I’m a Jamaican currently residing in Japan. Five times out of ten, my conversations in Japan will go like this:
THEM: You American?
THEM: Jamaica in Africa?
ME: No. Jamaica in Jamaica.
THEM: Ooooooohhhhh!!!! Ahhhhh!!!! Bolto! Bolto!
Yup, Bob Marley may have placed Jamaica’s name on the map, but Bolto as the Japanese call him is making darn sure the world keeps chanting her name.
I realized there was a huge fascination with Bolto, the first day I arrived on Japanese soil. I cleared customs and walked into blinding lights, huge cameras, animated voices screaming my name and a mic being thrust into my face.
Well — it didn’t quite happen like that.
There were three of them. All men. All Japanese. One held a camera, one a mic and the other served as a translator. I was the only black girl who cleared customs so they didn’t need to see Gaijin (Japanese word for a foreigner) printed on my forehead to approach.
My interviewer’s name was Kentaro and his television show on channel 2 was called, ‘Why did you come to Japan?’ He apologized via his translator for bothering me and asked to interview me about —- yup, you guessed it — why I came to Japan.
His first question: Where are you from?
I was like —–Seriously? Don’t you see the flag on my face?
That’s what I said in my head. My mouth gave a one-word response:
I kid you not, that’s all it took for the conversation to change to Bolto. He totally forgot the name of his programme and spent the entire five or so minutes asking me about Jamaica, sports and Usain Bolt.
I again answered the ‘Where are you from?’ question when purchasing my bus ticket and almost instantly, there were chants of Bolto.
Then, the most amazing thing happened. Missy dropped my fare from 3200 ¥ and told me she would give me a foreigner’s discount of 2200 ¥.
Now, people who live in Japan know you get nothing free. I promise you, if you’re short a yen, just put back your groceries and get out! They don’t play with their money.
So, when she decreased my fare, I realized I was onto something.
Now, I don’t wait for people to ask where I am from. I introduce myself:
I’m Keisha from Jamaica.
And, when they ask:
You know Bolto?
Some days we’re friends — some days he’s my distant cousin by my aunty Sonya’s side — I was even his girlfriend one time.
At my job, everyone knows I live 5 minutes away from him.
Technically, this is NOT a lie!!
Ravinia is a mere 10 or 15 minutes away from Norbrook.
Plus, everyone knows in Jamaica everywhere is around the corner, as you turn the bend, beside the big Guava tree near to Ma’as Busha shop.
Now, people, before you judge me, please note that I am not at fault here.
Jamaica is a big, little country. Why ask me if I know Usain Bolt and force me to lie? I don’t go around asking them if they know Kei Nishikori.
And, I’ve tried to stop lying, but they keep giving me things when I say I know him. So far, knowing Bolt has gotten me half price on bus fare, free chocolates, half price on food, tomatoes, sweet peppers, invites to various temples/festivals, tomatoes, free lunch, cookies — did I say tomatoes?
I was having a good run too, but last week this bright eyed little boy handed me his mother’s phone and chanted:
‘Call him! Call him!’
Without batting an eyelid I told him.
‘In training. World Championships. Cannot be disturbed.’
Then I quickly walked away to shouts of:
‘When? When call? When call?’
I did not even look back and I sincerely hope I never see that lil imp again.
Listen, guys, I know I need to stop, but, who on earth will tell him that some girl halfway around the world is claiming to know him just so she can get free stuff? I doubt anyone would want to jinx it for me — right?