From Mauka To Makai

By Joanna Bressler

New to the island, I am fortunate to visit Camp Mokuleia, on the north-west shores of Oahu, for a writing workshop.

The large, tropical dining room has terra cotta floors. The owners of the camp, I am sure, chose this color because much of the soil on Oahu is reddish-brown.

Soil that color is stunning. From far away, it permeates into your soul. From up close, it permeates into the soles of your bare feet. Also into your skin, nails, clothes and all surfaces of your living space.

I’m cool with that now.

On one side of Camp Mokuleia is the tallest mountain on the island. On the other side, the Pacific Ocean. The first side is the mauka side, the second is the makai side. Mauka. Makai. Toward the mountains, toward the ocean.

These two words both begin with ‘M’ and have four of their five letters in common. However, these two words indicate geographical places that are exactly opposite to each other.

Try asking directions. “Oh, no worries. Turn mauka at the first light, go up that road until the red house, then turn makai. You’ll see it soon on the mauka side.”

The driver thinks, “Which is mauka? Mountain or ocean? If it’s mountain, which side of the island am I on? What if I drive into the ocean?”

The driver has a panic attack. It took me months to learn mauka from makai, and I still don’t get it right when I’m subjected to a driving crisis. For me, nighttime is the most common driving crisis. Honolulu runs a close second.

I’m cool with that now. No problem.

There are seven consonants in the Hawaiian alphabet. If a street does not begin with a ‘K,’ it begins with a ‘W.’ Residential streets in Honolulu are rutted, potholed, narrow, heading one way, then doubling back the other way, replete with dead ends.

Try telling Kahakea Street from Kahakua from Kakuhawa from Kahuakua when you’re late for a party on Kahuakawa.

Hey, I’m cool with that, too. So what if the soles of my feet are permanently stained reddish brown. So what if I never know where I am. So what if I’m late all the time.

Lush, my view at Camp Mokuleia. The sky is overcast; it doesn’t matter. It’s still warm. It’s always warm. Breezes flow under, over, around and through me. Whitecaps break from the shoreline to way beyond a wide reef. Palm fronds sway, turtles line the beach, surfers risk their lives.

I’m in paradise.

However, I’m also aware of my bare feet and ankles and arms and shoulders and neck. Because I know that from the grass, shrubs, trees and reddish-brown soil outside, I can be assaulted at any moment by large flying cockroaches, skinny fast-moving centipedes with a vicious bite, scorpions with not such a bad bite, but still … and possibly, by a black cane spider the size of a fist.

All these insects, no matter their shape or size, can insinuate through screens, slip under tightly sealed doors, pop up out of toilets, plummet down from ceilings, and dive bomb between your sheets.

One day, who knows? I’ll be cool about that.


Or not.

Joanna Bressler has published short fiction and memoir pieces in magazines and online. Recently, she moved to Oahu to be near her young grandchildren. Wild centipedes could not tear her away.

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