Monday, June 30, 2008

i just had an outstanding week on Okinawa and because it's one of my last few and i don't want to forget it, and most definitely want to share it it's getting written up.
As i'm sure it'll take you a week to read it, enjoy!

So this will be an attempt at a brief recap of my week starting on Monday June 23 and ending with Sunday June 29.

Well. I guess it's best to start with the fact that on Saturday 21st, my 3rd grade student took first place at the Kunigami (northern area) English Story contest which most definitely colored the rest of the days in a very positive light. It's certainly a very nice high note to leave the professional JET experience on, amongst others.

So, Monday was an Okinawan Memorial Day which
commemorates the victims of the Battle of Okinawa and is a day off in the prefecture for work and school. It was a lovely, sunny day but as I spent the weekend doing various things and not taking care of my home, I decided to do a little bit of that. But a few JETs from the south called me up and said they were coming to my neighbrohood, so I of course offered a quick tour of Kijoka with a stop at the waterfalls near my house. We had a lovely stroll, Meaghan caught some bugs, a lizard jumped on me trying to escape her net, and I got some sun--a perfect afternoon all together. I took it easy the rest of the day and went to karate in the evening.

Tuesday was school day, first one since story contest, which i didn't realize and was quite pleasantly surprised by shouts of congratulations after the compulsory "morning" greetings from all the teachers. The giddiness over having a student place first carried the principal so far as to say a few nice words in English during the morning meeting which i really appreciated. :) First time i actually fully understood what was being said at a morning meeting. Nice.
The rest of the day went easy enough. I think I had one class that day and spent the rest of the time on trip details and leaving prep.
Eisa practice in the evening followed by some reading.

I took a day off well in advance because Chiye, Yasemin and I had planned a day out to the Hiji waterfalls north of me. No day is without drama of course and Yasemin had plenty for all of us that day with her diving suit disappearing off her 2nd story balcony that morning. But she regained composure and decided to drive up to hang out with me and Chiye anyways. The morning started out clear and sunny but by the time Chiye and i finished lunch the sky was clouding over in a very threatening way. After some turkish coffee and a dark chocolate snack at my place to regain energy, the three of us set off for the waterfalls. It was a good half hour hike through a very windy but well built trail with lots of stairs and even a suspension bridge. The jungle was hot and muggy and I was regretting the decision not to swim at the waterfalls, but not to fear! the weather had decided we all should have a nice shower that day. With a few minutes to go to the waterfalls it had started to drizzle and by the time we reached it, it was pouring. So we just stood there in the rain, gazing up at the water gushing down from the rocks while buckets of rain water fell on our heads. It was an incredibly beautiful and refreshing experience.

The rain had subsided by the time we made it back to the car and had stopped all together when i got back home. :)
After a warm shower, I was off to karate to be drenched all over again, this time in sweat. Lovely.

Thursday, I took another day off work so that i could take care of some leaving stuff in Nago and Okinawa city. Also i knew that because all the students were off on their "job" experiences that day, there were no classes to be had. Everything got sorted that needed to be and i drove home in early afternoon and took a very long nap. In the evening it was off to eisa practice. That night i practiced at Kijoka's community center with some of my students actually and a few people who live in Kijoka that don't regularly do eisa. Reason is that next week there will be a small traditional festival in my little part of Ogimi and they've asked some regular eisa members who are from Kijoka to organize a performance for the festival. It was a nice practice even though the mosquitoes were aplenty, and i think i lost more blood than sweat that evening. When i got home, I decided to do some laundry but must have been overly tired because i made a big blunder. I washed a pair of pants from India (that i could have sworn i've washed several times previously so the following shouldn't have happened) with my karate gi. Guess what? Yep! Yellow stains all over my gi. >.< And my last belt test in two days! Can you say, "freak out session"? I doused the gi with stain remover and threw it in the wash again. Didn't work well at all, so i spent the rest of the night getting very bad sleep and worrying about it.

Friday was back to school but a small surprise awaited me there. Instead of two scheduled classes, I had none, and so could take it easy after a sleepless night. I told the office lady and librarian my sob story of yellow gi and bleach was quickly produced. I was told to just go home and take care of it while no one was about, and so I did. The yellow faded a bit but i could still see it and didn't feel much better about the prospect of showing up in front of sensei in my destroyed gi.
But the afternoon brought some surprising relief in form of farm animals.
A few of the students were doing their "internship" at a cow and goat farm in Ogimi and one of them didn't show up. They were meant to be making some butter that afternoon and the woman who runs the place asked if anyone wanted to join the students. I volunteered.
Making of butter wasn't at all what I imagined--no churning was involved. Well maybe a little. We were given small jars with milk and cream in them and were told to shake them as hard as we could for about a minute after which we had apparently made butter! Cool, eh? We got to try it with a bit of salt and fresh baked buns. It was fantastic, though eating hot buns on a muggy day wasn't necessarily the most pleasant experience. There was more talk of butter and cows and then we played an interesting karuta game which involved matching parts of Okinawan songs with hiragana cards on the floor. I even got a few right, so that was nice. After this I fed a three day old baby goat some milk from a bottle and petted a mini pig's belly. Couldn't have asked for more on a Friday afternoon.
So in a much more cheerful mood, I went home to discover that my gi wasn't as bad as I thought and i spent the next couple of hours reading my hefty book (only 400 more pages to go!) That evening I went to a teachers party but didn't stay long because of the karate test the following morning.

Which brings me to Saturday. Incredibly nervous going into the karate test, I was made even more so when i was told that i'd be doing it all by myself in front of others. The previous tests I've done with one or two other people by my side going through the same motions which is very comforting, but because I was a level or two ahead of others, my punches and kicks had to be different for the next level and I had one extra kata to perform. So I was the last one and at one point I thought I was going to hyperventilate and sensei kept telling me to breathe. :) But I think it went mostly well--at least I feel good about my effort.
After a well deserved lunch of delicious hamburgers for everyone, Vaughn and i took off for the south where we joined Yasemin and friends at a free concert organized by THE Okinawan band, Begin. A free outdoor concert at a gorgeous venue near a beach, with a giant stage, lights and a big screen TV. With festival tents set up with all sorts of goodies and staff members all around, unobtrusively making sure that things run smoothly. AND! the music was fantastic! 6 highly professional and fairly famous bands paved the way for the kings of the night, Begin! These guys are synonymous with Okinawa. Even before I knew anything there was to know about living here, I knew the tune to "Shimanchu nu Takara" and it's been an anthem of sorts for myself and am sure many others during our life here on Okinawa. So to finally see them live for me was major and I enjoyed every second of it. :)
But the night of music did not finish there! Oh no! We were off to Naha for some karaoke fun and of course the first few songs were by Begin. Good times!

Sunday started about hot and sweaty in Yasemin's apartment but quickly improved with a stroll through the Haebaru mall and a lunch with miss Kitty. I even ran into three of my students which surprised us all. After buying a present and a couple of things for myself (gasp!) I was off to Ogimi by late afternoon with a watermelon in tow. That evening, my Sunday night conversation class was throwing me a goodbye party and the watermelon was my contribution. The party was wonderful. The meat was grilled over an open fire pit, there was a paella made with squid ink, homemade granola cookies, presents, speeches and watermelon. And even though I didn't quite see them coming when they did, I shed my first goodbye tears in front of others. But I left the party in very high spirits and with new heartwarming memories as gifts in tow.

That was last week.
Today was the start of the first week of the last month.
And here's a quick preview for this one:
English story practice, eisa, karate, sweating, lots of showers, plenty of coffee, lots more typing for new ALT, light stressing over trip details, heavy stressing over packing for the trip, start of apartment clean out, the English story contest, Peaceful Rock Festival, David!, Kijoka festival, my first and last festival eisa performance of the year.


Friday, June 20, 2008

today during lunch we were chatting about me leaving and the new JET and somehow the conversation turned to the first JET in Ogimi, O'Neill. The young teacher sitting next to me graduated from Ogimi Junior High School and O'Neill was actually her ALT. She remembered him fondly but said he was difficult to understand because he had a very heavy dialect in his American. Apparently he was from rural Nevada but I honestly don't know why that would be difficult but that fact was very memorable to her. The librarian and the office lady also remembered him well and they exchanged a few quick stories about him with each other. I thought how nice it was that there is such a community in this school and in this village. Of course it might be annoying to some how much people know of each other's business here, but I never felt that it was a malignant thing. People seem to actually care and don't seem to use the information they know to speak badly of others. Not to me in any case. :)

Anyways, I just thought about the ALTs before me and the ALTs after me and how we've all impacted this community in one way or another and what a unique experience it must be for the students. I don't know if I've ever sat down to reflect on the "internationalization" aspect of my job as an ALT and how much I've done to make sure that my being here hasn't just been about teaching English but also about sharing the cultures that I come from. All right. Note to self--reflect before leaving. :D

Speaking of leaving. It's been absolutely crazy and it's only about to get even more busy and so forgive me if this might be the last entry before the very last entry. I hope to take the time and fill you in on what is happening as I go through the process of wrapping up my life here, but the actual process might be too time demanding to allow for blogging. Hopefully not.

Tomorrow is my very last English story contest. We've worked hard this year and the two students I've been practicing with have been an absolutely pleasure, and I'm really looking forward to their performances tomorrow. Though it is going to be quite a long day in the process with 31 students signed up for the contest. >.<

Next week is my final karate belt test. Speaking of which. Two things. My story contest student also does karate but at a different dojo in Nago. He told me today that his father won't be able to watch him tomorrow because he'll be going directly to Naha because Sunday night he has a belt test--he'll be going for 3-dan. Cool, eh?
And secondly, wanted to mention that I watched the inter-junior high school karate competition last weekend to see how my story contest student did as he was the only one representing my school. I also went to see the junior high school kids that study at my dojo. The Ogimi student did great--he advanced into the final round and was the only green belt surrounded by brown and black belts. In the boys competition however it was quite obvious that the students from my dojo would be unchallenged. The three places went to them. The girls from my dojo took 1st and 3rd place. It was so wonderful to sit with the mothers and the elementary school kids and to cheer them on.
Here are a couple of photos I really like from that day.

This is a 3rd grader from Yabu JHS who trains at my dojo. He took 2nd place.

These girls were practicing for the 3 person kata competition which followed the individual competition. The girl in front is a 3rd grader from Nago JHS and also trains at my dojo and has taken first place in Kunigami for the last three years.