With a full heart, I visited my island haunts for the last time yesterday. My contract with JET ends with July, and the new Assistant Language Teacher for Tokunoshima High School arrives this upcoming week.
For the month of August, I am embarking on a multi-country odyssey — testing the skills acquired over my two years of solo living and solo traveling in Asia. More than that, I have committed to live my nomadic weeks in line with the principles that I want to govern my life: care for others before myself, worshipping God in his creation through my sub-creation, resting in his providence and care. As he has blessed me with bountiful opportunities to travel his marvelous world, I want to enjoy them in a spirit of faithful service.
Before venturing further afield, I am passing another week in Japan, gently parting from the place and people so dear to my heart. Of all my souvenirs, I will treasure most the farewell photos from the past few days, with my many teachers and friends.
My friends Petra and Eloise transformed a four hour trek from Vleesbaai to the airport, from a chore to a bonus. We set out early in the morning, bidding the beach farewell as the highway unwound across plains and mountains, carrying us west towards the city of Cape Town.
Our road trip ranged from a rest stop petting farm to a local farmer’s market. The enterprising rest stop featured a picnic area, obstacle course, and selfie stations. I sampled a ‘roosterkoek‘ – a pastry whose baffling name initially led me to tentatively inquire why only male chickens featured.
For the first time in three years, our southernmost town Isen-cho celebrated a summer festival. (When you live on a semi-tropical island, November is the perfect season for summer festivals.) As Isen is the smallest of Tokunoshima’s three towns, we weren’t expecting much.
Instead, people turned out in force for an extravaganza. Lines for cotton candy and chicken skewers rapidly outstripped the foodstalls’ supplies, leaving ample opportunity to admire the ladies attired in yukata (summer kimonos). After marveling at this scene in countless animes, now I found myself living it.
Silhouetted against the ocean, the stage boasted a parade of traditional and contemporary music from drummer martial artists to a hip hop trio from Osaka. One of my fellow JET teachers performed with a group on the shamisen, a stringed instrument traditionally bound in snakeskin. The night ended with a bang: lasers painted fantastical landscapes across windswept smoke, a mesmerizing prelude to the fireworks concert. Synchronized bursts of color and sound drew shouts of delight from the crowd.
As we regretfully gathered ourselves to go, everyone agreed: Isen wins first place in festivals.
Though it seemed impossible when I was camped out in the airport terminal with my fellow trainees, staring down a three-month-long stretch, the bulk of Pre-Service Training (PST) is now behind us. We have sighted the finish line, and it is racing towards us instead of the other way around.
Determined not to go quietly into our impending separation as the Peace Corps deploys us throughout the KwaZulu-Natal province (KZN), we have already begun the serious business of loading our dwindling days together with celebrations and festivities.