|Mayor's thoughts: "I see you takin' my picture"|
After that we had several hours of orientation, including a tour of the facilities on the island that would be used by the international competitors, as well as the hotels they would stay at. These became the places we were posted throughout the week to help them in shifts. We also received our schedule for the week, and everyone had several free days and half days to spend with our host families and sight see.
Once orientation was over, we volunteers decided to grab lunch together and we followed Clayton, the only volunteer doing it for the second time, to Indian, but since it was packed, the four of us who had to work later split off to find local food and see the shopping arcade.
|Orion, brewed in Okinawa released a special can commemorating the Triathlon|
|This fishing shop sells the most ridiculously big and beautiful, old shells you've ever seen!|
|See what I mean?|
Up to this point though, it had really only been the 4 of us hanging out, even though I already knew 3 of the other volunteers from conferences in Tokyo and online forums, and I was worried that everyone would be happy to go to bed at 9 every night and hardly hang out with each other. Luckily, that was not the case AT ALL!
That evening I was invited by a local English teacher, Sean, to a house party of mostly older Japanese people who volunteer every year to help the triathlon as well. He had stopped by my evening shift Day 2 at the hotel, to say hello and see this year's batch of volunteers. That whole week, he and Alex, a cool dude from England, also teaching English on the island, extended these warm welcomes, and this, the first of many such nights, turned out to be some volunteers who had also used their network to invite pretty much all of the other volunteer interpreters. What started as a quiet get together and drinks with a half-dozen older, but very pleasant folks, turned into an all ages party with 30 people spread throughout the kitchen, living room and front porch, with children and and dogs running around between everyone's legs, good food on the bbq, more coming from the kitchen, and the older men urging the volunteers to drink more Orion and shima, the local term for their long-grain rice alcohol, Awamori, that is famous all over Okinawa.
The next evening as well, we were invited to yet another host's minshuku and Jeff, the Taiwanese-American volunteer made ginger-chicken soup along a pot-luck of other food brought and/or made there in the kitchen by other guests. We stuffed ourselves on hamburgers, taco-salad and snacks, and talked with owner, who also ran a dive shop, and a couple other Japanese families who showed up late.
When I say "showed up late" it's because I didn't realize until about the 6th of 7 days there, that even though Ishigaki is very much a part of Japan, it was the first place in Japan I'd ever been where the entire island really didn't care about being punctual. Japan is right to pride themselves on how punctual their trains, planes, and subways are, but this town where everyone drove themselves, and liked to relax, had really embraced the island lifestyle and given up on worrying about being a couple minutes late. It was almost like culture shock when it finally dawned on me.
Finally, after a few more shifts sitting at help desks, and a couple trips to pizza and karaoke with my fellow volunteers and local English teachers, the big day had arrived:
|The mass of white water is about 100 professional triathletes paddling the water like viciously fine-tuned machines|
|Some more of the local color, out cheering for his Kiwi countrymen.|
|We're officially DOPE|
|I took this on my cell phone, but that's the mayor giving the thumbs up!|
|Most of our merry gang, with Jeff brandishing the case of cola he got from Olga at the park!|
|Ben, Sean, and me (holding some shima) at karaoke|
The next, and final full day on the island was the first time all the volunteers had the day off at the same time so we all grabbed a ferry that morning to Hateruma, the southernmost island in all of Japan; it's so far south that they boast being able to see the Southern Cross constellation!
|seriously, they're proud|
|Oh and did I mention we looked incredibly intimidating? That's cuz we didn't.|
(Stephanie included) did a cute, silly, magic show for us, but mostly for the children of all the host families who attended that night as well. Knowing this was our last night together, guess what? That's right! We went out for more drinks and karaoke. I think I got to go to karaoke four times that week, and since it's one of my favorite things to do, yet sometimes so difficult to find people in the mood to go with you, it was one more thing about my time there that I absolutely loved!
|This was a wild bar where all the staff, surprised by a sudden audience, got up and started playing us rock covers!|