Recently I had the pleasure of meeting a diplomatic couple who had come to America after a posting in Malawi. I just had to hear about it.
“Once I went on a trip,” the husband began, “and when I came back, I saw my security guard holding some radishes. I asked him where he got them from and he said, ‘your garden.’ I mean, it was kind of ironic that the security guard was stealing things. But he was so straightforward about it, it was cute. I couldn’t get mad at him.”
As he went on telling stories, like how his cook scrubbed every speck of the “dirty” teflon coating off of a pan, I could tell what affection he had for the people of Malawi; how he admired their innocent and childlike nature.
“So tell me about your time in Japan,” he countered.
So I told him all about my experiences living in the little fishing village–how the men would spear a wild boar in the mountains and make a cauldron of stew in front of the community center; how strangers would recognize me, the village’s only foreigner, on the streets, and offer me bags of homegrown tangerines; the grand folk dance at the summer festival.
His eyes widened. “I had no idea there were places like that in Japan,” he said with wonder. “It’s like the Malawi of Japan!”
Now it would probably not occur to most people to compare one of the least-developed and one of the most-developed countries in the world, but I knew just the sense in which he was doing so. I believe, from the stories we exchanged, that we experienced something of the same nature. We had both been awestruck by the beauty of a pure soul.
And I wondered again, as I sometimes do, just how accurate it is to say that I fell in love with Japan. I have been to places in Japan quite different from that fishing village, and my diplomat friend, apparently, had been to a place somewhat similar on another continent.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I fell in love with something I encountered in Japan–something that even now, as then, I am not sure I have a name for.