A Letter Home

by industriousants

Hey Family,
Seeing as there is so much running through my mind lately, and probably your own minds as well, I thought maybe it would be an idea to write you all an update of how we are doing, and stay a little bit more in touch…especially considering Japan’s current situation.

Matt and I are doing very well. The baby is kicking up a storm lately. Hard to believe that I am almost 7 months pregnant. I get lots of tummy rubs from my students…apparently that’s ok here…back home I would probably have a lawsuit on my hands 😉

Since the earthquake, life in Nobeoka is eerily normal. Almost too normal. Sometimes the normal-ness of it all is a bit much to take. People are still shopping, eating out, going to school, driving, biking, surfing and taking vacations. I almost want to scream “Would somebody just panic already!” Ha! Totally not the Japanese way. It’s a good thing though. Trust me. Better than having people rampaging around town, buying up all the ramen noodles in sight, pushing, shoving and turning a cold shoulder to everyone else.

Some of Matt’s students have families in Sendai and the affected areas. While my school life is business as usual, I think a lot of his classes have been cancelled as his students struggle to make contact with their families, or head up north to find them themselves. But really, that’s the only change in our work lives so far.

This time of year is the time for work parties. It’s the end of the business year in Japan, and traditionally there are a large number of goodbye/welcome parties for the staff that gets transferred from one place to another. It happens in my school too. This year we are transferring 5 teachers out, and at least that many new teachers will be arriving shortly. I thought the parties would be cancelled due to the tsunami, but I was wrong. We had one last night, and I felt pretty guilty, sitting there and eating my sashimi and beefsteak. It just felt wrong to be out wining and dining when there is so much hunger and suffering going on, and in this very country. Also, no one uttered a word about the recent events. I could tell that people just wanted a moment to forget, so I let them have their moment.

These things are not easily talked about with the Japanese….sad things make them very uncomfortable. There is a time and a place to address certain issues like death, or the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings, and now, this very horrible event. I am convinced that they are feeling the sadness more deeply than I can imagine, but are hiding it in a place within their hearts where it won’t disrupt their sanity. I think this routine of doing what has always been done (like year end parties) is partly a way for them to cope with the immensity of it all. They are a very composed people, and find reassurance in schedules and systems. If the system stays in tact, everything will be ok.

I hope to make a suggestion of canceling some future events so we can donate the money to the relief effort…but I will have to approach it in the right way…with respect and merely as a friendly suggestion. If they decide not to, that’s their decision, and I am not about to play the role of the foreigner who throws a fuss over what I think is the best way of doing things. I am still only a guest in their country, and I can’t push my beliefs on them in that way. They won’t understand and nothing productive will get done.

In saying that, I plan on making a personal donation to the Red Cross Japan tomorrow (pay day) along with a good contingent of other English Teachers who are pledging to do the same…I hope you will help out where you can. Giving money to a reliable organization would be a good first step, and I am sure that there will be other ways in the future to continue helping those in need.

Please don’t take my above example of ‘office parties’ as reason to think the Japanese are an insensitive people. It is quite the opposite actually. They are the most intuitive and feeling people I know. They have an amazing spirit and generosity beyond anything I can sometimes imagine. They pull together to help their neighbors out. It is a very communal society. Because of their calmness, as well as their generosity, I fully believe they can rebuild their lives and they can overcome this immense catastrophe. They are probably the most mentally equipped to do so, more than any other people I have met. However, they will definitely need a helping hand wherever they can get it.

Our town has already organized 2 trucks of supplies to head north, with water, food and clothing. Iwate is actually a sister city of ours, so our town takes their situation quite personally. Our prefecture has opened up 107 apartments for refugee families. I hope that number grows, and I expect that other, more well-off prefectures than our own are also doing everything they can for their fellow Japanese countrymen.

Finally…
Probably, at the forefront of all your minds is the radiation issue.
Trust me, Matt and I are thinking of it every moment too. Today, I am at school participating in a Student Sports Day and it is so hard to focus on anything else but the headlines in the news. When the wind blows, I think of what direction it is coming from.

Here is a link my friend sent me today that was very coherent and informative. It’s the transcript from a panel discussion held yesterday by the British Embassy. It is basically a group of experts discussing their take on the situation and analyzing likely disaster outcomes, as well as worst case scenarios and answers to very good questions. I encourage you to read the whole thing, because it is a quality transcript without all the hoopla of the evening news. It’s realistic, and at least for myself, put me at ease about the threat of radiation poisoning to Tokyo and especially here in Nobeoka…where we are very far away from everything that is going on:

http://ukinjapan.fco.gov.uk/en/news/?view=News&id=566799182

Also, a great blog page to read on what is actually happening in Tokyo is the following:

http://hikosaemon.blogspot.com/2011/03/tokyo-japan-situation-march-16.html

I found it very enlightening and think you should all read it as well.

Of course, many of my expat friends are feeling extreme pressure from their families to bail out of the country now and head home. One girl I know has already decided to go, but she admits it has more to do with the fact that they live 400 meters from the shoreline and if a Tsunami were to hit their town, if she were in the house, she wouldn’t stand a chance. She was scheduled to leave in 4 months anyhow, so she figures it’s just an early departure. She is taking her son with her. Her husband will stay to finish his work contract and then leave as scheduled.

That all said, Matt and I are always having conversations about what to do if ________ happens. The important thing for us is to remain calm, level, logical and to not freak out. We have our various contingency plans, and hope we never have to use any of them, but they are there in case we do. We don’t take the situation lightly, but we hope that you would all respect our decision to stay (at least for now). Pray that if it is time to leave, we would feel it, and that God would show us a clear path to do so. More importantly though, pray it won’t be necessary.

I know it’s hard for any of us to think of anything but nuclear fallout, but please continue to think of the people that have lost their loved ones, for those who are buried alive and will not be reached on time, for people out of homes, out of food, and who have nothing left to their name…think and pray for them most of all. As it stands, we are unscathed by this tragic event (except maybe for some devalued yen in the bank). We are blessed and lucky and fortunate and so many other good things. We really don’t deserve it. Although the future is very uncertain, I don’t feel afraid, and that’s the truth. So, please don’t be afraid either. Don’t be driven by fear…but by love and a sound mind.

We miss you all! Stay in touch, stay positive and keep praying.

Xoxox
Me, Matt, Baby and Roger (the Cat)

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