I am honoured to have been asked to participate in John Cabot University’s Black History Month 2021 celebration. Many sincere thanks to Alexandria J. Maloney for inviting me to join her esteemed panelists in this discussion on our experiences living and studying in Rome.
Please, join our discussion . You can register by using the following link: Event Registration.
December 1999, Berlin. It’s too cold, dark, and lonely. The high rise buildings of Potsdamer Platz have trapped me in their wind tunnel. My eyes tear up from the bitterness and spite of an early winter. My body isn’t built for this, I think, shoving my hands deeper into the pockets of a winter coat that wasn’t designed for this type of winter. I’m too far away from everything and everyone, yet not far away enough…perhaps never far away enough. Do you know this feeling? A life lived at arm’s length?
Berlin felt monochrome, then, as a I stood alone, the only dark face amidst a swirl of the curious, the fearful, the indifferent, and the obvious skinheads. My darkness, penchant for wearing men’s clothing, dreadlocks, all marked me for what I was and am: a foreigner in a sometimes unwelcoming space. Let’s go back.
December 1994, Florida. I’m sixteen and in the 11th grade. It’s a curious time, to say the least. I listen to Metallica and play guitar with my friend, Danny. I dress in all black, wear combat boots, and have a girlfriend, who’s a grade behind me. I’m nicknamed “Oreo,” by some Black students for not complying with unspoken racial expectations. You see, to them, I don’t sound or act Jamaican enough. I’m not sitting with the other Black kids in the cafeteria. I’m outside playing guitar, singing, figuring out my sexuality, and trying to wrap my mind around receiving phone calls threatening me that I’ll be raped. I’m busy trying to find a way out, to go somewhere, where there are people like me.
Back then, whatever I was, it threatened others: a foreigner in a sometimes unwelcoming space. Of course, to me, I was just living or trying to. Let’s fast-forward.
December 2020, northeastern Japan. It’s nighttime. The frost on my window reminds me that I won’t want to leave the warmth of my bed in the early morning to exercise. I’m listening to 30 Seconds to Mars’ “The Kill (Bury Me),” although I’m more of a metalcore fan these days. Also, I am alone. It’s my first Christmas Eve alone in many years. However, I don’t feel lonely, just reflective and a little tired.
The one rule I’ve learned living as a perpetual foreigner is: conform or depart.
Being all of who I am, the queerness, the not-enough-Blackness, the tattoo- and rock-loving, social activist, etc., can create a challenge in remaining in any space that demands homogeneity. Inevitably, whatever image others have created of me for me will be shattered as I fail to adequately fit their mold.
The sameness of life in Japan seems to be a part of the air. Everyone appears to breathe in the same experiences, thoughts, and feelings. There is an expectation to simply understand and not question the circumstances of life. You are expected to know and respond to the unstated feelings and needs of others. This is “場の空気を読む” (ba no kuuki wo yomu). This is high-context living. Additionally, for those who bear the title sensei/teacher, there is the expectation to be role-models 24/7.
As one of the most visible types of foreigners (read: Black female) in Japan, I have learned the importance of becoming less visible through adaptation of certain cultural norms, removing my headscarf, hiding my tattoos and sexuality, silencing my voice, and eventually my thoughts. Even writing this post feels problematic because it isn’t seemingly extolling the positive aspects of living in Japan.
Certainly, I wouldn’t trade this experience. Still, conform or depart can be a hard rule to live by, especially when seeking stability. Living invisibly and silently won’t do either, especially when seeking holistic self-acceptance and self-healing. Thus, another path must be found to move forward, fostering the dialectic of being exactly who I am and respecting where I am.
It’s been ages…well, almost a year. During that time, I’ve been working on my clearing through the clutter of my mind, redefining my path, discovering love in multiple forms, finding community, and learning to cherish each moment.
I’ve laughed a great deal, cried a heck of a lot, and worked hard to nurture my child-self. I suppose that will always be a part of what it means for me to be living.
Speaking of living: I’m still living in Japan, finishing up my second year. I’m still teaching English, and I truly love my work. I love being around children, and I especially love sharing knowledge.
I’m learning Japanese (it’s a process), and I wish I had the chance to speak Italian and German more regularly–now, I’m just reading books and doing some personal writing in those two languages. I’m learning how challenging it is to keep language skills when you aren’t able to use them. So, I’m sorting through how I’d like to resolve this particular issue.
Well, this has been quite the ramble. Still, I wanted to write something, and so I have.
Another grey summer day in Japan and life continues on. I wake up to a wall of clouds outside my window, the sounds of money being earned with each passing car, and the hazy whispers of my partner. It’s barely 6 AM.
I consider 24 hours earlier: I was standing in her apartment, face unwashed, clothes disheveled, emergency backpack straddling one shoulder, and wondering if this was our last moment together–North Korea had launched a missile towards the north of Japan.
A few months earlier, I arrived in Japan with a baseline plan of refocusing myself, laying the groundwork for accomplishing future goals, surviving earthquakes, and embracing the unknown.
I am moving forward with writing, with loving, with being loved, with enjoying the simplest aspects of life while appreciating how complex life can be. For now, I’ll return to daily blogging, sharing my thoughts about life in Japan, how I’m managing my fibromyalgia, and whatever else that comes my way.
I’m sure moths can be beautiful. When, however, you wake up to one trying wage war against you, they seem more like a nightmare.
Now, I aim to live peacefully with all creatures. I even apologize to the ones I know that I am squashing as I make my way through the day. If I could stand still and hurt not even one, I would be a happy person. And perhaps it is silly of me, but I expect the freaking same from these creatures, too. Live and let live. Sleep and let sleep. All right?
Well, that hasn’t been the case for the past two nights with Mr. I-have-nothing-better-to-do-than-terrorize-you Moth. Seriously, I’ve resorted to hiding under the covers and leaving the light on…which seems to be a good deterrent. Any suggestions?
While strategizing to find the best way to live harmoniously with Mr. Moth, it dawned on me that I had learned another important lesson while living in Rome: insects have a right to exist, too. I always knew that, but in the US it seems like we spend a lot of time trying to keep our surroundings bug-free (which, of course, can be a very good thing).
If you are travelling to Rome and you do not have a good relationship with creepy and flying things, prepare yourself psychologically beforehand. Here, it’s not uncommon to see flies in bakeries (pitching on your soon-to-be-eaten pizza slice) or in restaurants. Seriously, it happens, especially in the warmer weather. And the attitude is….well., live and let live. 🙂
Strangely enough, I’ve never seen a cockroach (knock on virtual wood). Now, I’m off to negotiate with a moth.
Join me for a quick look at Mother’s Day in Garbatella, where I attended the weekend market, tried to play soccer, experience a bit of nostalgia, and give my tips on where to stay (and why) while visiting Rome.
We’ve been having extremely rainy days in Rome lately. The sky is grey, everything is wet, and I feel permanently cold. As a result of all this, I’ve found myself under the weather more often than not. In other words, it’s winter. So, I’ve been on the hunt for natural ways to improve my immune system.
Beyond the awesome footage that she shares about her travels, she also focuses on healthy foods, and provides recipes. The video below is just one of those recipes that can give you a big pick me up when you are feeling down. It’s yummy!