Moloka`i Strong

I’ve been waiting about an hour in my car - in a line over a half-mile long, which stretches past the post office and now-shuttered hair salon, past old plantation homes and coffee fields, past the new Moloka`i Land Trust building and beyond Kualapu`u elementary school where a sign out front reads “School closed. Be safe.”

I wonder how much longer before I get to Kualapu`u Market where I will hand a Maui County police officer my grocery list of no more than twenty items and my credit card. I will stay in my car wearing my required mask and gloves. I will park where directed and wait for two bags to be delivered and placed in my back seat by cheerful masked and gloved volunteers.

One week ago, a worker at the largest of our three mom-and-pop grocers came down with Covid-19. He was airlifted to Honolulu. All of his contacts, including the entire staff of that market, were ordered into mandatory quarantine for two weeks. Before the day was over, the Mayor of Maui County closed all three grocery stores and sent a professional disinfecting crew to clean them.

The Hawai`ian island of Moloka`i has no Safeway or chain grocers, no fast food restaurants, no big box stores. We who live here are dependent on the small businesses that serve us and the supply barge that comes twice a week. We also depend on one another. On “`Ohana”. 

“`Ohana” means family in Hawai`ian. After “aloha”, `ohana  is the most important word in the Hawai`ian language. The Moloka`i ohana stepped up overnight. Residents “adopted” families affected by the store closure, delivering food and necessities. All of our essential businesses and services embraced curbside pickup and rigorous sanitation measures. A quarantined millennial set up a Facebook page with info about grocery stores, gas stations, hardware stores, restaurants offering takeout, health information, and updates from government officials. 

Our island has changed in so many ways in just days. Our small commuter airlines are only flying essential workers between islands. Most flights are nearly empty. Mokulele Airlines will bring two bags of groceries per family free of cargo charges from Maui or Oahu while we are on lockdown.

Beaches are closed as are parks, though we may cross beaches to swim or surf while maintaining social distance. No meetings are allowed, graduation ceremonies and festivals are canceled. Masks are required when in public, though we rarely have anywhere to go right now.

I finally reach the front of the line and hand my list and credit card to the cop. Kualapu`u Market has posted pictures on their Facebook site of what is available. Today there’s no shortage of toilet paper but the store is out of flour, yeast, and Bud light. I pull around the corner and wait. A few raindrops spatter on my windshield; within minutes a deluge pounds the car. I can barely see out the windows and it sounds like a dump truck just poured a load of pebbles on the Subaru’s roof. Through the blurred windshield, I can see workers running to deliver goods to those waiting. My back door opens and a dripping-wet volunteer drops two bags in the back seat. Like other grateful shoppers, I try to tip her but she waves me off. “No Auntie. We are all in this together. We are all ohana. Be safe.”

The rain stops as abruptly as it began. I put the car in gear and open the window. The sun is shining, birds are singing, tropical breezes bring heady scents of plumeria and puakenikeni. I close my eyes and for a moment, it feels like nothing has changed. But everything has. Everything except the spirit of aloha and caring for `ohana. We will get through this together - we are Moloka`i strong.

Addendum: Now, weeks later, stores are open with masks and social distancing required. The market employee who contracted coronavirus infected his girlfriend but no one else. Both have recovered. Moloka`i has had no further cases. Hawai`i has flattened the curve.  Interisland travel is still banned except for essential workers, but the governor tells us that it might resume in early June. Barge service decreased to once per week as of May 5, but the supply chain seems unbroken.  Beaches are open with social distancing required. The sun is still shining, the birds are still singing, we proudly wear our masks in public to protect our friends and neighbors. We are Moloka`i strong.


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