I'm doing "final" rewrites on my Hawaii book. It's a fictional account of a boy who's sent to the Kalaupapa leprosy settlement on Molokai. I've been researching this thing since before the turn of the century. And writing and rewriting and researching some more. Research trips to Hawaii are not a bad thing, by the way! Pricey though, so I only did one.
Anyway I'm always hungry for more information about the settlement. Awhile back I ordered Gifts From the Shore: a kalaupapa diary by Roberta Jarrett. Roberta is a nurse who worked in Kalaupapa for a year back in 1989-90. I just loved this book which captures so well the spirit of the place and which honors the lives of those former patients who were never allowed to leave and also those who choose to remain there.
I was struggling with certain details that I needed for my last minute revisions so I pulled Gifts From the Shore out again and began to read. Wow! It was so cool to have Roberta's description of the geography and the mood of that place. (So many of the historical accounts focus on other aspects of the story so I wanted details that I could only get by going there and staying for awhile which I am not allowed to do!)
Since my story took place more than 100 years before Roberta's experience some aspects of the landscape, foilage, etc won't work for me. But some will not have changed. Her description of the hike to Waikolu Valley where my character went to get water is the absolutely most vivid one I've seen! That alone was worth the price of the book!
Part of me is so envious of Roberta for spending so much time in that amazing place. I would love to walk the land, explore the lava tubes, climb down into the crater, meditate, weep and pray in that place. But it is sacred territory and I have not earned the right.
In 2000 my daughter, a friend, and I hiked down the formidable sea cliffs in back of the Kalaupapa Peninsula. We took the guided tour. I do hate guided tours. I always want to slip beneath the ropes to off-limits places. I dearly love to explore.
I hope someday, somehow, I can spend some time roaming the peninsula. For such an opportunity I could seriously swap out some scrubbing or painting or yard work in the village!
Meanwhile I have some great photographs, a shelf full of book, and a novel on the way.
A few great Kalaupapa resources
The Lands of Father Damien by James H. Brocker (fabulous book!)
An Uncommon Kindness - documentary narrated by Robin Williams
Kalaupapa National Historical Park (website)