Even as I took in the hot summer weather and gorgeous green scenery, I still couldn't help feeling a bit homesick. I had recently experienced a major disillusionment with someone I considered a good friend; and although I had a loving, supportive partner, sometimes I felt lonely because I still hadn't found my niche. I missed my family and friends back in California.
Just then, while walking home from my job at an international kindergarten in southwestern Japan, I ran right into a man peering at a piece of paper confusedly. It was a map.
“Can I help you?” I asked in English, as he appeared to be non-Japanese.
“I think we're lost,” he answered. I spotted a woman sitting on the sidewalk, obviously exhausted.
“Do you speak Spanish?” I asked in Spanish. Since I'm Mexican-American, I had a hunch that they were Mexican.
It turned out I was right!
"Where are you going?" I asked, a bit puzzled. It is rare to meet another ex-pat on a weekday in a city like Kochi--particularly a Mexican. And with only 340,000 people in this city, what are the odds of ever meeting another Latino on the street?
"We're looking for a bank. We want to exchange some money," the woman responded.
"Well, I can take you to the main post office bank," I offered without hesitating.
"Are you sure?" the man asked, surprised.
"It's right next to where I live," I said, "Just follow me."
"Thanks for doing this. My name is Alex," the man introduced himself as we started on our way.
"Nice to meet you," I started, "My name is Ariana."
"Mine, too!" Arianna exclaimed in disbelief. She showed me her passport; her name is spelled differently.
We couldn't stop laughing after that.
"We're so lucky we found you!" Arianna told me. "We don't speak Japanese."
"So why did you come to Kochi?" I asked curiously.
Kochi is a little out of the way and not the most popular tourist spot.
"We looked on the map, and decided to come," Arianna informed me as we crossed the street.
"What do you think so far?" I inquired.
"Actually, it's been our favorite place," Alex said.
"Really?" I asked incredulously. There is so much to see in Japan!
"Yes, coming by train and looking at the beautiful mountains and rivers--and I heard there are a lot of beaches--was amazing," Arianna shared.
"Yeah, it's lovely," I agreed.
"You're so lucky to live here," Alex added.
I knew that it was true; especially compared to all of the things occurring in Mexico. Half of my extended family lives there, and my immediate family was advised to not visit.
"It's so peaceful," Arianna observed. "Last night, we stayed out late at a karaoke bar down the street from our hotel. It was so much fun!"
In that instant, I began to realize how fortunate I am to lead the life I lead; not only because I can stay out late without fear of harassment, but also because I live in such a beautiful location.
"Thank you," they told me after I showed them to the bank.
"You're welcome. Thank you; I enjoyed practicing my Spanish!" I stated sincerely.
"No, please wait!" Arianna paused. "We brought some presents, but we haven't given any yet. We have a lot!"
"Thanks!" I responded, taken aback by their kindness and appreciation. I suppose that I found it ironic that a complete stranger was more considerate of my time and feelings than an alleged close friend had been.
Later that afternoon, we drank some coffee together back at the hotel where they stayed. Alex and Arianna also gave me some souvenirs from their native region of Mexico. The handicrafts and bottle of tequila frequently remind me of our friendly encounter--even though I only keep in touch with them via Facebook--as well as that there are a lot of good friendships in my future. In fact, here I am, still living in Kochi three years later, and finally feel that I am at the place in my life where I am enjoying good friendships. Yes, I helped create my own community; and am even one of the founding members of the Equipo de Espanol de Kochi, or Kochi Spanish-Speaking Team. These Japanese, European, American, and Latin American friends help me connect who I am to who I am becoming. Thank you; because I've arrived.