Life can be complicated no matter who you are–age, gender, race, culture, religion, geographical location, etc. In fact, you can’t expect to go through this world of ours without your fair share of challenges in amongst those moments of clarity and elation; the ones we all aspire to achieve, hopefully more than once or twice.
As we vacation here in Maui, I think it would be fair to say that we are living very uncomplicated lives at the moment, so much so that our biggest worries thus far have been when to take out the garbage to avoid invitations from pesky bugs as well as how much sunscreen to put on and/or which hours we need to avoid the sun. However, as we tootle around here and there taking in the sights and sounds of our favourite getaway spot, it is very apparent that there are two ways of life here, aside from the obvious vacationers like us and the locals. This being our sixth visit to the islands of Hawaii, we have noticed a very high population of homeless individuals as well as those who appear to be more than wealthy. I am sure that there is a middle-class that lies somewhere in between that we, tourists, don’t always see, but it leaves me to wonder what the percentages exactly are. Not that I live a life of statistics, but I will admit that I am curious.
I just read an article in the Maui News last week that up to 70% (I believe) of housing was in short-term vacation rentals bought up by foreigners, while 4000 native islanders remain short in housing, especially affordable housing. As with anything, there are two sides to the issue and the media will report what it wants. Regardless, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that something isn’t working the way it should and homelessness is a recognized issue in Hawaii. While many populations face impoverished conditions, each relative, I think that it is more striking here in what is considered a first-world country simply because there is such a stark contrast between what appears to be the haves and the have-nots. Naturally, one could debate how the haves and have-nots have to come to be, etc., but at the end of the day, our personal observations stay with us in some manner, at times leaving us to feel guilty. Don’t get me wrong, we have both spent some very hard-earned money to be here, yet we also realize that we are privileged enough in our lives such that we can choose between a dream vacation and food on the table. Growing up, my dad always taught me the value of a hard-earned dollar as a farmer, gravel truck driver and snow removal guy, and to be appreciative of life’s circumstances, which could change at any one moment in time.
Two nights ago, we drove through a very well-to-do area in the hills on the west side of Maui with properties easily in the millions of dollars range, with guest houses, infinity pools, three-car garages, etc. Then, as we made our way back to the highway where many of the local beach pull-offs are, in between areas, we witnessed derelict vehicles set up clearly as homes. Little old me is not here to judge one person’s existence over the other and we all know that having money doesn’t necessarily equate with happiness, but I would venture to say that having to worry where one’s next meal is coming from is not an easy life. Thankfully, clean water and showers are available at the state park beaches.
The image, however, that remains Churning in my mind, is one of a mother and her young child, who arrived at one of the beach shower houses just after dinner. My husband and I were strolling along on our way back from a lovely sunset supper, when we saw the lady and her older four-door sedan pull into the parking lot. The mom immediately began rifling around in the backseat for something and a few minutes later, she popped open the trunk, which was impeccably organized with many things, as was the backseat where a paper towel holder neatly hung. Her daughter waited patiently in the shade of the nearby trees, and we assumed that they were there to take a shower. Immediately, I pondered, ‘What is their story?‘, not out of pity, but rather from the perspective of one human being feeling somehow connected to another. A part of me wanted to offer some money to them, but I also did not want to infringe on their privacy or their situation knowing nada about the two of them. I mean, would I want a perfect stranger to assume that I need or want help? Likely not, but I might also really appreciate a genuine show of concern and a few extra dollars, even if it was just enough to help pay for a bit of gas, for example. To further the story (though I willingly admit that I am making my fair share of inferences and then some), the little girl was very pale, without hair, and her eyes seemed quite sullen. My first thought was that she may have cancer. Knowing the cost of health care here in the States, it conjured up a possible narrative that I’ve heard about before wherein people have to sell their home, etc., simply to pay for medical costs. ‘What if this was their situation? Then again, what if it wasn’t? What to do?’. The truth of the matter is that now we will never know, as that instance has since come and gone, and as usual, life has moved on for them and for us over the past few days. Meanwhile, I am left to wonder, ‘What if I could have made a small difference in someone else’s life and chose not to?’. Hmmm…