Friday, July 18, 2014

nakagusuku castle

This past Sunday, seeing as the heat index was only 104 instead of the usual 109, Yoni and I decided to venture out and spend a bit of time exploring. Okinawa is covered in ancient castle ruins (a throwback to the long and complicated history of the Ryuku Kingdom), and even though they all basically look the same, they can be interesting and beautiful.

The main parts of Nakagusuku Castle were built in the 14th century, with later additions put on in the 15th century. It was operational in some capacity (first as a residence and later as a village office) until the Battle of Okinawa when some of the structures were destroyed. Despite the damage, of the approximately 300 castle ruins located in the Okinawa prefecture, this castle is one of the best preserved in its original state. (I got this factoid from the brochure. I can assure you Yoni and I have not visited 300 castle ruin sites. They’re nice, but they all look basically the same. But still – fun for a Sunday outing!)





Our local poisonous snake is called the Habu. Okinawans, however, are not known for their command of English when it comes to signage.




All of the rocks were numbered - we figured they were possibly re-assembling something a la the Jerusalem Stone walls near Machaneh Yehudah.

Yoni says that this hotel is haunted (at least according to local Marine Corps lore). If you're interested, he recommends googling "Nakagusuku Hotel haunted". 
I could not believe how many layers this woman was wearing. It was seriously hot. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Another Typhoon Down...

When I went to Camp Judaea as a kid, there was a large contingent of campers from Miami and Puerto Rico.  I don’t have that many good things to say about many of the campers from those places.   That is not to say that I disliked all my fellow campers in beautiful Hendersonville, NC; it just wasn’t awesome (and I really hated some people). These kids from the extreme South East might not have known basic rules of human decency, but they did know hurricanes.

I remember the really awesome t-shirts that some of them brought to camp in 1993 boasting “I survived Hurricane Andrew”.  As an aspiring meteorologist rabbi, I was already impressed with hurricanes and tracked them at home.  That summer, I learned they came with swag.  Further, there is a brotherhood that comes from having survived one of the world’s great storms.

I really wanted to be in a hurricane after that summer.  Nothing truly devastating, but it would be neat to see stuff fly.  Hampton, fortunately or unfortunately (however you might see it) was too well protected for those kinds of shenanigans.  We had a couple of hurricanes skirt through in my youth, but almost everything downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it hit Hampton.

We are officially in our last Typhoon season on Okinawa.  By now, Leora is a pro, but I was in Guam or Iwakuni or both when the last really spectacular typhoon hit almost two years ago. 

Even so, I do ok.  Though I’ve never been in anything truly jaw-dropping.  I stare out the window as the gusts of wind blast through the wind tunnel created by my apartment building and the one next door.  I take the puppy out when it seems things are dying down even just briefly.  I get a bad headache from the pressure change…and I pray that the pressure won’t result in Leora going into labor (it can do that).


Supposedly this typhoon was a pretty good one.  Winds gusted over 100 mph on island, and trees with large branches missing can be seen all over.  Many of the “No Parking” signs fell over on base, so it’s a free-for-all (at least in my head). There was also some pretty intense flooding. But at our house, things were relatively calm.  After all, we live in a concrete bunker of an apartment.  Power and water went out.  Fire alarms went off (and after two hours, they were jerry-rigged to cease their noise-making).   We went over to our neighbors’.  Played some board games.  Pet the dogs and played with babies.  Thank God, it wasn’t quite the Andrew experience, but I'm too old for that non-sense.

Friday, July 4, 2014

the end is in sight

As my August 6th due date gets closer and closer, it gets harder and harder for me to find interesting and inspiring non-baby things to write about. (I know, I know, you all think you’re interested in the baby things – but I promise you don’t really want to hear about the hours I spend thinking about baby monitors, changing pad covers, and all manner of other minutia. It’s really not interesting. Just ask my mom.) Add into the mix the fact that we recently found out we’ll be leaving Okinawa in December to move to beautiful Annapolis, MD (about which we’re SUPER excited, by the way), and you can understand why my brain is moving a million miles a minute, and not providing me with much blog inspiration.

That being said, our impending departure does have me thinking about what kinds of things Yoni and I absolutely want to do and experience before we leave. To be honest, I don’t think there’s much on either of our lists – we’ve been living here for a long time, now. But Yoni told me the other day that he still desperately wants to go scuba diving with whale sharks, which is a thing you can do here. And I know he still wants to go deep-sea fishing; he’s signed up for numerous trips over the past couple of years but they always seem to get cancelled. Stupid sub-tropical weather. As for me? I’m sure there are things we haven’t done, places we haven’t seen, but there are no activities in particular that stand out. I do find myself thinking much more seriously about my pedicure choices, knowing that my remaining pedicures on island are few in number. It would be nice to do more exploring around the island, but when it’s not thunderstorming the heat index averages about 108 with about 99% humidity – and that just doesn’t seem like a good idea for this 35+ weeks pregnant lady.

We did brave the heat today to take Penny to the beach for an hour or so. Penny was thrilled to celebrate her independence (and ours, of course), and to cool off in the East China Sea. Since it’s erev Shabbat, we won’t be attending any BBQs or parties or fireworks displays tonight. We’ll be at shul, doing our regular Friday thing. But then again, in thinking about what we’re really celebrating on July 4 and how hard our founding fathers worked to obtain religious (and political) freedom, maybe going to shul is a good way to celebrate July 4. Lounging by a pool, drinking margaritas and watching fireworks would be more fun, but as my niece Dafna says – we get what we get and we don’t get upset. So there you go.  Happy 4th, and Shabbat Shalom!




Saturday, June 28, 2014

How do you learn how to do disaster relief?

(I put this up last week but the system rejected it.  I think "the man" was involved in keeping it off)

There was an argument made in the class that I was taking this week that USAID (United States Agency for International Development) was a cover for the CIA.  Between their commitment to long-term development, their focus on building democracy while wearing civilian attire, and their questionable relationship structure with the Department of State, they smell a little suspicious to some.  But the two workers in the front of the room promised us that they are not working for the spooks.  They seemed nice enough, so I’ll trust them.

(Side note: I’m currently reading Ian Flemming’s Casino Royale, so I trust them but only a little bit)

Within USAID, there is an office called OFDA: Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance.  This week’s official Joint Primary Military Education piece was Joint Humanitarian Operations; wow.  I now see the world of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in a whole new light.

At this point, I have to tell you; on behalf of all those who do disaster relief.  When you get that urge to donate items, restrain yourself.  Send money.  Especially (and these are real examples) when you feel compelled to send used yoga mats, canned meats, things from your pantry that you can’t identify, leftover/partially eaten fast food, water bottles.  Just send money.

The process by which we (meaning the US) get into foreign assistance is truly fascinating.  The number of steps that need to be taken (sometimes simultaneously) to get USAID into a disaster zone are incredible, and then to involve the military!  We (now I mean only the military) will only go in if (1) we are asked, (2) we are filling a need that cannot be fulfilled by the country that is in disaster, (3) it looks good for us to go in, and (4) we provide a unique contribution that nobody else – like Ospreys.  Only if all 4 of those requirements are met will we be in a disaster zone.

But it's so hard to stay out.

Not because we’re the military and we enjoy infiltration, but because every one really wants to help.  The USAID people talked about “disaster tourists” – people who sign up for aid missions because they want to help, but bring no real skills.  They arrive, cry at the suffering, and hand out a teddy bear.  They are nice people, but not necessarily what you need in Haiti after a huge earthquake.  As my boss summed it up, “Far too often too many people get spun up far too quickly.”  Truth.


But the question I left class with and thought about all the way home: “Is there really such as a thing as too many people helping out in a disaster?”  I’m still a little torn.

Friday, June 6, 2014

PCS season

When you live a military life, saying goodbye to friends is inevitable - but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. If anything, the constant cycle of people moving in and out of each other’s lives makes some people hesitant to get attached to friends at all. When we first arrived on Okinawa, I remember coming to understand that while being a part of a transient community meant that people were welcoming and helpful to newcomers, it also meant that those same people were not necessarily looking to develop new friendships. Sometimes it’s easier if there are fewer people to miss when you (or they) leave.

That being said, very few people go three years without making any friends. And so at some point, you have to say goodbye. To accommodate school schedules, many people in the military community rotate over the summer. In the military vernacular it's known as PCS (Permanent Change of Station) season. In the past week alone, I’ve said goodbye to two people I was friendly with and one with whom I was very close. Another close friend is leaving in a week and a half. I was a rare and lucky PK who never had to move growing up, and I didn’t really have any friends that moved away either. So this is new ground for me.


With notable exceptions, most people try not to be maudlin about these unavoidable and constant shifts. Having to move every 3 years is just one more thing about being in the military that is beyond your control, and so you accept the fact that your friends will leave and move on. Of course that doesn’t mean you aren’t sad, or that you’re not upset they’re leaving, but people (myself included) try to leave things with an air of “I hope we meet again” as opposed to “I’m going to cry myself to sleep every night because you’re leaving.” But while I admire (and try to embody) that attitude, I also try not to get bogged down in only thinking about people that way. I don’t want to turn into someone who decides it’s easier not to invest in friendships just because we won’t live down the street from one another for the rest of our lives. I tend to think that there’s a middle ground somewhere. In the meantime, I choose to love my friends while they’re here, to keep loving them after they’re gone, and to be thankful for them even if they’re not in my life every day. I’ll also try to make an effort to make some new friends – although it took me a while to put together the small collection of friends I have currently. We’ll see how that goes.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Some Items Reconsidered

One of the weirdest and most wonderful things about driving to work in Okinawa is listening to NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Marketplace”.

Weird because listening to a round up of today’s news headlines first thing in the morning is definitively weird.  Wonderful because Robert SiegelAudie Cornish and Melissa Block are my co-pilots.

I have been a big fan of NPR for a long time.  WHRV 89.5 was the standard radio setting in both cars, and most mornings began with the news on in 3 radios across the house.  It is possible that I memorized all of the standard giveaways during the semi-annual pledge drives (if you are feeling generous, you can call 889-9476 or 800-940-7170 to donate during the next pledge drive, and no, I didn’t have to look up those numbers). I am the elusive “Under-40” NPR Listener Demographic (Don’t even get me started about “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” and “Fresh Air”). 

When AFN cuts out the AM channel (which offers All Things Considered in the morning), I get bummed out and complain to Leora all day.

When there is an article (I refer to pieces on the radio as articles, even though Leora and family prefer to call them something else) that inspires me, it is all that I can think of for a little time.

I was driving to work on Thursday, when LaVar Burton came on air and talked about his KickStarter campaign to raise 1 million dollars to bring “Reading Rainbow” to a new generation.  (If you don’t yet know about this campaign, I highly recommend you read about it and donate even a couple dollars at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/readingrainbow/bring-reading-rainbow-back-for-every-child-everywh)

Since then, I have written a Shabbos drash about Reading Rainbow.  Sung the theme song up and down the halls of my battalion.  I have been inspired to open a couple of the books that adorn my office. 

All things considered, it’s a pretty good way to start the day.