As part of an essay series, “Called to Hawaii”, Barbara Garcia, publisher of Ke Ola Magazine, shared her story about being called to Hawaii and the adventures and travails she encountered. I am publishing this on the eve of her departure from Hawaii Island, after she has been a resident since 2003. She has had a major impact on our island, and the stories she has shared about the stories and culture of our island have been a tremendous asset. Thanks Barb for sharing this story with us!
CATCHING THE WAVE– By Barbara Garcia
I fell in love the first time I got off the plane at Kona’s Keāhole International Airport in July of 2002. The rugged lava landscape; the smell of plumeria in the air; I was smitten. I was forty-three years old and my life was in the midst of a big change. I had no clue how big!. At that time, my husband, Rey, and I had been together for eighteen years and had a twelve-year-old daughter, Mariana. I had owned a print production business for seventeen years and could feel both my business and our marriage were winding down. Rey and I came to Kona to visit friends for our vacation, and in hopes of reviving our marriage. It was a magical week. Unfortunately the magic wasn’t about our marriage, it was about Hawaiʻi Island. After spending a week touring West Hawaiʻi by foot, car, and sailboat, we took a red-eye back to Los Angeles. Mid-flight, after reflecting on our trip and marriage, Rey suggested I come back to Kona, alone next time. We ended up separating shortly thereafter, and in December 2002 I returned for two weeks with our daughter. We were invited to stay in a friend’s ‘ohana in Waikoloa Village, and to help the business he managed during their busiest season, the winter holidays. While on the island, our friends introduced us to many people who lived here, and I started getting a spark… what would it be like to live here?
I had been born and raised in the harbor area of Los Angeles and had never lived farther than twenty miles from my childhood home. Having a yearning to move 2500 miles away was completely foreign to me, and I did my best to squash the feelings! That wasn’t to be… I couldn’t get Kona off my mind. I had fallen in love with this other harbor town across the Pacific Ocean.
GETTING MARIANA ON BOARD
During that December 2002 trip, I came across an alternative high school where I thought my daughter would thrive. She had been floundering in public middle school in California and I thought this could be an interesting possibility. Thus began the sale of my lifetime: to convince my daughter to move far from her friends and family. She wasn’t an easy sell! She had not enjoyed the two weeks we had spent on the island, and wasn’t at all interested. I came back alone in April 2003 to do more research. By then I was sold on moving, and our friends said if I did, they would have a job for me when I arrived. I had turned forty-four in January and had been working continuously since I was fifteen. Nothing sounded better than working on the beach at sunset. I thought that would be my “just reward” for all my years of hard work.
So, I invited my daughter to come back with me for Memorial Day weekend in May 2003 to check out the school and meet the other students. She said yes. Shortly before that, she had spoken on the phone with the headmistress/owner of the one-room schoolhouse in Honaunau known as Wallace Tutorial Academy. Mrs. Wallace tempted Mariana with dreams of four-day school weeks; graduation in three years (instead of the traditional four) and only fifteen students in the school each year. Mariana’s interest was piqued, so off to Kona we went for an exploratory trip. She got to attend the school’s prom that weekend, with the entire graduating class of five, along with the other ten students and their parents. She had such a great time that she wanted to stay until the end!
The next morning we toured the school and visited with Mrs. Wallace. By the end of the weekend, she was convinced to try out her freshman year of high school in Hawaiʻi. I promised if she didn’t like it after that year, we’d move back. We returned to Lakewood, California, where she gradated from middle school the following month, and we began planning our move. I closed my business shortly after that and fell into a deep depression, the one and only time in my life. My marriage was ending, my business was closing; this was the end of a very long chapter. I had no idea what the future would hold. I just knew life as we had known it in the suburbs of L.A. would never be the same.
MOVING TO KONA
Mariana and I moved to Kailua-Kona on July 31, 2003, almost exactly one year from the first trip Rey and I made in 2002. We moved with $500, twenty boxes, a treadmill, and a massage table so I could pursue my dream of being a reiki healing practitioner.
Like riding the waves, the contrast from ease to struggle and back again was clear from the beginning. We found a furnished house to rent in Kona Palisades via the Konaweb.com Moving to Hawaiʻi forum. I thought it was the best location, considering my job would be in Waikoloa Resort (about twenty minutes north), and Mariana’s school was in Honaunau, about an hour south. There was a catch with the house rental, though – it was only for three months. I had to trust that during those three months we’d find another rental just as perfect. I started working two days after we arrived, so the “honeymoon” stage of moving to Hawaiʻi ended quickly. Between the commute and being scheduled to work on all the days my daughter was off from school, it wasn’t long before a change was called for. So, not even three months into our move, I was looking for a new job, and a new place to live. With nothing more than faith, our story continues…
Itʻs commonly said, if you aren’t meant to live on this island, things don’t flow easily for the newcomer. In these cases, people usually end up leaving the island within a year or so. It’s also said that Pele will chew you up and spit you out if you aren’t meant to be here, so the test was on. Did Pele want us here, or not?
After only three months, I gave my two-week notice at my job, yet a new job hadn’t been confirmed. We also hadn’t found a new home to move into yet! So, with no job and no home in sight, was this a sign we were being rejected? I’ve had a deep faith in a higher power for most of my adult life. Without it, I’d likely be dead by now. No reason to give up now! I prayed for the right job and home to live in, or for a sign we were supposed to return to Southern California. My prayers were answered: we were offered a beautiful two-bedroom, two-bath unit, fully furnished, and even at a discounted rate! This ‘ohana unit not only was fully furnished, it came with an ocean view and a hot tub in the backyard! I thought we’d hit the jackpot! The landlord turned out to be a godsend who never even asked for proof of my employment; he just liked us! Good thing, because I still hadn’t received confirmation of my new job and it had been a couple of weeks already, so my two-week notice was up and I was officially unemployed! Finally, after completely giving up hope on the new job and surrendering to the idea that I was going to have to start job-hunting again, I received the phone call I had been waiting for late on a Friday evening. They asked if I could start in a week. I was ecstatic! I had a week off with no stress, and looked forward to some much needed time on the beach.
A QUESTIONABLE TIME
The time between knowing where we’d be living and where I’d be working was the most questionable time of my life. I had no idea how or if it would work out, or if we’d end up back in Lakewood. With faith all things are possible, and once we moved and I started my new job, life’s challenges eased up a bit. At the end of the first school year Mariana said she wanted to stay another two years to finish high school. At that point her dad moved to Kona, too, ostensibly for two years, until Mariana would be finishing high school. Instead, he stayed and she left! Theyʻve both gone back and forth between Kona and the mainland many times since then.
Meanwhile, I was riding lots of waves through being newly single in my mid-forties and learning what it was like to date again. I was also experiencing what it was like to work for other people after being self-employed since my mid-twenties. There were many waves with relationships, both business and personal.
I moved around quite a bit, too, living in Kona and Kohala for my first nine years here, then moving to the Hāmākua Coast, Upper Puna, and now Hilo.
In living here since 2003, there have been many waves to ride. Just getting here was a huge one, leaving lifelong friends and my aging parents.
Just a few weeks before my dad passed in 2006, Mariana graduated high school at the age of sixteen. In the same month, I started dating the next love of my life. Eric and I rode the first waves of our relationship with plenty of rocks and coral to navigate, finding safe harbors here and there.
We had just ridden the wave of saying goodbye to our close friend, who passed away from breast cancer. I was riding a huge wave – besides Mariana graduating high school , I was in the midst of renovating my beautiful Kona home. I was so proud to be a homeowner. I was finally making enough money to comfortably meet my expenses. With the exception of losing a dear friend, life was the best it had been in several years. That’s when Eric and I went for our first hike together at Golden Ponds near Waikoloa. He was forty-two, I was forty-seven. We fell in love quickly. He proposed a couple of months later!
Shortly thereafter, another wave came crashing down. This time it was the real estate crash. The home Eric had just completed building in Kohala Ranch was worth less than what he owed. My sweet Kona home was “upside down.” We were both financially under water.
A CRASHING WAVE
By 2008, Mariana was living in Southern California, and was using methamphetamine. This huge wave caused our family to get sucked under. As it turned out, this was the greatest gift – it was a chance for our family to come together for healing on many levels. Her dad and I had already healed to a great degree. Although we never reconciled, we found a deep friendship that we still cherish today. Instead of dividing, we chose to expand our family, including our new spouses and their families. The unified cause of helping our daughter was all that mattered to us, so the two of us, and our family all got together in Orange County when she entered a ninety-day recovery program. She came back to Kona and started her new life away from the troubled streets of Southern California. I’m grateful this part of the story has a happy ending!
Unfortunately, big waves continued crashing down all around. Not only was Mariana on drugs, the real estate publishing company I had been working for closed down. Another uncertain future was upon us. Out of a job and with seemingly no where else to work, I decided to try to catch another big wave, this one the Great Recession. I launched a new business in December, 2008, Ke Ola Magazine . Five months after the release of the first issue, my mother passed away.
Eric and I continue to navigate the waves, enjoying our time between each set. In our quest to put our real estate debt behind us, we purchased land in Upper Puna, put up a yurt, and have been living off the grid for the past three years.
What have I learned most about riding these waves? That I actually love the impermanence of it all… that life, like waves, is ever-changing, and I have come to thrive on change instead of resisting it.
After living in a remote area for two years, we recently rented an apartment in Hilo, where I can run the magazine and use it as a base when I need to be in town. I’m already wondering what the next wave will be and what riding it will bring, embracing the not-knowing-ness that this life and this time has brought to many of us.
When I moved to Kona, there was a period at the end of the sentence, “I’m moving to Kona.” What I’ve learned over time is there was never a period at the end of that sentence, just a “…”, because we cannot predict what the future will bring, we can only steer ourselves in the direction we think we want to go and see where life takes us from there. Since I love sailing, I love the metaphor, “We cannot direct the wind, we can only adjust our sails.” So true! Life is still unfolding and I welcome the waves of change.