Hawai’i Is Not A Third World Country, and other important facts


You guys, we have to talk.

I am so in love with you, and really truly, I do not mind your Facebook messages asking me the difference between Pennsylvania and Hawai’i. I don’t mind you posting on my timeline that you’re visiting Hawai’i and can we see each other. And I absolutely appreciate your interest in the culture here.

I just think, that maybe, it’s time that we take a moment to clarify a few things.

1.) I am so happy that you have the opportunity to visit Hawai’i. And it would be absolutely lovely to see you and catch up, even if we haven’t spoken since I had a crush on you in sixth grade. However there are eight islands that make up the state of Hawai’i. 169634_origOut of those eight, you will probably find yourself on one of the four main tourist islands – Oahu (home of the city Honolulu), Maui (a popular honeymoon destination), Kauai (the most beautiful and lush of the islands), or the island of Hawai’i, commonly known as “The Big Island” (where I currently live and teach). The rest of the islands are less traveled to, and two of them, you’re not even welcome on unless you’re invited by a full-blooded Hawaiian or part of the military.

When you message me to let me know you’ll be visiting, I will always ask you first and foremost, what island you will be visiting. Please know that if I let you know that I can’t see you, it’s not because I don’t want to. It’s normally because there isn’t a ferry between the islands, and I don’t currently have the funds to fly to Honolulu to meet you for pupus and Mai Tai’s. I totally want to hang out – just make sure you include the Big Island in your visit so we can make that happen.

2.) Every Hawaiian island is extremely different. I live on the Big Island, where local farmers thrive, aloha is prevalent most anywhere you go, and the population is small compared to the size of the island (about the size of Connecticut.) images-16Oahu contains the hectic city of Honolulu, home to the second worst traffic in the country as well as some of the best surfing on the planet. Maui is populated with beautiful resorts and beaches and offers breathtaking sunsets from the top of it’s dormant volcano, Haleakala. Kauai is the second oldest Hawaiian island, and it’s lush jungle is some of the most beautiful you’ll ever see if you take the time to visit. Molokai and Lanai are both within ferry distance from Maui, and with the highest sea cliffs in the world and pineapple farms galore, they are less visited but equally as beautiful. If you are moving here, or visiting here, your needs and your wants can help you pick which island to see. I am happy to answer any questions you may have about the Big Island, and I’ll do my best to help you navigate the other islands if I can.

3) Hawaii is not a third world country. Although not every Hawaiian is pleased about it, we are an actual state in the fifty United States of America. We speak English here. We have a Target and a Wal-Mart and even though I hate shopping corporate, Costco is our best friend. We drive on the right side of the road, and we eat hot dogs, and we have a regular education system, although the amount of homework these kids go home with is absolutely ridiculous. images-17Do we sometimes eat different things than on the mainland? Absolutely. Do we have strange animals and bigger, scarier bugs? Unfortunately yes. We also respect the land here way more than people on the mainland do. There is rarely litter, we’ve banned GMO’s, and we support local farmers more than I’ve ever experienced in any continental U.S. state. There is an entire “aloha grown” movement supporting the backyard revolution and local crops. It is amazing and inspiring and gives me hope that this world is slowly moving back towards what has kept us alive for thousands of years – farming and growing our food, instead of processing and genetically modifying it. If anything, when it comes to agriculture, we’re more advanced than the rest of the U.S., and by no means less “civilized”.

4) Aloha. Aloha is everythingIt’s why I stay. It’s healed my heart. It’s given me hope. It’s not just a “hello” and a “good-bye”. It’s a spirit. It’s a vibration. Read this postcard I found last weekend in a Hilo coffee shop selling Hawaiian-grown coffee and cocoa.

IMG_5242I need you to understand that it’s not weird to say aloha to everyone you meet. Aloha is the spirit and the hope that this world needs more of.

5) It’s expensive here. Food is shipped in, so cereals and meats are normally the same price as the grocery stores in NYC. The cost of living is high – electricity is obscene, gas is sometimes $4.88 a gallon, and restaurants have to keep their costs high or they’ll never survive. Hawaii Gas pricesHowever, most of us are still happy, grateful, optimistic people despite the financial sacrifices. Paying these prices in the middle of winter in a major city while trudging through the snow can be depressing. Paying these prices all year round while driving past the ocean and shopping at local farmer’s markets for apple-bananas – not so depressing. In fact, I’ve just completely gotten over it. Either I’m gonna pay an arm and a leg to live in a fifth floor two-window walk-up in Washington Heights, or I’m gonna pay an arm and a leg to live in town by the water where I can ride my bike to the coffee shop every day. I’ve happily accepted my fate without too much of a fight.

6) There are three terms used for people who live in Hawai’i. What I’ve come to learn, is that to be “Hawaiian”, a person has to have been born here and be of Hawaiian descent. To be a “local”, a person has to have been born here but doesn’t have to be of Hawaiian descent. Then there are people like me and Johnny, who moved here and now work here, and we are referred to as “kama’aina”. Which brings me to my important point: people who live in Hawai’i have to work to live here. We do not just pick coconuts and float in the turquoise bay all day long. I do not get to the beach every day. In fact, I haven’t been there for three weeks, even though I can see it from my kitchen. I do watch TV, and I do work five days a week, and I do have bad days, just like you. Hawai’i is a great place for a lot of reasons, but we are all still human. We have to deal with PMS, taxes, and traffic just like the rest of the world. Please do not tell us that our life is what everyone dreams of and we have no right to complain. It makes me want to send you moldy pineapple in the mail if the post office would let me send produce. Life is full of ups and downs no matter where you live on this planet. It’s just a little easier to get over when you live in a tropical place.

7) Speaking of moldy produce, let’s talk about that for a second. I seriously want to send everyone I know a care package. I want to send you mac nut butter and avocados and starfruit and jams and coffees and chocolates and banana breads. fivejarsdHowever, anyone who lives in Hawai’i eventually discovers that care packages will empty a wallet just as fast as a weekend shopping spree. We have to space out sending packages or we’ll be paying off credit card debt for the rest of our time on this earth. A small care package from Hawaii, even without produce (since we aren’t allowed to send any fruits or vegetables in the mail) costs me about $30-$40 before the $15 shipping costs. (Macadamia nuts run about $8.99 for 10 ounces, and a pound of Kona coffee can cost as much as $35.) Local products are well worth the money, but costly. I love you so much, so please know that just because you don’t get a wonderful Hawaiian care package from me, or anyone you know who lives in Hawai’i, does not mean that we do not love and appreciate you. Just wait your turn and eventually, you’ll be so grateful for your patience.

8) Hawai’i is really far away from everything, and everyone. If you are planning on visiting, it’s a fantastic, gorgeous, worth-every-penny getaway and vacation from everything you’re used to. However, if you are planning on moving here, I need you to seriously contemplate everything about moving here. We do not have an IKEA. We do not have a Trader Joe’s. And, we do not have an underground train to the mainland.american-mileage-run-map

Flights home to visit loved ones are expensive, and the jet lag is comparable to the hangover I used to get after a three day bender. Friends’ weddings become huge expenses. Holidays become a bit bittersweet and heavy with Skype dates and phone calls instead of family gatherings and home-baked cookies. Being away from your nearest and dearest while they are having babies, making their Broadway debuts, and celebrating their 40th birthday in New Orleans is REALLY REALLY HARD. I questioned my permanent move here for quite a few months until I really started settling in to my wonderful job and making new friends. It can be a wonderful new chapter in life, if you are completely ready for everything to change.

For me, the aloha and the nature and the spirit here has made my move mean a lot to me. I absolutely feel that at this point in my life, the Big Island of Hawai’i is where I am supposed to be. I am lucky enough to have incredibly supportive friends who mail me things from home and make time for me over FaceTime quite frequently, so I feel connected to them enough to make me feel like I can really handle living so far away. But all of these things are important for you to consider.

9) If you do visit, just for a week, or even for a month, please, for the love of all things beautiful in this world, take what you learned here home with you. Buy local. Be nice. Love people. Hug everyone. Take the aloha that you experienced here and carry it with you into your daily life. 



In conclusion, let me just say mahalo for loving me from wherever you are in the world. Mahalo, put simply, is gratitude. Mahalo for reaching out and asking me questions, and sometimes, making me giggle (out of love, I promise). I’m not teasing you, I’m just educating you. I swear. (Okay, yes, maybe the title of this post came from me wanting to tease some of you.) But hey, how could you possibly know these things if you’ve never visited?

Which brings me to number 10………

10) Visit Hawai’i. It is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Sure, the Florida Keys are great. The Caribbean is stunning. Europe is unbelievable. But there is something special here on these eight Hawaiian islands. 628x471And I personally think, experiences like the ones you will have here, are the reason we work for a living. The reason we save money. The reason we explore and travel. There is nothing like Hawai’i, for a variety of reasons, which I actually plan to write about even more in coming weeks.
From ancient lava to snow-capped mountains to sea turtles to papayas, we have things here that you just need to see to believe. Just know, that you will have the experience of a lifetime here if you try new things, meet new people, and really immerse yourself in the culture.

Come experience the aloha that has changed my life. You will never be the same. This video, of the humpback whales who invade our waters each winter, proves it. So dear friends, until we meet at the Kona coffee shop in what I hope is the near future, aloha, and have a great week.



Next week’s posting:

Finally, The Big Announcement I Keep Blabbing About!






This Is For Everyone. This Is Roar 2: The Celebration

Robyn Lawley, a plus-size model, recently interviewed on The Ellen Degeneres Show, and got a roaring round of applause when she told Ellen that she “loves her body.” My dream is to live in a world where we don’t feel a round of applause is necessary when someone says they love their body, because we’re all too busy nodding in agreement.

So I took a baby step toward making that dream a reality.

This is for anyone who’s ever bit their tongue and held their breath. For anyone who avoids full length mirrors. For anyone who has a daughter growing into a young woman. For anyone who’s been through it. For anyone who loves ice cream cake. For anyone who knows they’re sexy but is too embarrassed to let it shine. For anyone who needs one last reminder that it’s okay to be in love with who you are.

There are more people in this video that I have never met than there are personal friends. There are more brave people out there than we realize. There is more love in this video than you can possibly imagine. There is more power behind these masking taped words than we give them credit for.

Keep the celebration going. Share this with someone you love. Be the aloha you wish to see in the world. I recommend you watch this on a big screen, more than once, and sing along as loud as you wish. And keep…on…ROARING!


Ten Ways I’ve Learned to Hawaii-ify My Life

…and this is just the beginning, my loves. Look out for a bit of aloha every month from here on out – it’s about time this blog includes some sunshine!

Here we go!

Number 10: The minute I stopped wearing a bra, my boobs stood at attention again. (Don’t skip this one boys, you might need this one day when you’re much, much, much older.)

Somewhere in October, I looked in the mirror and noticed my nipples were staring right back at me – challenging me to a duel in the mirror. I haven’t seen my nipples since about 2008, so this is clearly a fabulous side effect of living in the rainforest.

Living in the jungle, we literally don’t want to be touched between the hours of 8am-4pm. The humidity makes everything cling to us, meaning if we could do all of our work naked all day long, we would (which is actually perfectly acceptable). However, our bodies would then become a feeding ground for fire ants, so, let’s just say, we’re all better off wearing minimal clothing to at least protect our most precious bits.

But somewhere around September, I started wearing all my tank tops sans a bra. I mean, I even cut out the sensible half-demi lace cami thing from Urban that I wore every day of the summer. And my boobs aren’t saggy anymore. Apparently, I’m told that when we cease to wear a Vicky’s Secret, our chest muscles engage and our boobies pop up to the surface for air… and don’t really go back! I assure you that whatever the science is behind it, it works. I have never loved my boobs more than I do since nixing the encasements and the underwires.

If the weight of your boobs won’t pull you face-first onto the kitchen floor if you let them hang free, then I really encourage you to try nixing the tittie cages. Whenever you can. Let the girls fly free – especially in the winter under those bulky scarves, sweaters, and hoodies! You’ll be amazed at the difference.

Bottom line: boobs love freedom. They will reward you if you let them free.

Number 9: Coconut oil cures everything.

Have a zit? Baby bit of coconut oil overnight. Dry hair? Coconut oil dousing pre-shampoo. Cold sore? Skip the Abreva, sub coconut oil. Add it to smoothies for a healthy dose of fat. Cook your eggs in it to eliminate any acid reflux or heartburn. Sub it for butter in baking. More uses here: Coconut Oil Tips. Bye.

Number 8: Fancy shit doesn’t make anyone look cool.

 If you saw the pieces of shit cars people drive around here, you’d think we live in some sort of Breaking Bad marathon. If you followed that same car home to the house where it resides, you’d think you walked into an episode of Hoarders. Then you’d meet the pitbull that lives there and wonder if you’re about to be lunch for him and his buddy. But if you stayed a minute, a Hawaiian dude covered in tattoos would probably come out and ask if you’re hungry for lunch. Not only are Hawaiians nice, they have different priorities than the rest of the country.

Hawaiians don’t spend a shit ton of money on shit that doesn’t matter. They spend their Sunday’s at the local beaches grilling burgers with their kids and their friends, they hit the surf right after work and live for the days that the swell is borderline tsunami warning, and they spread aloha all over town. They wear t-shirts to dinner, they wear one pair of slippas (flip-flops) until they wear them out, and their big shopping sprees only happen at Oshima Surf and Skate when they need a new bathing suit. And they’re like, the happiest fucking people I’ve ever met.

We can learn a lesson from them all. We don’t need fancy shit to be happy.

Number 7: Where your food comes from, actually matters.

The Big Island of Hawaii recently banned GMO’s – meaning that even though we can still find imported apples and lettuce in the stores, none of our farmers have to use any genetically modified organisms to grow their crops. The papayas here, on the Big island, are just Papayas. No mutations, no pesticides. There’s a passion fruit tree outside my front door and I guarantee you it’s been there since the beginning of time. Monsanto didn’t come in and put it there to please my nostrils with it’s sweet scent.

To learn more about GMO’s, read this: What are GMO’s?

At the end of the day, I understand if you could care less about GMO’s, because sometimes, ignorance is bliss. It gets overwhelming to think about how fucked up all the food is that we put in our bellies – especially if you’re anything like me and have spent years putting things into your body that could probably destroy a small vehicle with the chemicals and artificial colors inside. In my first blog post, I was nowhere near the point where caring about GMO’s was within my reach. I was just happy to keep a half-gallon of ice cream in the freezer for more than 24 hours.

But the point is, because I have the privilege of living in a place in a place that uses GMO-free products, I just wanted to share with you how I’ve noticed that I feel better. My two and a half week visit to NYC destroyed my stomach. I had heartburn every day – and I realized it’s because I’m not used to eating mutated food and non-organic produce.

Yes, I sound spoiled. Yes, organic costs more. But I’m just putting it simply, and telling you that I feel better. Everyone feels better here. Zantac doesn’t leave the shelves as fast as it does anywhere else. That’s gotta be saying something.

Number 6: Hitch-hiking can restore your faith in humanity. (Thanks for reminding me, Rachel.)

Not only can you leave your Macbook on the front seat of your (piece of shit) car with the doors unlocked and come back and find it untouched after a long stint of (GMO-free) grocery shopping here, but you can also pick up hitchhikers and ask them to hold the computer on their lap during the ride.

I’ve met amazing people by putting out my thumb and hopping in backseats, including my dear friend Matthew, and no one’s ever made me feel uncomfortable or unsafe. They’ve offered me fresh avocados from their house that they were taking to the market, a hit of their pipe (tobacco…of course), and advice on how to find the best beaches that aren’t in the guidebooks.

My point? Maybe you can’t hitchhike in Philly or Detroit, but I share this in hopes that you find a tiny bit of hope in the fact that there still are places in the world where people are good, honest, and generous. Each time we get overwhelmed by the news and the shitstorm we call the media, we can all try to remember that the spirit of aloha is being transported all over the islands, and beyond. Please be assured that the entire population of the planet isn’t going to hell.

Number 5: E ho mai, bitches. (Ay-hoe-my, bitch-izz.)

The simplest meaning of “e ho mai” is “let it come, let it flow.” Hawaiian wisdom that is ancient, valuable, and downright necessary in this day and age.

It teaches us to let the wave crash, and watch it roll away. Let the rain come, and watch the rainbow after the storm. Observe the hardship, and celebrate the lesson afterwards.

Sounds like hippie shit, I know, but like, c’mon, you know me. I’m a skeptic with a cynical tongue designed by the likes of Chelsea Handler herself. When I say some Hawaiian hippie shit saves me daily, I beg you to consider listening.

When I get overwhelmed, or pissed, or just inappropriately whiny, I have to take responsibility for myself. It’s better for everyone if I can get back to a place where I can reason with the universe, or my ego, or the driver going ten miles under the speed limit in front of me. I could flip Mr. Tourist Car off, or I could breathe the Hawaiian version of “woo-sah”: E ho mai.

Let it come, let it flow.

Just try throwing it into your vocab this week a few times, or Googling it’s origins on your lunch break. See how you feel. It’s tattoo-worthy, vision-board gold, and greeting card advice that could save the next five generations.

We chanted this every single Monday morning at Kalani (the yoga retreat I lived at for 3.5 months):

E ho mai i ka ‘ike mai luna mai e
O na mea huna no’eau o na mele e
E ho mai, e ho mai, e ho mai
Give forth knowledge from above
Every little bit of wisdom contained in song
Give forth, give forth, oh give forth

Number 4: Sleep is not just for pussies.

Sleep is the fourth thing on every Hawaiian’s list of “Awesome Things”. It goes:

1. Surfing

2. Loco Moco

3. Aloha Friday

4. Sleeping

They call 10pm here “Puna midnight.” Puna is a section of the island where a lot of kambucha lovers, feather jewelry designers, and ecstatic dance (aka hippie church) adorers reside. That’s where I lived for the first three and a half months on the island. People go to bed at ten and get up with the sun. That means we are getting anywhere from 8-10 hours of sleep every night.

Sometimes, Johnny and I would pass out at 8:30pm and sleep til 7am the next morning. It’s just, a thing here. People sleep. And they are fucking chipper as fuck the next morning and don’t need coffee to say “aloha”. Oh, and everyone is healthy. Like, the most healthy. Women don’t need concealer under their eyes. Men do still like naps here. but I think that’s just a thing that men will never get over.

I have never felt more rested and more “with it” than I do while I am here. I am also obsessed with my mornings. Not only do I need less coffee to come to life, but I am awake early enough to FaceTime or Skype with my peeps on the East coast since I’m five hours behind. I realize that it’s mean to keep going on and on about the sunshine at 7am when the winters on the east coast are…the tiniest bit different, so I just want to say, that more sleep equals better quality of life.

Look, I know audition season is coming. Sleep is a distant dream during the upcoming months. But I just wanted to give a gentle reminder that it does help with health, metabolism, and keeping depression at bay – more so than martinis, even though we don’t want to face the facts. Every once and a while, it’s okay to fake a cough and stay home for an early bedtime. The worst thing you’ll get called is an old fart, and like, it could be worse. (This advice could have saved me a lot of grief the past five years.)

Number 3: Enough with the fucking chemicals.

Lysol and Windex are things of the past, people. Get on board with the natural disinfectant – white vinegar. That’s right. That shit we use to make Easter egg dye actually disinfects the toilet, too. Everyone here uses a 50/50 blend of white vinegar and water and rags, honey. Enough with the wasteful paper towels. Reuse all your holy jeans and ugly tees and wash ’em in hot, reserve ’em for cleaning. Bada bing. Bada boom.

Number 2: All bodies are awesome (the best one).

A year ago, I would have NEVER, EVER agreed to a photo shoot on the beach – even at thirty-five pounds lighter than I am right now. My body wasn’t “perfect” enough to blast all over the net. So imagine my old self’s surprise at this series of pictures:


The reason these snapshots are okay with my new self? I’m a recovering binge-eater and I live in Hawaii. Do you think Hawaiians give a shit about their bellies hanging over their swimming trunks? They live in Hawaii. They don’t care. They don’t buy Self and Glamour so they don’t know what they’re “supposed” to look like. They live, in Hawaii. Having a few extra things jiggle while they’re teaching their kids how to surf isn’t making or breaking their week.

I have never seen sexier men and women than I have since moving to Hawaii and I have seen all kinds of body shapes. These women don’t CARE that there’s more skin hanging out than Cosmo would allow. Their bikini bottoms cover the bare minimum and they walk around proud, loud, and sexy as fuck. They inspire me. I am learning to continuously love what I have, and in turn, I feel sexy as fuck, even though I have some jiggle-worthy parts in between bikini top and bottom. These Hawaiian women know what’s up. I wish I could take their confidence and spread it all over the world to women and men in need of a dose. Until I learn how to do that, all I can continue to share what I keep learning here in this always-inspiring culture.

Which brings me to number 1 on the list…

Number 1: Ohana. (This is actually the best one. I lied about number 2. Because I didn’t write this one. My ohana – my Hawaiian sister, Rachel did. From the heart, she tells it like it is. Remind you of someone?)

Ohana = Family

Ohana is the Hawaiian word for “family”. But the concept of family in Hawaii is much different than that on the mainland. You see, in Hawaii, family is not solely based on your bloodline or marriage certificate. Here, everyone is family.

There’s a lesson I learned during the opening remarks of ecstatic dance one week (again with the hippie church, don’t worry, we’ll explain it to you soon). The facilitator, Lino, spoke about dolphins. He pointed out that we love dolphins for no reason at all. Think about it. They aren’t really that cute with all that gray blubber… they don’t do anything for us… we can’t eat them… but everyone loves dolphins. Like, everyone. FOR NO REASON AT ALL. He then asked, why can’t we do that with people? Why can’t we look at a stranger, and, just, love them? Instead of judging them and focusing on their flaws, just love them. Like family. Like our ohana.

After that lesson from Lino, I started to look at everyone at the yoga retreat like they were family. Even the ones who irritated me and cut in front of me in the lunch line. Even the ones I didn’t think liked me. I walked around like I had 150 brothers, sisters, cousins & crazy uncles. And it totally changed my perspective.

Think about it like this. We all have have “that relative” right? Aunt Oh-Jesus-what’s-going-to-come-out-of-her-mouth-at-the-Thanksgiving-dinner-table and Uncle If-I-have-to-hear-the-story-about-your-gall-bladder-surgery-one-more-time and don’t forget Grandma-Guilt-Trip.

But we excuse them AND their flaws. We don’t write them off. We show them patience. We don’t stress as much about they’re imperfections. We give them the benefit of the doubt. Because they’re family. They’re our ohana.

I dare you to try to look at strangers in the same light. Focus on their good. Love them for no reason at all. Carry the ohana attitude with you. Like Lilo says in Lilo & Stitch (ugh, such a good movie don’t even try to argue):


“Ohana means family. And family means no one ever gets left behind. Or forgotten.”

With love from the Big Island (and beyond),
Amanda, and newest addition to the blog fam, Rachel Brannen
Rachel Brannen has been called the funniest woman in the state of Ohio (by her mother). Her strengths include creating envy-worthy Pinterest boards and utilizing social media for stalking purposes. She can also juggle. Stay tuned for her monthly guest blog post on how to incorporate more aloha into YOUR life. If anyone knows how to do it, it’s Rachel – the girl who took Hawaii home with her to Ohio. This is gonna be good, y’all.