A Life of Learning

**日本語訳は下をご覧ください**
“I like being an African woman so much, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. I like being in Japan but for the first year I had culture shock. My first year, I couldn’t eat Japanese food, but after all that, my life in Japan began to have meaning.

Being an African woman, sometimes people don’t know what to think about me. I got a lot of questions like ‘do you have school in Africa?’ or ‘do you ride elephants to school?’ or ‘do you go to school and meet lions on the way?’ I always told them ‘I saw lions in the zoo just like you’. Japanese people don’t know much about Africa, except East Africa. They assume that East African culture is how the whole of Africa is, which is not true. Africa is so big and they have so many different cultures and cities and villages.

“Living in Japan, I got very used to answering questions about Africa and I’m always happy to answer and give them whatever information I have about it. One day, I was talking with a long time Japanese friend of mine at church, I talked about my job and my students. She said ‘what? Are you a teacher? I thought you were a refugee’. I said ‘well, I’m a teacher, I also studied in Japan that’s why I can speak with you’, she said ‘oh, you studied in Japan, wow’. I was uncomfortable about being an African woman in Japan at first, but now I have totally embraced it and I don’t mind the questions.”

アフリカの女性でいることがとても好きだわ。私にはそれが何よりも大切だ。日本で住むことも好きなんだけど、最初の一年間はカルチャーショックが酷かった。その最初の一年に、和食が食べられなかったけど、それを超えたら日本の生活がだんだんスムーズに進んで、意味のある生活をし始めた。

アフリカ出身だから、話し相手はどう私とコミュニケーションを取ればいいか分からない時が多い。「アフリカでは学校はありますか」や「学校まで象を載っていきますか」や「学校に行く途中、ライオンに会うんですか」などよく聞かれたことがある。「君を同じように、ライオンは動物園でしか見たことがない」といつも回答する。東アフリカ以外、日本人はアフリカについてあんまり知らない。全然違うけど、アフリカ全国は東アフリカと同じようだと日本人が思い込んでしまう。事実に、アフリカはとても広くて、格都市や村はそこなりの文化もある。

時間が経つにつれ、変な質問を聞かれることに慣れてきて、今は正しい情報を広げるために嬉しく質問に回答する。ある日、教会で日本人の親友と喋りながら、私の仕事と生徒について話していた。「えっ?先生なの?難民かと思ったわ!」と親友が言った。「先生やっているよ。日本で留学したこともある。だからこういうふうに一緒に会話できるよ。」と私は返事した。「へー留学もしたんだ!」と親友がびっくりした。

こういうことがあるから、昔は日本に住んでいるアフリカの女性でいることに対して違和感を感じたけど、今はもうそれを完全に受け取って、変な質問を気にしない。

Interviewer: Tac Aquino and Mark Horbury
【翻訳:Kaci Lewis】

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At the African American and Caribbean cultural event in Shinjuku during Golden Week

Worlds Apart

“I came to Japan as an exchange student in Sendai just months before the devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Japan in 2011,” says Mailys, who now works for one of Silicon Valley’s tech giants.

“Witnessing first-hand how Japanese people got back on their feet from the ashes made me one with them.”

Our interloper, who’s a dead ringer for Taylor Swift, hails from France and eats nattō as if it was cheese. “I like it here. The comfort and convenience make it easy to live in Tokyo,” she says, while remarking how much she’ll miss those ubiquitous vending machines (There’s five million vending machines in Japan–one for every 25 people!) should she ever leave. “You take them for granted, but every time I’m back home, there’s never one in sight when I need one.”

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At Roppongi Hills in Tokyo

It’s not always rainbows and butterflies though. “In the beginning I found it hard to make new friends here,” she says, lamenting how connecting with people on a deeper level can prove to be difficult in the big city. “You need to speak Japanese and have something in common.”

Good thing our tenacious French explorer picked up the language real quick and got so good at it to the point where it landed her acting roles; both on TV and the big screen, plus some modelling jobs.

Now Mailys is at a fork in a road. “I’m contemplating about what challenge awaits me because I usually don’t stay in one place for too long.” When asked to impart wisdom her response was:

“To Japanese people, go outside the country and come back with a wider perspective. To foreigners making their way here, brace yourselves. It’s worlds apart.”

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Pondering life’s questions and her next move