By Anne Thomas
(Ed. Note: The following letter was received March 17 by Karen Hadalski of Mt. Airy. It was sent by Anne Thomas, originally from Oregon, who has been teaching English in Japan for the last 10 years and has lived in Japan for 22 years.)
I am writing this as I make the decision whether to leave Sendai or not. I have just heard that a bus will be available to evacuate American citizens from Sendai tomorrow morning. I have not yet made up my mind what I will do. I have been in this city for 22 years. My life is here.
Things here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am very blessed to have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is even more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a friend’s home. We share supplies like water, food and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful.
Earlier this evening I wrote the following essay about my experiences during the day:
Life here has become one of living day to day. I am staying with the mother of my best friend, Izumi. Her home is two minutes from my unlivable shack. Izumi has moved in there, too, as her own home is in shambles after the major quake. She goes there daily to straighten things out.
Each morning and evening we watch the news. Our daily lives are nose to nose with the immediate world around us, so seeing a larger picture is important. But even so, we are much more focused on day-to-day living. During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes.
As I said, in the morning Izumi usually heads to her home, while I set out to find food. Lack of rice is a big problem. But vegetables and protein are also high on the list. I know of a small four-generation grocery store tucked way back in a neighborhood with narrow, twisting alleyways. The chain stores on main streets are closed or only open a few hours each day due to lack of supplies. But smaller ones off the beaten track are more promising.
To my utter amazement and delight, this place was to open at 3 p.m. So, I joined the line of people waiting for that hope-filled hour. The wind was fiercely cold and the wait almost two hours before I was able to enter the shop.
Very wisely, the owners were allowing only five people in at one time. They had food because of farmer relatives who had brought in a large truck of vegetables and fruit earlier in the day. Most places permit people to buy only five or 10 items, but in this beautiful place, the owners, deep with understanding, did not set a limit.
It was such a delight to watch people come out of the shop with bags full of such items as potatoes, cabbage, daikon, carrots, yams and other such sturdy vegetables. The look of joy on their faces was palpable. I got my share, too, and as I pedaled home on my bicycle, I found another wee shop selling two-kilo bags of rice. So it was indeed a fortunate day. When I got back to Izumi’s mom’s home, we all laughed and clapped for joy.
Since I will have to move from this shack of mine, I wandered over to a real estate office nearby to let them know my desires. Miraculously it was open. The woman was there to clean up and also because there was running water. There was none in her home and with her daughter’s newborn child, washing diapers was a problem. So she scrubbed nappies while we discussed housing for me.
Shifting focus off my immediate experiences, please let me continue sharing beautiful, life-affirming things that are happening all around. I am ceaselessly in awe of the emergency infrastructure here. There are not enough supplies, which everyone knows, but the excellently organized system is running like clockwork to the best of its stretched abilities.
To give a few examples, evacuation shelters are all over every city. Food, water and heat are there, although very limited. Mats and blankets, again in short supply, are also there. People are collecting wood from damaged buildings and making fires for heating and cooking. Volunteers welcome evacuees and help in whatever way they can. Firefighters and policemen carry the old and injured into shelters on their backs. And shelters have designated leaders to head meetings and make decisions.
People in the shelters are supporting one another. They massage each others’ legs and shoulders, sit in close circles for human contact, read stories to kids or simply hold hands. They are grateful for whatever goodness comes their way. “I feel so fortunate. We are able to eat at least once a day,” one woman said.
And people are being very creative. Some are out collecting snow in plastic bags. The water from it can be used to flush toilets or wash dishes.
Today one young able man, who was helping his parents clean up the remains of their home, was called into the reserves. He had no choice, but was not happy about this turn of events. But his mother said, “We need him here, of course, but his service to others, to many, is more important than for only us.”
During the day people go out to search for missing family members. TV crews are there, of course, and often stop people for interviews. Emotional wounds are deep and vast. People’s intense efforts to contain grief is painful to witness. No overt wailing. But tears and silence everywhere.
“Shigata ga nai” is a Japanese expression that roughly translated means, “It cannot be helped.” It also implies a sense of enduring what is happening and of making the best of whatever situation you are in. That concept is an integral part of everyday life here, not only now, but always. This emergency situation is surely one of “shigata ga nai.” And everywhere people are saying, “We have to soldier on. There is no other way.”
“Gambarimashou” (with Love). Anne Karen Reed Hadalski, who received this letter, is a freelance writer, columnist for Pet Tails Magazine and author of the award-winning novella, “Enduring Destiny.” Formerly an educator, she worked for 10 years in the field of Family Literacy. You may purchase copies of her book, “Make Your Dreams Come True,” through Internet bookstores such as BarnesandNoble.com, Amazon.com or other online bookstores.