Two Cultures Meet: Love, Ai & Rukundo
One beautiful summer day in July 2011, we had our Japanese-Rwandan wedding ceremony in California where we met and spent some time together before moving to Arkansas. Our families came over from all over the world and some of Arkansas students drove all the way to attend our wedding. One said it was definitely worth the 60 hours drive. How lucky we are to have those loving, cheerful, warm, global-minded friends and families in our lives. One girl from Japan and one boy from Rwanda’s paths somehow crossed and here we are, living in Fayetteville. It is romantic to think that someone you may fall in love might be somewhere in the opposite side of the world.
This was our first winter break after marriage. Over the holidays, my husband (I will call him Mr. B. in this article as his students used to call him so at the high school where he worked in California) and I visited the east coast to meet our family. One afternoon after Christmas, Sylvie, my sister in-law, said “I want to teach Namiko how to make amandazi.” My heart jumped. Sylvie is the best person who makes it.
All the sudden, I recalled the first time when Mr. B. made those deep fried donut-looking snacks, which I learned only later are called Amandazi and wildly popular in East African countries. I simply loved it without thinking where the recipe was originally coming from. After a first bite, somewhere in my mind, I thought its taste was similar to the recipe I used with my mother long time ago when I was a child back home. So, I was wondering why Mr. B. knew how to make donuts that tasted like the one I knew from my childhood in Japan.
I told Sylvie that he made amandazi for me soon after I met him. Sylvie said “Oh, no wonder. It was for a special girl! I remember he called me and asked for the recipe!” We all laughed. But, I felt the warmness in my heart. I believe it was his way of introducing his own culture to me who came from a totally different culture. He did not explain the cultural significance of it that day when he made them for me, but I learned that many Rwandan people -from kids to adults- love this snack. Obviously, so does his family.
By spending our time together, I learned his childhood, families, where he was originally from and how his life was like back in Rwanda and other African countries that he lived in as he grew up. From time to time, I realize that we are from different cultures as he speaks different languages, as he listens to different music, as he dances in an African style. Yet, I have also realized that that kids are kids wherever they are in the world and we are all human beings as we share our childhood stories, as we both laugh at what we used to do when we were little, and as we and our siblings cherish our childhood memories.
However, I have to confess that the image of Rwanda for me was the 1994 genocide. As Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian novelist, talked about “the danger of a single story” at a TED’s program, I used to have one single story about Rwanda. By sharing stories about his life back home, he definitely transformed my ideas about Rwanda and the continent itself. Now, I am so looking forward to visiting this beautiful county with a thousand hills that offers rich diverse cultures. Hopefully, sometime in near future. I really appreciate Mr. B. who changed my point of view for cultures, countries and the world. He definitely gave me a new way of looking at my own life and helped me to explore different definitions of and real meaning of happiness.
While reflecting on our 2011 and enjoying our family time on the east coast with delicious amandazi, we got to celebrate the New Year twice: in Japan time and Eastern time. We called home in Japan to say Happy New Year. My mother, who can only speak limited English, was so, so, so happy to hear Mr. B’s voice that she naturally said “Happy New Year” in English as soon as she knew it was him. Mr. B. said “Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu” (Happy New Year, in Japanese) to her right away. The way she laughed over the phone was the exact same way as I remembered about her. I missed home very much and, at the same time, I was very happy to be with the new family. Experiencing this kind of cultural exchange in our everyday life makes me realize that having different cultures in one home really enriches our lives in many ways.
So, here’s our fresh start. Thank you to Mr. B., for being part of my life.
Image Credit: Anna Wu Photography, 2011
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