The Hawaiian Ritual Of ‘Fertile Fridays’

Susan Page
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Wednesday - May 12, 2010
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Hope Parks of North Carolina had no idea that she’d be facing such a language barrier when her plane touched down in the Islands. Turns out speaking English is a relative term.

Parks, a lay minister, was keynote speaker at First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu’s annual women’s retreat a couple of weekends ago. It was held at St. Stephen Diocesan Center nestled in the Koolaus just off the Pali and was attended by about 65 mostly local women and one or two frequent Isle visitors.

During the four different sessions in which she spoke, she often had us bent over in laughter, mostly from her stories of miscommunication. One was a request she made that left her local hosts wondering what to do.

“Do you think there’s a chance I could see the leprechaun? Everybody says I should see the leprechaun.” At a loss, her hosts wondered if she could be talking about the menehune. How do we explain that they’re just a legend and not around to be visited?

Hope Parks of North Carolina had no idea that she’d be facing such a language barrier when her plane touched down in the Islands. Turns out speaking English is a relative term.

As it turned out, what sounded like “leprechaun” to Hawaii English speakers was actually “leper colony” to Southern English speakers. She wanted to go to Kalaupapa.

And it wasn’t until the last session that she realized she had completely misunderstood why some of the attendees (who also happened to be public school teachers) could make this retreat as opposed to past years. What in the heck was fertile Friday? she thought. For three days, Parks pondered over how it might be some kind of ancient native Hawaiian ritual that has carried over to today.

Curious, she finally asked someone to explain this fertility practice done on Fridays and was informed that it wasn’t fertile Friday, it was furlough Friday, at which point she let out whoops of laughter, drawling, “Ya’ll I thought everbody was sayin’ fertile Friday. I just had no idea what that could possibly mean!”

It was a very funny reminder of how, though all Americans, we sometimes we need an English language translator.

After the retreat, I kept laughing and thinking about fertile Friday. I went to my thesaurus and looked up the word “fertile.” What came up were: lush, productive, abundant, rich and fruitful. Then I clicked those words and found bountiful, prolific, industrious, creative, useful, constructive, beneficial and positive.

The teachers I talked to at the retreat have mixed emotions about furlough Fridays. On the one hand, they feel for the students. They are teachers first, and their students are their priority. On the other hand, many have ended up actually making that extra day off very “fertile” indeed, applying not the dictionary definition of “producing many offspring” but another: creative, readily able to produce new ideas.

Some teachers are tutoring, some have more time to plan creatively for their classrooms, some are finding it easier to exercise and get healthy, and some are just enjoying a long weekend.

The DOE is facing budget cuts of $473.7 million over two years (school years 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, union ratified March 12, 2010) and furloughing teachers for 33 Fridays during this and the next school year has been a highly controversial plan. Parents are upset, teachers are worried, taxpayers feel burdened and no one seems to find anything good in it. But Parks’ message during our women’s retreat was one of finding hope in all things.

Parks may have heard furlough Friday wrong, but she may have given us something to think about. How fertile can we be in creating fresh ways to make our state more productive and debt-free for the sake of our keiki?

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