Leading up to our journey to Kauai, we convened regularly to discuss the environmental, sociocultural, historical and to some degree the economic aspects of the Hawaiian Islands. Laced with though-provoking exercises, I began to develop a conceptual glimpse of what life on the island was in a historical and present-day context. Initially, I imagined these chains of islands to be an utopian-like place where everything worked in a symbiotic fashion. I mean, after browsing the web about these islands and seeing azure waters and happy locals interacting with gleeful tourists – who wouldn’t form such an opinion? To be frank, based on a previous course I had completed, I was aware of issues related to invasive species and socio-economic displacement on the islands. However, I summed it up it to be no different to other cities where these issues similarly occurred. Little did I know, this perception of mine would change by the end of the Journey.
A few of my peers and I ended the journey with a sense of optimism and a renewed sense of clarity regarding some of the pre-conceived views and expectations of the islands. This change in perception was largely due to our interactions with the leaders and organizations they represented. Some leaders subscribed to a hardline view with respect to issues they faced while trying to preserve their cultural heritage and ties to the environment against erosion from external pressures. Other leaders, had a more open and adaptive approach, one that was receptive to change as long as it respected their indigenous culture and its inherent ties to the natural environment. Despite opposing views separated by a great divide, I found our group motivated by the most evident trait their struggle had in common. That trait was a passion and love and respect for their land and people. By this point, my generalized view of the concerns raised by the locals in regard to their displacement morphed from simply viewing it as nothing more than gentrification to a seeing it for what it was. It became clear that they were losing everything that mattered to them as a people. After all, the land was intrinsically deep-rooted to their culture and identity. This was the concept the indigenous Hawaiians referred to as Aina – a closeness to the land. It became clear that by sustaining one, you protected the other. By the end of it, I was left with a mental picture of a chain of islands trying to find their place in a world where they were seen as chest of precious jewels, which everyone wanted their share of. Personally, I was content to have had the honor and opportunity to merely get a glimpse of the precious contents of the chest. I left Kauai feeling inspired and re-charged!