Today, I had my first solo Okinawa adventure. But we'll talk about that later because first, I need to tell you about some adventures with other people. That's right, Internet. I have made friends.
Typically, when I move somewhere, I make friends at work. Lisa assured me before my first teaching job that there would be a happy hour crowd. There always is. And yes, she was correct. As I am currently unemployed, I needed another way to meet people. Also something to get me out of the house. So I joined WOOP (Women On Okinawa Pavement) and went to a run with them two weeks ago.
Everyone was nice, but most of them were much faster than me. Including women pushing strollers. And double-strollers. I did run about the same speed as another woman, but she likes to listen to music, not talk. And everybody had kids. The next week, I started talking to another new-ish member. We discovered right away that we're both unwillingly unemployed, in our 30s, and married without kids. Also slow runners. We'd agreed to exchange numbers before the run even started. I began work on a friendship bracelet immediately after and will be scouring the exchange for those broken heart Best Friends necklaces on my next visit.
Before we left, I did the big scary Will You Be My Friend first friend date ask out. I'd been planning to go to the art museum in Naha the next day, so I mentioned it and asked if she'd be interested in coming. Not only did she say yes, she drove AND took me to a cute Japanese cafe nearby. AND read me the menu and ordered for me since she speaks Japanese. See, she lived in Naha for several years, teaching English. She went back to the US for grad school, then married her Okinawan boyfriend and moved back here in January.
We ran together again on Thursday and luckily she was perfectly fine with stopping halfway so I could take a picture of this unintentionally humorous sign.
She volunteers with a group that provides cultural opportunities for people here from different countries for job training. They were doing a tour of Naha on Saturday and she invited me. We had lunch first with another volunteer who is also around our age, married to an Okinawan guy, and can't get a job here. I'm not going to lie, not only was it really great to get some girl time, but also some civilian time. It has felt since we got here like I'm immersed in two unfamiliar cultures, and far more so in military culture than Japanese. The military had always been pretty much a job that Raj went to, but now it's kind of the center of our lives. Hanging out with non-military-affiliated people felt like a nice breather.
We started our tour with learning how to ride the city bus. Lesson One: the bus comes when it comes. You're on island time now. I did learn how the payment system works, so if I ever discover how to know where to get on and off, I'll be all set. We went to the arts district, where you can not only watch people do traditional painting, weaving, pottery, and glass-blowing, you can do it yourself. We didn't have time on Saturday, but if I can get us back there, I plan to take Raj on a glass-blowing/pot-throwing date upon his return.
We also went to a market that included kimonos, Hawaiian shirts, tacky souvenirs, 100 yen shops, seafood, and pork. Okinawans eat every part of the pig. Every. Part.
I tried to talk to some Burmese women on the tour, but they were very shy. The Rwandan guys, not so much. I was pretty worried when one of them told me that if I go to Africa, I won't come back. But it turned out he meant that I would love the weather, scenery, and animals so much, I would never leave. Whew. After the tour, my new friends and I went out for coffee with another volunteer who is Japanese and speaks no English, so it was a half and half conversation with some translating and some laughing just because everyone else was.
Over three years into this running thing, I can admit that I often (though certainly not always) actually enjoy running for its own sake. It's done a lot for me in terms of fitness, health, and confidence. But most of all, it's brought me closer to friends I already had and helped me make new ones in Maryland, Pensacola, and now here. Maybe you're all sick to death of my evangelism for the sport, but I'm feeling especially grateful to it right now.
That won't stop me from being pretty grouchy when my alarm goes off in the morning for tomorrow's run, but at least once I get there (assuming I get there - my directions are extremely vague) I'll have someone to grumble with for the next three miles. Because what I enjoy far more than running is complaining about running while running with a friend.