It’s helpful to have local friends. I called one the other day, a surfer, to ask how to treat a piece of coral in my foot, knowing he’d been in the same fix countless times.
“You gotta dig it out right away,” he said. “Get a needle and just dig it out.”
That bit of advice out of the way, I mentioned that I’d possibly lost a work assignment because I’d written something in my blog that pissed off the person who controlled the money. And that got me thinking about how many people I might have pissed off inadvertently because I’d written something critical about someone they like or are related to.
“It’s not your fault,” he consoled. “You’re from the mainland, so you don’t know any better. You don’t know just how connected people are in this little place. You don’t know you have to ask your mama, ‘is that guy my cousin?’ before you take him out.”
Yup, locals know a lot of things that we mainland transplants don’t — at least, not until we’ve been shown or told.
Like when I ran into farmer Jerry, he knew why Makaleha stream was running low, even though we’ve had rain locally. It’s actually fed by Waipahee, he explained, and that’s in an entirely different ahupuaa, one that’s much drier. He also knew why my neighbor Andy’s stream was running so high. “We’ve been putting water in there,” he said, referring to the system managed by the East Kauai Water Users Cooperative. Seems it’s not a stream but a ditch that runs through Andy’s property on its way to the taro farmers on Bette Midler’s land near the bypass.
And my neighbor Andy has filled me in on countless bits of Hawaii history, both ancient and modern, along with details on various people in our neighborhood. They, in turn have filled me in on how the streetlights got installed and the roads got paved.
Some friends know about all things kanaka maoli, including the words to Hawaiian songs and their meaning, proper place names and why it’s important to use them, protocol for all sorts of cultural activities, the whys and hows of supernatural stuffs and even more that we haven’t gotten into yet.
Other local friends have shared their knowledge of where to find mokihana and maile, and how to pick it properly, the names of countless plants and their uses, how to harvest banana, papaya, breadfruit, taro. They’ve shown me how to catch and clean reef fish, then fry it without making a mess. They’ve explained all the important family connections (which I still haven’t mastered), and taught me how to make feather, flower and ti leaf lei, laulau, poi, kim chee, nishime, sushi, mochi, lilikoi juice, potato-mac salad, fish cake, poke. And they've told me the best places to buy all that stuff when I don't want to make it.
Then there’s the face-saving stuff, like when to shut up and listen, what constitutes disrespect, the proper way to behave around throw net fishermen, what to bring when you go visit somebody, how to greet kupuna.
I've never forgotten the wise counsel offered by Jan Ten Bruggencate (whose blog I greatly admire) shortly after my arrival on Kauai: “Don’t try to speak pidgin.”
And in that same vein, another friend’s advice, issued upon seeing my stiff, contorted shaka: “Don’t ever do that in public. Otherwise somebody going think you making stick finger. Then they might wanna beef and I’d have to fight ‘em. And I don’t wanna have to do that, cuz it might be my cousin.”