Youth, vim and vigor all come handy if you happen to find yourself in the islands of Hawaii with extra time on your hands and enough cash to survive on. Time and cash were always at a premium for us before we turned the corner on the vim and vigor requirement for the full savoring of what is always on offer at Waikiki, the bathing and frolicking Mecca of the rich and famous. Compromise is a magic thing and it kicked-in automatically for us as a built-in mechanism, both physical and intellectual.
Arriving in Hawaii this time with the lame excuse of attending a wedding of a second cousin of Didi’s, both of us felt uncomfortable at encroaching on a friend’s or a relative’s privacy by crashing in for more than a couple of nights. We also wanted our own private space. We checked the hotel prices and found them at about half the usual level and settled for one of medium range a walking distance from Ala Moana , the tamest of beaches, socially a family picnic location and physically over a mile’s stretch of sandy shore protected by a wide reef that guarantees the mildest of swimming conditions, second only to a mile-long swimming pool but without the awful chlorine smell. This ideal floating space is contained on the land side by the huge beach park just across the road from Ala Moana Shopping Center, the largest in the world when it was first opened and when as students we could afford only to window-shop in it with the rare coconut ice-cream cone to mitigate the feeling of total estrangement from this plush hangout of international spendthrifts. The park offers no end of cool shade from palm trees in constant hula performance mode to huge monkey pods sheltering the elderly sailors, the tendons of their tattooed biceps frayed to where they play at competing with their remote-control toy sail-boats on the adjacent pond in imitation of the real thing they once did for a living, and the ever expansive banyan trees with swarms of children swaying from their aerial roots.
I never swam or felt comfortable in water before I came to Hawaii as a college junior. On a date at the beach with an East West Center student whose phone line was always busy and the full details of whose features I now forget except for exceptionally succulent lips I learned to float in still seawater. A different girl, an Indian constantly chewing cardamom seeds to freshen her lovely breath, herself unable to swim, would extend her virginal arms under my back and encourage me to splash backward with my arms enough to create a semblance of motion. By the time I befriended Didi I had developed my own back stroke that would keep me afloat even in the moderate waves of Kaneohe bay where her house was.
By now it is what I call ‘my swimming style’ and Didi calls ‘splashing about in the sea’. Whatever you call it, it allows me to move the length of Ala Moana beach and back in less than an hour. And that is exactly what I did every day of our stay in Honolulu on this trip. I wander a bit in the water unable to maintain a straight line while contemplating the landscape on the horizon with Diamond Head’s profile, half-hidden by the row of coconut palms at Magic Island, merging imperceptibly with the green spaces around Waikiki’s high rise hotels. Then the ostentatious glass facade of downtown Honolulu office buildings comes into view from the left while a sea liner, a tugboat or a departing jet crosses my visual field on the right disturbing the otherwise uniformly blue horizon. I float on immersed in dreams of the imagined reality of what it must be like for Gaza’s fishermen now limited to two miles from their coast or for Gazan children with the salt burning their fresh stumps as they enter the Mediterranean the first time after release from hospital.
Dosing off into happier daydreams of past youthful years doesn’t seem to affect my rhythmic backward splashing: four limbs brought together, then forcefully thrust to full extension, then clumped back together and thrown out open again, in again, out again, the repetitive jellyfish-like motion becoming as effortlessly routine as breathing, till the sudden splash of an oar brings me back to present-day Hawaii again with the sight of another paddle-boarder. I focus and see attached to the oar striking the water at my side a muscular arm tattooed with a shark diagonally crossing my field of vision. I look around, adjust my zigzag direction away from the reef, dose off into imagined half reality again, splash away endlessly, and am called back to Hawaii by another athletic figure upright on her board, oar poised in her forward-extended arms ready to split my head if I don’t watch where I am going “boy!” I imbibe the full image as it slides by me: a beautiful dark-skinned wahine with the Hawaiian island chain tattooed on her torso back-to-front, the island of Lanai over the upper spine, then Kauai and Molokai, then Maui and Oahu on the side of her constricted waist and the Big Island around over her bikinied pubis, a heavenly seen to drive away my Gaza nightmare.
Still, as I say, with my semi-random backward splashing I manage to float to and fro from one end of Ala Moana’s magic pool to the other and back again. Exhausted, I lay on my back on the sand and let the Trade Winds cool my torso. As the sun arches across the late afternoon horizon to drop into the Pacific its rays twinkle through my wet eyelids creating the perception of endless concentric rainbows. At midday the effect is too traumatic for enjoyment; the prism-like dispersion of the vertical sunrays by the saltwater drenching my lashes is blinding, the brightest white shower of glowing meteorites across the noon sky, a veritable white phosphorus explosion over Waikiki and Ala Moana. Enough! It is time to escape the tortured memories my guilty conscience keeps conjuring up to murky my reclaimed pleasures of yesteryears.
The tempo of our daily joyful dash to the beach sadly dampened, we walk back the half mile to our hotel, the Equus, in our bathing outfits: no fancy bikinis, no showy tattoos, and no bulging deltoids, biceps or abs for us. And the pursuing images of Gaza to boot. It all adds up to a the equivalent of my usual daily worried village strolls to the post office, the store, the bakery, or a brother’s, a sister’s or a friend’s home back in Arrabeh. It all keeps me preoccupied and fit enough to occasionally forget that I too have some limitations on my physical capacity and endurance. At least that is how it felt when Djon, my Catholic-Chinese-Indonesian ex-college-roommate from Yankton College and UH days and current cardiologist brother in Hilo, and I made the snap decision to go on a two-day hike.
It all started a couple of years back. The last time the two of us hiked the hour-long steep incline into lush Waipio Valley, we spoke about a more serious hike from there on to Waimano Valley where we would stay overnight in its even more lush and wilder environs and then hike back the next day. The climb up the intervening mountain looked hard enough but not quite prohibitive and we promised ourselves to do it ‘the next time’ we are together again on the Big Island. This time around my host in Hilo, a retired Palestinian Soil Science professor who uses his expertise to entice eggplants to grow on volcanic rock and hence has a ragged truck, drove all of us down Waipio Valley for Djon to capture a view of a taro field at its prime with the mountain range and its full-height beautiful waterfall as a backdrop. We failed to locate the right field despite detailed directions from a local beauty whose solitude and daily bath in the stream we disturbed and who mixed her directions with a barrage of complaints about her hash-smoking ex-boyfriend. We drove to the ocean at the mouth of the green valley to take-in the scene from there, the very spot where two years earlier we promised ourselves the dream hike of our lives. One of us brought the subject up, the other felt we had no time this time around and we should put it off till the next time, then one said: “Brother, what if there is no next time?” and we both agreed on the spot to cancel our scheduled appointments the next two days and stared at each other in the hope of one of us flinching but neither did.
As we drove out of the ravine we stopped for some basic information from the park rangers who gave us a schematic map of the hike that they described as "strenuous but not scary for a couple of young guys like you.” At this stage we informed our wives and started thinking about basics: food, water, cameras and sleeping bags. The next morning we were driven to the bottom of Waipio Valley again and we set a time for the same eggplant magician to collect us at the same spot the next afternoon.
The first heroic act was to cross the river that bisects Waipio Valley at its widest point as it enters the ocean, a feat we had to repeat again in Waimano Valley and then twice more on our way back. I wouldn’t be reporting this had I not tripped and fallen right at the start and ruined my camera for good. But Djon was the photographer of this campaign and I had packed our last but one electronic camera for the trip and felt little guilt at the small fortune my clumsiness had cost me.
Landing in LA few days later we stayed at Didi’s late uncle Willy’s family. There I had the time and means to attempt drying my shoes and the thick support padding in them for my flat feet. Karen, a loyal daughter of her mother’s with all the servile attitudes traditional rural Japanese roots assign to the female of the species, took on the forbidding task with washer, dryer and ample supply of Odor Eater brand powder. The only hint of complaint that I heard from her on the smelly topic was when she inquired if I had been on a whaling boat or had stepped in a pile of dead fish. I got the hint and bought a new pair of shoes and a new leather belt for my scheduled lectures in the area.
The day before our pleasure hike the park ranger had pointed out a clump of coconut palms at the far end of the valley as the start of our hiking trail. After crossing barefoot the mile or so of seashore from the opposite end of the valley to the foot of the steep mountain we thought was the only climb there was for us to negotiate, Djon, as the local in our group of two, led the trek. I followed silently up a trail that seemed totally random scurrying between tree trunks and wild forest growth in a diagonal upward general direction, sliding down every few steps about the same distance I had just climbed. After about an hour of this we came to a cleared path, the one the ranger had pointed out to us the previous day from the top of the opposite mountain where we had stood. From there it had looked like a knife’s zigzag slash in the thickly forested face of the mountain. Now we both realized Djon had followed an imagined trail apparently marked by wild boars in their night foraging. That night we related the experience to a Hawaiian hunter camping in Waimano Valley. He asked us to please be on the lookout for one of his four hunting dogs that hadn’t come back. He thought that as lost hikers we have a good chance of straying into the same endless maze of wild boar tracks in which his dog must have been spinning.
As we reached the top of the mountain we met a couple of young hikers on their way back. They reported they had started from our destination six hours before. Still they reassured us that we had cleared the hardest part and the rest of the way was “rather civil.” Still I worried. By now I had discovered a physiologic feature of my Indonesian brother I had forgotten over the years, one that gave his wild boar ramblings meaning: The man sweats like a pig. Despite all the frequent drinking he looked like a welted weed. I started worrying that I may need to carry him down and I was just contemplating if it wouldn’t be wise to get red of my backpack and forage for food and shelter instead; it felt that heavy. Then I realized that there were four helicopter rescue points along the trail. But we had no means of communication and these were the only people we had met on the trail so far. We rested, drank more water and shared a sandwich. We both felt better and crossed over to the opposite side of the mountain expecting that downward hike to take us to our destination.
Far from it! We crossed a total of twelve gulches, each promising to be the climb into our final destination and turning out to lead us across a stream to start another climb out to the top of the range, then another descent, and so on ad-infinitum, or so it felt to us at the time. Every time we made it to the top we would rest a little and I would size up my reserve stamina and brother Djon’s remaining weight and find he had shrunk proportionately and I could still imagine lugging him instead of my backpack should the need arise. As we rested and while trudging down and up gulches we ‘talked story’ as the Hawaiians would say, covering the range of shared memories: our first exposure to American culture in Yankton, South Dakota; the sweet initial depravity, both emotional and financial, of life as guests on the campus of Yankton Collage and then later at the University of Hawaii; the first bumbling experiments with the new thing they called 'dating'; the rebuffs of first dates and sweet successes later on; the affairs of Indonesia and Palestine/Israel; the welfare of Jagy, our Indian brother who pulled out of the trip to Hawaii the last moment; the revival of Hawaiian culture and the state of affairs of the Hawaiian people; Djon’s medical practice and his far off retirement plans; our lovely wives and children; and no end of medical issues I raised with Djon as the one still actively involved in the practice of its art and science.
But the one item that engaged our attention on this two-day ‘pleasure hike’ was the Hawaiian flora. Since ever we first landed in Hawaii nearly half a century ago Djon took to photographing Hawaiian flowers and he has never stopped. Every time we visit him he combines a dinner party in our honor at his home to which he invites friends and colleagues with a slide show of his latest best shots, the ones his photo journalist advisor on the Mainland rates as worthy of publishing and marks with a red dot for distinction. This time was no exception and the man is still out to capture new species and awesome combinations in the wild despite having spent most of his weekends and vacations island hopping in search of them. He now thinks he has two more years to go before his book on Hawaiian Flowers And Flowering Trees will be published.
The entire trip Djon, dehydrated, welted and incontinent of sweat, never stopped talking about the flowers and trees we saw on the way: native species, indigenous ones, imported ones, aggressive invaders, sturdy bushes, fragrant flowers, showy blooms, etc. etc. He went on spewing no end of details regarding every plant we saw and we did see an endless variety indeed. My main contribution was the discovery of two different species of colorful tree mushrooms with concentric bright rings adorning their glistening upper surface clinging to the rotting tree trunks in the wet entrails of those gulches. Djon thought highly of my discovery though it wouldn’t fit exactly in his target species of flowers and flowering trees. The man had accumulated an encyclopedic range of information about everything that grows on the Islands. If he knows as much about cardiology I would certainly trust him with my heart. He noted the location of those mushrooms and designated half a dozen other floral items for photography on the way back in hope of a more sunny day and an earlier hour when the sunrays would be in the right direction. “Available light is best. No flash light for perfect shots,” he insisted.
Having survived the hike into the valley and roughed it out at the beach campsite, a facility defined only by a series of empty rectangular clearings in the stony ground with assigned numbers and one outhouse, we hiked back out of the valley to the constant drizzle and occasional downpour of a generous semitropical rain. No pictures this time around. But would Djon ever dare to repeat the daunting experience? I volunteered the services of our third brother from college days, Jagy the super hiker who is renowned for carrying twice his weight on his back. He used to brag about the fact that at his Hawaiian hiking club a team member devised a rule that required each hiker to carry enough of the shared provisions to bring the total with his or her bodyweight to the same number of pounds. Fat-Free Jagy, as we used to call him, even survived the Sherpa test of endurance up the Annapurna mountain range in Nepal only two years ago.
“Besides he comes from that part of the world where suffering seems to count for less than ‘our’ own and life is valued less than in ‘our’ Western culture.”
“Hold it a f…ing minute, man! We are Jagy types too.” ‘Jagy type’ is the term Djon has started using of late for Indians in general and now he was extending it to encompass all silent sufferers of the East. “Suffering knows no racial boundaries. Just because you can escape out of the Middle East and not see the daily slaughter of your people you start identifying with the master races! I told you about the Dutch in Indonesia last night as we were falling asleep, you remember? How long did you stay awake anyhow?”
“Till you reached the part about Spaniards and Nutmeg or something like that.” I confessed.
“ What did you do to me, man? That was at the very start of the historical account I thought I was giving you. Don’t tell me I was sharing the story with the wild boars! I heard snoring and I couldn’t tell if it was you or them so I kept on talking. I talked for over an hour and got all the way past the Dutch colonial rule, the two world wars, President Sukarno and Suharto and into the present democratically elected president. And you fell asleep at the start! Damn you! I have to go over it again now.” And he started all over from Spain and Europe’s interest in spices.
On our way in we had noticed the occasional marker specifying the remaining distance to the camp ground. The last was at the top of the range after the last gulch just before the steep descent into Waimano. It showed 0.9 miles remaining. As we swung from one bamboo stalk to the other on the sides of the path to support our dead weight down the steep and sharp zigzags, Djon kept repeating: “This is the longest darn 0.9 miles I ever walked in my life! And I have been to some rough places in my life.” His estimate of “three miles at least” was shared by the only three additional hikers that we saw on the trail, a disappointed fisherman with water and a fishing pole as the only supplies, a woman with a huge dog fitted with a weight-carrying saddle on its back for its own food supply, and a young man who had been camping alone for over a week and who guided us to the water source at the camp, a length of plastic tubing someone stuck at the mid point of the closest waterfall.
Reunited with our wives we both were chided for irresponsible and childish behavior. Djon insisted he has to go back to thosw choice shots he missed this time, especially a combination of three genre of trees, indigenous, pan-pacific and imported, all lined up on the side of the trail near its distant end, just after that 0.9 (= 3) mile sign, with a waterfall the height of the entire 0.9 (=3) mile high mountain cliff at the other side of Waimano Valley for a backdrop. He discussed the matter with Sherry privately and came back all smiles:
“At the right time of year I will rent a canoe from Hilo Harbor, enter Waimanu Valley from the ocean and walk up to that point. It was a short 0.9 miles on the way back, wasn’t it, Brother?”
The sheer pleasure of withstanding the physical challenge is comparable only to another demanding three-day Hawaiian hike I once took into Haleakala, House of the Sun, on the Island of Maui. Permit me please to venture once more into the faint landscape of memories from yesteryears when youth, vim and vigor were such integral part of life that they were taken for granted. Three local boys were drafted into this hiking mission by the fully liberated only Norwegian student on campus. The bold blond woman was the unofficial mascot of every University of Hawaii male-dominated club at the time including the Foreign Student Association of which I was head. Her apparent preference though was for the unofficial circle of Fiji Boys, the group of dark and muscular Polynesian young men who partied nonstop on the grounds of the newly constructed East West Center and who were famed for roasting some of the decorative Koi fish in the pool of the Japanese Garden presented to the center by the emperor of Japan himself. When I found out about the planned hike I enquired if I could join and was encouraged to do so by no other than the representative of Norway on the Foreign Student Association herself. Problem was that my financial means were such that I foraged daily for lunch in the wild guavas forest on Tantalus Heights. A casual survey of the financial situation of other members of the Foreign Student Association yielded an immediate solution to my problem; one had enough cash and offered an interest-free loan. Off we flew to Maui where the family of one of the local participants hosted and provisioned us for the hike.
I do recall that this hike was extremely demanding physically. Yet what surfaces from the depths of my memory regarding the whole thing is the more demanding emotional strain the presence of a tall blond with four single men all vying for her attention must have put on the interpersonal relationship between us. I do not recall contemplating the act of pushing all the other three male companions off the edge of the many cliffs we negotiated on the hike, but I would not be surprised now if such evil thoughts had crossed my mind. Be that as it may, I did wind up being favored with sharing her supply of specialty goat cheese and French wine that she had stashed in her backpack. And yet, that sexuality-laced memory does not outdo the present pleasure of Djon’s welted fraternal company.
Back in Hilo we had three more days to spend with the Tamimis, our Palestinian volcano rock farmers. One afternoon we went and helped with harvesting the eggplants growing on the lava. The magic achievement the man blames on his scientific knowhow is less of a miracle when one contemplates the linguistic derivation of the Arabic name for this vegetable. ‘Bathenjan’, probably the source for the French aubergines, is a slight corruption of ‘beith el-jan’, Arabic for eggs of the genie. In colloquial Arabic it could also mean the balls of the genie. And genies are magical creatures that can grow anywhere. What more appropriate medium for any part of the genie to flourish with great exuberance than in the environs of Madam Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of the volcano.
Speaking of goddesses, Didi and our hostess, Siham Tamimi hit it off from the start. Yusuf, better addressed in the Palestinian common style between friends as Abu-Nimr, is a friend from college days. I knew him more as a mentor who passed his rented University Avenue apartment down to us three misfits in Hawaii back in the days when we all were single and when the code word before turning the key to open the door was: “Are you two decent in there, brother?”
By now Abu- and Um-Nimr are a part of the stable Hilo Kamaaina (old-timer) community. They toured the island with us stopping at sights we have never visited before including ranches and agricultural nooks where Yusuf once offered his expert advise to farmers and ranchers. We also did such compulsory spins as a visit to Mauna Kea observatory and its snow-covered mountainside. We did not bring skis; only the deranged can contemplate a ski vacation in Hawaii.
If the usage of Abu- and Um-Nimr for Yusuf and Siham sounds strange to your ears, then let me explain: ‘Abu’ is ‘father of’ and ‘Um’ is ‘mother of’ and each comes before the name of their first born son, actual or imagined. All Palestinian adult males are Abu- one thing or the other to their friends even when they have no children. I was known as Abu-Ty long before my son was born and even before I was married. Certain combinations of names go together; to Arabic speakers ‘Hatim’ and ‘Ty’ go well together because of a legendary figure in Arabic literature named Hatim Ty. Another ploy for inventing a name for one’s unborn male child is to use one’s father’s name for it. In this manner a set combination of two first names is often used in a repetitive manner such as Ali’s first-born son is Husain and Husain’s first-born son is Ali, and so on ad infinitum. All of this without me delving into the equally confusing custom of using the same ‘Abu’ as a nickname to imply fondness of a certain item, be it food, drink or otherwise. So you may well call your child Abu- or Um-Chocolata. My own grandfather was known throughout Galilee as Abu-Shelfi because of his fondness of his rough-hewn sword, shelfi meaning a length of iron. And Abu-this or that is the nom de guerre that all Palestinian fighters adopt. This Arabic tradition once exasperated Menahem Begin, the Stern Gang head terrorist turned Prime Minister of Israel, to such degree that he was heard cursing all Abus.
As we left Honolulu on to Hilo I mentioned the name of our host there. A friend who follows Palestinian issues had heard the same family name that day as the name of the Sheikh who spoke frankly in a meeting with the Pope in Jerusalem about Gaza and the war crimes of Israeli leaders. She wondered if the two Tamimis were related. When we arrived I asked Yusuf. He was pleased to acquaint another fellow Palestinian with the proud legacy of his blood line. Indeed, he and Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi were scions of the same famed ancestor, Tamim El-Aref of El-Khalil (Hebron), the recognized founder of the line now numbering in the tens of thousands in Palestine. (Yusuf did not elaborate on the number of Tamimis in the Diaspora but Hilo has a good start with a fully cohesive clan of half a dozen.) The line goes back some fourteen centuries to this legendary founder of the clan who was a contemporary of the prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him. Though he lived in El-Khalil he had ample opportunity to gain the honor of personal contact with the prophet himself. El-Khalil is known throughout the region for its excellent grapes and our man was a wine merchant. During the annual Pan-Arab trade and worship celebratory season in Mecca Tamim would arrive to the shores of the Arabian Peninsula with a ship load of his select wines to sell. This went on even in the early years of Islam before its total ban on all alcoholic drinks. Sayyidna Gibril, the angle who transmitted the chapters of the holy Koran piecemeal to the prophet who would recite them to the Muslims by way of a special team of contemporaries who in turn would memorize or record them using the period’s primitive print technology of engraving on bone or palm fronds, must have leaked a hint of what was to come to this wine trader. Tamim up and ripped open every goatskin and cracked open every ceramic jar of wine his ship was carrying before arriving to hear the new Islamic edict banning the precious stuff in any shape or form. And that is how it came to pass that the prophet nicknamed him El-Arif, the knowledgeable.
In Anaheim, California I spoke at Al-Awda (The Palestine Right to Return Coalition) Seventh International Convention. This brought about another throwback to the old days. In high school I often did my home work with Faiz Khouri, a classmate whose parents always doted over us and spoke words of encouragement and praise of our seriousness and future potential. They were refugees from Maa’lul, a Palestinian village outside of Nazareth that was totally erased from the face of the earth with the creation of Israel. It shares the same name with a village in Northern Syria, the only modern-day community that still speaks Aramaic, the Language spoken by Jesus and his disciples. Their nine-member family lived in a small rented house and survived on the very limited income of the mother who did janitorial work at the military governor’s office in the ‘Mascobeyeh’, the old Muscovite compound that became the seat of government com jail and torture quarters in Nazareth, just as the parallel compound still does in East Jerusalem today. But Faiz faired infinitely better than I and my two student brothers did in our single rented room in the same neighborhood, Jabal Dar Farah, known for its mix of rich men and drunks. Obviously I welcomed the attention and pampering that Um- and Abu-Faiz bestowed on me in the hope that my company would help focus their son’s attention on his studies. Some very good-looking girls lived in the neighborhood.
There was a slew of children all around us in the warm home of Abu- and Um-Faiz. The family of Faiz’s paternal uncle who was married to the maternal aunt, Um-Faiz’s sister, and shared the same small house also had a number of children. One of this crowd was Fawwaz. Most of the brood, Faiz ,who has since died, included, eventually emigrated to the USA and settled in California. Fawwas is currently active with al-Awda and recognized my name on the speakers’ list for their seventh convention. He called a friend in Nazareth who called one of the half dozen Hatim Kanaanehs listed in the phone book under Arrabeh. This turned out to be my nephew who gave him my daughter’s phone number in New York. Rhoda gave him my mobile number and he reached me in Hawaii. At every link in this human chain he had to explain who he was and justify his motive for wanting to reach me. At the conference we hung around, reminisced and tried to catch up with exactly half a century’s worth of our two lives.
Fawwas had introduced his wife to us. Didi commented to me that they must be newly weds for they were too lovey-dovey. At the banquet we sat at the same table and Fawwaz explained: This is his second wife. The first was a devout Catholic. When their first-born son converted to Islam, the unexpected event reeked havoc in their marital relations ending in a divorce. Fawwaz then met Diane on the internet. She was a Moslem single woman, the daughter of refugees from Nablus, the home town of Yusuf Tamimi. She grew up in Beirut to where Fawwaz made a pilgrimage a couple of months ago, met her in person, met the family, got married and brought the petit pretty young woman back to California. ‘Tiko’ as we say back home; he has evened the score: one-one.
We then dropped in at Adel’s for two nights. Adel’s story is another tale that evokes a myriad of memories. In high school he was the youngest among my Nazarene friends. I was on good relations with everyone then and circled in two mutually exclusive ‘gangs’, one of village boys and the other of the city. Three out of the four in my circle of village boys have since risen to respectable positions in the Israeli educational system and settled with their families and Mercedes cars in the city while three out of the gang of four Nazareth boys that I called close friends emigrated to North America where they have established themselves and built families. I was the odd man out; I experienced the American dream to abandon it and return to my village.
Adel’s Nazarene city credentials were questionable. His family moved there during his childhood when his father, a Catholic village priest of limited financial means, was assigned to serve the small Malkite community in Nazareth. In fact the church in which he held mass was the one in the old market of Nazareth. It is on the ‘must visit’ list of every tourist and pilgrim that makes it to Nazareth because it is reputed to be the site of the synagogue where Jesus delivered a sermon. On Christmas and Easter I often would attend mass for the company and atmosphere and for the smile of acknowledgement that Abuna Basilius Bawardi would beam at us. Later on after I returned to Galilee as a physician I would occasionally venture with Didi and our two children to the same church on Sunday and now receive full acknowledgment before mass and then accompany Abuna Bawardi home for lunch. On such occasion, and only after the feast that Um-Hanna would have prepared, I would check on their health, hear their physical complaints, review their medications and provide medical advice in exchange for a hefty dose of prayers for my and my family’s good health and long life.
While at the University of Hawaii I became familiar with another smaller campus, that of Chaminade College. When I discovered that it was a Catholic institution a spark flashed across every synapse in my nervous system. It said : “Adel!” I proceeded to enquire and made an appointment. When I mentioned that my friend is not only a Catholic from Nazareth but that his father was a priest, I got some quizzical and even down-right dirty looks. I had to explain to a couple of Catholic monks that to the best of my Islamic upbringing there was nothing wrong with all of this and that in the Eastern rite of the Catholic Church lower-rank priests can be married men.
This awkward first contact must have endeared me to one of the officials at the admissions office, the late brother Honnort who kept in touch and would occasionally report to me the progress of his hobby, boat building. At one point he had to undo a couple of year’s worth of work because the boat he built in the basement was too large for the door. Brother Honnort took it upon himself to facilitate Adel’s application for admission and for financial aid. It actually all worked itself out and Adel arrived in Hawaii on the very day I left to medical school. Two years later, when Didi and I got married, he was my best man. At the reception at Wo Fats in Chinatown, like me, he embarrassed himself by ducking under the table when the traditional Chinese good luck fireworks started.
At Chaminade Adel met a Hawaiian beauty, the real Hawaiian type and not the half-Chinese half-American like my wife. They fell in love, got married, savored the best Hawaii can offer, went horseback riding, sang together at parties, traveled, had a child and divorced. Then Adel hunkered down to the task of single-parenting his beautiful Arab-Hawaiian-Portuguese child. A while later I enticed him to make a trip to California to meet a young woman from back home, the good hostess whose hospitality we have been enjoying every so often ever since. Adel’s two children from this second marriage are grown up and brag a lot about the surfing skills and body build of their Hawaiian brother.
Adel and I reminisced about shared memories, called another expatriate Nazarene ,now in Vancouver, gloated about our achievements and drank to the future of our children. The Louvre and Waikiki might be dazzling spots for the glamorous tourist. But nothing is as glamorous or satisfying as lugging a grandchild on one’s neck and heading to the park, as Didi and I will be dong momentarily.