We get a lot of New Yorkers and East Coasters that come through Kalani. You can spot this particular species in a heartbeat by their style and swagger. The easiest way to identify an East Coaster is by their accent of course. My personal favorites are Boston and Brooklyn accents. So when I stumbled upon Jaime on her first day on the lanai eating lunch and heard this Brooklyn drawl come out of this wide-eyed, curly-haired girl, I sat right in front of her and had lunch and got my New York fix for the hour. Her accent is as Brooklyn as you can get. And her energy was sooooo New York. I knew from the getgo that she’s got quite an adventure ahead of her simply because she was just bubbling with this potential energy and I think I can speak for many people here at Kalani --- but it was so much fun watching her transform and get her jungle on --- a la Brooklyn. She never lost her Brooklyn swagger, she simply amplified it with this Jungle Jane sense of adventure and with her openness to experience it all and her ability to laugh at everything.
On her last night at Kalani, I passed by her on the lawn as she sat watching the stars. We hung out on my porch and talked for quite awhile about what a strange and wonderful trip it has been this summer. We talked about our adventures. We talked about happiness. We talked about love and lessons. We laughed so hard about the embarrassing faux pas we’ve committed throughout these intense whirlwind moments. And she said something I will never forget: “I’m just so happy here. In the past I always had to have some reason why I was happy. But here, on the Big Island, I don’t need any reasons, I don’t seek out any reasons, I’m just happy.” Brilliant, right?
1. What brought you to Kalani?
During the past four years my outside world was right on track, just as planned. By age 24, I received my Masters degree in Mathematics and was granted tenure at the high school in which I was teaching. On the inside, however, I felt like I had already jumped off the track a long time ago and was living in a lonely, lost world. There was a voice inside telling me that there was more for me out there; more for me to see and do. Since I grew up in a low-income family, I was never able to travel. The idea of going to Hawaii was so foreign to me. I lived my life thinking that only rich people and honeymooners went to Hawaii. One day in January 2007, I had just finished reading the book, The Secret and I was ready to manifest my dreams. I remember writing down in my journal that I would love to go to Hawaii for at least a month. I was unsure as to how I would afford it, but I was determined to use the law of attraction. The next day I was messing around on the computer and I googled, ‘Hawaii-Retreat-Wellness Center’. The first option that appeared was this place called Kalani. Even though I did not have the money to travel to Hawaii, I was tempted to just look at the website. And all of a sudden I saw the magic word…VOLUNTEER. I could not believe it! And the rest was history.
2. What was your first impression of Kalani? Of the Big Island? Of the people?
The best way I can explain my first impression of Kalani and the Big Island is by visualization. Ok picture this...its Monday the day before I leave to Kalani. I jump on the train and rush to the Bronx to do paperwork at my college. Then I race to Times Square for some last minute shopping, surrounded by huge buildings and bright lights. Lets not forget to mention that I almost got run over by a taxi at least three times, people were bumping into me because everyone’s in a rush, and I got cursed out by a lady because I did not put my Metrocard into the slot for the train quick enough (all normal daily events for a New Yorker). Finally I am on a train back home to a loud, traditional Italian family who cannot fathom the idea that I am going to live in Hawaii since to them, Brooklyn is the best thing created since sliced bread. Ok so now it’s Tuesday, the night of my arrival to Kalani and boom! I’m in the middle of a jungle with loud frogs, huge trees, and people who actually take a few seconds to speak between each sentence! The first thought that popped into my mind was, “What did I get myself into?!?”
3. What was your favorite activity out here? What will you miss most about this place?
Believe it or not…it was weeding! Even though it was a part of my job, it never felt like work. It was very meditative for me. During those hours I was able to reflect on my experience at Kalani and develop myself as a person. Not to mention that while I was weeding I was enjoying my two favorite pastimes: listening to music and tanning.
4. What advice would you give first timers?
Be prepared to let the “old” you go. Many life lessons can be taught at Kalani if you are willing to be a student.
5. Top three items you couldn’t have lived without on this island?
2) Maui Babe
3) Hair Straightener. (There were some days where the humidity made me look that I had a birds nest on the top of my head!)
6. What was your most memorable moment here?
Not only was this the most memorable moment for me at Kalani, but it was the most memorable moment of my life! It was when I jumped off a 30ft. cliff into the water. Ever since I was a little girl, I had always dreamt of jumping off a cliff (I have always loved heights). When I was standing there looking down into the water I was like…holy crap this is high! But when I landed into the water and looked back up to the cliff, I had a tear in my eye and thought to myself, wow, dreams really do come true.
7. How have you changed? What imprint has this experience made on you?
It’s amazing how the aspects of my personality that needed fixing were adjusted in Kalani. For one, I have a new sense of confidence. Before Kalani, I was confident in myself due to my achievements in school, career and running. Now I am confident in myself overall just because I am me. I have also become more courageous. I have decided to leave my teaching job in January 2008 to travel the world for the next five years. Besides getting the imprint of the Big Island in the form of a tattoo on my wrist J, the most powerful imprint this experience has made on me was realizing that life is too short and beautiful to feel any negative emotions. Just smile and dance!
8. Since you’ve jumped ship, how is life out there? How has the transition been back to mainland life? What next?
I remember the night before I left Kalani: I was outside by myself staring at the stars crying, because I was so afraid to go back to NYC. The idea of buildings, TVs, taxis and impatient people created a panic within me. Would I be able to survive? Will I keep my “Aloha” attitude when I go back? Contrary to my beliefs, the transition has been remarkable! When I got off the plane and waited thirty minutes to retrieve my bags, an observation made me bust out laughing…as I was talking on my cell phone, drinking my Starbucks Frapuccino, looking for the best possible route to run out and get the first yellow cab, I was tapping my foot with this expression on my face like how long does it take to get bags off the plane?! Right then I said to myself (with my Brooklyn accent of course)….ahhh you can take a girl out of NYC, but you can’t take the NYC out of the girl! What I came to realize is that I can have both: a NYC attitude and my Aloha peace. I also realized that I want to continue my travels. After I complete teaching this Fall semester in Brooklyn, I will return to Kalani for a few months and I will then teach overseas in September (either Australia or Italy).
9. You know you’re Kalani-nized when...
You extend your trip!
10. Most memorable lesson from Pele?
Detachment. Before Kalani, I was attached to many things in my life: family, romantic relationships, my job and New York City. Once I learned to let go of my attachments, there was room in my soul for future discoveries of new people and new places to explore. I am grateful to Pele for giving me loving peace, to the many beautiful people I met at Kalani who helped inspire and shape me, and to Richard Koob and his team for creating a sustaining my heaven on earth… Kalani.