17 April, 2011

We're not really back to normal, whatever that is

I've spent time with a few different missionaries in the last couple of days and here are few things that are part of the "new normal", even for us here in Tokyo.

People don't know how to react to aftershocks. Do you count to ten then dive under the nearest table if it hasn't ended by then? Or do you just ride it out unless things start to fall off shelves? One of the reasons for this is that previously we though that you could quickly tell if this would be a biggie or not - because it would start with a big jolt or the like. But the one we experienced on March 11 started like any other 'little shake' that is not uncommon in Japan and it built and built and went on and on.

There is some difficulties about summer holidays (vacation). This might seem a little callous in the light of all the suffering that is around, but we know instinctively that we cannot keep going without a break and summer is the time when it is most convenient to do that if you have school-aged children. Here there are no long holidays (read longer than a week) four times a year, only summer and two weeks in the middle of winter (Christmas-New Year). The issue is particularly of concern for those who'd usually take a summer holiday at the beach near Sendai. A number of missions (including ours) have one or more cabins there. Some missionaries also own a small cabin (not very upmarket, by the way). These cabins have survived as they are perched on a rocky knoll. But they sit as islands in the midst of incredible destruction. Who'd be able to relax there? And of course, you'd wonder about the water quality too - maybe swimming at the beach wouldn't be so great. We were planning to go camping, so it is not an issue for us, thankfully, but the whole disaster has messed with people's image of (and plans for) a relaxing summer break.

As I mentioned yesterday, many wonder how we'll cope with the relentless heat and humidity of a Tokyo summer with potential rolling power outages. Others are thankful that their planned home assignments are coming up this summer and they can guiltlessly leave Japan for a bit.

A number of people have changed job descriptions. Many have taken time out of their previous ministries to do relief work or work at the CRASH command centre here in Tokyo. Some did it for a while, but had to return to their previous ministries. Some are hoping to hand over their responsibilities to others soon, others have able to put other things aside and continue to work full or part-time in this new ministry. Mission leaders are considering the long-term responses that their organisation will make to the disaster. What will come of this all? We wait and see.

And people are still telling their stories. What happened for them on THE day. What's happened for them since. How this has changed or not changed what they're doing. How they're feeling more stressed than usual. Wondering what the future holds.

Life looks pretty normal, but frequent shakes remind us that it is not. That there are many for whom life won't look normal for some time. But also that even those of us who have suffered little will bear scars, even if they are tiny, they are there.

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