Dreaming Big in Japan

Friday, April 1, 2011

It must be all over now!

Whew! Thank goodness this whole triple disaster thing is over in Japan. Well, at least that is what I gathered from the headlines, or rather, the lack of headlines about Japan. In the past four days there have been only three headlines (two on Wednesday and one yesterday) and none today on the news sites I frequent. And many have already taken down their “donate” links. So, in this 24-hour news cycle of ours, this whole triple disaster must be over now, right!?

But, three weeks to the day since all this began we are reminded to “keep in mind that disasters start suddenly and end slowly.” This means that while the media, pundits and fear mongers have moved on to the next disaster du jour an entire nation is left to fend for itself amidst a set of disasters it is ill equipped to handle. Was this Japan’s fifteen minutes of fame? If so, and if it is truly over (read: no longer newsworthy), then perhaps we have the dubious distinction of being the most callous, self-absorbed, petty and complacent bunch to ever slither over this Earth. 

This would not be the first time, nor likely will it be the last, that as a global community we turn to a local crisis for our own amusement, and on a whim discard it like a passing fad. We display a certain fetish for permitting ourselves to be scared silly by anyone with a tasty soundbite. Once the rush of that thrill fades, we move on to our next fix, forever jonesing for a bigger and bigger hit to overcome our desensitized souls. Just look at New Orleans, Haiti and New Zealand, even the Gulf of Mexico. And, whatever happened to India, Indonesia and Southeast Asia after the Sumatra Tsunami at the end of 2004?  Burma is probably next. At least we can always count on our pushers to provide us with the most innovative and stimulating smack the market has to offer.

Things are a little different in Japan. We cannot avoid the turmoil here as this is where it happened. We cannot turn the channel or click on a different link. Fukushima is our ground zero. This is what we live with now. The media, however, has played into corporate and government hands, unsurprisingly, and basically repeats what it is told by the government, which in turn is a rote reiteration of whatever faulty facts TEPCO deems we should all be privy to at that moment. It sounds disgustingly corrupt when it is put that way, but is this not the way it is everywhere else as well? With the power to reach millions, the media might do well to advise about the dangers of radiation or even how to limit exposure (as there is no preventing it now), but instead they quote TEPCO’s fudged numbers and go on to quote the government’s regurgitation that those levels pose no immediate threat to human health. This results in the general public believing that there is no threat at all. So, we have people, families, entire cities acting as if nothing has happened. The news said it was safe, so it must be.

Even our own family members here in Oshu City do not really comprehend what is happening, and we watch the news together every night and let them know what is being omitted and what is actually happening! The best we can do is limit our exposure. There obviously is not as much radiation in the air where we live compared to Fukushima, but people are wantonly going about their lives. Michie and I have sequestered ourselves and have only been out twice in the past two weeks to buy groceries. Michie had to turn down her grandmother’s request to work in the garden last night because it was raining. It was heartbreaking for her to say no to her grandmother, who played the overwhelming roll in her upbringing. Michie explained what was happening and why she would not go out in the rain (it pulls more radioactive particles out of the air and the moisture facilitates speedy absorption into the body) but her grandmother still did not understand it.

Perhaps, though, the people going about their lives know that some fallout from this disaster is inevitable, and that they do indeed have lives that need to be gone about. I just do not know what to do myself. I believe that there is no safe level of radiation exposure. It may not kill us immediately, validating those claims from above, but it will have some negative effects on us. Is it simply a calculated risk to go out and get on with our lives? Is that a risk we can afford to take? In a world of absolute relatives, we are safer than those closest to Fukushima. But are any of us really safe; safe from ourselves; safe from the faults of our own species?

In light of all this, our island paradise still awaits us on Ajishima. The dream we built up for ourselves is so enticing right now. Our dream did not include several nuclear meltdowns. This is something we live with now. We want to get to Ajishima, to move in and move on with our dream. The island has already started its recovery.

We received our first direct call from the island this morning. They secured a mobile generator that provides electricity for five hours in the morning and five at night. The phone lines are still down, and the power and water lines laid on the ocean floor from the nearest city were stripped away and washed out to sea by the tsunami. It will take over six months at the minimum to reconnect. Five hours today gave our friends enough time to charge their cells phones and find a signal. There is one small tank of water for drinking and cooking, and for all other uses water must be drawn up by rope and bucket from a well.

We also learned that forty houses were destroyed by the tsunami on the island. One elderly man died soon after, but not before rescuing his grandchildren and taking them to higher ground. He was on a constant oxygen supply, but without electricity for three weeks, he was not able to breathe. We coincidentally met his daughter on the ferry to Ajishima when we visited at the beginning of March. We were late for the ferry and almost missed it. We did not have time to call ahead to be picked up at the port, so Michie sought out the friendliest face and asked to borrow her cell phone. We tried to pay her 100 Yen (about a $1.20) and we ended up laughing over the paltry sum. Michie talked with her at length, and we even helped deliver some packages to her family once we arrived.

Long before even leaving for Japan a month or so ago, Michie and I discussed ways for us to get involved in the island community. As a nurse she would have direct contact with a majority of the islanders as most were aging and seeking treatment or home care. This was her way in. A plan we devised for me was to reach out to our neighbors and offer to do odd jobs pro bono. I had designs on helping weed gardens, cleaning out the gutters, even harvesting seaweed; but in my greatest fantasy I would help deconstruct dilapidated houses, saving the doors, windows and bent nails to straighten out later as my only fee. These were the things we planned to repurpose into our own home and eventually into our Bed and Breakfast.

We intended to build a home with the very dirt under our feet. A cob (earthen walls) or even a straw bale structure with a few locally salvaged trimmings would fit the bill nicely. We planned on a modest solar and wind power system and even simpler energy needs, as the most effective form of conservation is (gasp!) actually using less! We were fond of the idea of a greywater system that uses captured rain water several times in sinks, indoor vegetable planters and other fixtures before being flushed down the toilet or better yet filtered outside to a lush garden pond. Our permaculture fixation would have us incorporate a design mimicking nature into our need to provide our own sustenance from gardens and a food forest.

Yet, there seems to be a silver lining in all of this. And, there seems to be a pattern developing in my posts here: I get really worked up, vent it out, and then see the brighter side. Would it not be great if I could just skip all the trouble? Less headaches, less hassle in typing, less drudgery in reading all this mess...But, I digress. The fact is that Ajishima holds even more for us now. We can be of real service to the islanders. We have already seen our plans to fruition in our dreams. We have even planted fantasy trees we know will not mature until our grandchildren are old enough to clamber up their limbs and pick the choicest of the bunch.

The realtime situation on Ajishima may seem more a superimposed deficiency than a self-imposed conservancy, however, this is the situation for which we have already prepared ourselves. In our heart of hearts, we know this is where we are supposed to be. Now, we just have to get there...

No comments:

Post a Comment