Sunday, May 17, 2009

A celebration and good-bye

In Okinawa, we have a great tradition called the Olympics. No, this does not involve javelins or lap pools, balance beams or 50-meter dashes. But it’s definitely NOT a spectator sport. The Olympics is the whirlwind of events preceding a PSC (Permanent Change of Station) that usually involves trips to as many Okinawan hot spots as you can squeeze into a 2-week period. Said PCS-er determines what restaurants, hikes, scuba spots, and tourist destinations they absolutely must see before they leave the island for good, and then all their friends make it happen.

Ironically, I believe the term Olympics found its origin because one particularly popular girl had about 12 going away dinners and someone compared it to the real Olympic ceremonies that, well, never seem to end. But now we cherish our Olympics. It’s our last chance to bid our friend farewell, and to get in our seasonal trips to Okuma beach, the Okinawa Aquarium, and Pizza in the Sky. During PSC season, it becomes an absolute marathon of activities, exhausting even the most energetic participants.

Today, we climbed Hiji Falls for the Becca Olympics. It was a beautiful May day, just cool enough to be able to breath without an inhaler. Becca is a flight nurse who has been on this island longer than any of us and most of her close friends have already gone. She was here when we arrived, and made us feel at home.

We’ve come to find military life (well, so far – this is only our first assignment) to be like college life. (Sometimes a little too much like college.) You arrive on the island, not knowing anyone, or what the heck all those darned acronyms mean.
Then, some kindly upperclassmen will take you out to lunch, show you the ropes. Tell you that the cafeteria food sucks, but happy hour at the local pub is a great time. You will feel part of the group – this amazing group of people that have been happily living in a foreign country and sucking the marrow from it. With each new year, a few more of those upperclassmen leave, and before you know it, you are the Seniors, ready to take on your final year. Senior year is great, but it’s never quite as good as those freshman days, when college life seemed never ending, and there was not where to go but up.

This is why it’s important to participate in the Olympics. It’s a proper send off to those who came before, who trekked through the jungle to find the best hikes, who ate at all the bad sushi restaurants so you could eat at the best. It’s a thank you for making this island so welcoming.

No comments: