Thursday, March 31, 2011

Stay or Leave?

March 31st (Thursday)

Sorry for the long silence. We have been trying to clean up and normalize our lives a bit since my last post.

Actually, I had been drafting the nuclear issue that ensued after the tsunami hit two plants pretty hard, but it's been an ongoing event. Quite a few people in the States have been wondering how my family is faring, whether we would stay put, what would we do if such and such happened. How do you answer those questions? How do we know, how do we try to disseminate the information coming to us, how, when, what, where, why, and more? I admit I was tempted to go back to my dear Michigan, and several nights I could not sleep. Thoughts flooding my mind of what would it be like to leave our home and mortgage behind. Well, the home we could leave behind, but the mortgage would follow us anyway. What would it be like to live in Jackson again? In, perhaps my mother’s house, where, perhaps, she could come live with us (instead of at my sister's) in her own house, and we would all live happily ever after. Sure. What would it be like to yank my three kids out of their lives here (although they often tease me about if America’s so wonderful, why are we in Japan), and get them situated in U.S. schools where they would have more adjustments than high school students who change schools for their last year or two of high school from one English-speaking school to another English-speaking school. They would manage, but it wouldn’t be without lots of struggles. What would it be like to look for work over there in Michigan, one of the states with a high unemployment rate already? What would it be like to NOT be able to start receiving my Japanese (Koji’s, too) pension? I’ve paid 23 of the 25 required years of premiums, and I’m going to give that up? What would it be like to leave my husband’s parents behind? They are nearly 90 years old, and I can’t imagine they would be eager to leave Japan and start over somewhere else. They need their son so much these days. How could we abandon them?

The what-if list and the what-would-it-be-like lists can go on and on. They are places the mind and heart can lead you far and wide. It is good to think about these things. It is good to know your options. It is good to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. But it is not good to dwell on them and despair. It is not good to look within yourself when you should be looking at Jesus.  Let me share something a friend of mine sent me on March 21st. I’m not sure where she read this, so I’m unable to credit the original source.

Life Thought for the Church: March 20 – Second Sunday in Lent Faith in God’s love for us through Christ brings eternal life (John 3:16). Faith in God’s love for us through Christ brings strength and help for living this life. God will not abandon those for whom He paid such a holy price. This is our hope as we deal with life’s struggles and pains. God’s love is certain no matter what! You can believe it!
This helped me sort out some of my thoughts. I guess, the biggest one being, that there are so many circumstances outside of my control. I don’t believe that all this chaos is God controlling the universe. That’s not what I mean. But, He does allow bad things to happen, and uses even these events to draw people to Himself. C.S. Lewis said in The Problem with Pain, “Pain is God’s megaphone to a dying world.” Wherever I am, I am a little Christ to those around me. (If you ask me, I’m really not a very good one, but that’s another post. And don’t hold your breath waiting for that one!) So here I am until I know otherwise. In any case, all because of the grace of God.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day Four

March 14, 2011 (Monday)

Another sunny morning! A sunny day always means we can air out our bedding, so everybody had to be up and moving so we could pick up the futon in the tatami room and drape them over some chairs so that air could circulate and freshen them up. Our tatami room is next to the living room, and it’s also the room where my husband and I sleep. Now, though, all five of us were sleeping wall to wall. Talk about the “family bed!”

The kids got to fetch LOTS of water, and I was able to wash two loads of laundry. It sure took a long time! I had to operate the machine manually since we didn’t have running water, and had to keep dumping pickle buckets of water into the machine every time you turned around! What usually would be a one hour task in which you put the clothes in the machine and push a button and leave the machine to do everything on its own until it calls you with it’s I’m-finished beeps, took nearly four hours. There must be a better way to do this! (Hopefully we’ll have running water again soon so I don’t have to hurt my head thinking how.)

In between dumping buckets, I tried to get our a.m. meal ready. That was a bit easier because I could cook on my IH range top and even use the microwave as usual. But when it came time to wash the dishes, that too, took a lot more time than I was expecting. I was having a hard time remembering which buckets of water were for cooking and which were for washing. We were using water from different sources. The water from one neighbor’s well was not yet clear, but it wasn’t sandy. The water from another neighbor’s spring was a little cloudy, so we didn’t want to use that for cooking. Oh, and we also had river water in the buckets to use for flushing the toilet. It gave me some insight into those times and places where people (usually women) had to go to a community well to secure water for their family. We are so spoiled.

Back to fixing our A.M. meal (I call it that because we decided we would eat only twice a day until we are sure that we’ll be able to get around and go shopping). I was listening to our emergency radio, and all of a sudden there was a song. It was the fourth day since the earthquake happened, and the radio was always reporting on the earthquake and tsunami horrors. For the first time I cried. A song. I don’t even remember what song it was, but it touched that place in my heart that reminds you that there are depths where no one can go. No one, and sometimes even you yourself dare not go there for fear that what you see deep down there is too much for you to handle. They (who are they?) say that music soothes the soul. I suppose it does, but there are times when I’m listening to Tschaikowsky or Mozart when I have to stop everything I’m doing and just BE in that music. It pierces my heart and makes me yearn for whatever it is that is good to be true and to come now. That’s what happened when I heard that song. I cried and was glad, because it gave me, and not only me (I mused), but all the other listeners as well, hope. Hope that this would soon be over and we could resume our lives in spite of all the damage done.

Then, after finishing the morning dishes, and getting the laundry out to dry, as though I hadn’t even had that tearful moment, I was irked because it started to rain and to feel cold. The weather report said it would turn to snow and continue until the weekend. Oh, that’s just great!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Day Three

March 13, 2011 (Sunday)

Sunday morning arrived with a long list of things that need doing. And even though the list was long, most things would not get checked off. Usually I try to go to the 9:00 a.m. service at my church (and I rush back home to get lunch for my family), but this day I didn’t go. We did have our pancakes as we tend to do on Sundays. Some frozen blueberries were thawing out right there in the freezer drawer, so we plopped them five per pancake. They tasted really yummy. I think it was the ashes from our outdoor fire that added the right touch. We ate something else, too, but I can’t even remember now (I’m writing this 5 days later) what we had.

The bulk of the morning was spent getting water, and boiling it over and over and over again, so that we all could wash our bodies and shampoo our heads. Not knowing how long we’d have to live like campers, we tried to gather more wood, too. Dad and Ai went up the hill to a neighbor’s house to use their well, and when they came back, they brought Ayumi-chan. She was the cute little granddaughter in the family, and it was our first time to meet her. She told me that she and Ai had already become great friends. When I asked her how old she was, she told me she was six, and that she’d be starting first grade when the calendar turns to the 4 page (in other words, April).  After a while, she noticed I was different. She exclaimed, “Oh, an American mother!”  Yuko came into the room, and Ayumi announced that she and Ai were friends. Yuko pouted a little and asked if she could be friends, too. Ayumi cheerfully agreed. But then when we said there was one more kid in our family, a big boy, Ayumi quickly said, “Oh, I’m not good at [being friends with] boys!”  It was fun having her here. I love how kids are just plain real. They got out our Red Flyer wagon, played games in the yard, and could just have some fun for a few hours. It was like the good old days. ;-)

As it was sunny and clear, it was a good time to finally go upstairs and see what to do about the place. There are four rooms and a toilet closet. The toilet and the hallway were the only places where you could see the floor at all! None of the furniture had fallen over, but some in my room had moved away from the wall. The closet doors in all of the kids’ rooms had been thrown open, and the contents all jumbled and/or tossed into the rooms. The most I could accomplish was to clear a path in my own room so that I could get to the south window where I have a laundry pole set up to dry our laundry indoors when the weather is bad. Then I folded laundry, other clothes that were scattered all about, and untangled hangers. Then it was time for a coffee break!

After our break, I was sitting in the tatami room where we had all of our futon airing out and soaking in the sunshine. If it were a regular Sunday, I probably would have taken my ritual nap. Instead, I read for a while in my Treasury of Daily Prayer, and prayed that those that were worried about us would soon learn that we were fine. Then it was time to do some kitchen work and make sure we would have a decent supper. During that time, I was listening to our emergency radio. The reports were so awful, so much damage done, so many lives lost, so many needing to evacuate, so many, so many, too many! Then I tried to read the newspaper. Yes, the newspaper had been delivered. It was only a few pages, and all the news was about the Great Tohoku Kanto Earthquake. As I was taking in the enormity of this disaster, ---

Ai gasped, “The electricity is on!” She was looking at the air conditioner on the east wall of our living room, and we could see the little lights blinking and the vent flaps closing. Oh! We scrambled up, she to try to recharge her cell phone, I mean PHS, and I to turn on my lap top. We shouted out to everyone else. The lap top needs time to warm up, so during that time, I ran all over the house testing switches and feeling happy. Just the day before, my husband had gone out and bought these nice little flashlights that have a strap and clip (like a pen does) so we each could have our own, but now we would be able to save our flashlight power for another time! Turning on my lap top these days usually means my cyber life is beckoning me, so, of course, the first thing to check is whether or not I can get online. Success! THAT means the telephone lines work, and THAT means I can call Megumi! So, I did. And she cried joyful tears of relief. And the phone got passed around. And I was able to let others know via the internet* that we were alive!

*Kudos to Mr. Gore for inventing the Internet!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day Two

March 12, 2011 (Saturday)

Hubby was up and ready to go sooner than usual. He still didn’t really know where to go, though. He went to the same spot where he had dropped Makoto off the previous morning, but there was nothing there. When he told me that, my mind started suspecting all kinds of foul possibilities. (But we won’t go there!)

He went (I think to one of our local evacuation spots) to see if he could get directions from someone in Atusya’s neighborhood. Somehow he found Atsuya’s house, and even though they were very worried about their grandfather who lives in a coastal area that was severely hit by the tsunami, his mother told him and his older brother to go with my husband and seek out the head office to see what information they could find about Makoto’s whereabouts. I think they were gone between four and five hours trying to maneuver in traffic that was hardly moving, people carefully creeping along and taking turns yielding to other drivers at intersections where none of the traffic lights were working. (Think back to last night! Driving in those conditions in the pitch blackness of a city full of lights throughout an ordinary night!)

I don’t remember what time Makoto got home, but someone from his workplace brought him home. He was fine. And I could breathe again. (I have to confess that I was a bit forlorn that he didn’t want to hug his mommy.) My boy was okay, and his first words were, “Where’s Dad?”  “He’s out looking for you.” “What for?”  ARGHHHH Can you tell he’s 17?  ;-)

The rest of the day was spent inspecting the house. Dad determined that the foundation was still safe, no gaps or cracks anywhere, no broken windows, and the roof seemed to be fine. The Chair of our neighborhood association was making his rounds, and he was glad to hear that our son was home. My main job was to prioritize perishable food and eat that before it would spoil. The kids gathered firewood. (We can do that since we live in a rural area.) We had to set up a bucket toilet system, and hubby went out to see if he could get any other supplies we might need. We had plenty of water which I had been saving up over the past few years for the BIG earthquake that everyone knew would be coming. And spring was in the air.

Day One (at My House) of The Great Tohoku Kanto Earthquake

March 11, 2011

We (my husband, 16-year-old Ai, and I) had just finished a late lunch. Ai was brushing her teeth and I was getting my things ready to take her (and me) to the dentist. And then the shaking began. It was 2:46 p.m. Japan Standard Time. It was the strongest and longest I had ever felt. Hubby stayed in the kitchen, holding our tall filing cabinet so that it would stay in the little storage area under the staircase. I shouted out for Ai to get to a safe place, and I scrambled under our living room table. Most earthquakes are a quick swaying or a shudder or a jump and might last up to 15 seconds or so (at least that is what the fireman explained at my last Fire Prevention Club ( 防火クラブ ) just the previous Sunday), but this one must have went on for a good three minutes. I wondered if it would never stop.

All over the house you could hear things falling, bouncing and breaking. Not all, but a good number of glasses and dishes fell out of the dish cupboard in the kitchen and crashed into smithereens. When it quieted down, I quickly wiped up some Worcester sauce that had spilled in the kitchen, but in the middle of that task I had to dive back under the table in the living room for repeated rumbles. The following hour was spent picking up the broken glass and cowering under the table. Ai had been hiding in the toilet room on the first floor, but then came and joined me under the living room table.

Around 3:40, we decided Ai and I should get in my car. It would be safer there since nothing could fall on us. So, Ai and I huddled in my car while the man of the house took his car to two different neighbors to check on the great-grandmothers who may have been all alone. (They both seemed to have already been fetched by other of their family members.) And there in the car, Ai and I watched the car TV. We saw the tsunami come into Sendai airport, and I immediately thought that Megumi would have to cancel her plans to fly into Sendai airport in another two weeks. Then we saw more horrors of tsunamis extending far beyond the scope of where we thought the earthquake was really taking place. And I began to be frightened about where Yuko and Makoto were.

By 6:00 p.m., Dad decided it was time to go looking for Makoto. We had no idea where he might be! Dad had dropped him off at a meeting place near Izumi-chuo station at just past 8:00 a.m. It was his first day of a part-time job as one of hands of a team of movers. After reporting to work, he would be told where the moving company would be using him that day. So, we truly had no idea where in town he could have been. I can’t even remember the time slots, but my husband went out three times – once alone, once with Ai, and once with Yuko. He and Yuko returned at 2:00 a.m.

Yuko had come home at 6:30 p.m. She brought home some bottled water, bread and batteries. And in the dark, we three gathered something to eat. I don’t even remember what now. We still had running water, but the electricity went off exactly when the earthquake began and we sat in the candle light at the kitchen table trying to put ourselves in Makoto’s place wondering what he’d do if he were in this place or that. And all we could come up with was that we had no idea how he might do anything at all! It was still possible to send text messages via cell phones, but our family uses PHS. (Oh, we are such a backwards, not-with-it family!) So, we texted Makoto every hour (or maybe it was more), and Yuko sent Megumi an email to let her know that 4 of us were fine. Oh, I felt just awful telling Megumi that we didn’t even know where Makoto was. They are so close, and with her on the other side of the world….. She was quite stressed out for a few days trying to get some news about our happenings.

to be continued...

My Family and I are All Right!

If you haven't heard by now, Japan had a 9.0 earthquake last week Friday. We live fairly close to the epicenter, but are more inland near the mountains in the northern part of Sendai. We've been able to stay in our own home, and our neighbors have offered to let us share their fresh springs and well water. I will try to post some of our experiences in the next few days, but in the meantime.....

Please consider helping by sending a donation to the site mentioned in this video. I work in Ishinomaki twice a week. One of my classes is at the Ishinomaki Red Cross Nursing School, and this video will give you a glimpse of some of the roads I travel when I go there.

Tonight my family was watching tv and in a scene of the tsunami washing away this part of Ishinomaki, there were two things that were left standing. There was a Statue of Liberty (I have no idea what that was about. It may have been a restaurant?). And the Russian Orthodox Church (which is not the building the Ishinomaki congregation uses anymore) which is of historical significance in this once booming port town in the northeastern part of Japan's main island.

Be not afraid. God will waste not one thing in spite of all that goes on around us.