So, here I was, walking into a life style that was quite foreign to me. I was going to be living in a community known as Kalani, which is an oceanside retreat.
As a volunteer, I now had to eat with others, work with new people, and live in a small A-frame in A-frame land, (A-frames are made of 2 sided corrugated metal with the other 2 sides being screens and a door…the living quarters for volunteers – simple living.).
My first ‘comforting sign’ was that my A-frame was number 27, a number I resonated with – most likely due to my favorite childhood Red Sox player, Carlton Fisk whose number was 27. But, for some reason, that small sign gave me ease. However, the ride from the airport by a stranger from Kalani did not ease my transition. He was just as shy and uncomfortable as I was, or seemingly so. Later, at dinner when I sat alone, he came over to extend an invitation to join him at his table. And, although I would have preferred to stay put, I joined him. There, at his table, was Crandall, a native Hawaiian, who worked at Kalani. He was so kind-hearted and thoughtful, and not just to me, to everyone. During my stay, he often provided food that I preferred and great stories of his life on the Big Island. He opened the door and welcomed me despite my fears and differences. And, we laughed.
Luckily, Kalani gives you a few days off when you arrive to get settled and to adjust. Living there at the time was a bit primitive, even though they had added electricity to all of the areas on a regular basis by this time. However, it is in the jungle, on the remote side of the Big Island, with few amenities. It was going to be an experience, for sure.
I opted to live in an A-frame versus the dorms. I couldn’t handle sharing a space with anyone after living alone for so long. Yes, I have ‘space issues’ from growing up in too small of a house, from lack of personal space and boundaries by my mother who didn’t recognize a need for it, and for whatever other possible reason. I embrace this issue now and recognize it for what it is and that it is a part of who I am, on many levels. Anyway...
Each A-frame had a mattress, a fan, a light and a place for your clothes. Walking was the mode of transportation, to the bathroom, to the lanai for meals, to wherever. And, even though electricity had been added, lighting was limited and one learned to walk by the stars and moon, and be guided by the natural environment. (Ahhh…the night sky in Hawai’i is amazing!)
My A-frame section was called, The Ghetto, since it was easily overgrown by the jungle plants. I knew when to turn into the ghetto when I recognized a certain bush, which then would lead me to the path that lead me to #27. It was fun, albeit an adjustment. I had to laugh though, thinking that I had come to Hawai’i, to paradise, and I was living in The Ghetto. Too funny!
Mindless work, a great relief. I worked in housekeeping for the ‘volunteer’ part of the work exchange program. Kalani is not typical in it’s housing set up for guests. Each unit, called a Hale, was located over the property along with small guesthouses as well, including one called the Treehouse. In order to lug the linens and cleaning supplies we used vans. Big Blue, an old decrepit van, that required a funky way to get it started, and when you pressed the brakes it did not register that it was suppose to stop until several seconds or so later. This, being mainly a walking community proved to be a challenge as the driver of the van. Vans didn’t have the right of way but it didn’t know it needed to stop either for the pedestrians that were in the road. Lots of screaming and flapping arms to get people to move. Lots of laughter from relief and from the ridiculous-ness of the situation. Big Blue…I wonder if it still lives?
The mindless work was great though. Knocking on doors and saying, “Aloha, Housekeeping!”, enter, clean, talk, laugh, and we were done. And folding sheets and towels to Bob Marley – great energy! I, of course was struggling to let go of my Northeast work ethic, but was slowly letting it go to a certain extent. I did, however, get to become a paid volunteer due to this work ethic, so there was a positive benefit. I no longer had to pay to volunteer…I got paid instead. Money comes in unexpected places. Yet, I think the higher goal was to relax and to let go of how hard I had to work. A new perspective was needed…doing less was fine and it was enough. The work didn't define me.
The bugs and critters were the next area of adjustment. No spiders crept in to give me messages although I saw them often enough, just not hovering over me while I tried to sleep. Red ants infested the A-frames, and some had rats, although I was one of the luck ones, the rats did not live in my A-frame. I did have a family of mongoose that lived underneath me with the cutest little mongoose pups. I enjoyed seeing them crawl in and out of underneath my home. The geckos were also a joy to watch as they climbed the walls and ceiling, and occasionally dropping into my lap while I was lounging on the bed.
I met Randy, who has become a great supportive and loving friend over the years. He was my neighbor in the ghetto. When he saw the inside of my A-frame, he announced that I was living in the elite A-frame quarters since I had a separate fan for my clothes to prevent mold growing, a fan for me, a bed frame with draws underneath it, a waterproof curtain to prevent the rains from entering, a nightstand, lamp, candles, art work, etc…I had made it home – I personalized it. Of course, working in housekeeping gave me access to the ‘extras’ that made my A-frame luxurious. How great was that! Mindless work, income, and extras! I have learned that I can live without so much. I've have learned what is necessary and what isn’t and that I can make any place feel like home, no matter the quality or the amount of stuff. I can be at home.
What I had read about what Kalani had to offer and what its intention was, I had expected something different from what I experienced. I expected my time to be spiritually focused, being around like-minded persons who wanted to grow and get disciplined with spiritual practices. What I got was a younger crowd than I, who were still focused on partying and living without responsibility, accountability, etc. In retrospect, I think this may have been a lesson for me to release those expectations of myself, and to lighten up, but I was beyond the partying stages. I didn’t want to drink to get drunk. I didn’t want to be up late at night and do what I did back in my 20’s. I was in a different space. I was older and I was looking for support from a community in an emotional and spiritual sense. I learned that I had to let go of those expectations and enjoy what did come to me, which was a community, albeit with different focuses, and friendships. Some of these people became life-long friends whom I remain connected with today and others who I feel as though I could contact now and still be welcomed as their friend. Kalani gave us a deep-shared experience and a connection.
From sharing with others who have gone to Kalani, I know that each person has a different experience there, and it all depends on who is volunteering when you are there and who the paid staff is who are managing the place. But, as my housekeeping manager (Jamie) often said, "It is all good.”.
Next up….my friends from Kalani. I am so grateful for them.