Sandie Heron - Writing her story one book at a timeMonday, July 26, 2021
WHEN Sandie Heron decided to move from Jamaica to Japan over three years ago, she knew that it would not be easy. She also knew, however, that if butterflies chose to stay in their cocoons forever, they would never spread their wings and fly.
So in March 2018 Heron packed her bags and embarked on a journey into the unknown, like she had done several times in her life before. It took some time for her to adjust to living in a world of strangers, but now, almost four years later, she shared with All Woman that she does not regret her decision. In fact, the experience has allowed her to master the art of embracing change, so much so that she has penned two books about it, with the latter giving a detailed account of her experiences in the country.
“With this book, The Traveller's Note: Stories of a Jamaican's Journey in Japan, I wanted to share some of my experiences as a Jamaican living in Japan, and the impact that these experiences had on me,” Heron, who works as an assistant language teacher at a public high school in Tokyo City, where the Olympic Games are now underway, explained.
“It was difficult at first,” Heron recounted. “The honeymoon period passed quickly and then I really realised that I was miles away from home — away from everyone and everything that I knew — living in an apartment in a deep rural community in Japan. It was a sink or swim situation.”
Heron had made up her mind to move to Japan after having a dream one night in which she was walking the streets of Japan and talking with people, while children were laughing and playing around her. But, she had a rude awakening when she landed in the country and realised that she didn't exactly blend in with the locals.
“It was very different being the only black person at the grocery store, at the shopping mall. It took some time to get used to the stares and the attention,” she recalled. “After a while, however, things started to feel easier. Now that I have been living here for over three years, I am more adjusted. I can easily find my way around on the trains and buses, shop with ease, make friends, manoeuvre the language, and use Google Translate or gesture when I don't understand.”
One of the things that helped Heron when she felt most isolated was journalling — a hobby that she has clung to tightly since childhood.
“I have always enjoyed writing. My favourite subject in primary school was composition. During my teenage years, I used writing as a source of comfort at home. Journalling helped me to express and process how I was feeling,” Heron shared.
When she left Wolmer's Girls' and began reading for her degree in literatures in English at The University of the West Indies, she managed a website that allowed her an avenue to express herself and share others' stories. She began penning a book in Jamaica, but something was missing, so the draft had been put down for two years. She knew that it was divinely orchestrated for her to write her first book — Journey into the Unknown: Finding the courage to move from where you are to where God wants you to be — when she moved to Tokyo.
“One day, while stepping out of a train in Tokyo, a thought to write a book came to my mind. Then, I remembered the manuscript I had started in Jamaica, and I continued writing,” she said.
She fittingly published that book on Emancipation Day last year, and has been overwhelmed by the positive feedback so far. After realising how well her first book connected with readers, especially Jamaicans living in the Diaspora, Heron decided to chronicle her experiences in Japan as a helpful guide to others who may be contemplating the big move.
Having relocated from her Seaview Gardens home to live with a classmate's family as an ambitious teenager in search of better opportunities, the now 35-year-old always knew that if she is to live the successful and financially empowered life that she wants, she must keep an open mind, seek out new opportunities, and keep journeying into the unknown and making the best of it.
It is this mindset that motivates her to constantly pursue her passion for media, even as she finalises the publication of her second book for its launch next month, and work in the classroom. Her adventurous vlogs on YouTube and Instagram (@sandieheron) have led to a partnership with local media to help provide coverage of the Olympics happening in her city.
“I plan to develop a publishing company to help other aspiring authors to write and publish their own stories,” she shared, looking ahead. “I am also prioritising having a life partner, a home, and family.”
She reflected on the personal growth she experienced in order to adjust to her new environment.
“It is a new reality as I have never come face to face with issues such as racism before, so I have learnt to be a lot gentler with myself,” she said reasonably. “My faith in God has kept me encouraged. Additionally, I am fortunate to have met wonderful people who have gone above and beyond to help me settle and have the best experience ever in Japan.”
Though she misses her friends and family in Jamaica dearly, Heron is content with what she has been able to accomplish in Japan, and said that she has no immediate plans to retreat to the comfort of the familiarity back in Jamaica. Knowing that God is the divine author of her story, she is assured that the chapters will be written as they should.
“Ultimately, I'm relying on God's guidance in my life. If that takes me back to Jamaica, I will be more than happy, as Jamaica will always be my home,” she said, adding that she hopes to continue writing, too. “One thing I have realised is that the more you write, the more inspiration you get to keep on writing. We will just have to wait and see what life will prompt me to write about next.”
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