What do you say?

2016 was difficult.

It probably began on 18th Feb when one of my elderly students at an English chat group that I volunteer at, collapsed before me. She passed on the next day.

One moment laughing, the next moment gone. That was it.

Over the course of one year, I think I dealt more with death than I ever have. It was extremely emotionally draining mostly because of the shock…both mentally and physically.

2 students died at my spcial needs school.
Ninagwa Yukio, a director I’d written my thesis on, and even had the luck to meet at an after party, passed away.
My cousin’s grandfather.
Yet another director.

Then, during the spring  break this year, meeting with a teacher from my special school, I was told that Fav-kun might not make it to high school as his condition attacks his muscles and would eventually reach his heart and internal organs.

At age 9, Fav-kun, is my favoritest student of all times. There’s a reason he’s my favorite, and I know what people say about teachers having favorites, but he has so much life, spark and wit in him, it’s hard NOT to like him. It helps that he has an extremely high level of interest in English.

If I’m not mistaken, he has a form of muscular dystrophy. I’d been told before that I was seeing him at his healthiest. I even did my research on his condition and reading the stuff that I did, I had my suspicions. But, being told directly that him dying was a real possibility, gutted me.

I went home and broke down.

A part of this feels selfish. There are people who must be feeling so much more pain. The individuals themselves, the parents, the siblings, the family, his friends, his teachers who see him every single day…in comparison, I myself, am honestly, nothing. And no matter what people might tell me about how it’s ok for me to feel this way, I still struggle with what to feel or do.

Some time ago, Fav-kun started making mentions of death. His face wouldn’t reveal anything and neither would he talk about himself. He’d make mentions of death in English. Grammatically broken, but he wanted to communicate it to me any way.

This year however, it seems he’d begun talking about this more often. Yesterday, during lunch time, we were talking about how I couldn’t eat meat and fish. He seemed really interested to know if I could be hospitalised if I accidentally ate it. I reassured him that I’d feel a little ill, but nothing too extreme.

He then began asking when he could start eating (he has a feeding tube at the moment). The teachers said the request was being considered, but couldn’t give him an answer. It was an uncomfortable conversation for everyone, because EVERYONE in that room wanted nothing more than  for Fav-kun to eat whatever he wanted without thinking twice. At this point though, there are safety concerns and even if he did eat, it would have to be stuff put through the food processor.

He then looks at the teachers who’re eating their lunch with him and asks, “Does your fish taste good?” Felt like a punch in the gut. Really, what do you say?

Some time later, I showed him a video from the Pixar movie, UP, because he’d done a grand job during my English lesson and because he kept bugging me about “Carl Ojii-san”. The video showed perhaps the most emotional scene of why Carl did what he did. It showed the scene where him and his wife couldn’t have a child and how his wife died just as he got them tickets for their trip.

After we watched the video, I was explaining to him that Carl set out on his crazy journey to fulfill the dream that him and his wife had. But, Fav-kun seemed fixated on the death of Carl’s wife. He asked me why she died, and how she died and suddenly had a dizzy spell. We got a little worried for him and while his homeroom teacher went to get a wheelchair.

So while she was gone, I talked to the boy. Asked him what was on his mind. He asked me why the lady had died, and I replied that she’d died because it was her time to go. He asked if she was sick and I replied, “maybe a little.” He asked me what happened to Carl, and I said, “well, he went on his journey didn’t he?” but he pressed on, wanting to know if Carl had also died. I told him, “Well, we all die, no one goes on forever… Carl probably died eventually. I mean, if you try living forever, you’ll become like the bad guy from Harry Potter! You don’t want that do you?” He seemed to perk up a little. “You mean the one with the turban?”, he asked. “Yea, a person who tries living forever won’t be human anymore!”, I replied.

The teacher came back and we helped him onto his wheelchair.

He had my hand in a tight grip as his teacher wheeled him to his homeroom. “Why couldn’t they have children?”, he asked as we were leaving the room. “Well, she had some medical complications. Some people can’t have children.”, I explained. “She died first. Carl Ojii-san must be sad.”, he said.

At this point, I really had NO clue what to say to make anything  better. “mmm, death is sad isn’t it? But you know, we all have bad things that happen to us throughout our lives. We just need to stay positive or our entire lives will be sad! I have sad things happen to me ALL the time!”

“Oh, what kind of sad things happen to you?”, he pressed.

“Well, just this month, I was sick, my laptop broke down and my iPhone was stolen!”, I went on telling him some shitty stuff that had happened in my life and was telling him how I felt devastated when MY grandpa had passed away.

“Oh, you have your grandma?”, he asked.

“mmhmm” I replied, as we entered his homeroom.

A nurse was waiting for him to clear out the phlegm in his throat/lungs. As she did whatever she had to do, I quietly apologised to his homeroom teacher for triggering this reaction in him, but she whispered that it wasn’t my fault and that this was somewhat a daily occurance these days and that he had just reached a stage where the concept of death was setting in.

When the nurse fisnished helping him, we lifted him off his wheelchair to get him to lie down and rest. For the HUGE personality he supports, his frame really looked small and fragile in that moment, leaning heavily on me and his homeroom teacher.

He continued asking me more questions and even as I told him I needed to go to my next class, he asked “what class do you need to be at?” I always have a feeling that he knows  full and well that asking questions keeps people with him. Leaving him is always so difficult because I feel like I have to cut him off and physically remove myself.
By the end of the day, he seemed to have cheered up just a little although he still looked extremely tired. We took him to his day service van and chatted for a while. I even managed to tease him about being a “smelly pineapple” to bait him into squaking “NO!!!!” at me.

Before he was driven off to the day service, he said his signature line “I’ll be back!”

His homeroom teacher and I chatted after he’d left for the day. She’s glad I’m there to talk to him and said that I’m a big help. It’s a little heart warming, and for just a bit, I felt that my presense in the school was worth it. I’m extremely grateful that my special school doesn’t stop me from talking to this boy or think of me as intrusive. In fact, they’ve done nothing but encourage and support me whenever I try to teach new things to the children.

I can’t help feel anxious though. I visit this school once a week. I’m an obvious outsider. I know NOTHING about the kind of troubles these teachers must go through on a daily basis both physically and emotionally to help these amazing children. I worry about overr-stepping bounderies and saying the wrong thing.

At the same time, I’ll do pretty much anything for these people if it means I can help them even a little.

So here I am. This unplesant feeling sits in my chest and I don’t really know what I’m doing. The teachers at my special school always comment on how much energy I have, but the truth is, I get it all from the amazing children. I can smile and do crazy things because I’m met with equal enthusiam and response from my students. And, that’s the least I can give if it makes at least one person’s day better.

Did I think teaching at a special school would come to this? Not at all. But, these children really have taught me to chrish life a lot more than I would have thought possible. And, there’s no way teaching can happen if we look at the students like they’ve got the Reaper standing over them. So, when Tuesday comes around again, I’ll go back in there with all the smiles in the world and give it my 1million percent.




Yaguzilla and Late realizations

So, this is gonna be a bit of a 2 in 1 post.
It’s a mix of a request from my brother and something that hit a nerve in me recently.


Back in 2014, I watched and participated in Zeitgeber, which was a performance about caregiving for people with severe disabilities.
I was asked to play a woman who could only move her eyes. Throughout the play, the actor playing the caregiver would move me around the “house”. In one scene, he had to “change” my clothes and I remember being rolled to my side. Of course, this was just mimed onstage.
At that time, I had a lot of thoughts about the play. The way this caregiver spoke to the person…telling this person what he was doing at every point. “Tanaka-san, I’m changing your clothes”. “Tanaka-san, I’m lifting your leg a little”.
I wondered, why. This person would never respond. Could only move her eyes. What was the point?
Fastforward to the present.
As mentioned several times now, I work at a special needs school every Tuesday.
I particularly like the Elementary divison. So, even though I don’t get many classes with them, I try to pay them a visit and help out every now and then. The students in this particualar class need help with everyday activities and need wheelchair assistance.

And, this Tuesday, when I went for my weekly visit, the teacher was in the middle of helping one of the boys change into his gym clothes. And the teacher was informing the boy of whatever she was doing and I was struck by the action. I really wonder if the students understand us. And does whatever we inform them…register?

I don’t say this in any mocking sense.
I don’t look down on or pity these lovely children.
I’m not even agaisnt the action.
If anything, I feel like informing the student of what you’re doing for them, is profoundly respectful.

But I genuinely wonder…How is this perceived in thier minds?
What’s happening in their world?
What do they hear?
What do they see?

And I thought back to the performance. And back to the students.
I still don’t have answers and am in fact left with more questions.

So, I’m leaving this up here as a kind of reflection of mine.
Life really does seem to run in spirals though…and sometimes, something echoing your past experiences seems to pop-up out of nowhere like a weird deja vu.


Yaguzilla is probably how most of my students view me sometimes….
Some fire-breathing  English monster out to force everyone to speak English….
Yaguzilla gives weird class assignments and comes up with embaressing penalty games.
Yaguzilla tries to bribe kids with chocolates and hankos.

Sometimes students wonder if Yaguzilla has a social life.
Does Yaguzilla have any friends?
Yaguzilla has a family??!
What does Yaguzilla do for food?
Yaguzilla cooks??
What?? Yaguzilla is VEGETARIAN??? NO meat or fish???

And Yaguzilla has never seen snow??
Yaguzilla wears UNIQLO???
Yaguzilla also has a weird whale shark hanging off her bag and obsesses over Macha.
This odd creature tries to talk to everyone randomly with apparently no shame whatsoever.

So of course, the natural reaction for most students, when they see Yaguzilla is to run the other way.

But then, gradually, Yaguzilla is accepted by the general school community…
And students stop trying to run away.
Every now and then, Yaguzilla gets “hallo!” or “good morning!” on the way to school.
And, if Yaguzilla is lucky, her students have a chat with her.
This makes Yaguzilla’s day.

In the staffroom, Yaguzilla reads works by her students and laughs out loud.
But Yaguzilla isn’t mocking them.
Yaguzilla just loves reading the creative things that her students give her.
Although, by doing this, Yaguzilla is convinced that her collegues think she might be slightly crazy.

Yaguzilla is happy.

The End.