Do you remember Elmeka? She was featured back in June as she was planning her move to Cambodia with her son Chris. I caught up with this fascinating woman to see how her new life is treating her. You can also see what her life is like on her blog, www.adventuresinraisingavagabond.com.
Last time we spoke you were moving to Cambodia. But you are now in Japan. What happened?
I was all ready to move to Cambodia the last time we spoke. I packed my warm-weather clothes and donated most of my winter clothing. But while I was traveling this summer, I received an email from a recruiter asking if I had space to interview for a job in Tokyo. At the time, I still hadn’t received a contract from the school in Cambodia, so I agreed. I interviewed with them two days later via Skype while in Haiti. They offered me the position at the end of the call. It was a better offer for me and my son, so I decided to switch directions.
In this position, I am a counselor, something I had missed doing in my previous position. I also have the opportunity to teach and give workshops to parents and teachers. I think in both positions I could have grown professionally, but this position gave me more room.
Was housing included in your offer?
The school doesn’t provide housing, but they offer a great stipend for housing and also includes transit and a dependent stipend. We were also connected with a realtor to help find an apartment that worked for our specific needs and the school helped with the deposit money and associated fees. They even moved our belongings from the hotel to the apartment for us on move-in day.
How far away is your work from home and how do you get there?
I am not a morning person and love to sleep as long as possible, so I decided to live in the same area as the school. We walk every day, it’s about 10 minutes away. I work at an all-girls school, so Chris walks to school with me and then takes the bus to his school from mine. It’s very convenient, and I love the mornings when we can talk on the way to school or on our way home. Those small moments mean a lot to us.
How is Chris adjusting to living in Tokyo? Has the transition been easy?
The transition has not been easy for either of us. I honestly didn’t know exactly what to expect, so I didn’t really expect anything. I would have loved to believe that living here would be amazing and full of adventure, but it hasn’t really. We had some challenges with Chris adjusting to his school, which is a drastic change to the school he was attending in the states. It’s an international school, the curriculum is more rigorous and the uniforms are very formal. SO not my son. But, we are slowly learning our way around and are getting out of our neighborhood every now and then to have fun and go on tours. I think we’ve finally found our stride here.
Part of the challenge for me is having to get used to asking for help. As a single parent, you get used to doing things on your own. You learn how to hustle and make it work. I got used to figuring things out on my own. Here, the people are really nice and those I work with have been so supportive and helpful. It’s been hard for me to let them help me, but I’m learning. It’s new to me also to ask for help. I’ve had to realize that I can’t always figure out things on my own and I’m learning how to navigate single parenthood here in Tokyo. Learning how to make space for me while making sure Chris has what he needs as well. Still a learning process, but we are making it work.
My Instagram and Facebook feeds make it seem like it’s easy and fun all the time. It makes things difficult sometimes. People comment and say how amazing my life is and that they are living vicariously through me, but they don’t see the nights I spent crying out of frustration or my son’s challenges with adjusting to his school. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but we make the best of it. It’s great to be an inspiration, but it’s definitely work and hard work at that.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Well, Roni. We spend most of our days traipsing around Tokyo with a fish cake in one hand and a camera in the other. I’m kidding 🙂
Life here is just as typical as it was back in Philly. We go to school and work, we come home and do homework and make dinner. Chris plays soccer at school a few times a week and I try to get a sitter and have time to go to happy hour with work friends. I wanted this transition to be as seamless as possible for him so I made sure we found sports that he could play and extracurricular activities that he enjoyed back in the States. For the most part, things are the same – aside from the obvious Japanese culture. We do get out and enjoy sushi and the sights of Tokyo as much as we are able, but we are basically living the same life we had back home.
Our schools are international schools, so language isn’t an issue in that regard. It has been a struggle grocery shopping and whatnot, but Google translate has helped tremendously. We’ve gotten used to walking and taking public transportation more (although my waistline hasn’t shown any evidence of that) and we both are making friends and being more social.
We sometimes go out on the weekends and have adventures exploring the city. At first, it was challenging, navigating the trains and figuring out things to do, but we are working it out. So far we’ve been on a food tour at Tsukiji Fish Market, the Ueno Zoo, and even been to Tokyo Disneyland. Most of the time we go to dinner or explore the Futakotamagawa Rise shopping center nearby. It has a gazillion shops and restaurants, we have yet to see all of it. They even have a park that we go to when the weather is nice.
Have you been able to date since moving to Tokyo? Are there many dating options for you?
LOL!! Um…not really. I wish! But I’ve met some people, though. I once met a guy from Sri Lanka on the train who was very interesting. We talked on the phone for a while but our schedules never aligned and we never found time for a first date. I think part of why my dating life here hasn’t taken off is that I’m really insecure about where I fit in here, so I don’t really put myself out there because of that. Back home, I was flirty and would approach a guy in a second. But here, I’m more timorous and don’t really make the first move. You just never know. I’m open to dating outside my race, but not everyone is. So I stay coy to avoid a potentially awkward situation. Also, the language barrier is real.
Are there many black people living in Tokyo? How does it feel to live in a country where no one looks like you?
Apparently there are, but I have yet to meet large pockets of them. I did find a soul food restaurant here owned by two black expats who have lived here for over 10 years. They know all the black people. I’ve also met some at a counselor’s reception I went to and was like “Yessssss!” It’s funny, you spot those who look like you sometimes, but you have to restrain yourself from running over to them like “Hi!!!! Please be my friend!” It’s hilarious. Most of the time, those I see out in public avoid eye contact for some reason, but other times they play it cool and just give a head nod or smile and say hello.
It’s not as weird as I thought, living in a country where no one looks like me. I have always felt “different” even back home, so being different doesn’t bother me as much. I almost enjoy it. I’ve become comfortable with it, I suppose. But I’m one of three of African descent at my school, but the only black American there. It’s okay, but I only feel strange around other Americans. Not sure why exactly. However, it does feel nice that the students with black parents have someone to relate to, though. Even their parents make it a point to meet me at events. Life here is cool, but I’m not sure I can live here forever because eventually I will want to see someone who looks like me and that I can relate to a little more often.
What things have surprised you most about this transition?
I didn’t have any real expectations, but what surprised me the most about this move was how supportive my school was. They were very aware of how difficult this can be for anyone, much less someone traveling with a child. They helped out with my visa, finding an apartment, even brought us food for the first few days after we checked into our hotel. They have even helped me translate my mail when I have no idea what my bills are.
I’ve also been surprised at how diverse Tokyo is. I never expected it, but it has made this transition a lot easier. The trains are bilingual, we can find some of our favorite foods, and I even found a DJ playing Afrobeat one night. It’s an amazing city to live in, but the fact that on any given day we can find something that reminds us of home is a gift.
Thousands read your last post. What would you say to those that still may think moving to a different country with their child/children is impossible?