“All schools will open on May 18, so you will start working at your schools on that day.” – these are the words that made me realise that my time holed away in my apartment hiding from Corona and the world was officially over.
Today is a day. I’ve given up trying to label it as a day of the week because I’m literally taking that long to finish this damn post. Today is a day and I’m back at work, for what’s possibly my third week at this point. Being back at school has made me realise one thing, those doctors who are working on the vaccine/cure for Covid better get their act together because we are not going to survive next winter (#japanlife) at this rate.
I don’t know what exactly I expected. But considering that we are riding out the last remnants of a wave of unexpected changes caused by a global pandemic, I expected to see more rigorous measures in place to make sure we were all still safe and secure as we reentered the capitalist machine that is the system we live in. Having read articles about how the face of air travel would change, incorporating new ways to allow for social distancing, I expected nothing less from the institutions that millions of parents trust their children to for many hours every day.
Having done everything that I could do in my own capacity to avoid contracting or attracting any unsavoury germs – mask, hand sanitiser, washing hands often and so on – I came back to school to find that most things were going ahead, business as usual. In Japan, winter is a big influenza season, often knocking thousands off their feet and closing down schools for days at a time resulting in a big mask culture for the winter. Even though we are firmly within Spring here, coming back to school has been like going back to the winter classes that are characterised by students not eating their lunch in groups as per usual but rather in the formation of their lined up desks; everyone wearing a mask; and windows ajar to let the airflow out (inexplicable in the winter if you ask me, this is how hypothermia starts yal). Now, this would be fine but as winter here has proved time and time again, when you are dealing with a class of 40 or so students, social distancing is improbable and very much unlikely. Don’t even get me started on the in-between class shenanigans that the children get up to.
Much like with influenza, I’ve given up on the notion that I’ll be safe from Covid here. I wish this is where my issue with coming back to work ended. Just a short story of me making peace with my ever-impending doom, but the truth is, having to go back to normal life has been more taxing than expected. So in Japan, there is this cool thing that they do in every province where they casually shuffle the teaching staff so that the more rural parts of the country will always have a good supply of teachers too (yes this shuffle went ahead as planned even during Covid). In principle, it is a lovely idea, and a good way to keep the teaching levels standardised throughout the province but in practice, it’s a bit traumatic. Teachers can technically stay up to 5 years in a school before being shipped out. This doesn’t mean you WILL stay the full 5 years though.
I lost quite a few teachers that I worked with “last year” (as someone who is used to a January to December school year, this business of April to March is still bizarre to me) and coming back to work has meant having to adjust to several new teaching styles. The mental load of my job has pretty much been minimal up until this point and I appreciate the slight escalation in responsibility but boy oh boy did it come at the wrong time. When schools opened, I decided to throw myself fully back into my normal schedule: 5 am walk, 6:30 am shower and work at 7:45 am. I figured that the added exercise would tire me out but I feel like the mental strain has done more damage to me than having to move around again. I legit pass out every afternoon when I get home these days.
And as if all that wasn’t enough, this week social media gave an amplified voice to the injustices suffered by millions of black people every day. In response, the world was reminded that we as black people are not okay with racism. I could write a whole thing about this, but is there a point? I am fast coming to the realisation that we seem to be talking into an empty dark pit when it comes to issues of race relations. We’ve been having the race discussion far longer than any gender equality discussion but somehow more has been done to redress the issues of one over the other in that shorter space of time. As a black body, all I can say now is that I’m tired. I’m tired of having to prove my humanity when even science can’t convince these people that I’m a person too. I’m tired of having to jump through loops and turn tricks for degrees and job titles that somehow elevate my standings in the animal kingdom. I’m tired of having to explain my complexion, my history, and my triggers to people who have access to the same internet that I often use myself to check my own ignorance and privilege. I am tired!
After the episode that happened last month with China and the blacks, I am often asked by friends and family how the situation is here for me in Japan. If I’m honest, racism is the most prevalent commonality that humanity seems to have at this point. It has different faces where ever you go. In some countries it has the face of the devil, it is obvious and it is loud. In others it is more subtle: sometimes a silent jump at the sight of you, or unwelcome discussions that tend to form around your body, hair and appearance. Unfortunately, even when it is this light, it’s exhausting.
For now, I luckily have no reason to fear the police here, even though they are known to give unwarranted attention to foreigners living within my community. Anyway, it’s with this exhaustion that I’d like to close off this mess of a post. A lot is going on in the world and honestly, I don’t know if we can fix it. I fear, much like the big reset that we all expected after surviving the first wave of Covid, all we’ll get are some face masks and open windows. Until we are ready to knock down everything built by those who never planned on creating an equal world for all, nothing will change.