Thursday, September 10, 2009

Defcon 2 Averted...for now

Here's a montage for you- picture me, running a relay- hair flying in the wind- then flash to me standing in the grocery line one day before- flash- me in the midst of 600 Japanese people, all alone- flash-cleaning and dancing in the halls of school to the music of Queen. This is the picture of a expat- expatriot to you- a -say it after me folks- "stranger in a strange land"- one lone black girl- in the middle of an asian sea. It was driving me crazy! They call it Stage Two of culture shock- the ubiquitous "they"- when you begin the downward spiral from being super "genki" -superenthusiastic and I heart Japan- to Japan sucks and when can I leave? My spiral had begun. Who cared that I was on a island in the middle of a beautiful ocean- it's a freakin' island! Who cares that my morning drive takes me over blue green canals and through the heart of a mountain? It's a forty minute drive and the tunnels have spiders. It was hard going to appreciate the wonder of nature with 600 parents staring at me at School Sports day - like seeing a foreigner say "konnichiwa" was like seeing a talking dog. I made a game of seeing how long after I passed, they waited before staring at my back. They were far too polite to stare to my face- except the old people, they had no shame. I ran at Sports Day to show I was willing to be part of the team. I cleaned with the students and mingled with the shoppers at the local grocery, and never have I felt so alone. Not even in America, where being black is still cause for some little old ladies to grab their purses if you come too near. It's expected there- sadly. But I guess I really thought that despite its history Japan would be ready to welcome diversity. But maybe I overstate the case- maybe Japan's history still isn't sure where diversity fits in to its national identity- those bent over little old ladies in the street might not be able to expand their world view to include someone like me- few can. But its future- its children, can. Though I felt like a fool running that race, (and thank God- no one got it on video) I didn't just run for them. I ran for myself, so that I can always know that I was there and I didn't miss the chance of a lifetime. I danced and cleaned so that I can know I took my job seriously ( dancing and singing? I know) of being an international ambassador. I shopped- and using my mangled Japanese I managed to communicate without saying much that I am America- that we share the simplest things in life- like shopping for cereal. (And let me tell you- the cereal adventure is a story in itself- remind me to tell you later why "cereal" and "cereal" are two different things in Japan. ) I'm making a life for myself here- becoming known as more than just the "new ALT"- or "the one with the hair"- oh, my hair- a perpetual conversation starter. I am a part of the community here- for better or for worse, and for better or for worse, these students will remember me- remember that I ran for their team, bought bread from their mom, eat the same cereal they do, and the same bento for lunch. And they'll think more kindly of America and the world in general. It's amazing how empathy can grow from the strangest of circumstances. And as for me, while I almost lost my cool, I didn't quite lose my sense of humor. When I realized that strangers were staring at me because I was wearing chopsticks in my hair- instead of eating with them, I took them out and had a laugh. And proved to myself that I was going to be able to make it here. And so Defcon 2 was averted by a smile..just barely..for now.

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