In praise of “Coconut Ratz & Kung Fu Cowboys”
Most of my waking hours are spent absorbing the rays of a computer or cell phone screen, with the Pacific Ocean behind me, sandwiched between concrete and clouds.
Most of my thoughts are concerns that range from deteriorating my posture to transparency from government officials, my next deadline, ice cream beckoning me from the freezer, to recyclables going to landfill.
I’m worried about the loud noise the washing machine has started to make again. I worry about having enough money to cover my bills. I am concerned about what happens to people who have only been housed for a year because of the moratorium on evictions. I’m worried about putting on enough sunscreen.
These worries come and go. A professional risk of living as a working class citizen in America in 2021.
But recently, I found respite and perspective in the pages of Joakim “Jojo” Peter’s book, “Coconut Ratz & Kung Fu Cowboys: Tales of a Pacific Islander’s Childhood”. As part of my delayed (or should I say ongoing?) Participation in the #PasifikaReadathonChallenge, I bought the book and lately have been bathing in Ettal’s memories of Peter.
Her childhood, helping her grandfather fish and work in taro, go to church and school, and catch dragonflies with locks of hair, feels like a life even my older brothers lived. being children.
For most of us, life as children was a much simpler time and in the case of Ettal’s children in the 1960s, at least as Peter describes it, life was idyllic.
Peter, who got his PhD, and Jim Skouge did a great job captivating life on Ettal. I am ready to book a flight and a boat trip to settle in.
I have long amused myself by survival TV shows, even tempted to exist without Wi-Fi. (Although I was also quick to announce that I would be among the first victims of a zombie apocalypse, because who wants to live without Wi-Fi?)
However, it’s less about Wi-Fi. I almost find myself yearning for Peter’s youth. As he describes in “Coconut Ratz & Kung Fu Cowboys”, a fisherman’s surplus catch is not for sale, it must be shared. The people of the island pray together, heal themselves and deliver justice in a way that rehabilitates the offender and restores what is lost to the victim.
Peter remembers a time when he and his friends inadvertently burned down the roof of a woman’s kitchen in a dragonfly accident. Residents jumped with an assembly line of buckets to put out the blaze. Peter and his sidekicks, the delinquents, were tasked with rebuilding the woman’s roof.
I enjoyed every story, but this part of “Coconut Ratz” is probably my favorite part. I don’t know of a better way that these English words have ever been tied together: “Grandpa never motivated us to aspire to be ‘Number One’ – it was always about sacrificing yourself for the group; promote the well-being of the community; remember our ancestors; and respecting social norms.
It is common in our island cultures. I wonder how this feeling, which I also absorbed growing up, matches modern values. How does this sentiment align with recent efforts to set boundaries and implement self-care practices in support of mental health?
I do not want to dissuade these practices. I just want to ask myself. What would personal care for Coconut Ratz and Kung Fu Cowboys look like?
I haven’t finished reading the book and part of me doesn’t want to turn the last page. Peter has since passed away and I find him alive in this book, which is good because I’ve never met him in person. It would be a shame to leave the peaceful shores of Peter’s Ettal to return to my perch on the World Wide Web.
Jasmine Stole Weiss is a Micronesian freelance writer who worries about Wi-Fi in Guam. She writes more about it in her newsletter, The Husk, at thehusk.substack.com. Send your comments to [email protected]