We exit the gate and turn onto one of the main roads. I'm on my way to drop my son off at his school. We take generally the same route every day since there really aren't any back roads between our home, and school. I'm familiar with the route now so instead of things being unfamiliar, I know my way by landmarks.
"I wonder what that is?" I say out loud.
"What Mommy?" my son asks me.
"I just wonder what all these buildings are, all the stores too. I can't read Japanese so I don't know what they are." I say back.
This has been an unexpected frustration. At first I found the fact that everything was written in Japanese endearing. Now I find it more than a little irritating. I can't read it. Unless there is English on the sign too, I have absolutely no idea what it is aside from the obvious car dealership or restaurant. This is not handy when I am looking for a jar of Garam Masala to season my cooking, or a few flea market chairs to refinish for my photography. Google is not helpful since it doesn't really identify "indian grocery" here on Oki unless I google it in Japanese, which isn't happening.
Essentially, unless it's by word of mouth or my handy dandy Oki reference website, Okinawahai.com, I'm not exactly sure of where to go sometimes. So my daughter and I went back to the fabric store the other day to purchase more fabric for a project I've been wanting to do. Since I know my way, there were no issues. However the lovely, perky sales girl that was working the last time I was there wasn't there on this particular visit. In her place were two cranky "we-never-smile" men. I chose my fabrics and set them aside. One of the men came up to me and asked if he could cut my fabric for me.
"Hai." I responded. Then I realized I had no idea how to say something as simple as "One yard please." in Japanese. (And yes this place cuts in yards for us Americans) I felt utterly ridiculous and rude as I sputtered in English. Usually the cuteness factor of my baby, a few smiles, bows, and a small attempt to speak in their language cuts through the awkwardness and almost all of my interactions with the Okinawan people have been lovely. This time was different. This man was NOT charmed by my cute baby or my pathetic attempt to speak Japanese. He stared at me blankly while I ineffectively tried to articulate what I needed. Neither of us was rude to the other, and I quickly busied myself while he cut my yards in order to avoid any more uncomfortableness. <---is that even a word?
I have a desperate desire to engage in small talk with these people in order to learn more about this island. Or just to be able to tell the staff how much I enjoy their store. I am frustrated because I don't know how to ask a local where I can go to get the best produce, or find the spices I need. I miss being able to just drive by a place and say, "Oh, THAT'S where that is!" and just being able to pull in because I know that I can find what I need there. I miss being able to pick up the phone and call my mom to tell her about the day. She's sleeping while I'm awake.
Living here is an adventure, and I love it. I love exploring, and the views of the sea from the tops of the hills simply take my breath away. But aside from being on base or conversing with other English speakers off base, I've been feeling a little lost.