I begin this post with a statistical exercise: according to my knowledge, there are in Japan little more than 200 Ecuadorians. I don’t know how many Latvians live here. Yet, if we consider that there are about 2 million inhabitants in the whole of Latvia, I don’t reckon that there are many more Latvians than Ecuadorians in Japan.
This being the case, what are the odds that in an island with 130 million souls, an Ecuadorian and a Latvian could meet and become great friends? I don’t have the precise answer, but I dare say that the chances are as slim as winning the lottery. And in this case, one year ago, Sarmite and I won the lottery.
I had been living for one week in Japan and was feeling so completely lost, so I decided to post a message on a website, saying that I had recently arrived in Tokyo and wanted to make friends. A couple of days later, I got a reply saying more or less the following: “My name is Sarmite and I am from Latvia. I came to Tokyo in July and I will be living here for one year. Would you like to have a coffee someday?”
I had never met someone from Latvia. In fact, I barely knew where it was. Sarmite did not know of a country named Ecuador either. Also, none of us had ever stepped on each other’s continent. From the things we researched at Wikipedia before our first date, both of us thought we would meet someone from some of the most exotic and mysterious places on the planet, with whom we had nothing in common.
I remember that, after we set to meet at Shibuya station, I decided to arrive there earlier and start to look at the faces of foreign people passing by. Few minutes later, a tall blonde smiling girl greeted me. And just as those things that only seem to happen in movies, as soon we exchanged our first words, we both felt like we had always been friends. Like Latvia and Ecuador were only a few kilometres away.
The stories of these two girls from such faraway places were all too similar. We had almost the same age, we arrived in Japan almost at the same period, we came here as our spouses were coming to work in Tokyo and we both felt lost in this sea of people. We shared the same interests and we both had big sisters with whom we were very close. Over time, we find out that even the stories of our sisters were quite similar as well.
We had to teach each other about every aspect of our countries and cultures. We shared photographs as well as maps so that we better understand each other’s world. Sarmite learned that my country is crossed by the Equatorial line and I learned, in awe, that during winter, in Latvia, part of the seawater freezes and one can walk over it. We find out that in Ecuador blue eyes are consider rare and for that remarkable; whereas, in Latvia brown eyes were all the rage. I cooked empanadas de viento for her and she offered me her widely praised garlic potato salad; and we found out that llapingachos goes very well with a Latvian-style fish dish.
And so, a little bit every afternoon, while having ice cream or going shopping in Shibuya and Harajuku, we explored Tokyo together. And afternoon after afternoon, one whole year has gone up in smoke. We had such a wonderful time that we both (or at least me) almost forgot that eventually time would come for Sarmite to leave this country.
Within a few days my Latvian friend will take a flight back to Europe, where family, friends and a promising postgraduate programme in design in the Netherlands are waiting for her. I still have a couple of years in Tokyo ahead. And as I watch her packing all her life on her way back home, I cannot help but feel sad realizing that once again time has come for me to say goodbye.
Gisele, a friend who recently moved to Geneva, said to me a few days before her departure, when I went at her place to pick some beautiful plants she was giving away: “It is such a pity: all the friends to whom we have to say goodbye because of such a wandering life as ours.”
I told Gisele that I agreed with her: here I am, one year has passed and I still wake up every morning with my heart swelled with nostalgia and the missed ones who are always on my mind wherever I go. Yet, that afternoon I did not tell Gisele that our wandering lives are also the best that could ever have happened to us, as they have allowed us to get to know so many wonderful people whom we would not have met otherwise.
Sarmite always told me that I should write something in English in my blog so that she could read it. This time, I translated this post (with the help of Fabio) so I can tell her that: although I still feel down for her going away, I am glad I have come this far to get to meet her.
All goodbyes are sad. Still, for a goodbye to exist, one must first win that lottery that is meeting someone, and I will always be thankful of having got that winning ticket.