Homesick, But Heading For “Home”

Homesick, But Heading For “Home”

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The honeymoon is over.

For the first six months after I moved here, I loved everything about Läna‘i — the fresh, crisp air; that there was no traffic lights; that drivers waved as they passed each other on the road. I loved the beautiful, towering pine trees that add so much character to the town, and the fact that every single business, including the two banks, operates out of a plantation-style structure.

Before I made the big move to Läna‘i City, I thought traveling back to Honolulu on a regular basis for business meetings would be my saving grace. It would allow me to see my family and friends and stock up on all the essentials at Costco and Longs that aren’t available on Läna‘i, where they would cost twice as much. It would also allow me to remain connected to downtown Honolulu business happenings.

But after about a month or two of commuting back and forth for meetings, I was over it and tried my best to conduct meetings over the phone or by video conference. I got spoiled. Everything about Honolulu irritated me: the long lines; the rush-hour traffic, which, for some reason, lasts all day and even on the weekends; people multitasking at Starbucks, trying to order their coffee and have a phone conversation at the same time; and the scorching heat.

Those of you who have visited Läna‘i know what I’m talking about. Maybe it’s because Läna‘i City is located at a higher elevation, or maybe it’s because of the formation of the mountains or some other geological reason, but the weather in Läna‘i City is much cooler than in Honolulu and most other places in Hawai‘i. It’s similar to Waimea on Hawai‘i island. Most days, the temperature is in the 70s or low 80s in the summer and can dip into the 50s and 60s in the mornings and evenings. And it’s windy and rainy here. The locals tell me that Läna‘i has received more rain in the last year than it has in the past several years combined. That makes for a lot of cold, soggy days that make you wish you were at home, bundled up on the couch wearing sweat pants and tube socks. For the first several months, the constant rain and thick fog didn’t bother me. They were stunning and romantic, and it made me feel like I wasn’t even in Hawai‘i. But after months of rainy weekends and cancelled trips to the beach, the lack of sunshine and the gale-force winds started to really get on my nerves.

When family members came to visit, they, too, were surprised by Läna‘i’s weather and how it can go from sunny and bright one moment to torrential downpours and then back to blue skies in a matter of minutes. The one or two stores that actually sell sweaters and jackets here must generate a lot of sales from tourists who don’t expect Läna‘i to be cold, but get a rude awakening once they arrive.

People always ask me if I miss home and for the first nine months, my answer was always “no.” Only on my last few trips to Honolulu did I actually start to feel differently.

I’m not sure if my obsession with pho, bubble drinks, good ramen and oxtail soup are finally getting to me, but sometimes on those cold, rainy Läna‘i nights, I sit in my living room all bundled up and wish I were back home in Honolulu. For one thing, all the restaurants here close early, so if I have an evening meeting that ends late, there’s nowhere to grab a quick dinner. The only places that serve food past 8 p.m. are the hotels and, sometimes I’m just in the mood for something simple. Since moving to Läna‘i, I’ve learned to always have a back-up plan — saimin in the pantry, frozen chili that I can quickly heat up or soba noodles that I can prepare on the fly.

In Honolulu, no matter what time of the day it is, food is never more than five or 10 minutes away. I guess I just miss having options.

Prior to moving to Läna‘i, I had never eaten much Filipino food. Here, the nanas know how to cook up a feast — most of which is new to me, but delicious, nevertheless. I love going to the Saturday Market and buying lunch — adobo, chicken papaya, lumpia, crab won ton, pancit, lechon. You name it, they’ve got it. Although the Filipino food is delicious, I miss variety. There isn’t a single Chinese or Korean restaurant here. Some places serve Korean chicken or chow fun, but there’s nothing like Gina’s Barbecue in Market City Shopping Center, or Soon’s in Salt Lake. There’s no dim sum and no place that sells Thai or Vietnamese food.

The food selection here is very limited, which is why I over-indulge every time I go to Honolulu. I plan out my meals and snacking according to where I will be. If I’m going to be in Kaimukï, for example, I’m heading straight to Super Pho on Wai‘alae Avenue, or Uncle Bo’s on Kapahulu Avenue. Or, if I’ll be at our Honolulu office, I’m having lunch at Lucky Belly, or The Pig & The Lady in Chinatown. Then, I’ll grab a red velvet cupcake at Hokulani Bakeshop or from Cake Couture. It’s pretty pathetic, but food plays such a huge role in my life and, after my family, it’s probably what I miss the most about home. Lame, I know. Sometimes I really wonder if I have a food addiction.

I went through the same depression and withdrawals in Ethiopia. I would lay awake at night making a mental list of all the things I wanted to eat when I got home. Ditto for when I lived in San Francisco for a year and craved Rainbow Drive-In’s slush float and Fort Ruger Market’s laulau and poke.

I realized another reason for my homesickness the other week at the market. When I moved to Läna‘i last September, it was as if I was moving to a Third World country. I knew everything was expensive, so I stocked up on shampoo and conditioner, bath soap, lotion, and a ton of other toiletries and household products that I knew would cost an arm and a leg on Läna‘i. Well, I finally pumped the last squirt out of my shampoo bottle, which is not available here, so I had to look for an alternative. It is slim pickings over here. The stores don’t offer quite the same selection as Walmart, where I shop in the “ethnic hair care” section because of my wild, unruly curls. So, out of the three or four options available, I bought the one that I thought would do the best job of taming my ferocious mane. But when I looked at the price, my jaw almost dropped to the floor. What would typically cost $5 or $6 a bottle at Longs was $12 on Läna‘i — and that was only for the shampoo. It killed me to put the two $12 bottles in my shopping basket. As I continued my shopping, I couldn’t think of anything but the $24 I was about to spend on hair products that I didn’t really want. I thought of rummaging through my house for mini bottles of hotel shampoos and conditioners that I had brought back from various trips, but I didn’t know how long they would last me, so I did the unthinkable (sorry, Mom!): I paid full price.

As I walked out of the store, still looking at the receipt in disgust, I missed home. I missed my usual shampoo and conditioner, which I’ve been using for years, and I missed the variety and lower prices available in Honolulu. It’s funny how the smallest, most random thing can cause me to feel homesick.

The other day, I was walking to work and overheard two friends talking about riding their skateboards down a steep hill and getting scrapes and bruises all over their bodies after crashing into a tree at the bottom. It immediately reminded me of the many fun-filled days and nights I’d spent at Kaka‘ako Waterfront Park, cardboard sliding with friends. While others my age were going to nightclubs, my friends and I would sometimes put on our most boro-boro clothes and get buckets of water and dishwashing detergent, give the grassy hill a good soaping and launch down the hill on our old boogie boards. Those were the days.

On one occasion, I went flying down so fast that I cracked up midway down the hill and went tumbling off the board. When I stood up and started walking back up the hill for another ride, I remember my friends pointing and saying, “Ouch! Does that hurt?” I didn’t even know my face was bleeding and that I had left the top layer of my chin out on the grass. I’ll never forget having to wait tables at work that night, greeting dozens of customers with a käki‘o mustache and goatee. I definitely raked in some sympathy tips that night.

There are a lot of things I miss about home — my family and friends, the awesome food and late-night hours and the different shopping options, among other things. But Läna‘i is still an awesome place to live and I still think it is a great place to raise a family.

When I first moved away for college, I remember my uncle describing the four stages of homesickness that most people experience when they move to a new environment: First is the honeymoon stage, followed by the homesickness stage, then comes the hostility stage and, finally, the “home” stage. I think I’m somewhere in-between the homesickness and hostility stages. Hopefully, I won’t linger too long in these phases, so I can make my way to the “home” stage.

It’s a good thing that I’ve met a lot of great people here and have really taken an interest in the outdoor lifestyle enjoyed by many Läna‘i folks, for it will make it a lot easier for me to one day call Läna‘i “home.”

Shara Enay Birbirsa resides on the island of Läna‘i, where she is Pülama Läna‘i’s liaison with the island’s community. Shara is a former writer for The Hawai‘i Herald and Hawai‘i Business magazine. She has been writing this Drama Queen Journals column since 2006.

Shara Enay Birbirsa resides on the island of Läna‘i, where she is Pulama Läna‘i’s liaison with the island’s community. Shara is a former writer for The Hawai‘i Herald and Hawai‘i Business magazine. She has been writing this Drama Queen Journals column since 2006. A gosei (fifth-generation Japanese American), Shara graduated from Kaimukï High School and earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa. Shara started her writing career at the Herald, then worked for several small businesses, where she had a wide range of responsibilities, including international shipping, product development and managing major accounts.

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