The Journey out of Tokyo

Wrote this last year during the Japan earthquake and never published it. Here it is now.

On March 11, a massive earthquake hit us in Japan. I was about to run errands, but Nina started crying and wanted to be nursed, and so I decided to stay a couple of minutes more. When it started shaking, I really didn't panic, thinking it was just one of the earthquakes we experience in Tokyo, but it got worse. I grabbed Nina and called Ate Fe, our househelp to get napping Kevin from his room. At this point, we felt like we were on a ship, being cradled by the clashing waves brought about by a storm. We didn't have time to go outside, so we hid under our dining table. Kevin was calm, thinking it was all a game, because we started singing nursery rhymes to him, while we were wondering when the shaking would stop. After about 5 minutes, it ended, and we got out of our apartment. We stayed there until I got an email from Tim (who was at work) and said that he was coming home to check on us. A couple of glasses broke from our china cabinet and that was the only damage we had from the quake.

We turned the TV on and saw heartbreaking images of what had happened after the quake. The effects of the 23-foot tsunami that hit Japan's coast was devastating and the trauma we had from the quake seemed so petty. A couple of our friends who were stranded in Tokyo due to the train shutdown stayed with us for a couple of days. We exchanged stories of what had happened to us, and unfortunately, one of our friends who lived in Ibaraki, had discovered that had lost his house and property. The important thing though that his family was safe.

The US embassy set up a crisis center on the day of the quake. My husband and his colleagues had to work 24 hour shifts to analyze the situation, sift through the local and international news and report to Washington DC. Days after the quake, there were nuclear explosions, aftershocks and more news about the quake's aftermath.

Little by little, expats were leaving Japan. A lot of our friends were worried about the radiation situation but our family remained calm, since Tim had first hand information about what was happening. We assured our friends that Tokyo was safe. However, as the situation in the power plant got worse, as disagreements between scientists as to what to do with the plant escalated and as some radiation was traced in Tokyo, Tim thought it would be better if I took our 2 kids to Osaka and wait until the situation gets better.

We took the train to Osaka with one suitcase between the three of us, an umbrella stroller and a baby carrier. We didn't know if we would fly out to Manila, or to the US or back to Tokyo. On the day we left, the US embassy announced an authorized evacuation for US embassy dependents and family members. Everyone was asked to go to the US, but since my family lived in Manila, and it was only 4 hours away from Tokyo, plus I was travelling alone with 2 kids under 2 years old, we requested to go to Manila instead. It took a while before the US approved our trip to Manila and so we had to stay in Osaka for a couple of days more. Thanks to the generous people from the US consulate in Osaka, we had a comfortable place to stay while we waited for our departure.

The day of our departure was I think the hardest day of my life as a Mom. I travelled with my 2 babies by myself. It's really not a big deal, but then Kevin is hitting his terrible twos (tantrums and all) and Nina is still nursing every 2 hours. We took the train to the bus station to get to the airport. The bus ride was around 45 minutes. Kevin had quite a generous amount of poop in his diaper so I had to change him in the moving bus while Nina was on my chest, in the carrier. Well, the rest of what happened, I do not really don't want to recall. It includes running to my connecting flight as the airplane door was about to close, with the 2 babies on my chest, with a big backpack on my back. Anyway, the important thing is - we are all safe, and Tim is safe.

We have been in Manila for 3 weeks now, and so far my family has been having a great time with the two kids. We do not always agree on how to raise the 2 kids, but just the same, it is very comforting to be at our home.