Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Witnessing Japan's Disaster by Skype

When I saw words “Major Earthquake in Japan” appear in my TweetDeck window, I reached for my phone. But before I could even find the right number to call, a Skype window opened on my computer. It was my family calling me to say that they were OK.

My husband, who works as a Department of Defense civilian, is assigned to Yakota Air Force Base in Fussa which is a suburb of Tokyo. They have been in Japan for about 7 months. They live on base, in military housing and the boys attend American schools there with other DoD Civilian and Military dependents. For them, it’s been like living in small town USA, except in Japan. The schools are smaller, and everyone knows each other. Kids still get excited about Homecoming during football season, hang out at the bowling alley, and have the freedom to roam the base without concern about violence or random crime.

It was late afternoon there, when the ground began to move. My kids had just gotten home from school. My (going on) 16-year-old, Wyatt was famously peeing when the quake hit. At the time, he was quite proud that he didn’t miss the bowl. My other son, Nolan, who will be 13 in June, said he was lying on the floor presumably watching TV, when the house began to move back and forth.

We knew it was bad, but had no idea how bad it would get. They were shaken up, but there was no damage. Their dad, who had come home to check on them, went back to work, and I stayed on Skype with the boys. We chatted nervously about the quake and their school day. Wyatt was trying to reach friends to find out about a soccer game that they planned to attend, but phone service, including mobile phones was down. Internet was the only means for communication on base and otherwise.

I flipped through cable to see what was happening and as the pictures began to stream in, I warned Wyatt that the soccer game may be cancelled. “They’re not going to cancel soccer,” he said incredulously.

We decided to watch TV together, and just as we settled on a news channel that we could watch simultaneously, the first live images of the tsunami began to emerge. I didn’t even identify it as water at first. It looked like a black blob oozing across a Japanese countryside. Denial immediately set in as I told myself that maybe there would be a minimal loss of life since the destructive wave seemed to be in a rural farming area. But the water kept coming. It swept up cars, and semi trucks and then houses and buildings.

As we watched the tragedy unfold, I also watched over my kids as they sat together on the couch, and I realized how lucky I was to live in such an age where such things are possible. Had I not been able to do this, I surely would have been far more upset than I initially was.

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