Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunset over the Tsunami...

A normal day…a Friday… I had been at the elementary school all day. I was ending my day and just goofing off with my coworkers in the office when our friend called us and told us we had a tsunami warning. Not yet knowing the severity of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake only several hundred miles north of our small island in the Pacific, we disregarded it. Silvia, Virle, and I were closing up the school when we got a second alert. Again, being reassured that there was nothing to worry about we went home and planned for our normal Friday evening vespers and dinner at Dr. Stafford’s place. Then our friends Virle and Joeie went out for gas and came right back wondering about the long lines and panic that was rising on the island. At this time our friend Jon came by, being a US Marshall he hasted along the panic along with the warning given to our friends by the police.

We were being evacuated. That’s when it hit me…this is a big deal. After panic started to sink into my stomach my housemates and I ran to our rooms and started packing a backpack full of anything we held dear. I grabbed my computer and a change of clothes…but all my books…all my pictures…all my journals, which would I take? I grabbed my passport, Bible, and two most precious travel/prayer journals and ran out with my roommate. The intensity of having to hurry was beat into me upon seeing police patrol up and down our road which made my heart beat out of my chest. (Considering the police are usually never ever seen on this island…) What was going on…I had anything important to me in a bag on my back...not confident I’d ever be able to go back to the place I’d called home. When do you ever think you’d be in a position like that? I wasn’t trained for that…
My housemates, neighbors, and friends gathered in a circle before we pulled the cars out and just prayed. In my heart I was screaming…this can’t be as serious as they say…then we found out the was supposed to be hitting the island at about 7…it was 6:20. I could just tell by every ones nervous laughter and expressions splashed on faces that I wasn’t the only one afraid. But it was okay, we knew God would be with us no matter what…
As David and I hit the main road in the truck I was doing everything I could to just stay calm. We passed cars with their flashers on…police cars evacuating tourists and low income people in school buses from hotels and homes. All the businesses were barred and closed…even gas stations were empty now. People were sitting on their roofs and stacked in the backs of pickup trucks headed to either the airport or Mt. Tapochau-the highest points on the island. We saw one Navy ship after the other pull out of our quiet harbor as the sun set behind it. Usually I’d enjoy such a brilliant yellow and orange sunset…but not tonight. I looked at my friend of 17 years and tried to laugh as I asked for reassurance. I was just thinking over and over…holy crap, this isn’t a dream.
We reached the top of Tapochau and had to battle through vehicle after vehicle either pulled off the road or just stopping unable to go any farther up the mountain road. Literally thousands of people were with us at the top…just sitting...their silhouettes against the sky seemed picturesque…just watching the sunset over the horizon that was soon expected to be beyond anyone’s control. We were all just waiting.
We reached the top and were greeted by our SDA Clinic doctors and friends who had come to take shelter in this house far up on the mountain…and again, we just looked down at the island and just watched the sunset over the water…and then it got dark. We never saw what really happened. That night when we were laying in bed…not sleeping… it rained harder than I’ve ever heard…eerie.
Everyone thinks it can never happen to them. I thought so too…but I sit back and think…what if  it’d been worse? We weren’t ready…at all. Safety wise the island is prepared…but I know I wasn’t.
I know we just all were praying. And I thank my friends and family...and my friend’s families…when I got on facebook for the first time I literally had over 100 comments and messages from friends praying and thinking of us. Thank you. Honestly, you will never know how much that meant to me after all the craziness. Thank you. We didn’t know how bad things were off the island…I can’t believe how much devastation Japan has. It’s just mind blowing. Hopefully, besides aftershocks... it’s all over for the people on the mainland. WOW.
…Be ready, for anything. Although safe and unhurt, I find myself thinking today what if it had been worse? Who haven’t I made amends with? What if this happens again?…pray for those who didn’t make it.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Prostitutes have hearts too...

What an eye catching title you may say. Several weeks ago I started teaching a free English class in a pretty sketchy Chinese restaurant in downtown Garapan. Not thinking how critical and important it would become to some ladies I didn’t put much thought into the content of the teaching until I met Mi Li. Mi Li works at a “spa” and is coming to better her conversational English to get a better job. But, what about Mi Li you may ask? Mi Li’s husband has another girlfriend on the island, so being still in love with her husband since high school and unable to leave him because her daughter is with his parents in China...she’s stuck. And I thought I had problems…
Let me give you a low down on Saipan’s misfortune in the prostitute business: Recruiters from places like China and Vietnam promise a future of a well paying job and citizenship to targeted third world ladies. When the women and other workers arrive in Saipan, they find their recruiter has vanished and there are no jobs in sight. Hundreds of these destitute workers roam the streets of Saipan with little or no chance of employment and no hope of returning to their homeland. So, they become prostitutes to send money to their families and children who were left stranded in their home country. Also, with the closing of mass garment industries around 2006 people are left without work…although they were shut down because they paid a whole dollar for a day’s work.  
I didn’t really even ask for Mi Li’s background…earlier in the day I was stressing and grumbling about my own frustration with my failed relationship and other issues out of my control when she caught me before class and burst into tears explaining in broken and repetitive English what was happening and why she needed a better job. My problems were instantly put to shame. I like to put myself in other shoes, but my brain is incapable of placing me anywhere near this situation because I have never and will never be raised with a male dominating society.
So many other ladies have stories just like this, some even being separated from their true loves or husbands and children by force. I know Mi Li understood everything I was saying when I squeezed her hand and promised her we would find her a new job and apartment.
On a lighter note, I am almost fully recovered from the plague I contracted on our camping trip on Managaha Island (off the coast) teaching for several days and hanging out with some pretty cool kiddos. I always love going without running water..and nooo electricity, but hauling water and yourself across the island is exhausting after a while! I also learned though that red ants like to cuddle, Korean girls don’t like camping, that I eat to quietly and need to slurp my noodles like the students, Chomorro’s cook the best chicken on a stick in the universe. I also experienced the smallness of myself as I stepped out of my tent every morning and stared at the bluest, clearest water on the planet. The food was quite interesting and the people thrilling. I got to construct my first hut out of plam branches and woven together banana leaves…what an adventure that was. Maybe I’ll start my own hut decorating business!
Summing it all up though…I leave for Tokyo in 14 days and can hardly wait. Until then…pray for the people here and pray for Mi Li and the other (As my friend Bean puts it) “Ladies of the Night”. Just because they have a certain profession doesn’t mean they don’t love to the same capacity.