Derrick – ‘Ōiwi na’u koko ha’aheo na’u koko

Derrick - Kapalama Canal

I met Derrick standing by a bench next to the Kapalama Canal. His deep tan seemed to glow against the reflection of the water.  The air felt clean and my skin was still cool from being at the news station for my morning interview. I glanced at him and made quick eye contact. He was busy talking to someone and our eyes met again — this time I waved at him. He nodded and smiled. I awkwardly introduced myself, almost interrupting their conversation, and sort of back-stepped towards a bench.

I could tell he was curious about me and my half-hearted attempt to say “hello.” I didn’t have any specific plan by being there. I had just left the news station from doing an interview on the Sunrise Show. I felt the pull to drive by the canal. Someone had mentioned that a one-mile fence would be built alongside this canal… another way to address the “homeless problem.”

Ugh.

So, there I was. I wanted quiet. Some “me” time. It is always emotionally draining to expose myself… to be vulnerable to a public audience, even if I’m just sitting under bright lights with a really warm reporter/human-being next to me. It was nice to be outside… a good break from where I had just been. I sat there alone, on the picnic table, and watched people come out of their tents. One lady was preparing her breakfast — it smelled like she was frying up some eggs and sausage. My stomach started to growl. I hadn’t had breakfast yet.

My attention came back to Derrick. His friend was gone and he was standing right next to me. Smiling, he asked what I was doing here.

“Here we go,” I thought.

I was honest. I told him where I had just come from, my journey, and my nervousness about sharing personal details of my life. He listened attentively. Layer by layer, I shared my hopes, my pain and fear. I mentioned how I felt so alone at times. And how I appreciate the quiet and solitude because it is a reminder that I, alone, will have to face my fears and manifest my hopes and dreams into reality. It’s that moment of pause we have in life that gives us the freedom to choose our next step.

Kapalama Canal

A one-mile fence will be built along Kapalama Canal to prevent homeless camps.

I went on to share my thoughts about the money that would be spent on building the fence. I explained my belief that helping isn’t always about spending money. As children, we are oftentimes asked if we want anything… if there’s anything we can buy to make them happy or feel better. And it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to buy a gift or a token of our appreciation. But it is the thought and intent behind it that truly touches the person… touches the child… It’s about love. People want to feel loved, to have someone listen to them and their feelings, and be held when they’re not feeling good. I’m not so sure that building a fence will help the situation.

He shared his own life story — how he had lived a life of incredible financial freedom at a young age. Derrick had money, lots of it, and he blew it all away on the “wrong things” in his early years. He remembers a time when he would drive by homeless people, scoffing at their circumstances and turning away from them — seeing them as failures in life.

My stomach started to growl.

I asked if he was hungry and his response made me laugh. “Girl, I am one Hawaiian braddah, I can always eat.” Thank goodness. I was starving. We walked over to the nearest Zippy’s restaurant and ordered rice, eggs, and portuguese sausage. He liked his rice the same way I did — colored with shoyu and tabasco. Perfect.

We sat by a big window and he shared more about his life and the new perspective and life path he was on. He enjoys helping people. Derrick reflected on a time when he had “everything,” yet he was incredibly unhappy with life. And now at the cusp of being 50 years-old, he has very little in the material sense, but has never felt more content. He is happy. He is learning to be at peace with himself, and being on the streets is part of that journey in helping him to get there.

The journey for Derrick is more spiritual than anything else. He shared the struggles of his father, his family, those who came before him… and at one point he lifted his shirt, revealing a tattoo across his chest that read:

‘Ōiwi na’u koko ha’aheo na’u koko

(Hawaiian by blood, proud by choice)

I grew up in Hawai`i, but cannot claim to fully understand the incredibly deep, interconnected, and enriching history and language of Hawai`i. However, I do have a deep respect for Native Hawaiians, like Derrick, who are part of an ongoing economic, social,  cultural struggle that threatens the cultural practices and way of life of Indigenous Peoples. For those who are interested in learning more, I highly recommend reading “Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawai`i?”.

He explained that many people living near Kapalama Canal express frustration in wanting a subsistence way of life, but not having the option to. At the same time, there are many who are depressed and need a friend. I realized that Derrick and I were a lot alike in this way… Wanting to be a friend, feeling connected to ourselves by connecting with others, but also appreciating our moments of solitude to recharge and reflect.

I wondered if he was depressed.

I openly shared how, in retrospect, I was depressed while my father was homeless. And how I learned to deal with being alone, compartmentalizing the pain, in order to keep things together in other areas of my life. It was so hard, and I know I’m a different person because of it. I have grown, no doubt, but I have also learned how to approach challenging experiences as an opportunity for growth. And I don’t mind having to push myself… I’m accepting what it means to be uncomfortable.

“Kūlia i ka nu‘u,” he said.

(Strive to the summit)

Derrick acknowledged what I was sharing. I was revealing myself to him — a period of personal turmoil that I really hadn’t broken down yet. It was hard, but I got over it. And that’s really all that mattered. But he didn’t mind listening to the details, watching the layers unfold that morning, as I was fresh from just sharing my story live on-air.

A photograph taken by Derrick of me sitting by Kapalama Canal.

A photograph taken by Derrick of me sitting by Kapalama Canal.

I think he noticed the change in my mood because he abruptly changed my train of thought by mentioning his mother. His mother shared something with him at an early age, and he wanted to share it with me. He asked me to spell out the word “depression.” I said each letter out loud, slowly… Then he asked me to cross out the first “d”, the “e”, and the “i.”

depression

press on

When you take the word “depression,” and you cross out those letters, you’re left with the words “press on.” If you don’t “press on” in life, then the three letters you took out spell “die,” and you will surely “die” because of your depression.

“So, Diana… press on, kūlia i ka nu‘u, strive to the summit” he said.

Yes, Derrick. I will. It has taken me over a week to write this post… I’ve held onto the strength and thoughtfulness of his words… of the life that is woven into his words… It means a lot to me, and now I’m sharing them with you. As I drove away that morning, I felt happier… understood, validated… I smiled knowing that he had helped me, and I had helped him. We saw each other and our hearts nodded quietly as I waved goodbye. It’s never truly goodbye, though. Deep down inside, I know I will see him again.

Wishing you all the best in the journey… until next time…

Hugs,

Diana

Little Souls

 

Hanging out and talking

Hanging out and talking

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my encounters with some of the children in Kaka’ako and the frustration of not being able to help. A lot has happened since then.

It seems like my universe has been throwing words and signs of caution as I continue to visit Kaka’ako. For a variety of reasons, my friends and family have shared their concerns for my safety. I understand. The most recent news of a Hawai`i legislator being a “victim of ‘gang-style’ attack” is reason to be concerned — I get that. But I feel an incredible tug to visit the kids I have gotten to know in the area.

I drove through Kaka’ako this morning with my trunk full of books, donated by a friend from Read Aloud America. Instead of parking in my usual spot, I decided to drive into the back area so I could unload the books closer to their tents. A couple of kids recognized me, so I decided to pull over onto the side of the road. As I passed out the books, I noticed a little boy I hadn’t seen before. He had a slender frame, dark tanned skin, and beautiful little eyes that sparkled with curiosity. I asked if he would like to have some books to read, and he immediately crawled up into the back of my SUV and started to dig through the pile. I smiled.

After the older kids had walked off, it was just my new little friend and I sitting in the back of my SUV.  I learned that he was 4 years-old, loved to eat candy, knew his ABCs, and wanted to go to school. Our conversation was interrupted when a tent close-by erupted with shouting. I looked over towards the tent and saw a woman yelling at a younger girl. I asked my little friend if he knew who they were.

“That’s my mom and my sister.”

I felt for his sister. She slouched into her chair, trying hard to keep her tears in, trying desperately not to fight back even with her mother yelling, spitting, and pushing her around.

I looked over at this beautiful little soul sitting next to me and said, “I’m sorry little guy.”

I asked if he knew where his father was, and he responded, “He’s in jail.”

Picking books to read

Picking books to read

My heart sank. I could see at this point that the argument and fighting was escalating fast so I decided to take the boy towards another tent where his friends were. As I ushered him towards another tent, a law enforcement vehicle drove straight towards the mother and daughter. I let go of the little boy’s hand and walked towards my car and the officer who had stepped out. The mother and daughter who had been fighting simmered down really fast, and then I realized I was in trouble.

I approached the officer and his first question was: Is this your car?

I answered… Yes, yes it is. I’m just here to pass out books to the kids.

The conversation that followed happened so fast. I wasn’t supposed to be parked on that street. I understood this. And at the same time I had a good reason for it… I couldn’t carry three boxes of books by myself, and thought parking on the side of the street would be fine. I wasn’t going to fight him. If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong… even if I had good intentions.

He asked for my license and registration. As I reached into the car to get my documentation, I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe you’re getting in trouble for trying to help these kids… it’s okay… it’s fine…” From the corner of my eye, I could see the mother and daughter sitting quietly in their tent and the little boy standing outside. How ironic.

I shook my head at the circumstances, took a deep breath, and faced the officer with my documentation. He told me that my parking there was only contributing more to the chaos and lawlessness of this area. I understood where he was coming from. I wasn’t upset or angry with him. He was doing his job and having to do these rounds everyday.

Then I started saying what came to my mind…

“I’m sorry… It’s just that my dad was homeless for two years and I still haven’t gotten over it.”

I’m not even sure what I meant by that when I said it to the officer. I just wanted him to know that I was there because of something deeper inside of me. A life experience that was far more meaningful and thoughtful than a parking mishap. I looked into his eyes and stood there quietly for a second. And then I apologized again. This kid over there has no good role models from what I can see. I’ve been spending the past half an hour reading to him and getting him excited about learning to form words.

Then the officer said, “Do you realize how dangerous this place can be?” He went on to explain how assaults and rapes are a growing concern in the area. I acknowledged his concerns. In some quiet way, my universe is gently asking me to be more mindful and careful with how I spend my time in the area. I recognize that there are risks to everything in life. I know that what I’m doing by approaching individuals with substance abuse and mental illness means that I take on a certain level of risk. At the same time I know that I have to trust my instincts and I don’t want to stop approaching them. If anything, I have plans to bridge my legal studies with my homeless outreach through existing organizations in our community so that I am safer.

And yet I know that the “real help” and opportunities for growth happen when I’m out there as an individual, just somebody who cares and wants others to know that I do. These kids are especially hungry for love and attention. They are bored. They are beaten. They witness everything that we see in the news. And yet they are so tenderhearted. I want to help them somehow. I have ideas and am looking forward to forming them.

For now, my heart goes out to the children there. They need more than just books, toys, used clothing, and food. They need love, consistency, stability, role models, stable parents, a home that provides them the security to branch out and discover themselves and the world. I want so much more for them. I think we can figure this out together.

Hugs,

Diana