Posted by: mariabro | May 16, 2018

Paradise Lost

Ok this is a blog post. Not a news article…which it could be eventually, but for now I just want to get the ruminations in my head in writing. So please keep in mind these are just my thoughts on what I’ve seen. Research and analysis will come later after copious nights of discussion with Craig about the historical and political context.

Hmmm, I usually use the word Copious with wine, so I’m sure there will be wine with the historical and political chats as well.

So…Africa. More specifically South Africa, as we will not have experienced the real Africa until we’ve seen a few more countries…Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania to be exact.

Johannesburg was our first stop. We only had a few days there but with Joseph as our guide, we got a good sense of things. He drove us through the gated mansion neighborhoods and joked that they fenced themselves in versus fencing people out. Then we headed into the “dangerous” downtown area. It felt uncomfortable but not much different than driving through skid row in Los Angeles after cruising through Beverly Hills. The highlight of our tour was a visit to Soweto. The historic township just outside of jo’burg is well-known for the Soweto uprising of 1976. Today it still has the corrugated steel shacks in the slums, as well as some upscale restaurants on Vilakazi street. Joseph called it a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly.

We also visited the Apartheid museum which was a testament to a very dark time in history. That was our “school” that day. Spending several hours immersing ourselves in South African history.

But South Africans are not alone. Many other countries have treated their native people inhumanely. Humanity must learn from the past and move forward to a society that respects all people and treats all human beings fairly.

South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve seen. We drove along the southern coast from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, via Franschhoek (the Napa of South Africa). We had traffic jams of baboons crossing the road and stunning views similar to driving the pacific coast highway in California.

Cape Town also reminds me a lot of Rio. The white sand beaches, the mountains, the sunny weather…yet both have a dark side. The favelas and the townships are scars on an otherwise perfect environment. Surrounded by all this beauty I can’t help but feel uncomfortable at the economic disparity that is so evident.

Another issue in Cape Town is the water shortage. We monitored the situation for the past few months, debating whether to cancel our trip. But “day zero” has now been pushed off to next year due to diligent water conservation by the locals and we felt supporting their tourism industry in a mindful way would be helpful. Everyone is being encouraged (limited) to 50L/day. We are living the “50L life” as the local media exhorts. The boys have been told to time and limit their showers to 90seconds. This is a challenge for teenage boys…One toilet flush is 15L so we are using “cottage rules”. But it seems to be working. Reservoir levels are rising with the winter rains.

But strife is apparent very close to home. As I chatted with the lady who cleans our Airbnb and asked her how her Mother’s Day was, she wearily replied, “ok, but too much violence, too many problems.”  Not the answer you expect when you ask, “how was your day?”

So, I delved further into it and she shared with me the stories of what is happening where she lives…not 15 miles from where we are staying.

There are turf wars between taxi companies and violence between “colored” and “blacks”. Homeless people are taking city councilors hostage and burning their cars as they demand some kind of housing.

Gloria (the lady who cleans our Airbnb) takes the bus to work everyday. But they are not running on time because the drivers are on strike. When she leaves she worries about getting robbed on her way home.

When she gets home she hears gunshots and fighting. How can one ever feel at peace?

We have been to some “dangerous” places on this trip. We’ve seen the favelas of Rio, the slums of Delhi and the townships of South Africa. But we’ve been diligent and extra careful; no jewelry, passports and wallets in the safe, carry only a small amount of cash, don’t walk with your cellphone out, research and avoid dangerous neighborhoods etc. But it’s exhausting to always be on alert. Both Craig and I are more jumpy than normal. Great income disparity creates social unrest. We need to figure this out, in Canada, in America and everywhere.

When people have their basic needs met, they can live peacefully. They don’t want much. I know, I’ve asked. A place to call home, a safe shelter for their family, education for their kids so they can have a better life and perhaps some free time to enjoy good food with good friends. If we can fulfill these basic needs we can stop fencing ourselves in and others out.

Posted by: mariabro | March 11, 2018

What would Lucky do?

A big motivation for our journey was to expose our boys to different cultures, countries, languages, food, and people. While the boys try to do “school” daily (or as often as we have working WiFi) some of the best lessons so far, have come naturally. Whether it’s a new sense of awe at the ancient wonders of the world, like Machu Picchu and Petra or the extreme income disparity in places like Rio and Delhi, they are absorbing much, beyond the classroom.

We never know what will really make an impact…this is where Lucky comes in. We were riding elephants up to the Amber fort in Jaipur. There are many aggressive hawkers along the route trying to sell you their wares. There are men who take pictures of you and then print them out to sell them to you when you finish your tour of the fort. They are not allowed inside the fort. We had two guys take our picture. But Lucky stood out. He yelled to us, “I’m Lucky. Don’t buy from anyone else. I have best pictures. You don’t buy other pictures. You find Lucky. I am in parking lot when you finish”. I’m not sure he realized we would be more than two hours as we were having lunch at a restaurant in the fort after our tour. But somehow I knew he would be waiting for us. The first guy found us and managed to badger us into buying a couple of his picks but both Craig and I knew we’d have to deal with Lucky at some point. And true to his word he found us as we were getting in our Jeep to leave. His pictures were better but it was his tenacity (aggressiveness) that made an impact. He started by asking for 1000 rupees for the album. We continued to haggle. He simply would NOT give up. He hung off the back of our Jeep as we drove to our bus. Finally Craig held out 200 rupees and said 200 or nothing as we started to get on the bus. He wasn’t happy but he took it. As we were driving back to our train, Craig said to the boys, “if Lucky were in the U.S. and you were competing for a sales job who do you think would win?” Without hesitation they both smiled and said, “Lucky!” Later that night Hayden was complaining he’d lost his new earphones (replacements for the other ones he’d lost) Craig told him to check the room. He made a feeble attempt and said, he couldn’t find them. Craig then said, “what would Lucky do?” Hayden replied, “keep looking.” He did….and he found his earphones.

This is not a story about how soft our children are (well, not exactly…) more about how they need to work hard to achieve their goals and be the best at what they do…whatever that may be. Also, they need to value what they have because of where they’ve been born. They’ve done nothing to earn it…yet. If their encounter with Lucky makes them a little more tenacious, competitive and thankful for what they have, it will have been a good day at school.

Posted by: mariabro | January 27, 2018

Getting our sacred on

One of the reasons I wanted to start our travels in Peru was because of the special, sacred nature of the indigenous people and the country itself. I had taken some previous courses in the Inca traditions and shamanism. I love the respect they have for pacha mama, Mother Earth and I wanted to feel that connection more closely. I arranged to participate as a family in two traditional Inca ceremonies; the cleansing ceremony and the thanksgiving ceremony. It was a bit of a mix of family therapy, mysticism and religion. To my surprise, the boys seemed engaged and interested. We learned a little more about ourselves and each other. Craig learned about the medicinal plants of the jungle. I think we all grew as people because of our experience.

I wasn’t going to try to put into words my experience at Machu Picchu because it was beyond words. But as I ruminate over my visit I want to try to remember how I felt when I entered this magical place. As I went through the gate, and saw the town laid out before me surrounded by mist, tears literally came to my eyes. I had the same visceral reaction as I had when I flew over the Grand Canyon. It was breathtaking. Hayden looked around and said, “I feel like I’m in another world.” And that’s exactly what it felt like. Another world where the people lived in the clouds, in harmony with nature. The sounds were muffled like when you lay on the sand at a crowded beach but all you hear are the waves and the muffled sounds of people in the distance. Machu Picchu is not ruins. It feels like it is still livable. Add a few alpaca rugs to the floors, some candles and you’d have a cozy mountain retreat. Luckily, the Spanish conquistadors never made it to Machu Picchu…

After Machu Picchu we headed to Urubamba in the sacred valley. We had some downtime here, caught up on school work, did some site-seeing (the salt flats, ollantaytambo ruins) and went on an ATV adventure).

We are now on a 10-hour train trip through the Andes to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. We will spend our final three nights in Peru there. Then we head to Argentina.

We have spent almost a month in Peru…exploring Lima, Iquitos, the Amazon, Cusco, Machu Picchu, Urubamba and the Sacred Valley, Puno and Lake Titicaca. It has exceeded our expectations in every way.

Posted by: mariabro | January 19, 2018

My worst nightmare

Imagine your worst nightmare…

What would it be? Traveling 40 minutes down a small river, into the deep jungle…in a small boat…at night…threatening rain…and…the motor cuts out?  Well, yes, that would be my worst nightmare. And it happened. We were taking a “night cruise” to look for caiman (alligators) when the propellor of our motor became wrapped in vines. Then the engine flooded as the guide tried to get it started. We sat for about ten minutes in a mosquito infested pond…as it grew darker…trying to get the motor started. If it had not started it would have been at least a 6-hour paddle through the night to get back to our lodge. Hayden managed to record the event…you can hear my frustration.


Me: what’s your backup plan Craig?

Craig: lots of Deet

Me: Ya, my worst nightmare. I think we should row back to the lake. It’s never going to start with all these weeds. (No one is listening to me…)

Me. Again. :this is so stupid. I don’t know why we came in here.

Fortunately, they got the motor restarted and we were able to get back to the lodge…and managed to spot a few caiman on the way. Moral of the story? When you Face your fears…you’ll be surprised at your strength.

Ok, it seems there might be something worse than being out in the jungle, in the dark, with a boat that won’t start.

Being ill in bed all day watching Spanish episodes of honey boo boo and dance moms…

Yes I succumbed to; travelers belly after trying to eat healthy by eating a salad for dinner…I know, I know, rookie move. Pasta and fries here I come.

I also had chills all day from what turned out to be strep…and a headache from altitude sickness. The trifecta! Cusco’s elevation is about 11,180…just a 1000’ short of the peak of Mount Fuji…where I also suffered from altitude sickness. Wouldn’t you know that damn Craig (former smoker) had no problem. I said it was because his lungs were used to less oxygen!

So, a day…or three, in bed to rest and relax. Downtime is always good on an adventure. And what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!

Ok! On to our first real f*ck-it list item. Machu Picchu. Heading up to the ruins in the morning. Now, I’m off to take another amoxicillin, cipro and paracetamol… 💪

Posted by: mariabro | January 12, 2018

Welcome to the Jungle

After 6 days in the concrete jungle of Lima (pop. 11million) we headed to the actual jungle. The Amazon jungle. A quick two hour flight to Iquitos, a less-quick 1.5 hour drive to Nauta, and a slow boat up the amazing Amazon river…and we arrived at our Treehouse. Literally a treehouse.

Our host/guide excitedly described the scorpions, tarantulas, Jaguars and anacondas that frequented the jungle around us. As I realized the remoteness of our home for the next three nights, I had a slight panic attack. These kind of thoughts only come with age and the vulnerability of having children, but I wondered to myself what if one of them gets bitten by a spider? What if some other crisis arose? It would be about 3 hours before we could get back to the airport of Iquitos, itself not a center of medical expertise. (Ok as I’m writing this my heart is starting to pound again…)

But something surprising happened. As we cruised the Amazon river I felt the peace of the Amazon descend. I looked around and realized the jungle held the key to everything that could ail us…or the earth. All the medications we could require were in the jungle. And then I noticed the scent of the air. It was the freshest, sweetest air I had ever smelled. If you could bottle nature, this would be it, a combination of fresh grass, spring rain-showers and a dollop of wild flowers.

We toured a local village, where the kids played ball in the street while the mothers cooked dinner in the huts that lined the street. The boys had the surprise of their lives when they were invited to see…and hold…(I didn’t see until later) the massive anaconda that one of the locals had recently caught.

We watched the grey and pink dolphins frolic in the river at sunset. When we shut off the engine of our little boat it was palpably peaceful and serene.

We ate catfish that tasted like chicken and drank a few more Pisco sours.

We slept well in our tree-house, our little Swiss family Robinson. The hum of the insects…outside the netting…was lulling. The WiFi was not working and the boys actually talked to us about things that mattered….Played chess with us and played music for us. Pierce, who is thankfully into great classic rock played “name that tune” which was super fun. I think we both surprised each other at the depth of our classic rock knowledge. Well, 2/3 ain’t bad. Brittany and Pierce are our classic rock kids. Hayden is the rap outlier.

Tonight we ate the pirhana that the boys caught and cooked. I’m more of a catch and release kind of fisher but when you see the teeth on these pirhana it’s hard to feel sympathy!

Enjoy the pics on fb which go along with this post. Off to Cusco and the mountains tomorrow….

Posted by: mariabro | January 8, 2018

The adventures of the “f*ck-it list” family.

We were initially going to call ourselves the “bucket-list” family. But like most good ideas it was already taken…by a millennial who sold his company for $54 million and decided to take his gorgeous-blonde-Mormon family on a trip around the world. We are decidedly not them. Craig said, “we are more of a f*ck-it list family”. Thus, the origin of our moniker.

We are now five days in to our 207 day odyssey. Things have been pretty smooth but we’ve had a few bumps already…

We arrived in Lima at our Airbnb only to find it was already occupied by another family. We have used many airbnb’s around the world but never had something like that happen before. After a few hours of waiting for things to be sorted, we walked a few blocks to the Marriott and stayed there for the night. To their credit Airbnb responded very quickly and refunded us the first night. We moved into the newly vacated (and re-cleaned…) apartment the next day. The apartment faces the Pacific Ocean and has spectacular sunset views. It’s located in miraflores, an area of Lima much like Minami Azabu in Tokyo or Wellesley in Boston. It’s safe and beautiful.

The other bump was Hayden’s drone does not seem to work. It gives an error message about magnetic interference so we are trying to get that figured out. My Spanish is being challenged.

Speaking of which, my one year of university Spanish has come in very handy and given me a lot of power in the family unit. I am enjoying that so I am practicing on Duolingo 20 min per day. It’s my competitive nature.

We have settled somewhat into a routine for now. The boys have “school” in the morning for around 3 hours. Corey, our tutor is great,  working through the curriculum and being a buffer between us when they get annoying. It’s nice to have another big guy around when we tour the more local areas of Lima. He’s very easy-going as well.

Craig and I go out for coffee and then walk/exercise for a few hours. Craig likes to walk and explore. Yesterday we walked 8km to the Mario Testino museum and explored the Barranca district which is the bohemian area of Lima. It had a cool vibe, lots of artists and is an up and coming area.

We have liked Lima more than we expected. The weather is great, cool breezes at night and warm during the day. Temps are moderate and vary from 67(19) to 74(23) despite being only 800 miles from the equator.

Oh, and the food has been incredible!  We knew Peru was a foodie hotspot but we’ve been totally impressed by the quality and diversity. Last night we ate at Huaca Pucllana, a restaurant set amid the historic ruins. The ceviche was the best we’ve had. The Chilean wine was delicious and we are in love with Pisco Sours, the local specialty.

We will spend about three weeks in Peru. We are heading to the Amazon on Tuesday, then to Cusco and Machu Picchu, one of my bucket list places.

The countries we selected are, for the most part, countries we haven’t visited before. Here is the list. I can send our detailed itinerary to anyone who may want to join us somewhere along the way! Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Dubai (UAE), Jordan, India, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Japan, South Korea, China, (Tibet), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Germany, Croatia, Romania, to be determined…

I don’t want to overwhelm Facebook with too many posts so I will update the blog once or twice a week and post the link on Facebook.

Thanks to everyone following along on our adventure. It helps me feel connected to all my friends back home. ❤️

Posted by: mariabro | December 17, 2017

Try to be the change.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to spend a weekend with a group of women in Upstate New York at an oasis. An oasis of intellectual thought and civil discourse, things I felt were missing from everyday life in this election year.

The oasis is called Chautauqua. It’s mission statement declares that “it is dedicated to the exploration of the best in human values and the enrichment of life through a program that explores the important religious, social and political issues of our times; stimulates provocative, thoughtful involvement of individuals and families in creative response to such issues; and promotes excellence and creativity in the appreciation, performance and teaching of the arts.”

We spent the weekend listening to lectures on the history of jazz by Wynton Marsalis, attending concerts and discussing current events. It was a thought-provoking weekend spent with a diverse group of people.

When I returned home, I realized that Chautauqua was a kind of model community that the rest of America could learn from. Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as saying that Chautauqua is “the most American thing in America.”

It promotes the “obligations of a citizen in a democracy to be engaged with the important issues of our time, to be practiced in discussing those issues across partisan boundaries and to understand individual self-interest in balance with the common good.”

With the election behind us I believe, more than ever, it is the responsibility of the citizenry to be engaged and involved in society, to be respectful of diverse opinions and to be tolerant of differences. This is what makes America great.

I am a Canadian living in America. I have watched with great interest the workings of this massive democracy. I wish I could have voted in this last election. It surprises me that over 43% of eligible voters did not take advantage of the opportunity to make their voices heard.

I am not a political scientist. Rather, I’m an observer of human nature. Here are some of my observations about American politics. There is a deep divide between the right and the left. The two-party system seems to reinforce an “us vs. them” mentality.

George Washington recognized this in his last address to the nation: “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.”

The American political party model is in a minority worldwide. Canada, a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system, has multiple parties: the Conservatives on the right, the New Democrats on the left and the Liberal Party in the middle.

We also have proportional representation. In this system, the loser gets a percentage of the representation rather than no representation, which differs from the electoral college “winner takes all.”

Canada’s minority parties are influential and capable of winning elections. When a minority government is formed, the third party wields a great deal of power because the governing party must align with them to get things passed. Consensus building is valued.

The last year has been rife with negativity. People are tired, and many are frustrated. As I ponder my response to it all, I think of the words of another polarizing politician, Mahatma Gandhi: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

My response to the election will be to continue to try to be the change. I’ve added one item to my children’s chore chart: Do a random act of kindness. I know it shouldn’t be a chore, but I want to remind them to be thoughtful and kind on a daily basis. Acts of kindness, individual by individual, are what will keep America great.

Posted by: mariabro | February 13, 2014

Photoshopping our Lives

Through social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, we create our own Avatar – our online persona.  It is a reflection of who we want to portray to our social networks.    Social media has allowed us to craft our image, in other words we can brand ourselves.  Facebook has only been around since 2004.  I joined in 2007, in my mid-fourties and living in Tokyo.  So, my “brand” is fairly recent in the grander scheme of my life. (I think I am grateful there was no Facebook when I was younger…)
My avatar doesn’t wear glasses, likes to socialize and is always smiling.  Or, you may surmise, my life seems pretty happy at this point.  Or maybe I only post pics of the good times?  FB seems more of a place to share the good times than the bad ones to me. Like a glossy magazine of your life.
But for many people, the happy life we display on Facebook was/is not always the case.  Everyone has their share of hardship.  For me, about 15 years ago I had a triple whammy.  Death, divorce, and a move.  Over the course of many years I have gone through –
  • death
  • divorce
  • job loss
  • miscarriages
  • financial insecurity

In fact, here is a picture (which my family roars with laughter at now), that reveals the stress I was going through before our move to Tokyo.  The boys were 1 and 2 yrs old, Brittany 10.  Craig had already moved to Japan so I was left behind to pack up and clear out our lives in Canada.  Not the Maria you know.


Life is not always easy.  I worked hard to overcome the challenges I’ve faced and feel I became stronger because of them.  I don’t wish my children hardship but sometimes I look at how easy their lives are and wonder how they would deal with any sort of life stressor.  I honestly believe hardship builds character.
If you are going through any life difficulties, try to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel.  Keep working toward your goals whatever they may be.  Embrace the hardship and try to see it as something that will strengthen you and propel you onward, and upward.
And when you get to the positive cycle in your life, which you will, appreciate it and be even more grateful because you know the difference.  Celebrate the good times, share them with your friends on FB and be proud of your accomplishments.  And when your friends are in a happy place, understand that it may not always have been that way.  Don’t envy their happiness, support it, because you never know what it took them to get there.
Posted by: mariabro | October 10, 2013

The Detached Expat

Posted by: mariabro | May 1, 2013

Boston Marathon 2013

The sound of the blast and the smell of the explosion continue to haunt me. We were in the grandstand seats at the finish line of the Boston Marathon when the bomb went off.  I heard the massive boom, saw the smoke and felt the debris rain down over the finish line.  A tragic end to an epic event.

We had spent the day watching our first ever Boston Marathon and were privileged to have seats right at the finish line.  All day we cheered the extraordinary athletes who pushed themselves to the limit.  The first to cross was Yamamoto, the Japanese wheelchair athlete.Image

We were so proud to see him accomplish such an amazing feat and to watch as they played the Japanese national anthem.  After spending seven years in Japan, we shared the country’s pride in watching one of their own win such a prestigious event.  Then came the elite athletes, the women’s winner Rita Jeptoo, Kenya


and the men’s winner Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia.  Here is a picture of my husband placing his medal on him.


It was a beautiful spring day with a slight chill to the air.  After a couple of hours watching from the stands with our friends and our children we headed back to the Fairmont hotel for lunch.  My husband, daughter and I decided to go back about the four hour mark of the race to continue to cheer for the runners.  Two of my younger children decided to stay back at the hotel since they were a little tired and cold.  Just as we got back to the stands and turned to watch the race the bomb went off.  Directly across the street.  I remember it was silent for a few seconds, everyone was stunned.

I think it was my training as a flight attendant many years ago that came back and helped me react. I am the type of person who always watches for unclaimed bags at the airport, always like to figure out my escape routes etc.  I immediately knew it was a bomb.  I also knew we had to get away as I was pretty sure  it was a terrorist attack and I felt there would be more bombs.  People were saying “Get down”, but I said, “No, it’s a bomb, we have to get away.”  I grabbed my daughter’s hand and yelled at my husband to “GO, GO!”  My daughter seemed a bit dazed and said later she thought maybe a speaker blew up and did not realize the severity of the situation.

I remember thinking “if this was a bigger bomb the buildings would have come down and everyone would be dead.”  So many thoughts raced through my mind, but the certainty I had that it was a bomb and it was an attack, remain with me.  My first thoughts were that I had to get to my younger children who were at the hotel.  We ran to the hotel while the first responders ran towards the blast.  No one on the other side of Copley Square had seen what we had just seen.  I tried to be calm and said to the hotel security guards.  “I think it was a bomb, you need to do something about security at the hotel!”  They looked at me somewhat skeptically but then realized what had happened and began to lock down the hotel.

When we reached my husband’s staff we told them what had happened. One of them became frantic as her son was running in the race.  I tried to help her get him on the phone but the cellphone lines were overloaded and the call would not go through.  I raced upstairs to get the boys and, still in emergency mode, outlined what had just happened.  They started to cry and we tried to reassure them. But at this point we had no information and were not sure there were not more bombs at the hotel, the race headquarters.  We went to the lobby, kids and dog in tow, to decide what to do.  Then we went back to the room and tried to keep the kids occupied while we watched the news and reassured our friends on Facebook that we were safe. I felt trapped in the hotel but was not sure what else to do.

It was just two years ago that we had been in an equally traumatic situation.  March 11, 2011 we lived in Tokyo and experienced the Tohoku earthquake.  There were many similarities that day, but this time it was not a natural disaster, it was a terrorist attack.

For me writing is cathartic. I wrote about the earthquake just as I am writing about the bombing.  It helps me process and express my emotions.  Here is an excerpt of my blog post after the earthquake. Many eerie coincidences, the bombing was at 2:50 and the earthquake at 2:46.

 At 2:46 we felt a little rocking, which is pretty standard when you live in Japan.  But it kept going.  And getting bigger and louder.  My son ran up to my room to get me up.  I told him to let me rest a little while longer.  Then I realized this was not a “normal” earthquake.   I kept saying “OMG, what should we do?”  When my 7 year-old son could not give me an answer I turned to Facebook.  My postings during the three minute earthquake were as follows:
  • Omg how long will this earthquake last? Longest ever? March 11 at 2:48pm
  • Omg
  • omg this is scary
  • drawers opened, pictures rocking and things falling off the counter
  • its still going, craig work is being evacuated
  • our alarms are going on, I’m going to school
  • Picked up the boys at school, have grandma and yuki in the car. Brittanys on the bus and craig’s at work. Still rocking
  • Thank God for Facebook as we can’t call or text

Again, it was the sounds that continue to haunt me.

The tick-tick-tick sound of the windows and the rumbling, like a train rolling through the house, are of some of the things I will never forget from that day.  My first inclination was to get out and go to an open, flat area.  That is not what you are supposed to do, they teach the kids to “duck and cover”.  But when things are shaking and falling around you, you tend to want to get away.  We jumped in the car to drive to school to pick up my older son.  The parents lined up in a fairly orderly fashion to pick up their children.  But as it was only 3:00pm they decided not to let them out until regular dismissal time at 3:30.  So, we stood in the street waiting nervously.  Then the first aftershock hit.  The utility poles swayed and the electrical wires waved above us.  I heard an announcement in Japanese over the public address system.  I asked someone what it said.  ”A Tsunami warning”.  I wasn’t worried as that is standard procedure after an earthquake.  Then they decided to let us take our children.  I guess two earthquakes and a tsunami warning were enough.  My son came out to me and hugged me.  Some of the mothers were crying.  The children had ducked under their desks and stayed there for over half an hour.

Finding an area that is open and flat in Tokyo is not easy.  I decided to drive to the Imperial Palace in the centre of town.  It took about 20 minutes to get there.  Traffic was very orderly.  Then around 4pm we saw people in suits and hard hats start streaming out of the office buildings.  The trains were all stopped so everyone was trying to flag taxis on the side of the road or resigned to walking home.  Traffic started to build.  We had the radio on and it kept transmitting more tsunami warnings.  My older son started to cry.  It finally hit him.  I turned off the radio and decided to head home.  We live in one of the highest areas of Tokyo so I felt that may be the safest place for us to be.

We have a three story house so we headed up to the third floor and set up camp.  The boys brought snacks upstairs, and played Wii.   We sat upstairs in the playroom for 6 hours waiting for more news, waiting for my husband and daughter to return.  The aftershocks continued.  Cellphones and texts were not working.  The only way I could reach my daughter was on Facebook on her iphone.  I could email my husband on his blackberry.  thank God the internet was working.  My husband arrived home around 10:00pm.  My daughter was on the school bus.  It took them 8 hours to get home.  I walked to the bus stop at midnight to meet her.  Along with a small group of parents.  We clapped when they got off the bus.  As I was waiting there for her I noticed salarymen wandering around with maps in their hands.  I don’t think they had ever been above ground in this neighborhood.  They were walking home and had no idea how to get there.  Many walked for 6 hours to get home.  My daughter said she saw them walking away from Tokyo while  her bus was driving into Tokyo.  Lines of men in suits walking along the darkened streets trying to get home.

No one was rushing or looting or shouting.  The Japanese people accept this as part of their lives in Japan.  Shougani.  It can’t be helped.  This perfectly describes the Japanese mentality for better and for worse.

My family has been through a lot in the past few years but we were the lucky ones.  We continue to think about all the lives lost and people injured in the earthquake, tsunami and now the bombing.  But it has affected us all deeply.  We question why we were on the other side of the street, we struggle with survivor’s guilt. We wonder why things like this happen.

When my daughter was very young, maybe 5 years old she was thinking deeply about something and in her childlike words, she asked me “What is this world and why am I in it?”

I hope I can figure that out.

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