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The Toki Ponist on the Mountain
Chapter 9: Dream castles

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September 2020

Kalisa rubbed the palms of her hands together. It brought her back to her hut, where she sat down with mother and rolled small balls of herb leaves that would dry in the sun the next day and used to grate over food for taste. Thinking of the past became living in the past and away from the vast emptiness of the sea.

That afternoon, before returning to her hut and mother, Kalisa had found two lengths of rope between the fishing boats. This surprised her because they were usually quite picky about leaving things the way they were before. The ropes were still wet and so they were rather heavy to carry around the island. Kalisa was on a mission, though. And missions effortlessly take effort. That’s half the fun. She dragged the rope to a nearby tree and dropped it on the grassy sand. The spot overlooked the beach and would also provide a pleasant location for watching the sun set into the ocean.

Kalisa had spent a good deal of the day collecting a whole range of twigs and wooden sticks. She sat down in the sand and began sorting the wood in length and usefulness. She ended up with a neat bunch of twigs and sticks, and she bound them together with the rope. One rope on either end of the bunch of branches. Then she tossed the ropes over a low hanging branch and bound the end of the rope to the branches, creating a seat for herself on which she could sit to admire the view and think of what she would do the next day.

jan lili mi o toki e mi,” talk to me, child, a voice said nearby. Kalisa startled and turned around. From the other side of the wide tree, the friendly face of Old Kopa, appeared.

“Kopa!” Kalisa said, “I didn’t see you coming.”

“I was sitting here all along, my dear. I am resting in the shade of this tree and spending time with those I love.”

“We all miss jan Potako-suli.”

“Potako-suli was my love on this island, but I was not with him this afternoon.”

Kopa’s smile was as cheeky as a three-year-old’s. Kalisa loved talking to old Kopa, because she would surprise her every time with what she would say. She could predict what most of the villagers said. If she could predict so easily what people said, why did they even bother saying it. There was nothing to learn from that.

“Who were you thinking about then, Kopa?”

“It is funny, my dear. But I do not know his name, or if he has a name at all. We never use words to communicate with each other.”

“What do you do together?”

“We nourish the bond we have, that is all. It is like replenishing yourself with water from the spring after a hard day’s work.

pona,” Kalisa said. She looked up in the sky and saw a few clouds move over her head. Some things Kopa talked about were as far away from her as those clouds up in the sky. Many villagers called her a crazy old bat. Endearingly, of course, but it still bothered Kalisa.

“The word we,” Kopa said. “That describes the bond I have with him.”

we is not a word, Kopa”, Kalisa said. “Don’t let mami hear you say it.”

Kopa nodded. “There is no we. There are only mi and sina. I use mi for how I see things and I use sina for how you see things. You can talk about mi en sina to add up the two perspectives into a single more complete unit. But there is no we, nothing that truly joins the two and melts it together. We can say mi mute, which means multiple mi and therefore more of my own perspective, but then you ignore the other, sina.”

“I don’t understand, Kopa,” Kalisa said while scratching away an itch in her hair. “But that’s fine.”

“If you understand something, how impossible is it to imagine that someone else cannot see it. But enough about my friend. Let’s talk about you. Have you finally given in to the call to go on your nasin telo?”

jan Kopa-suli! You know I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Child. I know that you are the only person in your age group and that you will have to make the trip on your own. I know it must be scary. But at the same time, it is paramount that you go. You love our traditions, then also respect this one, because without it the rest is meaningless.”

Kalisa protested, but Old Kopa would not give up and told Kalisa every detail about the tradition. Kalisa was only half listening and continued to bob forth and back on her makeshift tree-swing. Why did she not want to hear these stories when she hung on the lips of Old Kopa when she told all the other stories?

“Old Kopa, when I am free here on the island and safe. Why would I give that up to be unsafe and unfree to go where I want on a small raft on the big ocean?”

“That seems odd, does it not? You ask the right questions. Now tell me this, how does it appear that you ask these questions and the other children do not? Why do the other children not complain when it is time to visit the generation forests to cut their birth trees and build their rafts? Why are you so hesitant to leave, you think?”

“I don’t know. I am just crazy. And stupid. And silly. But I can’t help it. This is what I feel.”

“My dear, you are on a rope and I am not talking about the swing. You are being pulled, but the big question is who is on the other side of the rope doing the pulling?”

Old Kopa stood up and carefully dusting off the loose sand from the frills of her colorful garment. She took a few steps towards Kalisa on her swing, putting her hands on Kalisa’s shoulders.

“There are two ways that you can help someone. When Old Potako saw that little Dilan was sad, he went to the fields and spent a good hour to find the plumpest loje-fruit in the entire field. Popo peeled it and removed the spiky seeds and then returned to Dilan to make him happy with this delicious feast. Do you remember what Dilan did?”

“He flung the fruit into the campfire. Potako got furious and called Dilan an ungrateful brat. You’ve told me this before, Old Kopa, and I know I need to be grateful for what the Elders give us.”

“No, no, no,” Old Kopa said. “This is not the point I want to make. Not today at least.”

Old Kopa put her hands against Kalisa’s back and started pushing her forward. She chuckles a bit before continuing.

“What I mean is that Old Potako tried to help Dilan become less sad. He looked at Dilan and decided what would be best for him. We will never know what really bothered Dilan. Not until he comes back from his nasin telo. What I do know is that Dilan hates loje-fruit. Old Potako really wanted to help, but the initiative was his, the helping act was his and if Dilan would become happy, the trophy for the help was also mostly for Old Potako. I loved him, he was caring and had his heart in the right place. But he was the kind of helper that loved to help and give help and feel helpful, regardless of whether anyone was actually helped by him.”

Old Kopa stopped pushing Kalisa and leaned against the tree while Kalisa steadily slowed down.

“Now the other form of help is simpler. When you spot someone that you think needs help. Be around to give it to them. Be sure to listen. When you are asked to do something that helps that person out, do it if you can and then stop. Sometimes, though, you are asked to help with something and you just know this is not the right thing for that person. What if someone asks you to fetch wet driftwood from the beach so he can make a fire?”

“Old Kopa?”


“Can you push me again?”

“Yes, I can. Stretch your legs forward! Now swing them under your butt. And now forward again.”

Old Kopa continued her instructions for a while until Kalisa swung back and forth at great speed to her own amazement and joy. Kopa was also smiling radiantly, probably thinking back to when she was young and enjoyed the wind and weightless feeling in her stomach of a good old rump on a swing.

“Sometimes you just need help, but different help than you think. Sometimes you help someone without knowing it, sometimes you are being helped without noticing it. You are smart, Kalisa. Now, I blame your know-it-all parents for that, in most part. But I also believe your subtle friend is helping you.”

“My what?”

“When I travel with my subtle friend, I change. Tell me, Kalisa, because I am curious just like you. Who are you traveling with in your dreams?”

“Nobody, I dream of mami and friends and about the birds.”

“Curious. Your subtle friend is helping you without him knowing it, and you may be helping him without you knowing it. You are both attached to a rope, trying to walk away from each other.”

Kopa Suli walks around the swing to look Kalisa in the eyes. “Kalisa, you must go on the nasin telo. It will be a joy for the rest of your life.”

“But what if don’t want to? I am happy just the way I am now.”

“Then what if I say, that your life, and your friends’, and that of our entire island depends on you going on that trip?”

“Then I am saying you are going through a whole lot of trouble to make me feel bad. You say I will die if I don’t go when at the same time you want to send me off to almost certain death on a shabby raft.”

Kalisa tried to avoid eye contact by looking past Old Kopa towards the beach. There, a small boy was building towers in the sand and then dug a moat around the tower that filled with water but protected the tower at the same time.

Dusk set in. Is the moat protecting the tower or keeping it from expanding? Kalisa was no longer sure whether the island she loved so much was protecting her or keeping her stuck, like the villagers talking their predictive talk. Almost everybody that has left for nasin telo had returned, and Kalisa had no reason to think she would not return. But the force keeping her here is an anchor dropping from the heart and stomach into the soil below. After the conversation with Old Kopa, Kalisa had become afraid though.

“Seeing is creating,” Kopa had said. “In your dreams, you create a world by experiencing it. It has its own set of rules different from the waking world. It may appear to not have any rules at all. Just like sand castles on the beach can turn into a prison, so your dreams can become a prison. Don’t get caught in a dream castle you can never escape from. Seek help and be help, before you find yourself on your own in a place you can never leave.”

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