Just West of the Midwest Chapter 4: The Finer Points of Flop Sweat

First thing this morning, I’m driven to the Community Center where, before the onset of their annual Tsunahiki (Tug of War), I’m to greet all 1,000 middle school students whom I’ll be teaching this year.I knew I’d be expected to say something to the young crowd, but I’d been so preoccupied with coming up with a speech for my meeting with the mayor and an upcoming conference in Miyazaki, that I arrive at the center completely unprepared.

Being August in this sub-tropic region it is sweltering and because of my very strong desire to cover up my psoriasis, I’m completely overdressed.  So, by the time I step foot into the packed gymnasium, I’m dripping with sweat.

I don’t mean perspiring.

I mean DRIPPING with sweat.

There are beads of perspiration pouring down my face. stinging my eyes, soaking my top and drenching my hair.

Leaving me longing for a handkerchief.

Or better yet, a very large bath towel.

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This is how my day felt… I’m the one with the horns. (Student/Teacher artwork)

As I stand to the side, trying desperately to pay attention to the speeches being given on my behalf, literally quivering with anxiety over what I’m going say, I look down to the shiny, polished wooden floor at my feet and am aghast to see an actual puddle of nerves.

I fidget with my damp shorts. I fuss with my wristwatch.

I feel the unrelenting urge to weep and long for a cool, dark place to hide.

Dizzy with heat, I hear my name. It sounds like it’s being spoken underwater.

Akiko-san (who’s been standing at my side, attempting to sooth my conspicuous distress with her sympathetic smile) gently nudges me forward.

Legs still wobbling, I step toward the microphone.

First step.

You can do it, Anne.

Second step.

There’s nothing to be nervous about.

Third st-

The next thing I know, the customary slipper I’ve been required to slip into before stepping onto the pristine gymnasium floor, is catapulting ahead of me into the first row of the surprised student crowd.

Some duck.

Others giggle.

I cringe as I retrieve my footwear from the first row and turn back to the microphone. It feels like I’m walking in the shallow end of a pool.

I search desperately for the very first words I’d speak to my students.

“Ohaiyo gozaimasu,” I stutter into the microphone as the sound of my shaky voice reverberates off the gymnasium walls, mocking me.

“Atsui, desu ne? [Hot, isn’t it?].” I stammer, attempting to laugh.

Nothing but silence.And a lot of staring.

I introduce myself in Japanese, apologize for my poor grasp of the language and stand there before the hushed crowd, trembling.

Grasping for words.

Even my native tongue evades me.That is, until I hear myself say, “I expect to see you all in class with smiles on your faces.”

At which point I bring my index fingers to the corners of my mouth and actually pull up a smile.

A freaky, sad clown smile.

What an idiot.

What deafening silence.

I quickly thank everyone and as I’m returning to my place… I slip on my very own puddle of flop sweat, just barely averting an ass plant, yet propelling the very same slipper into the hushed and bewildered crowd of teachers and administrators standing behind me.

So much for first impressions.

As the students disperse and regather into their tug-of-war groups, I make my way back to Akiko’s friendly, forgiving smile and signal her to lead me to the nearest bathroom.

There, I stick my head beneath the sink and unsuccessfully attempt to drown myself.

Just West of the Midwest Chapter 25 Teachers in Takanabe Tortured by AET Trying to Talk in Foreign Tongue

I agreed (and for the very last time, mind you) to make a speech at a local English teachers meeting recently. When I asked Yamamoto-sensei what I should talk about, he said anything – and then added, “Please include: life as a foreigner in Japan, my thoughts on the Japanese culture, team-teaching and the Japanese educational system… oh yeh, and please use some Japanese. You’ll be speaking for 40 minutes.”

Piece of cake.

That is, if the cake is flavorless and stale and sticks in your throat, causing you to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on yourself.

I knew it would be awkward to translate only parts of my speech into Japanese, so instead I decided to write a short story that relates to my life here in Japan. I wrote the story in about two hours. It took me two weeks to translate. I worked on the speech for hours every day – getting help from Yoshino-san and Akiko-san (as well as every other member of the Board of Education – all of whom wanted to see me succeed), whether it was getting the grammar right or struggling with the pronunciation. The part of the speech I’d be doing in Japanese was only ten minutes long, but practicing it seemed as if it ran about ten hours.

On the day of the speech, I almost chickened out altogether. However, I eventually convinced my reflection not to be so damn spineless. And then I did it. I was shaking so badly at the beginning that it felt as if I was experiencing another tremor. (The very first of which I experienced recently while standing in front of one of my classes at Kaminyuta. The earth stopped shaking in a matter of seconds, but my knees were wobbly for hours.)

I’m proud to say I made it through with only a few minor stumbles. Afterward, many of the teachers were kind enough to tell me I’d done very well.

But I knew better.

I was awful.

I knew it.

They certainly knew it.

In the end though, I’m just proud I tried.

Dinner and drinks followed, so I was able to console myself in beer and oysters for several hours. The following week, I learned from Ted (a Miyazaki AET) that several of his teachers present at the event had formed the Anne Celano Fan Club.

Anime Anne

Hey, maybe I wasn’t that bad after all.

Oh, who am I kidding?

I sucked.

But at least they respected the effort and for that, I’m eternally grateful.