One Week After

One week after. It’s hard to believe it’s only been a week. It feels like a very long month. How to describe it–surreal, sad, energized, worrisome, emotional rollercoaster.

One week ago, we were at school. A normal Friday. Ceci was dressed in her yellow PE uniform because it’s PE day. On Friday afternoon, we had our usual get together with all of the 5th graders. We’re on the road to Exhibition, a culminating project of the PYP where students intensely study something of interest. This year, the kids have chosen their passion and are exploring an issue related to that passion. It’s been really fun, but we’re on a tight schedule. On Friday, we were reflecting on the week’s work and stressing the schedule we need to keep to finish this on time.

The students broke into groups in all 3 of our classrooms. I wandered around, listening to their conversations. The students were animated, hanging out with friends, sharing their passions and their proud moments from the week. And then 2:47. The classroom started shaking. I was standing near a group of girls who immediately got under a table. Usually, earthquakes stop within seconds, but this didn’t. It was rocking us like babies in a rocker, and it wasn’t stopping.

I squished under the table with the girls. My co-teacher continued to stand up. I’m not sure how he did it. I couldn’t move. I put my arm over one of the girls and tried to comfort them all. A few were hysterical. It kept shaking. Over the loudspeaker, the high school principal in his dry, calming voice told us what was happening (earthquake). A few times he said, “it’s now safe to get out,” and then 1/2 second later, “No, back under the desks, the ground is still shaking.” During a time like that, you needed someone to speak your thoughts, and hats off to Mr. Stanworth who did.

He kept talking, and we listened. Some cried. Some didn’t know what was going on. At 3 p.m., it felt like it was finally over, and we wedged ourselves out from the tables. We were told to release the kids home because it was the end of the day. It was a little odd we weren’t following protocol (going to the playground as a group), but it was the end of the day, and I don’t think anyone knew how bad it was. Several of my students asked me if that earthquake was real. They thought some machine was rocking the school. Hmmm…Shock?

We were told to calm our students although our students were out the door. My teeth were chattering so I wasn’t doing very well at being calm. A lot of my students came up to me and told me where they were during the earthquake because I wasn’t with all of them. They said bye and left. I quickly went to find Ceci and the to find Dennis who was supposed to pick her up. Phone service was out although the Internet, hence Skype, was on. Ceci was fine and animated about the earthquake. Her friend had been crying, but she was all a twitter about it.

We found Dennis who had driven up to school and hung out with him outside near some other friends while a major aftershock came. Our friends’ car was moving sideways, power lines were swaying. People were still crossing the street, and cars were still driving. Things don’t stand still during an earthquake, especially for a country so used to quakes. However, again, no one knew this was different.

Dennis and Ceci went home because they were supposed to have a piano lesson, and we weren’t convinced that the teacher wouldn’t show up. She did appear, only to say she wanted to go home. I stayed at school. After school activities started as usual. One of my partner teachers had his art class running. With each aftershock, the principal’s voice would come over the loudspeaker, and they would leave their painting and get under the table. A mom came into my classroom to pick up her children. Her apartment had been completely knocked about, and everything, she said, had fallen. As the aftershocks continued, the gravity of the situation began to sink in.

All the elementary kids were brought to the library (all that were left). Middle school and high school stayed in their rooms, and many stayed under their tables with their phones and computers, playing games. Kids who had walked down to the train station came back because trains weren’t running. A first indication that we shouldn’t have let the kids go right after school. About 50 kids who had after school activities or who took the train waited in the library. They started watching a “Bug’s Life” and playing games. The aftershocks continued, and we felt like we were constantly swaying. The news started to come in about the tsunami, and we were able to watch it on the computer’s via live streaming.

The remaining students got out their earthquake kits for the first time and were excited by it. In their earthquake kits there was candy and goodies. It was a good treat. I stayed a while at school with all of the teachers and kids, and then by 6 headed home. Kids were still there. Trains weren’t running. By 7, there was a call to host some of the Tokyo kids overnight because their parents couldn’t get on the trains–they had stopped running. The biggest earthquake in Japan’s history had happened. The news was sinking in.

We took in 3 kids that night and one mom who came looking for her daughter in the middle of the night. She had walked 3 1/2 hours in Tokyo to take the only train that was running and arrived at our house at 1:30 a.m. She spent the night. The kids had a great slumber party.

One of the girls we took in was a friend of Ceci’s who lives in Tokyo. She had wandered down to the train station after school with a friend, only to find the train not running, and then to walk out the wrong door of the train station. She ended up wandering through Chinatown and then downtown Yokohama with her friend. They finally ended up at Yokohama Stadium where they were finally able to reach someone at school. At 8 p.m., they returned to school with a teacher. 5 hours she had been wandering. Luckily, Yokohama is a very safe town, but her mother was horrified hearing about it the next day. We know her parents, and when her mom picked up Grace, she had no idea she had been wandering the streets. School had assured her that all the kids were safe.

And that was a week ago, and now we are in Osaka, ready to leave for Seattle for our Spring Break. We had planned a great break with friends here. We were looking forward to showing them our home and our resident country. But that’s selfish.The earthquake shifted the earth, changed the landscape of Japan, and seemed to really change everyone’s lives.

Now, as it stands, half a million people are now living in shelters, 2 million people remain without electricity, and 1.4million do not have clean drinking water. A threat of nuclear radiation continues.  And we’re not really sure where we stand…

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8 thoughts on “One Week After

  1. That’s incredibly powerful, Kirsten. Grade 4 looked at earthquake disaster procedures this year so I feel quite connected to what befell Japan. And also, of course, Gauri and Dianne are here. I hope blogging the story helps your circle of people adjust and cope.

  2. So well written, and really helpful to us who are to far removed to understand. It’s really hard to grasp the impact on so many lives. Praying daily for hope and restoration.

  3. Thanks for keeping us updated. It is hard to imagine the devastation out there. I am so thankful that you all are safe and am keeping everyone in Japan in my prayers.

  4. Secret learning… plants and boats and train stations. As a student, I always dreamed of learning that way… now I’m wondering how I can implement any of this in my esl college classroom. Hmm. Thanks for getting me thinking!

  5. Pingback: Blogs of international school teachers: “dkceci” « international school community

  6. Pingback: Blogs of international school teachers: “dkceci” | International School Community Blog

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