I’ve started this at least 4 times. I’m struggling to capture the experience of being back at work this week. In between the news of one disaster compounded by another disaster, whether natural or man-made, I found comfort in the smiling faces of the children I teach. We sing songs, laugh about strange English words, and do our best to communicate.
With laughing and smiling faces, the children shared with me one of the new English words they learned over the summer: missile. They played games that depicted missiles be launched and then landing…and my heart broke.
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 spent last night mulling over what my exact experiences have been as an overseas traveller since reaching adulthood. The reality is that there was a lengthy gap, of almost ten years, between my travels overseas.
I had basically ceased all of my overseas travelling in 2001. Partly because of my own anxiety around 9/11, the war, and also being in the process of becoming an American citizen. Simply, at that time, it seemed to me to be in my best interest to stay put in America. Thus, I did just that.
Of course, one thing leads to another (as in years passed by while I was living). I moved from Florida to Massachusetts, studied, graduated, and then was working.
So, what have been my experiences since coming to Rome, i.e. as a Black woman?
(YouTube is a great travel resource. Please, watch SaitamaFlowers has some wise words.)
Hmm…I suppose, for the most part, I have been treated respectfully here. There are some things that I have come to understand and experience that leave me with some concerns.
In general, however, my grievances are a bit superficial…like not being able to find makeup to match my skin tone (Thank the universe for Kiko Milano! :)), and not being able to find hair products (Thank the universe for olive oil and Cielo Alto!:)), etc. These types of things, which if one is persistent in seeking a resolution, then all should be mostly well.
It is true (again, this is my experience) that some older Italians are not accustomed to dealing with foreigners.
Sadly enough, while I was waiting in line in a grocery store, there was an elderly man who kept hitting me with his shopping cart. At first, I thought it was an accident, but I recognized after the second/third/etc times that this man was having a serious problem with me. Of course, I tried my best to redirect his behaviour, but he simply let loose a string derogatory words about my non-Italian status.
Luckily enough, the people in the grocery store, customers and employees alike, came to my defense and were quite apologetic, and they told the man that he was in the wrong. The experience was shocking to me. The response of the bystanders, however, gives me hope for the future of multiculturalism here in Rome.
It is true (again, this is from my experience and some research) that some Italian men see Black women (really, I should say here foreign women, especially young Americans) as easy sexual targets.
For Black women, it is possible too that we may be thought of as prostitutes as there is, apparently, a significant number of North African women who are considered as engaging in prostitution–This is an exceptionally difficult topic, and I am trying to handle it in the best way I know how. Please, understand that I mean no offense.
First trip to Rome (2010)
One of the things to which I had to become accustomed was the staring. People here stare. When I write “stare,” I don’t mean like a lengthy sideways glance. No, I mean stare. They seemingly try to stare you down. These days I treat it as a challenge…a little staring contest. You know, like in childhood, Just who will be the first to look away?? 😉
Now, when I first came to Rome, I took major offense to this behaviour. You know, it felt like I was being silently assaulted by these stares, because I did not know how to understand them. A part of me was like, Do you seriously have, or want to have a problem with me?
Then, I learnt that the staring-thing was not just directed at Black people, or foreigners (yes, I asked several people), or people dress a little oddly like I do. Oh no, Italians stare at Italians too…and I have witnessed it first-hand. Actually, I find it quite amusing these days.
So, yes, people here stare. Try not take it too seriously if you travel here. Of course, it is true that they may be staring at you because you are obviously a foreigner, but again it’s a cultural thing. So, don’t let it upset your day…try to have a sense of humour about it.
I will say this: it is important to learn the basics of the language of the country to which you are choosing to travel before you leave. Practice aloud greetings and asking for help. Also, it is important remember formalities of the country/culture. The more you know about culturally appropriate behaviour, the better off you are. Perhaps most importantly, it is important to keep a sense of humour, especially at the most difficult of times.
If someone offends you, regardless of intentionality, just remember to treat it like water running off a duck’s back.
I have a tendency towards researching things. Yes, I am a bit obsessive. However, when I speak or write about a topic, I like to be as well-informed as possible. In my last posts, you may have noticed that I have been using information from Asian countries, i.e. expats living in Asian countries like Japan and Korea. I have been researching on YouTube what it is like for Black women to live in countries where they are a perceivable minority…Little did I know that this research would lead to…
Apparently, there is a growing celebration of interracial relationships between Asian Men and Black Women. I had no idea. Of course, I think it is brilliant that people of different ethnic/racial/religious/etc. can and want to get together. I am, however, a bit concerned by the seeming exoticism of it all…
I know in my life, I have tried to stay clear from people who are seeking to be in a relationship with me because they have a prepared plan of only dating Black women, because Black women are x, y, and z…,or who are seemingly fixated on my cultural background. So, I am uncertain as to what is happening here with this AMBW push.
More importantly, I have noticed that there are even virtual battles that are being waged about the beauty of Black women and where we stand on the beauty standard totem pole…And according to some, we are at the bottom. There are even some arguments that Asian men and Black women should get together, because we are both on bottom in terms of desirability…And I am like (yes, I wrote “like”), “What??!!”
Have I missed the boat here? Was there some big thing that happened culturally that I wasn’t aware of it? It’s true that I don’t watch television, listen to the radio, avoid newspapers and magazines. So, it is quite possible. When, however, did minorities exoticizing other minorities become in vogue.
(Very good YouTube video that addresses this issue. Video by Charly in Korea)
Reading manga and watching anime has recently turned into a pastime of mine. I enjoy this aspect of Japanese culture and am a very visually-inclined person, thus it works out. As I have been going along with my soon-to-be-obsessive manga/anime thing, I have come to recognize an important difference between Japanese and American cultures. That is, in America we use the actual words “I love you” as though we are automatic ticket dispensing machines… you know, the ones at the deli, or in a waiting room, at the post office… the ones that you push the button and out comes that little slip of paper that let you know that you will receive service?
When I first began read manga, I thought that the statement suki desu (“I like you”) were a direct translation of the English “I love you” as this is how it is often translated. I was shocked to discover that the word aishiteru was actually “I love you.” Furthermore, that this word was rarely used. Initially I was dismayed at the thought of what life would be like without hearing the words “I love you,” then it dawned on me… “I love you” as it is used in English seems to hold very little meaning. We use this statement seemingly freely, we love everything and everyone–disclaimer: I know that I am generalizing here. 😉 Just bear with me.
The above thought left me transitioning from feelings of anger to sadness, sadness to fear, and back again to anger, only to end with resolve. My anger stemmed from the many times I have heard, whether in my own personal life or hearing the tragic love stories of others, the statement used “I love you” that should have been really daisuki desu “I like you a lot” or better yet “I like you a lot until I find someone I like even more.”
No, this isn’t bitterness. Yes, I own the fact that I have grown more skeptical throughout years, especially in more recent ones. This is truly an attempt to understand emotionally honest and how clearly we can state our feelings given the limitations of our language. Somehow we have lost the ability to describe our more intimate feelings using words such as “adore,” “dear,” “smittened,” etc. Somehow it seems that we can only go from zero to one hundred in our feelings, and subsequently zoom down the love highway. We seemingly go from “I like you” to “I love you” without hesitation, but why?
Is it that we can no longer take the time to accurately identify and aptly describe our emotional state in relation to each other? Are we so very worried that if we do not say “I love you” that the feeling will not be conveyed accurately? I want to return to a world where I can say that I adore, am smittened, find dear, am enamored, find beloved, yearn for, desire, long for, want,etc…
So, what does this all mean, D.? Well, simply that I tip my hat to Japanese culture and am choosing to embrace in my life taking the slow lane to stating the profound feelings embodied within the words “I love you.” Afterall, life and people are too precious not slow down, understand, and clearly state my feelings. In the long run, it is simply with the aim of causing no or little harm.
I am an enormous fan of the novel Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden as well as of the film. I would recommend both novel and film to anyone. Of course, I would suggest reading the novel first, because it is truly amazing. The film, however, presents such lovely visual imagery that it may serve a purpose for those who read the novel after.
In particular, I enjoyed the following scene. More importantly, however, is the quote below. In my opinion, it reflects the process of emotionally shutting down, i.e. of isolating oneself from the world around. That is that we can sometimes create distance between ourselves and others, an emotional and psychological wall, in an effort to self-protect. We expose only the parts of ourselves that we feel are acceptable to the world around us and hide away who we truly are.
“The heart dies, a slow death,
shedding each hope like leaves…
… until one day there are
none. No hopes. Nothing remains.
She paints her face to hide her
face. Her eyes like deep water.
It is not for Geisha to
want. It is not for Geisha to feel.
Geisha is an artist
of the floating world.
She dances. She sings. She entertains you,whatever
you want. The rest is shadows. The rest is secret.”