Latest edition – just out!! Editorial: Voyaging by Dina El Dessouky

And there I sat under a lone willow on the Treasure Island rock pilings, watching ships roll through the San Francisco Bay, wonder and dreams welling up in my eyes. Dear Otis, what inspired you on that August 1967 day, “sitting on the dock of the bay?”

August 6, 2011. Beside me, young Bay Area boys strum ukulele melodies. Samoan aunties sing, waving fat, delicate hands and strong lava-lava covered hips to Pasifika beats bumping out of the PA system. Drew Vai’s poetry bounces off the walls of old buildings once used for U.S. nuclear decontamination training. And all the while, estuary waters keep time, composing new hymns influenced by shifting topography and chemical composition, changing relationships with local inhabitants. Feathered, warm-blooded, opposable thumbed, amoebic, spineless, erect, four-legged, conscious. The deep rooted and the spawning, proliferating spores and unseen anima: they too are present. Those living pack a broad spectrum of poisons in their tissue. In the imported stone crevices supporting my achy feet dwells an assortment of weathered and new residents: plastic bags half covered in dirt, photo-degraded plastic bottles, bits and pieces of red and yellow plastic debris, a freshly soiled plastic fork. Key word: plastic. And the occasional cigarette butt. Correction: upon closer look, a ubiquity of cigarette butts, many stripped down to their bleached filters. And yet, rhythm and energy continue to flow here, joyful and light.

In fourth grade, my class embarked on a one day educational exploration boat in this very bay. The docents explained to our group of squealing, fart joke-making youngsters that the San Francisco Bay is also an ‘estuary’: a basin where salt and fresh water meet, a nursery for various marine species.

Twenty-two years later, I see that humans too can be nursed in estuaries, prepped for the countless challenges and adventures which await them on high seas. From one vantage point smack dab in the middle of this estuary, at the cleavage of Turtle Island (a.k.a. ‘America’) and the huge, watery continent of Oceania (a.k.a. the Pacific), each of the four directions narrates a chapter in the great Pacific regional epic.

West: ocean. A limitless expanse where the sun and the spirits of the living wander off from exhaustion. When the evening fog crawls in to cloak the setting sun in a champagne mist, its breath wraps around Alcatraz Island. Alcatraz was not always a prison. It was once Yelamu. Yelamu, the baby Turtle who cried out to her first kin in 1969 to set her mother free. Yelamu who annually calls her growing family to pray together—at the dawn of each ‘Columbus’ and ‘Thanksgiving’ Day—for that big Red star to continue rising.

North: Angel Island. We ran along the tall, rolling grasses as children one morning on a school field trip. We giggled; we searched for squirrels and deer. And then we arrived at those old fortifications. The “Immigration Station,” a detention center. Detention at school meant you were being punished for doing something bad. That’s when we were hit by a dark stillness, broken only by the movement of tears down my friend’s face as her fingertips traced across the Chinese characters her grandfather had etched into the wall during his incarceration. His story was one out of a million.

East: Oakland. The feet of your burnt golden hills seed radical oppositions: consumer and protester, rich and poor, carcinogenic and organic, Occupier and Decolonizer. Those ships Otis sung about? They dock at the port here, loading and unloading useless and essential goods which continue along their own land/sea journeys.

South: waka gliding. Waka, the traditional double-hulled voyaging canoes of various ocean peoples, come to grace Ohlone and Miwok waters. From each nodal point in the vast pool to the West, the Pacific Voyagers emerged, seven waka strong. This was not a Spanish flotilla come to missionize. But they did have a mission: reunite Indigenous affinities, and reach out to those members of extended family sharing a deep concern for gyres, climate change, nuclear fallout, and overfishing.[1]

Uncle Maka—the Kanaka Maoli elder with whom I sought to reunite—had joined the Gaualofa voyage to the Americas. Only a day after its arrival, the Samoan Gaualofa canoe cruised back and forth repeatedly, ferrying an endless line of local community members who relished the unique opportunity to sail through the San Francisco Bay upon replicas of millennia old Polynesian seafaring vessels. Maka remained on board to make their dreams come true.

My chances of getting through the thick crowd and onto the Gaualofa to visit Maka were slim. But the distinctive aqua blue and white geometric pattern of one Gaualofa crew member’s jersey caught my eye.

“Excuse me…where might I find Atwood Makanani?”

The gentleman smiled. Word had spread quickly that Maka had visitors.

“Oh, you’re friends with Maka, the Hawaiian old-timer.”

“Yes! What is your name?

“Fa‘apau.”

“Dina. Nice to meet you.”

We discussed how good reading material eased the more monotonous stretches of transoceanic voyages. I sensed that Fa‘apau and his crew members might enjoy Kurungabaa, and presented the Gaualofa with a copy of 3:2. Fa‘apau expressed intrigue at the sight of the huge whale eye staring back at him from the journal’s wispy paper cover. He promised to deliver my greetings to Maka, and to share the issue with his crew.

I still wonder if the Pelican—our little ‘Baa—is out there somewhere, sliding up and down the rolling backs of massive swells with the Pacific Voyagers, through maelstroms and doldrums alike, its cellulose fibers absorbing the great stories spoken and felt through the salty air around it, all while it shares a few fine stories of its own.

 

The object which rests in your hands or on the sanded and varnished remains of a felled tree from the Philippine rainforest—the coffee-stained object which we hope won’t become toilet paper during lonely bowel sojourns in the loo—is from the sea. Like water, it tells stories. It conjures them, lives through them, records and shares them, and eventually sends them off, where they travel to places beyond your wildest imagination.


[1] Please see www.pacificvoyagers.org to learn more about the voyages, cultural responsibilities, and environmental education projects of the Pacific Voyagers.

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