Welcome home, Rommel 

When Rommel Rodriguez arrived at the Lihue Airport Friday night after 27 hours of flying starting from Ecuador, he was greeted by fiance Randy Leonard with a giant hug and smile.

That was no surprise. After all, the island reunion of this couple was a year in the making. But what came next was.

As the two men stood together, a crowd of 25 people or so who at first glance seemed to be just waiting for their luggage in the baggage claim area suddenly gathered in front of them. Beaming, grinning, they started singing.

“Alle Alle Alle-luia. Alle Alle Alle-luia. Alle Alle Alle-luia. Alle-lu-ia!” they belted out, with drums and tamborines joining in.

And one by one, as the voices grew louder and startled visitors stopped to watch, the singers stepped forward to welcome Rodriguez with even more hugs, leis and kisses, too.

“Bright new mornings coming for you and me. Moving on together we shall be free. Bright new mornings coming for you and me,” they sang as the men watched.. “Alle-lu-ia!”

A minute later, song over, what was perhaps the first flash mob to perform at the Lihue Airport surrounded the couple. Leonard, translating for Rodriguez who doesn’t speak English, laughed as he said, “Loco. He says, crazy.”

At that, everyone laughed.

This wasn’t entirely crazy, though. It was a planned performance by Leonard, Kauai resident and musical director of Kauai Voices, the island’s auditioned 40-voice choral ensemble. He called on the talents of the musical group, as well as friends, to welcome Rodriguez to his new home.

“I’ve got a wonderful family here in Kauai, which will be his family,” Leonard said. “He’s leaving everything behind. It’s a whole new place for him. I thought, ‘How can I make him know he’s already welcome, give him a real, true Kauai aloha welcome?’”

Flash mob was the answer.

“I conduct this great group of friends. They’re wonderful singers. I thought, ‘Let’s impress him with a flash mob, to just embrace him on his welcome,’” Leonard said.

Margee Wheeler was delighted to be among the mob and didn’t hesitate when asked to be at the airport Friday night for an impromptu performance.“I love this man (Leonard) and he’s getting married to this man,” she said.

Being part of the unusual welcome was wonderful.

“It felt very loving,” she said.

Likewise for Brigitte Carreau, another singer.

“Randy is a really good friend. This is a great moment for him,” she said. (Rommel) left everything to come here. He needs family.”

Rommel and Leonard met in Spain and fell in love. A year ago, they started the paperwork to get his visa so he could leave Ecuador and move to the United States, where he had never visited. In August, his visa came through. After nearly 30 hours worth of flights, he arrived at his new home Friday night.

The two men are planning to wed next month on Kauai.

Leonard said he chose a joyous Jamaican folk song “Alle Alle Alle” for its friendly, welcoming words and sound. The words to the final verses are:

“Walking toward the sunrise hand in hand. In the light together we take our stand. Walking toward the sunrise hand in hand. Alle-lu-ia!

“We’ve got the power of loving that makes us strong. Working with each other we can’t go wrong. We’ve got the power of loving that makes us strong. Alle-lu-ia!

“It’s very islandy, fits the culture,” Leonard said. “The music talks about coming together on a bright new day, and love, all of that. So it’s just very appropriate for him coming here.”

Melissa Mojo, friend of Leonard and Kauai Voices member, was thrilled to be part of the unusual airport welcome that celebrated what was described as an international love story.

“We’re like a family. Randy is a fantastic leader,” she said. “Everybody is just so thrilled for him.”

Leonard, who is also a nurse at Wilcox Medical Center, said it was wonderful to see his partner greeted with such love.

“Incredible, incredible,” he said, when asked how he felt after what he witnessed. “Just such joy.”

•••

Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

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