Familiar but foreign

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It was my third trip to Japan in four years. Japan is a place that feels familiar but foreign to me. This trip was similar but different. I visited some of the same destinations as I had in 2013 and 2014 but also some new ones. To me the main thing that had changed since 2014 was the sense of a new normal. There wasn’t as much uncertainty as to what the future holds. Rebuilding is underway, memorials have been established, possibilities of moving back are on the calendar, sharing of stories has begun. This trip was far more about being ears to listen than being a storyteller. It was far more about I am only a half step further down the road from my disaster after fifteen years than you are after your disaster five years ago. This trip was about resilience.

In future blog posts I will explain more of what I experienced and learned on yet another life changing trip to Japan.  Below is the information I received before the trip from our organizers. 

5th International Outreach Program for School Children and Community Survivors of

3/11 Great East Japan Disasters

Back Ground: Now more than five years after the 3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake, still 170,000 evacuees from disaster stricken areas with 99,000 evacuees from radiation contamination continue to suffer the consequences (3/4/2016 report by Reconstruction Agency). In particular, children’s emotional well being is concerning as they continue to be displaced away from their communities and show signs of emotional stress.

Goals: We wish to empower school communities with self-motivation toward recovery by showing concrete examples of resilience and people overcoming disasters.

Sadako’s Soaring Crane: Together with American Airlines, we brought an origami crane monument fabricated out of steel recovered from 9/11 on our 1st mission in 2012. This symbol for recovery from the international community dedicated for children’s comfort was inspired by Sadako Sasaki, who died at age 12 from radiation exposure after the bombing of Hiroshima. Sadako’s origami cranes was previously donated to the 9/11 Tribute Center and we made a symbolic return of Sadako’s wish for peace and comfort for children. KyodoNews

Children’s Storybook: We have published a children’s storybook of late 12-year-old girl’s story about strength and courage to move forward and how Sadako’s Soaring Crane monument came to Fukushima. This storybook is touted as a “book of life” and “Hiroshima–NY–Fukushima connected with hope.” We have donated more than 10,000 copies of storybooks to school children in Fukushima. The story will continue to touch the kids around the world.

Impact of Survivor Exchange Program: We continue to gauge the impact of post-3/11 outreach efforts on both the 3/11 “recipient” community and the 9/11 “donor” community. The success of this outreach program may be partially attributable to the fact that it meets the basic objectives of psychological first aid to “establish human connection in a non intrusive, compassionate manner”; “support positive coping and empower survivors to take an active role in recovery”; and “facilitate continuity and ensure other sources of support when leaving.”

March Moments

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When I owned my studio March was a slow month. The majority of the prep work for the recital was done before March – music chosen, students measured, costumes ordered, monies collected and choreography started. March was the month I got to concentrate on just one thing, teaching dance. I have been retired almost five years now and you would think my “March” would be even slower than it had been when I worked but alas this March has been a whirlwind.

March 1- 5 – I was in Brussels where I spoke at the EPP hearing at the European Parliament on victims of terrorism. https://missannsays.com/2016/02/12/remedial-class/   I also ventured out to explore with a bus trip to Ghent and Bruges. Speaking at the EP was a first and this was also the first time I traveled alone in a country other than England. I did enroll in the US State Department STEP program https://step.state.gov/step/ which means the American Embassy in Belgium knew I was “in country” and where to find me. In today’s world I would suggest enrolling. I also dressed as a professional woman not a person on vacation. Even though I was in Brussels I used my New York City walk – woman on a mission not wandering. Don’t mess with me.

March 7 – I lead two tours at the 9/11 Tribute Center.

March 8 – I was a panel member at Asia Society 3-11 and 9-11 survivor stories. It was a wonderful reunion with those I had traveled to Japan with in 2013 and 2014. The panel discussion was followed by a delicious dinner attended not only by myself and my Tribute Center family but by Japan’s ambassador to the United Nations. http://asiasociety.org/new-york/events/3-11-and-9-11-survivor-stories.

March 9 – taught two classes, had my taxes done and led Children’s Bible quizzing at church.

March 10 – 14 – flew to FL to visit good friends. I enjoyed relaxing days, yummy food, great conversation and many laughs. We realized in our time together we have known each other over 40 years which makes me feel old and extremely blessed.

March 16 – taught one class, had my hair done and led Children’s Bible quizzing at church.

March 17 – 22 – Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in CA. I met some talented writers, gracious agents and encouraging editors. The key-note speaker was Carol Kent. If you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak you will be challenged and encouraged by her words. Once I am home I have much writing to accomplish. Exciting. Scary. Taunting. Good stuff.

Terrorist attacks in Brussels bring tears to my eyes, sorrow to my heart and prayers to my lips.

March 22 – 27 – visiting with my daughter and son-in-law in Seattle. Emily and I have done some touristy things. I would highly recommend the Boeing factory tour and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation visitor center. The cherry blossoms at University of Washington were in bloom and we had a delightful walk around Emily’s alma mater.  Also saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 which was a fun movie. As we walked to the car after the movie, Emily said she really wanted baklava so a trip to the grocery store was in order. 🙂

The old adage is “March comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion.” March 2016 for me has been an adventure that will take some time to process. I am truly a blessed.

Japan 2014 – part 4

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Three random stories from Japan – one is blooper reel worthy (if it had been filmed), one is amusing (at least chuckle worthy) and one is thought-provoking. 🙂

1. On the seventh morning in Japan, my eyes lit up as I saw applesauce on the breakfast buffet. Breakfast buffets in Japan usually have a “western” section and a “traditional” section. This particular buffet was not divided that way. I wasn’t in the mood for eggs so I took some fruit, made two pieces of toast and took a separate bowl of applesauce. The dining room was crowded. We found a few seats here and there and sat down to eat. I put my tray on the table and went to get some coffee and butter and by the time I came back the table was “just our group”. I was really looking forward to the applesauce. I don’t know why but I was. I scooped up a small spoonful and the moment the applesauce touched my tongue I knew this isn’t applesauce. I knew I couldn’t  swallow it. Okay proper etiquette is however it goes in your mouth is how it should come out of your mouth. So as politely as possible I spit it back unto the spoon and slowly placed the spoon back in the bowl. I glanced around the table to see if anyone noticed. Thankfully, no. I took a quick drink of coffee and a deep breath to stop myself from bursting into laughter. I looked at one of my fellow travelers and said “it wasn’t applesauce” and proceeded to share the story. 🙂

2. At one moment towards the end of our journey we all had to “pile” into one elevator. Luckily we didn’t have out luggage with us. We were definitely standing too close together. There wasn’t room to breath.I said “if this elevator gets stuck, I am going to need Dr Katz!” To which Dr Katz said “if this elevator gets stuck, Dr Katz is going to need Dr Katz!” Dr Katz is a psychiatrist.

3. We had the opportunity to visit a high school. School wasn’t is session but some students came to share their 3/11 stories. They presented their stories in English and two of Tribute Center docents myself included shared our stories. When I finished sharing my prepared presentation, I said “I wanted to tell them something I had always said to my daughters September 11 does not define you.” I told them that “March 11 doesn’t define you. It will shape you but it doesn’t define you. You have done a great job today telling us your stories. Keep up the good work. I am proud of you.” Later on the bus one of the Mount Sinai medical students asked if he could ask me a question. “sure” “You told your daughters not to let 9/11 define you but everything you do is about 9/11. Wouldn’t it be easier to just not deal with it. To just move on.” I made a few comments and said “I have to think about what you said and will get back to you.”  I have actually thought about that idea before by doing tours and speaking about September 11, I am allowing it to define me.The next morning at breakfast I said “I have to tell you this right now. It will seem totally random but I am tired and if I don’t say it now I will forget. Remember yesterday and our conversation about all the things I do being allowing September 11 to define me, that is wrong. All I do defines September 11.”

 

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Japan 2014 – part 3

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After my trip to Japan last year I had said to people “even if you learned the language you would still need a guide to help you navigate the customs.”  And that held true on this trip as well, we had wonderful translators that not only translated words but explained proper etiquette and customs. Taking your shoes off and putting the slippers on, placing money on the little tray not on the counter or into the person’s hand, bowing and the handling of business cards were all things we needed to be aware of.

There is a certain rhythm/pattern of speech you need to use when being translated. I found it fascinating that some times the translation would be 2 words to my 10 and other times one little thought seemed to be translated into a novel. I had absolute trust in our 3 official translators. I think because they had traveled with the group on the last trips they understood who we were and what we were trying to do – they got it.

Nearly all of our lunch and dinner meals had assigned seating including someone who could translate which ensured that you could have conversation with everyone at your table. At some events there were name tags on the table and other times in was just a matter of rearranging until we got an arrangement that would work. There was one time in particular that I had to pause when something was said because I wasn’t sure if the person realized the implications of what they said. While having dinner with a delightful young Japanese medical student and his wife, I asked whether his wife was also a student or did she work? This was a very young cute couple and he spoke English very well. She didn’t speak any English. They had been married in March. His response to my question was “she is my housewife.” Having grown up in the USA, owned my own business, having hyphenated my maiden name with my husband’s name when I got married, I really had to just smile. I wasn’t sure if it was a term of endearment or what?

There was one more experience that made me think “Toto, we aren’t in Kansas any more.” When we had our formal meeting with a rather high-ranking government official, a young woman came to escort us to his office. She handed each of us a seating chart (below). My name is listed as Ms. Hine. I do not think Clark-Van Hine is a common name in Japan. I hadn’t been to a meeting where you get a printed seating chart before. This was the big leagues. As we were walking to the office I realized our young escort  was wearing  shorts and high heels. Her look was polished but I thought maybe it is dress down Friday because I can’t believe you can work in a government office and dress like that.  Her manner was professional and polite but her outfit was confusing me. I made note of how everyone else was dressed as we walked down the halls. All the men were in suits and ties. I didn’t see any other women. I thought maybe I am over thinking this but a conversation later in the day with the Mount Sinai female medical student in our group made me think maybe I wasn’t. We have come “a long way baby” but that is not true for our sisters around the world.

 

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Japan 2014 – part 2

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My recent trip to Japan included a four page itinerary. There were 17 people in our group -six Tribute Center docents, three Rotarians, two Mount Sinai doctors, three Mount Sinai medical students, and 3 translators. Our fearless and super organized leader did a tremendous job of keeping us on time and on task. The four page itinerary included logistics meaning what we were doing each day, mode of transportation and what kind of attire was appropriate – casual, business casual, business or formal. Formal didn’t mean evening wear. It really meant suits for the men and our firefighter docent needed to wear his uniform.

Our last two days of our twelve day trip were unscheduled.  In ten days, we attended 6 Rotary Club functions, visited 2 Mental Health Clinics, 1 School for the Deaf, 1 High school, a Memorial Rose Garden, the Sakado Crane Memorial, 1 Temporary Housing site, 2 Shrines, and 2 Temples. We had formal meet and greets with the Mayor of Koriyama, the Minister of Reconstruction, and the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs.  We listened to 3-11 stories and told our 9-11 stories. We exchanged gifts and were treated royally. We had “tea” in some amazing places and we ate a lot of raw fish and rice. We traveled as far east as Kesennuma, Miyagi and as far west as Nara. The best I can estimate we traveled over 1000 miles.  Our modes of transportation were the bullet train, the regular train, cabs, subway and a chartered bus. Oh and we “dragged” our luggage wherever we went.

We had private guided tours of:

  1. Chusonji Temple, first national Treasure of Japan   http://www.chusonji.or.jp/en/precincts/konjikido.html
  2. Kaiseizan Shrine
  3. Kasuga Shrine   http://en.japantravel.com/view/the-stone-lanterns-of-kasuga-shrine
  4. Todaiji Temple http://www.taleofgenji.org/todaiji.html

I stood at the foot of the giant Buddha in Todaji Temple. I had tea in the room only special guests  and  the emperor visit at Kasuga Shrine. I learned that a shrine is Shinto and a temple is Buddhist. I loved seeing Japan and learning new things but my favorite thing was interacting with the people. If you asked me my favorite experiences:

  1. Doing “ballet arms” with a teenager who wants to be a ballerina when she is older.
  2. Having a woman tell me she had traveled two hours to come to the mental health clinic seminar because she meet me last year and wanted to see me again.
  3. Traveling with the most compassionate, selfless group of people who made me laugh, cry and always had my back.
  4.  An amazing dinner conversation with a Shinto priest, classical pianist, Japanese business man and Jewish doctor that started with me asking “I learned today that every 20 years the shrine is taken down and rebuilt. Can you explain that to me?” and lead to me explaining what grace is?

You can’t make this stuff up.  I am so blessed.

 

 

Japan 2014 – part 1

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When I told my daughter I had been invited to go to Japan again with the Tribute Center, she said “wow, mom! You get your once in a lifetime trip twice.” I was very surprised and pleased to be part of the “3rd International Outreach Program for School Children and Community Survivors of 3/11 Great East Japan Disasters.” It was wonderful to be back in Japan. I felt I was better prepared this time to understand that “none of this is about me.”

The schedule of the trip was similar to last year. To be honest, the schedule is grueling. You are up early, sleeping in a different hotel just about every night, traveling for hours between appointments, you are meeting and interacting with many people and most of the time you are being translated. Even after all of that, I can say it was absolutely the most amazing experience. The country of Japan is beautiful and clean. The Japanese people are gracious, giving and kind. This year’s trip was 12 days instead of 8 so we had time to do some tourist type things which was an added bonus.

Our journey started with a very long flight but thanks to American Airlines we flew business class to Japan. I have been spoilt – lots of leg room, a seat that can go flat, Boise headset, movies, delicious food, hot towels, blanket, pillow. storage space and no one was seating next to me. I don’t think I can ever go back to economy class. 🙂 Fast forward to the flight home that was economy class but I can’t really complain. American Airlines donates the miles for our trip. Thank you, American Airlines.

Our first official function was to attend the International Academic Conference with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Fukushima Medical University (FMU). The Mount Sinai members of our group (2 doctors and 3 medical students) were presenting at this conference. On Saturday, Dr. Craig Katz was presenting about “Displacement Post 3/11:The Anxiety of Feeling Placed”. On Sunday, the Mount Sinai & FMU medical students presented a paper on “Post-Traumatic Stress and Growth in Medical Students after Natural Disasters”. It was very interesting and informative.

On Saturday as we arrived at Fukushima Medical University, one of my fellow docents commented to me whether I thought there would be translation equipment available. I said “I think I am going to need more that Japanese to English translation. I am going to need what are you talking about translation.” Many of the presentations were in English and if not there was translation to English. There were presenters from all over the world and I felt like a little kid, who had been invited to the big kid table.

The part that was a little bizarre to me was hasn’t nuclear energy been around for a long time and now “they” are discussing what to do when things go wrong. It is a good thing they are discussing it and formulating a plan but I thought what other things do we use and there is no plan for when it goes wrong.

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Mount Sinai travelers are missing from this photo. They were getting ready to present. More about my Japan trip to follow in next blog or two.

Hope

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244Tomorrow morning I travel to Japan as a member of the "3rd International Outreach Program for School Children and Community Survivors of 3/11 Great East Japan Disasters". Amazing!!! Last year I was privileged to represent the 9/11 Tribute Center on the second trip. This trip will be similar as we will visit mental health clinics and temporary housing units, attend Rotary Club dinners/receptions, visit a school for the deaf in Koriyama and have a photo-op at the "Soaring Crane" Memorial in Kaiseizan Park. Even though some of the places we visit will be the same, this won’t be a “repeat” of the last trip. How could it be. It is a year later. Much can and does happen in a year. Things we deem good, things we deem bad and things that seem totally ordinary. I hope to see some of the people I meet last year but I also hope that they are no longer living in temporary housing. I hope those caring for so many people at the mental health clinics have not grown weary. I guess what I hope is that there is HOPE.

Jeanette, fellow Tribute Center traveler and friend, sent me this prayer. It is my prayer for this trip:

Prayer for a Safe Journey

Blessed are You, Lord God, for You have created a wide and wonderful world
in which we can travel.
We ask Your blessing upon us as we are about to leave on this journey.
Be our ever-near companion, our guide of travelers, and spread the road
before us with beauty and adventure.
May all the highways ahead of us be free of harm and evil.
May we be accompanied by your Holy spirit and your angelic messengers, as
were the holy ones of days past.
On this trip may we take with us as part of our traveling equipment a heart
wrapped in wonder with which to rejoice in all that we shall meet.
Along with the clothing of wonder, may be have room in our luggage for a
mystic map by which we can find the invisible meanings of the events of
this journey – of possible disappointments and delays, of possible breakdowns
and rainy day troubles.
Always awake to your Sacred Presence and to Your divine compassionate love,
may we see in all that happens to us, in the beautiful and the bad, the
mystery of Your holy plan.
May your blessing be upon us throughout this trip and bring us home again
in safety and peace.

Amen