Friday, March 25, 2011

My thoughts... (about living in Japan now)

I wanted to write this last week, but let's just say I wasn't in the happiest of places. I really struggled with the events unfolding at the Fukushima Power Plant, especially after seeing the atrocities and damage from the earthquake and tsunami. I think because I was at home it was even worse for me - I had nothing to really take my mind off of the nuclear plant problems and was constantly reading and watching any English news I could find.

One major thing that we "learned" (although we knew it already) was how loved we are. I spent hours on the computer writing back to friends and family and posting on Facebook that we are safe. People I went to high school with, our immediate families, even Max's nanny from Peru got on to her friend's email account at an internet "cafe" to write to us because she was so worried about us and the Welbes family, who she also worked for prior to working for us. But even that was hard. With the horrific images on the news and the information about the Fukishima Power Plant, many people could not (and probably still don't) understand why weren't on the first flight out of here. Japan seems small and is an island, but we are quite a distance away from Tokyo and further north where the epicenter was located.

In general, one of the things I've struggled with the most here is communication. In Peru, we easily learned Spanish and could communicate within the first few months rather easily. Here, that's not the case. This is our own fault mind you. Japanese is a difficult language, and our new jobs were (are) taxing and moving with a child is MUCH MUCH different than when John and I moved to Peru as a carefree couple. We easily took language lessons after work and went out a lot more which enabled us to practice. When you have kids, it's a LOT different. With the difficulty of not being able to communicate, I get a little panicked at times, even about day to day things or frustrated about making appointments or constantly asking friends for favors. But this was something totally different - life threatening even - Would I know what to do if there was a loud speaker announcement about a tsunami? I can't decipher between a routine message about trash pick up and an emergency.

All last week, when I was out and about walking with Lola, I constantly had my eyes on higher ground, places I could run to with her if there were tsunami warnings. I know it's a bit crazy, but some of these thoughts started to consume me. There were no tsunami warnings after that first day. I just want to protect my kids, period. Then it got me thinking that I had no idea what they do at Max's school if there was a tsunami or earthquake. Where could I locate them? What were their plans to keep my baby safe (and Lola safe in the future)? What scares me more than an actual emergency here is being separated or being away from each other when it occurs. If we are working, our first priority is supposed to be our students. I understand that's my job and the parents of my students expect their kids to be safe, but I can't imagine being away from my own kids during something like that.

Anyhow, as you can tell from my rambling, my brain was whirling around and around for days. It would not shut off until I would read myself to sleep at night. And it would all start up again as soon as I sat down with my morning coffee in front of the computer.

Thankfully, going away gave me perspective. I feel safe. I totally trust the Japanese government and our community to take care of us. I have to. I have to trust the fact that the grocery stores won't sell radiated foods, because I cannot read the labels to read where they are coming from. I have to trust the fact that things are being tested and we are very safe in Kobe. And I do. I think if I were living in another country I wouldn't have such faith in the system. But here, we do.

I felt really guilty when we were in the airport leaving for Guam. I felt like I was abandoning my host country. On our way to the airport, leaving our apartment complex with luggage, our neighbor asked, "Are you going back to your home country?" While there were times that I wanted to leave, I know that I was being irrational. Life in Kobe is normal. People are going about their daily lives - kids are going to school, people are going to work, and we see a lot of people out and about shopping and going out to eat.

We were in a big earthquake while living in Peru, much closer to the epicenter than we were here. I was pregnant with Maximo and I was at Open House Night for parents at our school. I was pretty shaken from that too, but Maximo came two weeks later and I had other things to worry about.

This week, when I dropped Max off at school, they had a whole plan typed out to inform parents what their emergency plans were. I got the gist of it, but need to get the specifics translated. They do take them off island if there is a tsunami - but that's good to know. And I was able to put some care packages together for people who have lost everything. It's been hard to help so far because many of the roads are still closed except for government personnel in the affected area. I put one together for a baby, toddler and a mother, because that's what made most sense to me. I'm sure there are plenty of families like ours who lost everything - many of which whose families are not intact.

I hope we can continue to help those in need in the North. And what I need to do for my mental health is to not read the news. I trust the system. If I need to do something, I will find out from friends or our work.

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