Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Hawaiian Refrigerator

I was on the beach in Maui recently when I saw something truly remarkable. A “local” Hawaiian arrived with his wife, mother and young daughter. They had everything one would need for a barbeque except food, cooking utensils and coals for the fire. Yet they did not go hungry!
The twenty something man obviously worked for one of the delivery companies, FedEx or UPS, I don’t want to say which. I knew this because he was still wearing his uniform and it was obvious he had just gotten off work. He was carrying only a diving mask and snorkel (no swim trunks, no swim fins).
He took off his boots and stripped down to his work shorts, put on his mask and snorkel and then waded out into surf. Before long he disappeared from view. While he was gone I noticed that his family got busy. The wife cleaned the grill and then went and collected a couple of dried coconut shells and started the fire in the pit. His daughter and elderly mother got busy collecting dried Kiawe tree branches for the fire.
My wife and I had been in Maui for a few days by this time. Since we arrived we had been driving past this lovely beach while travelling to and from the condo we were renting. We decided to take a break from our hectic sight seeing schedule and take advantage of one of the many public barbeque pits.
We keep it simple. We stopped by the supermarket and picked up a slab of ribs, a few pieces of chicken and a couple ears of corn. My wife makes killer potato salad so we needed potatoes, mayonnaise, eggs, relish and onions. We also needed baked beans and barbeque sauce. We bought a few necessities besides the food. We needed charcoal, lighter fluid and matches. The metal grills needed to be cleaned, so I bought one of those combination scraper/brush tools. It took me a couple of trips to haul all of our goodies and equipment from the car in the parking lot to the pit and picnic area.
My wife and I have a system. I haul all of the stuff, I run to the store to make last minute purchases (which turned out to be necessary because we needed tongs to flip the food on the grill and of course something to drink). I clean the grills and start the fire. And then I get to kick back and watch the master work. My wife is an excellent cook, so it makes no sense that I would try and interfere... Right?
Once she gets the food on the grill we usually kick back, play cards or just enjoy the sand and the surf. Like I said, we keep it simple, or at least I thought we did until a “local” showed me what keeping it simple really was.
But watching this man and his family got me thinking and being a writer, I got nosy. I asked around and I learned a few things. People who live on the islands call themselves “locals” as opposed to the rest of us who are "tourists". There is a sort of “mixed plate” (their words, not mine) when it comes to people who call modern Hawaii home. On this occasion, this local was probably Hawaiian, but he could have just as well been Tongan or from one of the other Polynesian islands.
Locals call the ocean their "Refrigerator". I was struck by the fact that this local’s family got busy with their preparations to cook the food before there was food. You see it didn’t seem to be an issue of “IF” he would catch dinner, but “WHEN”.
By the time he emerged from the ocean with a couple lobsters the fire was ready. His mother and daughter had spread out a blanket and grandma was keeping her granddaughter entertained by reading to her and playing games. The man handed the lobsters to his wife and then he picked up a spear and returned to the surf.
He returned minutes later with a couple, maybe three fish on his spear, but he wasn’t done. After handing the fish off to the cook he walked over to the rocks and started prying off some sort of shellfish.

It was remarkable to me that he had the skill to just go out there and get dinner for his family. It was even more remarkable to me that, after working all day, (and lets face it parcel delivery is not an easy job) he was still physically able to go out and “catch” dinner. It was also worth noting he only took what his family could eat.
The locals are very protective of their reef and ocean and in that instant I knew why. Fresh food from the sea is as natural to some of them as shopping at the market is for me. I learned something else in my inquiries. The ocean is dying due to pollution and over fishing. Commercialism is taking the fish from the sea faster than the sea can replace them.
I wondered what that local would do when he could no longer catch fresh fish from the sea to feed his family. He wasn’t poor; he could afford to buy his fish and lobster from the supermarket. I think they just preferred their fish fresh and regardless of what the signs in the market say, it doesn’t get any fresher than that.
What a shame it will be to see him in the supermarket behind me in the checkout line buying fish, farm raised in Taiwan and frozen for the trip to the market in Hawaii.

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