Wednesday, January 21, 2009

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Final thoughts on Nishiokoppe

Last days in Nishiokoppe.... one big cry-fest for me.
Last pre-school mom get together. I struggle through the dinner not to cry.
Hibiki made me the smallest origami crane and crab I've ever seen. Naturally, I cried over them when I got home.
Non-chan, Hiro, and their son, Ren. Such a nice family we only just got to know before we left. Both spoke very good English. Non-chan and I bonded through our shared experience processing salmon roe in canneries. Their gregarious nature and generosity brought me to tears. Please come see the northern lights and stay with us in Juneau!
Nova shakes hands and says goodbye to her classmates and senseis. Shawn took over the photo-documentation as I was bawling so hard in the background I was unable to hold the camera steady.
Our beloved "uncle" Oohara-san asked to have this photo taken with Nova during our board of education goodbye dinner. He wanted to compare their bellies. He and Doki-san drove us to Sapporo to catch our flight. Saying goodbye to him was very emotional for us all. Oohara-san was assigned to us by the board of education. Speaking limited English, he went above and beyond what was probably expected of him to accommodate us in Nishiokoppe. I'm crying now just thinking about it.
"What's it like being back?"
It has been painful to look back on my last photos from Nishiokoppe. I haven't been able to unpack the keepsakes..... it's just too sad! I am surprised by the intensity of emotion looking back brings up. Much of my time there I felt isolated, frustrated, alone, always wanting more of a connection and understanding with the people and culture. Being back, I realize my struggle with those things created a bond born of the challenge itself. Stepping away from it all was the only way to see that. It makes my experience all the richer. It makes the relationships I did foster even sweeter.
We have been back in the states for a month. Everyone says it feels like we never left. In Nishiokoppe a year and a half felt like five. Here, it feels like it was a blink of an eye. This adds to the surreal sense of lost time. It all has a very dream-like quality to it.

Through my eyes, life in Nishiokoppe had it's own unique palate of colors, it's own light, it's own set of smells and tastes, sounds and vibrations. Everything was foreign to us. But a year and a half is enough time to feel a sense of familiarity in certain things. As much as I tried to view our time in Hokkaido as temporary, Nishiokoppe became our home in the end. We will always feel grateful for our time there.

Looking back at photos I can see in our faces how we were different versions of our selves. We had to draw on different aspects of our personalities every day to communicate and get by.... which couldn't have happened anywhere else. We are changed forever by our experience. What a wonderful opportunity we were blessed with.

Life was slow in Nishiokoppe. When will the three of us ever have so much time together? We will miss long drives in the car, past rice and hay fields, past the sea on the way to Monbetsu. Conversations along the way of how strange life in Japan is for us gaijin folk. Lots of laughing at ourselves, sharing funny stories from the day.

Now life is fast. Everything is easy again. We can read. We can drive on the right side of the road. We can zip through the grocery store on auto pilot. It will be important to remember to slow down, something we never had to be mindful of in Japan.

My heart if so full of gratitude to those friends and neighbors in Nishiokoppe and the strangers we met outside the village who put up with my often obvious frustrations. They extended their generosity beyond the famous Japanese hospitality cultural norm. Many, many thanks to everyone who helped us along the way and to those who honored us with glimpses into their lives and of themselves. I know now about life in Japan that this is a rare thing and I am eternally grateful for it.