Thinking about my country...

Messages of encouragement from my colleagues

    It has been a month since the earthquake and tsunami attacked the northern part of Japan.  The day after I heard the news, I departed for Argentina to see my brother. Visiting Patagonia with him was what I had been looking forward, and I enjoyed the trip.  My brother is not a chatty person, but we shared some thoughts and talked a lot about childhood memories during the trip.  The nature of Patagonia was magnificent, and even a touch of it was quite impressive.  I liked Los Graciares and the nearest town Carafate, which seemed to me a small village of Canada: cute little houses with long trianguler roof and chimney, poplar trees, water birds on the lake, pleasant fireplace, beautiful glaciers and their crumbling on the lake.  I also enjoyed Peninsula Valdés and Puerto Madryn: long shore, quiet beach, sea breeze, waves lapping on the shore, the changing colors of the skies, collecting sea shells, and the close watch of wild sea animals. 

     But at the same time, the trip was depressing.  I couldn’t help watching the news on the television everyday and thinking what the hell I’m doing while so many people in my country are suffering from the damage.  It was ridiculous and I knew that. I am too far away to do anything anyway and feeling bad does not help anybody. I often wondered whether I could feel a little better if I had been working in the office, not traveling.  Maybe.  But now I think what I have been feeling is the fear and anxiety of what would become of my country, which seemed to be so safe and sound.  I realized how much I was dependent on the belief that nothing would happen to Japan and I always have a place to go back. 

     March was a bit gloomy from the beginning in spite of the pleasant days of the carnivals since some very good friends of mine left Tarija and I still could not get over a certain incident which made me lose confidence in whom and what to believe.  I was trying to distract myself and expecting the trip would help me change my mood.  Then came the news of the earthquake and I was totally knocked off.  Coming back from the trip, I had a prolonging fever and bad stomach.  I felt like crying but couldn't.  It was the worst days since I came to Bolivia. 

  Things slowly started to change then.  Since the carnival was over, the schools are more or less back to normal and become ready to work on my project.   The project I prepared is quite simple: to make a school sustainable as much as possible by creating a system of cleaning, classifying and recycling garbage.   The life in Bolivia is really simple compared to that in Japan or any other "developed countries".  Most of the trash here is kitchen garbage.  People are used to reuse the products which we just throw away without thinking.  Many of them still use quite old electronic appliances, and naturally reuse the nylon or the containers of yogurt or cafe for other things.   Moreover, talking about the environment is almost like a fashion.  People do know that they have to take care of their "madre tierra" which is newly written in the law, and throwing away garbage is not good.  But when you walk the street, it is likely to see taxi drivers throwing plastic bottles from the window, and if you go to school after snack time, the play ground is full of trash.  It seemed to me that they just do not have the habit to practice what their head already knows.  
     As a Japanese it was natural to come up with the idea to introduce the cleaning hour to school (in almost all schools in Japan, the students clean their classroom as well as the place they normally use such as bathroom, library and play ground), and I decided to classify garbage into three: papers, plastics, and others which cannot be recycled in Tarija.  If the school offered fruits as a snack, it would be kept in other box to make compost.  It took long time to actually put whole idea into practice.   One reason is that I needed to get the understanding of the principal, teachers and parents, and then I can start working with the students.  Another is that I did not present a concrete plan for the school to follow: partly I just couldn't, and partly I didn't intentionally since I wanted to do it with the principal and teachers.   Schools in Bolivia are half a day.   Many schools share the same building in the morning, afternoon, and sometimes at night.   Many teachers work in two or three schools.  Often the principals in the morning are different from that in the afternoon, which makes things more complicated.  But little by little I could establish my own know-how.   In four schools where I mainly work, I am starting to prepare the students to make the system work in cooperation with teachers, and meanwhile they arrange the garbage can for their classroom.  JICA helped me buy the trash containers to keep the classified garbage till the recyclers comes and picks them up.   I am hoping when teachers become interested in the project and understand how to start it, they can apply it to other schools they are working in.  

     Being busy and concentrating on the work really helped me to get over this depressive moments.  After all that is the reason I am here, and the only thing I can do now.    Nothing is more joyful than meeting the interest and enthusiasm shown by Bolivian teachers.   I really appreciate to the teachers I am working with and hope we can see the whole system work by the end of this semester.   Again the people I see in Bolivia do not consume as much products and energy as we do.  But they will in near future, actually quite soon as the trend of globalization is so strong and dominant.  I hope they are well prepared for that and they are not going to make the same mistake as we did.

      This morning when I was watching CNN news, a caster casually said Japan would be out of world economy for a while.   I was a bit shocked.  Indeed there is less and less news about Japan these days.  Again what would become of my country?  Japanese Internet news keep reporting the continuing aftershocks,  problems of nuclear plants in succession, the radioactive pollution and the damage by the groundless rumor.   So many difficulties lie ahead of us.  Socially, economically, politically, psychologically...      

     However, among the sad, anxious news, there are always positive, encouraging ones.   So many countries all over the world have sent supporting groups to stricken areas, raised donation, sent messages, and been doing what they can do.    A famous singer said, "Japan has always helped other countries.  Now it's time for us to help Japan", and has been raising donation through her concert.   And she is not the only one.  Many Japanese enterprises are sending their products to the stricken areas, and some announced that they will help the children who lost their parents.  

     There are lots of news on how people in stricken areas are trying to recover: school children made newspapers with the messages sent to them and distributed to the community; the owner of the jazz bar who lost everything but wish to reopen his shop to encourage people received many old records from all over Japan; all the shops in one town posted messages of encouragements on show windows; people keep bringing purses with cash in it into the police station...   So many praises are being sent from the world to the hospitality and patience those people has shown.    This is the most important.  Whatever happens to Japan, if people could have hope, could care about each other, could unite to overcome this difficult time, everything will be OK.  

        Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies. "The Showshank Redemption"