Sunday, February 1, 2009

Ma Ma Loa

By A.J. Llewellyn

I rarely blog about my books and I never post excerpts in blogs, especially shared blogs. I put a lot of thought and effort into each and every blog, but since I am once again preparing to head to Hawaii in a few days, I felt it was important to talk about my new book Ma Ma Loa which was published by eXtasy Books today.
No, I am not going to post an excerpt and violate my own rules…but I do want to mention what inspired the idea. It’s one which has stayed with me since my visit to Hawaii last Spring when I went to the old Chinese cemetery in the Manoa Valley on the outskirts of Honolulu.
I was very depressed. One of my best friends had lost a painful battle with cancer. My beloved cat of fifteen years had also passed and my latest relationship was in trouble. I was feeling overwhelmed. I have no idea why I drove to the cemetery since I’d never been into it and whenever I went past it, I got chicken skin (goosebumps).
But I sat in my overheated rental car, pondering my next life move when I saw this procession of very old Chinese men and women emerging from brand new, shiny cars with brightly colored paper and plastic sacks full of…who knew what and the writer in me just had to find out.
Being a white guy, I thought I might have trouble blending in…but they didn’t seem surprised that a volunteer had shown up. I am a big volunteer in life. I give a lot of my time to an animal rescue group, my local library and a homeless shelter. This particular gig though was one which particularly intrigued me.
These old men and women were there to clean the graves of the Baby Section. I cannot describe the mingled sensation of loss and hope as they cleaned off the offerings left on graves - some over 200 years old. These were not their ancestors, but the graves of children otherwise forgotten on the island. They were the offspring of plantation workers brought to the islands under horrendous conditions, longterm contracts and a lot of local hostility.
The ring leader of the volunteers was an 82 year old woman with one tooth left in her head and an abundance of energry that would exhaust Serena Williams. Her name was Marianne.
She told me they came to tend the children once a month. They bring them flowers and candies. I was not allowed to set food inside the cemetery until I left a candy at the gates. I swear I heard the ghosts of those children as I stepped forward. And I sensed their excitement. I have always been attracted to the dead since my mother died when I was six. I suppose now I think of it, since I cannot visit her grave in Sydney, Australia, I am drawn to cemeteries as a way of connecting with her.
This experience though was something else…the Chinese men and women insisted that taking care of the dead is essential, since they watch over us. They left red papers and cloths on many of the graves, fruit, rice cakes, bao…and for the children, tons and tons of candy.
Marianne, liuke most who have suffered loss, knew I was hurting.
She came over and placed her hand on my chest. “You will see. You will grow another heart,” she said.
And she was right. I went back to Manoa at Christmastime and found a few of the old folk still there, attending Marianne’s funeral. It broke my heart to know she died, but I felt it was no mistake I’d arrived on this day…her send-off to the hereafter.
I like to think all her children were waiting for her, to reward her with playtime and laughter for never forgetting them.
Next weekend, I will go back and let her know she inspired Ma Ma Loa. That she lives on. And that her humble, unique way of giving back has inspired a light in me.

Aloha oe,