Monday, April 03, 2006

A Japanese Catholic

Today we had lunch with a woman from Okinawa, Japan who has been living and working in Timor for five years. She is a 31 year old trained kindergarten teacher but works as the Resident Representative of the soon to close East Timor Desk of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan. I first met her on Atauro Island not long after we arrived in Timor. We ran into her again at the Dili airport upon our departure at Christmas for Bali. About a month ago, I again ran into her in a restaurant and told her about my Dengue episode. In response, she gently touched my face and I was so moved by her gesture that I decided I wanted to get to know this woman. Unfortunately, as is the way in Timor, she is leaving at the end of the month to return to Japan.

I was surprised to meet a Japanese Catholic. My friend told me that only 0.1% of Japanese are Catholic and that they mostly live in the Okinawa region in Japan. Interestingly it was the Portuguese who brought Catholicism to East Asia around five hundred years ago. My friend’s ancestors were all Catholic. Her own parents are devout Catholics and produced four children which for a country with a total fertility rate of 1.2 is a lot of children. My friend is the youngest child and two of her older siblings both have three children each.

When my friend first arrived in Timor, she wanted to go back to Japan despite the fact that she had spent two years living in a small village of 600 people in Nepal where she worked as a Japanese volunteer (similar to AVI). Prior to this she had spent some time as a student living in the Philippines which turned out to be a life changing experience. It wasn’t until two years later in Timor when she suffered a terrible motorcycle accident and was airlifted to Singapore for major brain surgery, did she start to enjoy living here. This serious health crisis was similar to my experience of contracting Dengue Fever which resulted in feeling relatively positive about being here (unfortunately for me, the change of heart hasn’t lasted).

My friend’s parents are arriving soon for their first visit to Timor. They had previously visited their daughter in Nepal. She will then return to Japan with them. However, after five years of living and working here, my friend loves the people of Timor and doesn’t want to leave and so hopes to return to Timor in due course. She will try and find a job perhaps with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a very large bilateral donor to Timor.

My friend has a very good heart and enjoys making a positive difference in the lives of those less fortunate than she. I wish her well in the next stage of life’s journey.

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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