This appears to be, of all things, a story about houses. But appearances can be deceiving. And though I am describing a singular life spent sleeping in tents and car-seats for ten years, and another seven years in other people's beds - this is decidedly not a comparative study of canvas walls or bucket seats versus bricks and mortar. Readers of these posts and of my books, Grandmothers Whisper and The Return Voyage, know a fair amount of the personal history here. 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani is a Native Hawaiian, who eighteen years ago, at the behest of his long-dead Grandmothers, relinquished a life of comfort, and every scrap of possession to return to his Islands and fulfill his part in a thousand-year-old prophecy - a prophecy that promised to return his long-oppressed people and occupied homeland to the powerful ancestral wisdom of the Native culture.
I am a life-long journalist and writer who met this man while on vacation, seventeen years ago. I, too, surrendered a life of personal ambition and considerable comfort to join this man on his journey.
When all of our accumulated possessions, and our life-long means of earning a living were surrendered these many years ago, we were left only with the Ancestors' guidance, and my 1991 Camry. For ten years, we lived on the beaches of the Hawaiian Islands - in tents, and when prohibited by American law, we lived in that "Hotel Camry."
"Our work was on those beaches," 'Iokepa said. We lived among the homeless Native Hawaiians, and among the discarded residue of America's cities. By day and most certainly by night, we lived within the heartache of drug abuse, alcoholism, and domestic violence. We lived a sober alternative. 'Iokepa was an activist for that alternative. He spoke always about a matriarchal culture that prevented war for 12,000 - a people who lived their faith and their responsibility for one another. He lived and spoke about community.
Then, seven years ago, circumstances changed. It was time, the Grandmothers directed, "To take all you've lived and learned and speak it across America." The rules remained the same: we could charge nothing for our work; we could not supplement our walk of faith with paying jobs; we could not solicit invites to speak. Exactly as we'd lived for ten years on the beaches - we were to speak our intentions, and then wait.
And so, for the last seven years, with just a donation bowl to support us, we have spent half of every year at home on the Island, and half of every year traveling from living room to living room, church to church, club to club, bookstore to bookstore across the American continent. (We've fully crossed west to east, east to west fourteen times.) We arrive, speak to the assembled groups from the experiences of the Native Hawaiian people, and our own part in that story. We ask only this: a night or two of lodging.
Our speaking invitations were consistently clustered in the winter and spring. We arrived home on the Island for the summer and fall.
For each of these seven years, we've returned home to no home. We land (our flights, a miracle of unforeseen generosity) to a tiny storage unit with our tent and air mattress, our Coleman camp stove and cooking utensils. If it didn't fit in a car trunk, it hasn't been a part of our life in these years together.
'Iokepa and I are very public couple - visible because we have never had private walls to hide behind, ever. The upside of no private moments has been the blessing of friendship. With no place to hide, so many people are aware of our work and many supporters are respectful of it. When these good folks have left their houses, condos or apartments on Island for work trips or vacations, they've asked us to care for their homes.
And so, like a jigsaw puzzle after each of these years on the road: the three-day or three-week or three-month house-sit manifests. Often, we are in our last day of occupancy without a clue where we're headed next.
Last June, we had no promised house-sit at all. I kept delaying our flight home, insisting that home "felt unwelcoming." 'Iokepa prayed loud and clear: "I ask to be supported in this work; we need a house to return to each year." Neither of us wanted to own a home. We'd relinquished our ideas of ownership eighteen years ago. Neither of us expected earnings to rent a home. We'd surrendered to a life of un-salaried work.
Then: in the first three months of our return last year, we had seven different house-sits. They spanned the geographic length and breadth of the Island, and each required a half-dozen trips to the storage unit: for hangers or kitchen implements or to store our good clothing. Each home presented another set of necessities. Though we were grateful for every single one of those homes - we were also drained by the shifting needs and places. I began to feel my age.
'Iokepa said: "On the beach was our work. The multiple house-sits are a distraction from our work."
And that is where we found ourselves in late September of last year. Our voices were raised loud in prayer - and then, the miracle.
Old friends - compassionate, intelligent, real people - arrived on Island for their first visit. This couple had hosted our appearance in their lovely Southern home in years past. They also asked 'Iokepa to chant at their daughter's Rhode Island wedding. They'd come to Kaua'i for an authentic experience. They came to see 'Iokepa's Island; they came to immerse themselves into his culture. We were delighted to comply.
On the night before they left, we were all four licking ice cream cones at an outdoor picnic table. "There's something I've been trying to tell you for some days," this embodiment of the Southern gentleman said to 'Iokepa and me. And then, uncharacteristically and shockingly, his eyes filled with tears.
He continued. "If you had a home, if you didn't have to move from place to place - I think that you could focus more fully on your work.
"I want to buy you a house. I want you to choose what you want."
Both of us were choked silent. This was an offer beyond imagining. Eight days later, we'd found our house. In these years together, we've lived on every inch of our small Island and so we well knew what we wanted. We wanted an ethnically and economically diverse neighborhood - most places on Island are enclaves of sameness. We wanted to be near the beach where we'd tented for ten years.
We wanted, too, to look out our windows at green space, to feel solitude. Because our lives are public, it will serve us well to have an escape in nature. This house looks out on a mountain called Haupu - to remember. 'Iokepa and I courted in its shadow.
We found the house. Our friends agreed to it sight-unseen. The sale was finalized in mid-January, this year. We have the keys, but we have not yet used them. We are currently traveling and speaking on the East Coast. We'll return at the end of May to our home.
This appears to be, of all things, a story about houses. But appearances can be deceiving. What this has been about from the beginning, some eighteen years ago now for 'Iokepa, has been unwaveringly: faith and community - and the sustaining nature of each in all of our lives.