We sat with 6 New Englanders: 4 retired school teachers, 1 retired engineer, and 1 self-described retired “do-nothinger”. Our first ever luau was bound to be memorable.
Before Will and I sat down for what would be very interesting conversation, we perused the beachfront luau area to take in a bit of Hawaiian culture and history.
We tried our hand at an old game in which the participant tries to roll a thick wooden disk between two small sticks sticking up out of the ground. I successfully made a goal (?) at the game station, and unsuccessfully hula-d at the hula dancing station due to my genuine lack of ability to both dance and hit sticks over the tops of my shoulders without also hitting myself in the face. I returned to my laughing husband and sought out a station that would be less humiliating and less dangerous. We found one that made paper – score!
Later came the revealing of the pig we’d soon eat for dinner. A charming Hawaiian fellow explained the old pig-cooking custom to the luau crowd all the while trying not to flex too much, and telling jokes that would score big points on a cruise ship. “Before I dig up this pig, I want you all to put away your cameras, because once I bend over… Well, just don’t post anything on Instagram!” That got big laughs from the 50yrs+ female crowd plus a response from a frizzy-haired, what’s my age again woman who shouted back, “No way honey! I got front row seats!” I blushed for her.
Finally we joined our retiree-filled table to begin the feast and festivities. Rick explained that he and his wife Sue had been to Hawai’i 3 times already. This wasn’t their first luau. Rick’s sister Janet told us she had dreamed since she was 22 about coming to Hawai’i, so since this year she turns 60, she decided to fulfill her dream with Rick, Sue, and her friend Holly. During their trip, the four met Sandy and Rosemary. Rosemary’s a grandma, currently trying to not think about her grandsons, daughter and son-in-law living in Australia for the next 5 years. We told her we understood completely.
This statement of course led us to explain that though we say we’re from Oklahoma, we actually live in Vienna, Austria. Ooo’s and ahhh’s emitted from the group and many more questions followed. “Why did you pick Vienna? Do you speak German? Can you say something for us? How long have you lived there? Are your parents supportive? What’s the weather like? When you say it’s grey there right now, how grey do you mean?”
We answered their queries and performed a goofy German conversation which delighted them and made them ooo and ahh some more. Holly asked us where Will and I met to which we replied with a shortened version of how we fell in love in Ghana, Africa. Holly put her head in her hands, overcome with a mixture of disbelief, envy and dazzlement.
This launched the table into an intense discussion about culture, discovery and travel. Rosemary said she supported her kids’ decision to move to Australia as long as they came back. Sue said that had such an opportunity to move abroad come up for her own, she would have forbidden it. Sandy stayed quiet while Holly wished aloud that others would travel more to see what else is out there. She told us she wanted to go to Africa but was scared. We told her to not let the media pump fear into her but rather research for herself where to go, and then go. She said she would.
That Holly, though. She got to me.
After we told her about our experience thus far in Vienna, she smiled at Will and me, and in her scratchy New Yorker accent said, “Not enough Americans are interested in going out into the world to see other cultures. They wanna travel but they wanna vacation. They don’t wanna know what’s really out there. But you do, and you’re doing it. You’re living it. And I commend you for it.”
That Holly, though.
Sometimes I wonder if we made the right call to move so far away from our family, from our friends. Sometimes I wonder if Austria even wants us there or wishes we’d pack up and leave already. I don’t entertain these thoughts too seriously, but I’d be lying if I said I thought I belonged in Vienna 100% of the time.
I don’t know if Holly is a Christian. I don’t know if she even believes in God, or if she’s loved Him since she was old enough to know His name. What I do know is God works through every individual – Christian or not – for His good and holy purposes. And I think in that very brief exchange with this eager to learn, retired English teacher, He was working through her to talk to me.
This trip back “home” has been the hardest one yet. The coming back hasn’t been hard, it’s the going back that’s got me anxious. Back to a language that’s not my own, back to a familiar unfamiliarity, back to a country that doesn’t house my best friends or my baby’s grandparents. Did we make the right call? Are we doing the right thing?
It wasn’t a compliment I heard in Holly’s short, inspiring speech, but a push; an affirmation. A whispered “keep going!” from God’s gentle spirit. And though it was Holly I thanked for saying those words, it’s God who receives my thanksgiving for turning my doubts on their head and pointing me back in the right direction.
Our luau eventually ended and we had to tell our new friends Aloha and Mahalo. Although I certainly enjoyed the hip-shaking and feasting and drumming and Hawaiian storytelling, talking with our table mates was my favorite part of the experience. If that’s what can happen at a luau, then I want in on all of them.
We leave for Vienna at the end of the month, and I plan to leave a new woman. I will arrive with hope in place of doubt; I will arrive with certainty in place of questioning.
I will go back to Vienna knowing we made the right call all along, thanks to that one time I met Holly.