night, 8:00 PM, Kuhio Avenue, Waikiki: Riding in the back of a taxi,
stopped at a traffic light, I am startled to hear my name being shouted
from somewhere outside in the crowd. There on the sidewalk, grinning
at me and waving, stands Rose, my friend and host mother, who generously
welcomed me the last two summers to stay at her familys home on
the island of Kosrae, in Eastern Micronesia. What is she doing here?
In disbelief I pay my fare and jump out to greet her, completely jarred
by the presence of someone I, in my own touristic nearsightedness, never
imagined to exist beyond the world of her family in that big seaside
house overlooking the mangrove forests of Lelu, Kosrae. Standing in
Waikiki in her white T-shirt, hand-sewn patchwork skirt, and rubber
sandals, she is a complete aberration to me, illuminated by neon lights
and overshadowed by the towering hotels, and yet she is perfectly at
ease in her surroundings.
triumphantly describes her situation: "I came for work. My son
Isaac left Kapiolani Community College last month and now hes
working in the kitchen at a hotel, so I came to live with him, make
money for the family
I just got my employee ID number and started
my job!" What about the rest of the family back in Kosrae, I ask.
"Oh, theyre fine," she giggles, "My sisters and
mother are all taking care of the other kids and my husband." We
walk together for a few blocks, through the throngs of vacationers brandishing
purple leis and shopping for aloha shirts. They push past us at a fast
pace, anxious they might miss any aspect of the Waikiki Experience.
back to the apartment and see where we live," Rose says, and, grabbing
my arm, she leads me down the street, away from all the nightlife. We
walk up a side street to where it meets the Ala Wai Canal and turn left,
finally reaching a building I must have passed numerous times without
thinking. It is a crumbling concrete apartment building wedged between
the new high-rise condominiums and the hotels. Passing through a rusted
wrought-iron gate and climbing the cracking linoleum-covered steps,
we encounter a large group of Kosraean children playing jump rope. Most
of the doors of the apartments are ajar, and as we approach, Kosraean
faces look back and smile at us. Rose chuckles as she tells me that
mostly everyone in the five-storey building is related.