He’s Hawaiian and in his twenties and has been working hard all day squirting orange oil into the wood in our house to kill the termites. For the last hour he’s been up on the roof.
Now he is taking a break, munching on a juicy red fruit the size of a cherry tomato from the enormous bush beside the barbecue.
“Ono,” he says to me, smiling. His long-sleeved blue tee shirt says Akamai Pest Control.
“Yes,” I say, “ono!” I’m drinking a glass of water on the hot lanai, after sweeping termite poops into corners all day.
“Strawberry guava,” I add, thrilled that I not only know that “ono” means delicious, but also what these recently ripening lovelies are called. “I just learned their name.”
Akamai (Ah-kah-MY) means “smart” in Hawaiian. I am trying to learn some Pidgin, the language that evolved here so the immigrating Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Filipinos, Americans and the Hawaiians could do business.
It’s rarely appropriate for a white person, a haole (HOW-lee), to try and speak Pidgin, but frequently helpful to understand at least a little bit of it. It’s beautiful and melodic and I’ve loved listening to the workers speak it to each other all day.
“I heard that they’re considered an invasive species,” I say.
Akamai shrugs. “Boddah you?”
I shrug back. “I don’t know,” I say. “It’s hard not to like them.” He grins and nods his approval.
These remote islands have very few native species. Everything migrated here at one time or another. Still, some species are just more invasive than others – like these strawberry guavas which threaten other plant species with shade-casting thickets and dense mats of surface feeder roots. Mongooses, mosquitoes, coqui frogs and gigantic albizia trees are all non-native invaders.
Akamai laughs, his smile charming, and eats another of the sweet treats without a bit of guilt.
Our friend Tom says that to see the highest impact invasive species, just look in the mirror.
Humans are the main invasive species in Hawaii by far. I’m particularly aware of this, of my whiteness and newness, and I want to join in, not invade. So I am honored that Akamai hangs out with me during his work break.
This week we’ve had lots of deliveries, and I try to be a good haole.
The catchment tank guy, a huge Hawaiian man who helped the Bearded One and His Majesty roll the 1550 gallon tank around the side of the house, wouldn’t accept a tip.
Two guys, one white, one Hawaiian, delivered the big generator that goes with the solar system. They accepted a handful of Hershey’s kisses.
All were kind and interested in what we are doing, being off-grid. HELCO power connections can be had even here. It costs $7500 just to tie in, we tell them. By the time we put in cables and trenches and conduit and paid official electricians, we’d easily be in the $20,000’s. Plus years of the highest electricity rates in the nation. Hawaii’s average rate is around 38 cents per kilowatt hour. More than triple the national average. So it’s not surprising that there are so many people open to solar here.
We show them the system we are designing, the 9 panels on the dining room floor, the boxes with the inverter and other components, and the 4 expensive batteries.
The Bearded One built a plywood and recycled shutter box to protect them from the elements. It’s tucked neatly under the house. Now we have the final piece, the propane generator backup. All this, for about $7500.
Tom and our son hope to help install the system this week, and maybe even Akamai, since he is so good working on roofs. Presuming, that is, that the roof is dry.
Akamai looks up from under the towering strawberry guava bush as the Bearded One walks toward us from around the side of the house. “Brah,” the young man calls out as he waves to my haole husband.
The Bearded One smiles. Brother.
Later, I jokingly congratulate him on getting his first brah.