CONTRIBUTED BY STEPHANIE LONG
Konichiwa! My name is Stephanie and I’m 25 years old. I am not a dependent, a spouse, or contracted by the government — nor have I ever been exposed to life in or around the military. But I was bored in Dallas, TX, and needed a change. And boy howdy, did I ever get it. I applied for a restaurant management position in Japan and learned Macaroni Grill was in need of a manager on a Marine Corps base in Okinawa. On November 30, 2009, I was on a plane, by myself, moving 10,000 miles across the world. And soon after I was being shuttled into a military owned hotel, starting my new life. Of course, big change doesn’t come without a few trials and tribulations but overall, my experience has been wonderful here which I think brings us up to the point when I can say…
I rented a house, I have a car, I still have a job. I furnished the house from off base, have braved Japanese gas stations, restaurants, roads, and work is still going alright 3.5 months later. I was able to open a military bank account. I have stood hand-over-heart at the movie theatre while the Star-Spangled Banner played, with a Marine at attention by my side. I know what kind of sushi I like, what I want to try, and what I will never eat again. All of this begs the question:
So much of my time here has been consumed with figuring things out. Where to live, where to eat, shop, buy milk, exchange yen, which side of the road to be on, what the heck that animal is outside my window making noise at six AM. The list goes on and on. But now I have answers to all of those questions and my list of questions and to-do’s has finally been exhausted (for today at least).
But I’m realizing that if I’m not on a mission to get something done, I’m a little bit lost. And today when I woke up and found my sinuses have attacked my entire head, I began wondering, what am I doing here?
Don’t get me wrong, I really love Okinawa so far. The people are incredibly nice, I feel much more knowledgeable about the military than I ever thought possible, and I have always wanted to live within walking distance to a beach – and hey, a 2-for-1 — I can get to two different oceans here!
Part of the problem is that as my life goes on here, on the other side of the world, my friends and family’s lives go on as well. Is it selfish for me to want everyone at home to just WAIT until I get back to have babies, get married, experience love and loss? WAIT to see the new release movies until I can go with them? WAIT to have Christmas and birthdays?
Of course. It’s incredibly selfish. But at least I can admit that this is what I really, truly, want more than anything in the world. I want to be able to CALL my friend to talk for 2 hours and not be worried about the cost. Or better yet, meet and talk and have coffee. I want to be able to HUG one of my best friends when she is going through an awful time in her personal life. I want to fly to San Diego for Mimosa Friday and go to a concert with my best friend. And just SEE my family. Is it too much to ask?
Not to worry, I’m not sad and mopey everyday. If you are wondering about the state of my mental health, I have done several pretty awesome things recently. For starters I went whale watching a few weeks ago. How wild is that? I took the plunge, braved the awkwardness of not knowing another soul on that boat, and I went whale watching. It’s fun just to say. And to top it off, I actually saw a pack of whales. Pack? Group? Pod? Herd? I don’t know. But regardless, they were there, right off the shore of Naha. It was such a crazy experience to see WHALES so close to where I live.
I also braved the 67 km drive up to the Churaumi Aquarium. I was nervous about driving 90 minutes north by myself, but the signs directing you to the aquarium started about 3 km north of Camp Foster and repeated at least once every 5 km. I think the drive there was as beautiful as the actual aquarium. You know how you see postcards or pictures of oceans that have about 14 different shades of blues and greens? And you tend to think, if only this was real and not created in Photoshop? Well, I’m here to tell you, it exists. If you need a little aquarium motivation, Google whaleshark and just think about being on the other side of a piece of glass from one of these creatures. You won’t regret it.
I guess I am writing this for those of us who need a little inspiration to get up and GO. I am well aware that sometimes when the errand list is complete, you don’t want to walk downstairs to the “wrong” side of the car to drive on the “wrong” side of the road and find something to do off base. For those of us that have somehow, found ourselves alone on this island I’m here to say, it’s worth it. Make yourself get out of bed, get off of Facebook, and just DRIVE.
Go to the beach, go to JUSCO, the little coffee shop down the road, or even just on a walk. I am living breathing proof that you do not need a partner in crime to enjoy life on this island. And if you’re scared of getting lost on this island, remember, it’s only so big. And even though some of the locals can’t speak English and you probably don’t speak fluent Japanese, I assure you, if you say “Kadena” or “Foster,” they WILL be able to come up with enough hand signals to direct you back.
One way or another we have all found ourselves here. Let’s make the best of this unbelievable opportunity and have a little fun in the process!