“Are You A Believer?”
Cleaning up Kauai’s flood mess with Rory Parker under the grace of another woman’s savoir.
It’s been a heartwarming experience to see the island of Kauai come together to help those affected by the recent flooding. Donations are overflowing, to the point that there’s more bottled water than they know what to do with and some less grateful residents have taken to social media to complain about the quality of donations.
Everyone with a boat has been shuttling supplies to the isolated communities past Haena, and providing rescue services to those who want out. Road crews are attempting to clear debris and repair access.
The County, unfortunately, has been doing little to coordinate clean-up efforts. The dumps still close at 4:30PM and it’s difficult to determine who needs assistance cleaning their homes and property. It’s not as simple as looking for damage and lending a hand. Many of the damaged homes are investment properties owned by off-island individuals and it would be a gross violation of the tenets of capitalism to turn a shovel even once without being remunerated.
Fortunately, local residents have filled the gap and taken to our local Facebook pages to coordinate and forward help to those most in need. Which is how my dive partner received word about an older local couple whose home had been devastated.
As you drive past the St Regis Resort in Princeville, headed down the hill toward Hanalei, you might be struck by how much the valley resembles a funnel. Mountains on either side, fertile farmland in the center. Someone with flooding on their mind might be surprised that recent events aren’t more common. It looks like a place that should spend part of each year underwater. Torrential rains trapped by the mountains, focused down mountainside waterfalls and deposited directly into Hanalei Bay.
It does, in fact, flood fairly frequently. The Hanalei Bridge, the only way in and out of that portion of the island, is regularly submerged, closed, leaving residents stranded for short periods until the land and sea absorb excess precipitation.
It’s business as usual and barely affects day-to-day business. The tourists still amble out, perusing clothing shops and eating overpriced and mediocre food. The haole residents do whatever it is they do. Leave posts on social media about the dangers of vaccines and the healing powers of turmeric. The local residents manage to coexist with the aforementioned factions.
The home we were looking for was tucked back up into the valley, off an access road in an area with no marked addresses. Despite our best efforts to find it via Google maps, we could not. Multiple phone calls went unanswered, and we were left with little idea as to how to find them other than to ask a neighbor in the area for directions. It’s a small neighborhood, we assumed everyone would know each other.
“Excuse me,” we said to the older woman hosing mud off her carport, “Do you know where Lorna lives? She’s somewhere in the area and we’re supposed to be helping her clean up.”
“I’m Lorraine,” she said. “Are you looking for me?”
Obviously not. “No, but, hey, do you need some help? Anything heavy? We can do a couple dump runs for you.”
We donned our gloves, resigned ourselves to getting covered in muck, and hopped out to get to work. I introduced myself and asked her to point at what needed doing.
“Are you a believer?” she asked.
It was one of those sentences wherein I understood every word, but the context totally escaped me. What do they mean together? I didn’t understand.
“You mean, like, in god?”
“Oh, no. Not at all.”
“Well, you know, god sent you to us. Praise him.”
I can’t imagine a more offensive sentence she could have uttered at that moment. I loathe people who attempt to inject religion into my reality. That compulsion to turn all matters toward Jesus turns my stomach. It wasn’t enough that we were there to help, she wanted more. She wanted my soul. And I don’t like that one fucking bit.
The last time I checked her imaginary sky man wasn’t enlisting atheist perverts to do his work. I’d imagine that, if she were to get to know me better, understand the lifestyle I enjoy, she’d be pretty quick to start pointing fingers, casting judgment. It was dumb luck that put us in her path, in tandem with the fact that she didn’t know her neighbors who, as it turned out, lived less than a hundred yards down the same road.
If she felt the need to thank someone, she could’ve thanked us. But she never did. God was on her side and all credit goes to him. Yeah, he may have sent the wall of water and mud that coated her home, but that’s apparently ameliorated by the fact that he sent two chumps in its wake to get dirty.
Lorraine complained loudly about the mold. About how toxic it is. About how bad it affects your lungs. She retrieved a package of dust masks from inside, put one on, looked at us, then put them away without offering.
They don’t do shit, I know that. But, come on. She could’ve offered. I guess Jesus told her not to.
As we struggled to fill the back of a pickup truck with sodden couches and assorted debris coated in the foulest effluence imaginable a young man came down the stairs. He thanked us for helping, yelled at the lady for tracking mud up the stairs he had just sprayed clean, then went back inside.
In short order the bed was full, the truck was riding low on its axles, and we were ready to make our first run to the dump.
“Is that all you can do?” she asked.
Well, yeah. There was no more room, it was fairly obvious. But we’ll be back, I told her.
As we heaved shit into dumpsters my dive partner’s cell phone rang. It was the lady we’d originally planned to help. She gave us directions, we told her we’d be along shortly.
“But what about that other lady?” my buddy asked, “We told her we’d be back.”
“Let me check with god,” I told him. “Nope, he’s not saying anything about a second trip. I guess she should’ve prayed harder.”
The transplant hippies are still out in force in Hanalei. For the first time ever they’re cleaner than the average local resident. Bare feet, hemp pants, dreadlocks and all. Ambling down the main drag without a care in the world. As always, their sharing goes in one direction. One could almost call it taking.
Tourist lookie-loos won’t stay away. Driving slowly past the ‘road closed’ signs, filming the carnage on their cell phones. Rentals with surfboards lashed to roofs head to and from the bay, where fun looking runners peel off in a toxic slurry of feces, mud, and animal carcasses.
We arrived at our intended destination to find a terrible state of affairs. The high water mark was nearly six feet above the ground, but the real damage had been done by the mountainside that peeled off a stone’s throw from their home. An older local couple, they described the night. Moving to their second story as the waters rose, their fear upon hearing the mountainside give way. Most of their worldly possessions were utterly destroyed, but they took it with a grin. Smiling and joking as we, and many others, took turns moving ruined items to the dump and scraping mud from their floors. They offered us beers, apologized for the fact that they were warm due to a lack of electricity and the fact that, even if the power were on, their refrigerator had been destroyed.
Lorna made us lunch, turkey sandwiches, which I truly appreciated but did not eat due to fact that I was covered head to toe in muck and trembled at the thought of putting anything in my mouth prior to taking a very long, and very hot, shower.
They didn’t mention religion once. At the end of the day, they thanked us profusely, and we promised to return. Which we will.
Not because it’s the right thing to do, and not because god told us to. But because it feels good to help the residents of this island that’s welcomed us so warmly. Helped us to create lives better than we’d ever thought possible.
And, because, at root I am inherently selfish. Sore muscles from shoveling mud and lifting heavy crap, all in the name of helping out others. I’m chock-full of self congratulation and self-righteousness and it occurs to me that this must be what the religious feel like all the time.
If they can feel this way without getting their hands dirty, maybe I’m the stupid one after all.
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