Monday, January 19, 2015

Interview with a Character 3

Kai Napunoa

Not the greatest art, but here's Kai!
I'm finally ready to introduce one of my characters from my newest novel. Thirteen-year-old Kai Napunoa lives in a plantation camp on the island of Maui. He is a curious kid who would rather go exploring instead of going to school. Living on an island might sound boring, but with a creative mind like Kai's, every day can be an adventure!

JH: Hello Kai, it is a pleasure to meet you, I am excited to have a conversation with you!

Kai: Um, yeah, hi. (Fidgets in seat.)

JH: In your world, 1930's Hawaii has advanced steam energy. Can you tell me what it's like?

Kai: Well, we have steam buses and trains, and all the plantations run on steam power. There's electricity and oil, but those are really expensive. 

JH: Why is steam cheaper? Don't you need coal or oil to make steam?

Kai: No, most of what we burn to make steam comes from sugar cane. The islands have other things we can use to make energy. We use the sun, wind, and water to make things run.

JH: Oh, that sounds interesting! Do you know how it all works?

Kai: Sort of, but my dad would know more. He's an engineer for the Wailuku Sugar Mill and keeps things going. But mostly he keeps the ditches that collect water for the mill from taking too much away from the rivers. If too much water is taken from the streams, the sugar mill gets in trouble. It's a law that the rivers and streams cannot run dry.

JH: Hawaii still has a monarchy. Have you met the queen?  

Kai: I did. When I was five I think. I don’t really remember her, but my mom works for her. She took me to Lahaina one day and the Queen was there. I got to sit on her lap. Nice lady.

JH: What does your mom do for the Queen?

Kai: My mom takes care of the palace in Lahaina. She makes sure it is always ready for the Queen. It doesn't sound like much, but she makes sure there is enough security and when tourist come to see the palace there is someone there to do a tour. Sometimes, if the queen comes for a visit, my mom has to stay overnight. But most of the time, she catches the 6am train and comes home on the 6pm train.

JH: And what is it like growing up on a sugar plantation?

Kai: You eat, breathe, and sleep sugar cane. It surrounds the camp, and it gets smokey when the fields are burning. My family doesn't work in the fields, but I have friends who have family that do. Hard work. After school I sometimes help my dad with the ditches. We don’t have many families left at Mango Tree, that's the name of our camp. The workers moved into nearby Pu'ualoa Village. Only the engineers and lono live in Mango Tree. Lono are what we call the managers and supervisors at the mill. We own our property. The village is owned by the plantation. I think that’s why some of my school mates don’t like me, because they think we're richer since we have land. But that isn't true.

JH: What is school like?

Kai: I don’t like school, I think it’s dumb. I know all the math stuff already, and I hate writing and the only things I read are for building and maintaining stuff. But this is my last year of required school. My mom wants me to go on to high school, but I don’t want to. I’d rather help my dad as an apprentice. I go to Wailuku Intermediate. I take a jitney to school from nearby Pu'ualoa Village.

JH: What is a jitney?

Kai: It's like a bus, but it's open in the back and it has a regular route, but not regular stops. You kind of have to flag it down or it won't stop for you.

JH: What do you do for fun?  

Kai: I like to mess around with the leftover mechanics my dad brings home from the plantation. I built a pair of steam skates, see, check these out! (Holds up a pair of chunky boots with wheels and some kind of mechanism attached.) And my dad made me a metal penguin that moves. I also like to go exploring up above the Waihe'e ditch. And I’ll go into Wailuku town with my family or my friends and play at the park. Sometimes my family and I go swimming.

JH: Where do you go swimming?

Kai: Most of the time I play in the Wailuku stream up in I'ao valley. If we have a long weekend in the summer, we’ll go to Kihei or Lahaina and spend all day there at the beach. We go super early so we beat the tourists, and then we bring lunch and snacks, and my mom packs a shelter that my dad and I built to make shade when it gets too hot. Then we leave as the sun goes down. We use our car to take these longer trips because it's not always convenient to take the train or bus. Our car runs on biofuel. The mills produce sugar and leave behind the pulpy stuff, begasse. My dad figured out a way to use the leftovers to make the car go!

JH: Wow, your dad is super smart! Would you say he's your greatest influence?

Kai: Well, I don’t know. I mean, my dad is cool because he makes things work. But my mom…she’s kinda scary, but she has an important job and I’m proud of her. My grandpa’s scary too. He teaches me kendo and sometimes I’m afraid to practice. But he teaches me all sorts of stuff through kendo to make me better.

JH: Why is your mom scary?

Kai: She knows kendo, too, and sometimes if you ever watch her, well, I would not want to be her sparring partner. She beats up the dummy that Grandpa built her. 

JH: Well, she does sound a little scary! But your family and plantation life sounds exciting. Thank you so much for talking with me, I'll let you get back to trying out your steam skates!

Kai: 'Kay, thank you, too. Bye!

And there he goes, steam skates sputtering as he rolls uncontrollably out the door, arms flailing...uh.oh. Anyway, I hope you found my interview as interesting and insightful as I did. I am excited to know more about Mango Tree Camp and the technology of this time!