Amya Miller continues to chronicle the day to day struggles of the people and relief efforts in the earthquake and tsunami ravaged areas in Japan...
I have been in Ofunato and Rikuzentakata for a week now and have found myself numb driving past and walking through the immense devastation. I have been told by the relief workers I am working with that shutting down my emotions is a necessary part of doing my job and while I have struggled with the idea of having to go “robotic” in order to function, I’ve done just that. Until yesterday.
This, I believe, was the first time in my over twenty years of interpreting that I broke down and cried in front of those for whom I was interpreting. The combination of humiliation, pain, anger and frustration is a pretty nasty soup of emotions.
Evidently I'm human. Evidently I can't go a whole week shutting out my emotions and being strictly professional. Evidently, all this comes at a price.
If I may digress (already?) just for a moment. The volunteers here are going to be split into two groups. One will work in Ofunato and the other in Rikuzentakata. At the risk of repeating myself, Rikuzentakata essentially doesn't exist anymore. Ofunato still has vibrant business and residential districts that remain. Both are port cities and Ofunato's port was destroyed.
The teams will do different things in the towns. As Rikuzentakata has so much more need the scale of the assignments will be larger. The middle school and high school have been shut down there. One of our proposals is to get into the high school to clean out the entire first floor so kids can go back to school.
So, we were at our new "base camp" (a campground) in Rikuzentakata yesterday talking things over with the city council member (whose house was destroyed so is now living at the campground which is also operating as a shelter) and the manager of the campground. At the end of our discussion, the camp manager said he wanted to show us something. We drove up to a perch, a lookout of sorts and got out. He asked us a climb up a small hill to another overlook.
From here, we could see across the bay into Rikuzentakata. Let me explain. The campground is on a peninsula between Ofunato and Rikuzentakata. Ofunato is north of Rikuzentakata and is a larger town. The peninsula was cut off and made into an island when the tsunami hit Rikuzentakata but the Self Defense Forces built roads and a make-shift bridge to connect the peninsula (now an island) back onto the mainland. It's from the highest point of this peninsula/island that we looked back across the bay into Rikuzentakata.
The manager said, "I stood here and watched the tsunami hit." Just like that I felt the tears coming. I did my "control, control" pep talk in my head but when he said, "when the water that was receding from the bay collided with the incoming tsunami, it created this wall of water that looked 50m high and I saw that crash into the town" I lost it. I turned around and had to walk away.
I gave myself a few minutes to regain my composure and came back to repeat what he said.
As we're driving down the hill back down into the campground, the manager says, "I have a something to tell you." The team leader asks what it is and the manager says, "you don't get to cry." He then went onto to explain the people there don't have "room" to deal with their emotions and for us (he meant me, of course) to lose it is not okay. Touche. Note to self: go back to "control, control" and this time make it stick. I'm not exactly sure how that's going to work but I've been given a specific task, at least in front of those at this shelter. No tears. They watched a wave the size of a building wash out their town in six minutes. They're still missing over 1,000 people and a tenth of their population is either dead or missing. For their pain, I get to control my emotions. My to do list just got longer.
Amya Miller lives near Boston, Massachusetts and is the President and CEO of Lupine and Co., which offers Japanese interpretation, liaison services, business etiquette training, consultation on successful negotiation techniques and problem solving.
Amya also founded the Gaijin Group; a group for gaijins all over the world. She was born and raised in Japan and spent time in Tokyo and Hokkaido. She has worked as an Interpreter and behind-the-scenes liaison in Japan-US business for 20 years. You can reach Amya at firstname.lastname@example.org and find out more about at http://www.lupineandco.com/ and http://www.gaijingroup.com/.