In December I had admired an art reception hosted by the special needs school. Though it shares a building with Tokunoshima High School (easily done with the declining population vacating a shocking percentage of the classroom space here), the school belongs to an independent organization located on the neighboring Amami island.
Now they welcomed me again, this time for a painstakingly prepared show-and-tell English lesson. With the staff diligently interpreting my more obscure statements, I proffered my self-introduction slides. Then I settled in for the main event: charades, with the students challenging me to guess.
I treasured my time with them, touched by the staff’s devotion to their charges and the students’ enthusiasm for crossing the language barrier. “I like English!” one boy announced, beaming. His friend, who relies on sign language, nonetheless starred with his superb miming — which only goes to show that communication amounts to more than words.
Between Christmas in Kyoto, and Golden Week in Tokyo, I skipped several months of life on my little island. To make up the difference, I’ll be writing a series of mini-posts around a theme or event from my season of settling in: January to March 2022.
Where else to begin but with the epicenter of my activities here, Tokunoshima High School? As the Japanese school year ends in April, the spring quarter featured the sort of scholarly occasions that I would associate with summertime.
“Did you make it back home?” a friend from the Christian retreat asked me.
My secondary school had asked me to teach the week immediately following the holidays — so instead of taking a 15 hour ferry home, I sailed for 20 hours to Yoron Island. Thankfully, my itinerary allowed for one night’s stopover in Kagoshima City, where the international Calvary Church welcomed me warmly as ever.
The time difference between Washington, D.C. and Japan is twice as long as with South Africa – but the flight here took half the time! The advantages of crossing the pole rather than the equator, I surmise.
My employment with JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching Program) commenced at the end of October 2021, when my plane touched down in Tokyo. Too much is happening for me to neglect my adventures here while chronicling my intercontinental tour, so I’ll alternate updates.
After some harrowing airport travails earlier this summer, I entrusted myself with relief to the capable Japanese bureaucracy.
Whenever someone surprises me with that infamous question – “How’s it going in Africa?” or “What’s it like doing Peace Corps?” – I resort to my emergency reply: “Mountains and valleys!”
Peace Corps has given me some of the happiest times of my life – and some of the most difficult. The past month unfolded along the same lines, running from birthday celebrations to a memorial service for a Grade 6 learner at my school. In the good times, in the difficult times, we need not fear…for the Lord walks with us.
School has started, and I’m teaching English and Creative Arts to 140 students! It is an overwhelming task–the first two weeks, I don’t think I would have made it out the door without praying for God’s strength and support.
As I struggled to create a classroom environment of discipline and positive reinforcement, the Lord blessed me with an outpouring and kindness and hospitality from the surrounding community. Their generosity gave me the strength to push through the hard days until my efforts at teaching with a counterpart began to bear fruit.
This past week smiled on luminous accomplishments: the graduation of my first class of South African learners, and my graduation to a new phase of the Umama School of Cooking – baking!
I had hinted to my host mother that my future family in KZN, to say nothing of myself, might recall my time in Bundu even more fondly if we had some tangible token to treasure…baked goodies, for example.
She obliged by imparting to me a coveted recipe for “amakhekhe” – the Zulu word for cake, here applied to mouthwatering tea biscuits!