On Work and Disasters

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It is a Saturday and I’m supposed to be working.

Instead, I’m watching TV, but I don’t find it particularly restful. I feel antsy, like I should be doing something else. Something inside me wants to be up and about, doing some kind of productive work.

Is it the coffee I just drank?

I’m not really sure.

Saturdays are usually my busiest days. In the eikaiwa business, Saturday is when most kids and adults are free to go to classes. Adults aren’t working, and kids aren’t in school. Our kids’ school is the same. So yes, it is a very busy day.

But today was different. On Thursday, early morning, a 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit Hokkaido. The epicenter was in Atsuma town, about 50 kilometers south-east of my home. This small village has borne the brunt of the damage from the earthquake, with the death toll up to 40. Sapporo, meanwhile, suffered structural damage in Kiyota ward. More than anything, the city is suffering from the black out and power outage that the earthquake caused–instead of the actual physical destruction. With no power, there is no transportation, no buildings, and no work. It is a problem of lost productivity.

This is why I’m sitting at home now, twiddling my thumbs. This is a strange thing for me.

In the ten years I’ve been working here, I’ve never experienced a disaster this big, even with the 2011 Tsunami in Tohoku. We were far away from that damage and so it was business as usual with our school. This time, since we were directly affected by this earthquake, we’ve had to cancel classes. On Thursday, there was no power. Subways, trains, and buses were not available to the people in Hokkaido. This meant that even if we did open the school, the students could’t come. It was the same on Friday and Saturday.

I think, too, our students and their families had other priorities than English lessons. Within hours of the earthquake, not only power, but water got cut off too. Some families had to scrounge for food supplies and gasoline. Since power and transportation was cut off, not a lot of food was available in the cities.

But the point in all of this is my response to work. Even when this disaster struck, my first instinct was to worry about how to get to work. I was safe from the earthquake. Our house suffered no damage. My husband was military, so he was required to go to work and stay there for an indefinite amount of time. I knew where he would be and he would be safer than I could ever be. At least there were a lot of people around him and he would keep me updated. They have the skills and resources to deal with disasters.

This all meant that I only had to worry about myself. So Thursday, all I could think about was how I get to work. I thought of the myriad ways I could go and planned my strategy of attack. If no trains, then bus. If no bus, then taxi. If no taxi, then I can walk.

Luckily, I finally got a text from head office about classes being canceled for the day.

Fine, that took care of today, but what about tomorrow? Friday, I have to start early in the morning, which meant that I would need to find out the information as soon as I could.

So instead of taking care of myself and doing something else, I spent the rest of the afternoon worrying about and planning my route to work in the morning.

It didn’t help that my cell service wasn’t working because of no power. There was no network connection when I was at home. This is bad, I needed to get information from work. What if I get a text from work and I won’t know? So I spent most of the afternoon entering and leaving the house, essentially looking for coverage so that if a text came, I would respond. Around 7 pm, I figured this was the last time, so I took a final walk to find cell phone coverage. However, it was too dark outside. There were no lights whatsoever. I gave up and went home. Screw that. I’ll just go home and figure it out in the morning.

Right before going to bed, around 9pm, I finally got cell coverage and my phone updated on its own. I finally got all the messages I haven’t yet received. I had gotten texts from friends. I also found out that classes were canceled for Friday, too. Thank goodness I finally found out.

Friday, I spent most of the time doing the same thing I did on Thursday. Again, I needed information on work. Are there classes tomorrow, Saturday? If so, how will I get to work?

Again, I spent most of Friday walking around town looking for coverage and finally found that if I go to the train station, I could get stable network connection. A lot of people were doing the same thing. So, in order to get updated on information, I walked back and forth to the station and home.

In the afternoon, around 4pm, my carrier’s cell phone service seemed to stabilize and I was able to get connected without having to leave the house. The head office in Tokyo sent out a text that Saturdays’s classes were canceled due to transportation systems still being down. The school was safe and had no damage, but our students would probably have no way of getting to the school. This meant I’ve had no work this entire week. 

So let me recap: We had a major earthquake. What I worried about was getting to work.

When you put it that simply, I have to marvel at myself.

Where the hell are my priorities?! Why was I so worried about work?

I still can’t believe it.

Of course, as soon as the earthquake struck, I let my family know I’m safe. I got in touch with friends here and back in the US. I updated them on my situation. I finally got hold of my in-laws who I worried about since they were older. I offered help to anyone who needed it. They all assured me that they were fine. Luckily, my husband and I were prepared for the disaster at home. We had food and water supplies for such disasters.

But I have to wonder why I stressed so much about work and getting there.

I don’t like it. I’ve become so conditioned to this responsibility that it feels like I’m losing my humanity–or simply losing sight of what is important.

Is it because everything is ok with my husband and my small family that I have to worry about work only? Why was I so worried about getting to work? Is this normal?

I think this is a personality flaw of mine. I’ve never liked calling out of work, especially since this job depends so much on me as the teacher. The weight of this responsibility–I seem to bear it deeply, in my soul, that even with a disaster, all I could think about was getting to work. Without a teacher at the school, someone will have to be responsible to teach those lessons. I don’t ever want to put the school in such a position. I don’t want to cause trouble to the staff and to a sub. I don’t want to cause problems for the students and their parents, as well. 

If anything, this has made me realize how much I need to be not tied to working. This over-emphasis on work responsibilities seems to have made me a slave to my job. I want the freedom of not having to worry about getting to work when disaster strikes. 

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