Real Joy

On Sunday morning, I could hardly lift my head off of my pillow after dancing for three hours to electro-jazz the night before. But I was meeting my good friend Val’s brother for lunch in Waikiki, so I forced my exhausted body out of bed and made sure to shower and write in my journal before rushing out to catch the bus. In a sleepy daze, I walked around, confused, before I found the bus stop and then did not have enough change to get on. But contrary to the bus drivers in Evanston, the older man in glasses driving the bus let me on with no trouble.

I was supposed to change buses, but I just decided to walk about an hour from the University of Hawaii campus, all the way down to the beaches of Waikiki. I put on my shades and walked purposefully and quickly, chin up, an independent woman. I had never been good with directions or following maps, but I was able to follow a path on my handy pull-out map of Honolulu to find my way there. On the way I saw a homeless black man laying outside a restaurant, a bakery with a huge line of tourists lined up outside of it, a Starbucks where I stopped to grab a bottle of water and a cute little clothing store that I wished to explore later. My iPod was not working for some odd reason, so instead of focusing on music, I took in the scenery and thought about dancing to live music the night before.

The steady beats of the electro-jazz music had pulled me out of my seat to dance alone in front of the band that night. The music was unlike anything I had heard ever before – there was an electronic house beat that the drummer we had interviewed some nights before was fiddling with while also playing percussion, a steady bass drum beat made by Makaya, my professor’s husband, a saxophone player, and a bongo drummer. It was a fusion of improvisational jazz, electronic music and African drumming, and when I danced I felt the earthy beats resonate within me. We had come to observe how the mixed-Black drummer performed, and also to see how the crowd responded. We were doing anthropological research on how locals and military or tourists engaged together, as well.

As I kept on walking toward Waikiki, I remembered how at first I had been self-conscious and stiff as I danced and felt the eyes of strangers peering at me as I tried to feel the beats. But by the time the third hour-long set had started, my body was completely loose and I was smiling, hitting the ground with my feet to the beat of the drums. Now others were dancing, as well, and I felt a happiness swell within me. I loved when the drumming quickened and my feet made swifter stomps, twirling and waving my hands, faster and faster. I could feel my heartbeat speed up with the drumming and I would close my eyes and smile, lost in my own world.

I could see the beach now as I neared the expensive shops, towering skyscrapers and palace-looking hotels. I had come to swim at the Waikiki beach some days before with Professor Sharma, Makaya and Maya. The sand was white and fine, the salty, Pacific water crystal clear and the waves strong, rushing against my body as I attempted to wade out. I watched as local – probably Samoan – children dived into the water from the cement block above the ocean, laughing and chattering. I wondered what it would be like to grow up so close to this paradise of water, these healing waves and sand that takes all worries away with the tide…

The healing waters

It was starting to sprinkle rain as I walked toward the Outrigger hotel, where perhaps the most famous restaurant in Honolulu, Duke’s, is located. Val’s younger brother, Tom, works as a waiter there, and had invited me to have lunch with him. I had fresh sashimi (raw fish) and a delicious smoothie, with Tom did not let me pay for. He is an incredibly nice 27 year old and we hiked up a gigantic crater called Diamond Head together. It was not the right time to do it, since the place was crowded with – mostly Japanese – tourists and the sun was high in the sky, but we well hydrated with water bottles, and the hike was not bad. The view at the very top of the high rises of Waikiki and the deep blue water of the Pacific Ocean were breathtaking. I learned from Tom that Diamond Head had been used as a military look out spot during World War II.

The sashimi Tom treated me to at Duke’s!

Waikiki from above – the view from the top of Diamond Head.

Back in Waikiki, I ate a little of Tom’s burger and fries after thanking him and saying goodbye. Then I explored the International Marketplace right across from the restaurant, a marketplace covered with tents selling souvenirs of every kind. I bought a dress, souvenirs, postcards and another smoothie, this time mango and banana. I was exhausted from all of the walking and dancing I had done in the past 24 hours, so I passed out on the beach for a little while before discovering a traditional hula show at sunset. The girls who danced to the live chanting and drumming looked young and I observed them in depth, awed by their graceful movements.

Lots of tourists milling about in the International Marketplace

Later I met up with Professor Sharma, her husband and brother and their friends at an expensive restaurant called Mai Tai, located in a gigantic, pink-colored, exquisite hotel called the Royal Hawaiian. There, we watched and conversed with a Black Hawaiian falsetto singer who was performing. We asked to see if he would be available for an interview. They had a professional, Japanese-looking hula dancer performing in front of the singers, as well, and I was so excited to learn hula that when they asked for volunteers to come up on stage and learn a dance, I got over my embarrassment of being the only non-toddler on the stage and learned to hula.

When we exited the restaurant, I noticed that the hotel helpers drove the car up for us. It blew my mind how expensive it would be to spend a night at this pink, palace of a hotel. I had noticed that Waikiki is full of Japanese tourists, mostly young couples and young families and realized that Hawai’i for them was a made up paradise quite like Disneyland. I wondered if working day in and day out at a stressful workplace in Japan to make enough money to stay at a place such as the Royal Hawaiian was worth it, and if they were really happy. The mixed black local drummer we had interviewed probably would never stay at such an expensive hotel and did not make as much money as these tourists, but when I watched him close his eyes and drum on stage, I felt this wave of joy. That was all he needed to laugh his gigantic laugh, to be utterly content. I realized that real paradise is finding joy in work, not escaping work for joy.

Sunset at the beach