this time, they placed a very impressive 7th out of 22 teams, scoring better than many teams that have been to the competition before. Indeed HAAS is the classic, lovable underdog. Many schools are better funded and have a larger pool of students to draw from. But HAAS students proved in this competition that they could match up even with the elite schools in the islands. Yeah, our team was scary good. (They’ll be even scarier next year. :-))

Not to imply that success came easy. Some “inside information” on the team’s preparation: each student researched information listed in the competition guidelines, they all volunteered to stay after school for supplemental study, and they did it with dedication and enthusiasm. Their teacher (also known as Samurai Wife) was amazed at how much they learned and retained in such a short period of time.

I’d be remiss not to mention that these students represented HAAS and their community with class and aloha. We are so proud of them.

After the competition the students told Kurumi they had such a good time that they want to compete again next year! Can’t wait. Gambatte kudasai! 🙂

Mysterious Wizard Lady (picture posted with Wizard mom’s permission)

Another Mysterious Wizard Lady! (Also posted with mom’s permission)

Congratulations to the winning teams!

The Intercultural Party Zone

Several times a year we host a musical event at our home. We invite many of our Japanese retiree friends in the neighborhood, as well as a select group of “Japan-friendly” local friends. This time our event theme was “authentic Hawaiian music”.

At these events we try to accomplish a couple things. Most important, we want to bring together Japanese retirees and local folks to laugh and have fun together. Music has a way of removing the language barrier, especially when you’ve got the right band (and believe me, we did).

The other reason we do this is to make Japanese retirees aware of some of the honest, hard-working folks in our community who offer a variety of quality services they might someday need (including landscaping, carpentry, lawn-care, business development, painting, deck-building, English language/hula/ukulele lessons–and an array of other educational options through local institutions).

This is the fourth time we’ve done this kind of event, twice last year. We didn’t expect a big turnout this time around as we only spent a couple weeks promoting the event. Thinking 30 to 35 people would show up, we had over 45! (30 Japanese friends, the rest “locals.”)

The band–the very same one that played at our last hula event–was a big hit. Kahele and Chino merged their lovely vocals into beautiful harmonies while Darren made his dobro wail. Really sweet music, can’t wait to do this again.

Some pictures. Enjoy.

Hawaiian music night 002Guests filing in, and a back view of the mysterious man behind Island Notes

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Hawaiian music night 007

Introducing the band…

Hawaiian music night 008Darren introducing himself in Japanese (good job!)

Hawaiian music night 010Kahele and Chino greeting the guests

Hawaiian music night 011Jammin’ Hawaiian style

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Hawaiian music night 015Chino singing his heart out

Hawaiian music night 018Samurai Wife introducing local businessman Grif Frost

Hawaiian music night 019Grif and son Anthony (of Maikai Ohana Tours)

Hawaiian music night 020Mike and John can build and beautify anything

Hawaiian music night 021Baby sis’ Pamela, greeting our guests.

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Our friend Laszlo, artist, sculpture and local puppeteer

Hawaiian music night 023Our friend Kaori…what a lovely hula dancer she is!

Hawaiian music night 029Takanashi-san and Ikeda-san jammin’ with the band! 🙂Hawaiian music night 030

Kahele’s havin’ a good time!

Hawaiian music night 031Wait ’til their friends at home see them jammin’ with da locals!

Hawaiian music night 039Bruddah Jeff jammin’ too!

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It was a fun party! The guests were engaged, stayed later than all past events, and raved about the band.

Thanks again to Chino, Darren and Kahele for another great performance. To all the readers who made it past the pictures and read this far, here’s your reward: click your way over to Island Notes, where Darren, slide guitarist extraordinaire, has some live recordings “posted” on his site. (Not live from the above-mentioned party, but many of the same songs.)

By the way, the band still needs a name so if you have any suggestions I’ll pass them on to professor Darren.

Aloha!

Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2009