Friday, November 30, 2012

nothing here is easy

As Yoni so eloquently documented last week, we have now been living on this tiny island for a bit more than a year. What does this mean in Okinawa? Not that we should feel good about ourselves for surviving our first year (though I think we should); not that we would now be qualified to be sponsors for some other newly-arriving family (though I think we’d probably be good at that); no – it means it’s time to renew the car insurance.

Now, I’ve never owned a car in the US, so it could be that my understanding of the situation is off. But I always assumed that, once you signed up for car insurance, you got to keep it as long as you paid the bill each month. And those bills could be paid any number of ways: bank transfer, online, by mail.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s the way the system works. That, however, is NOT how the system works here. In Okinawa, you can purchase a policy for any amount of time up to one year. You pay for it once, at the beginning. When that policy has expired, it must be replaced (in-person) by a new policy.

Now, the in-person thing is not surprising, Okinawa-wise. In fact, the monthly payments I make on said car also have to be made in person (and in cash). And people who live in town (as opposed to on base, as we do) also pay their rent, gas, utilities and cable bills in person. (Or, sometimes, at a convenience store. But that is a different story for a different day.)

So anyway – a few weeks ago, Yoni and I got a postcard saying that it was almost time to renew the insurance on our Blueberry. Remember the Blueberry?

 The policy was set to expire on November 29. According to the postcard, the policy could be renewed at B.C. Motors, the used car lot from which we purchased the vehicle in the first place. On the 27th, I went to the lot to renew the insurance. But sorry, they told me, actually you have to go to our other lot, the one half an hour from here. Strike one. I didn’t have time to go that same day, so on the 28th I set out, once again, to renew the insurance. I made it to the counter and sat down before they asked, so, how will you be paying today? Dollars or Yen? I’ll be paying by credit card, I responded. No, you won’t, they said. Because your name isn’t on the policy, and if you use a credit card, it has to match the policy-holder’s name. Ooookay, I said, well I guess I’ll go to the cash machine and then come back. I had to run a few errands on base anyway.

This is a good time to tell you all that, for the past week or so, the driver’s side window in my car has been wonky. Like, every time I open it, instead of going straight down, it would tilt forward and descend, creating a mountain peak effect. Well, when I arrived at the drive-thru cash machine (I do love that), my window got stuck half open/half closed. I could no longer run the errands I needed to run; no matter how many other people do it here, as a New Yorker I am simply incapable of walking away from a car with an open window. Instead, I took my cash and returned directly to the car lot, where I (finally) paid my insurance renewal. Phew! I also asked them how much time was left on my warrantee, and they told me I had until the end of November – essentially, three days. So if I wanted to get my window taken care of in that period of time, I figured I’d better hightail it over there!

Of course, you guessed it – the repair place is in a third annoyingly far location. Once they determined that they’d be able to fix my problem, I was told to leave my car and return for it the next day. Can I use one of the loaner cars, I asked? Sorry, they said, we’re all out today. Of course. Because I was only a half-hour drive from my house without any idea of how I was going to get home.

First, I called a few friends. No one picked up the phone. I called again. Still no answer. I decided to walk towards the nearby (1km away) farmers market so that I could at least get a snack. I also decided to post my dilemma on the Chaplain Spouses facebook page, on the off chance that someone would drop everything to come pick me up and take me home. And you know what? Within five minutes, a woman I barely know was on the way to rescue me!

So the story has a happy ending. But what I want you to take away here is that, when you start out to accomplish a seemingly simple task here on Okinawa, you never quite know what is going to happen. You certainly can’t plan to accomplish more than one new (i.e. never taken care of before) task per day. And, most of all, as I tell my mom all the time, I have no idea how families with two working spouses get anything done. This “society” is just not set up for that. How ridiculously strange.

Friday, November 23, 2012

One Year Later

One full year has passed.

Last year, we landed in Okinawa just before Thanksgiving.   On the first day, I checked into my new command.  On the second day, Leora and I went to Orientation, got driver’s licenses, and put a down-payment on a car.  We wouldn’t have a car until the next week.

Thanksgiving Day, the former Jewish Community lay leader took Leora and I to Camp Hansen’s Thanksgiving Meal.  We got a little lost going all the way up to Camp Hansen – a base which none of the people in the group had really ever frequented.   We were blown away by the quantity of over-the-top ice sculptures, by the sheer quantity of pork/meat/shellfish-reinforced dishes, and the group in general.  Scott, the lay leader, is significantly older – and we felt like the extremely jet-lagged kids at the end of the adult table.  There were some top-notch desserts.  At the end of the day, we returned to our hotel room at the WestPac Lodge and awaited our first Shabbat in Okinawa.

This year was very different.

We now have two cars and could run our own Orientation to the island.  I don’t really have any communication with any of the people (other than Leora) who were at the Thanksgiving Dinner last year.  I commute up to Camp Hansen nearly every day (and couldn’t get lost getting there, if I tried) – and made a concerted effort to avoid it on Thanksgiving.  We are now the stable island residents; in fact, Leora made some cookies and I made Tennessee-Apple Sweet Potatoes  (sweet potatoes with apples and a sweet-spicy-whiskey sauce) to deliver to the single Marines living in Barracks for Thanksgiving.

We decided to spend Thanksgiving dinner with our friends, the Mayorals.  There were only 4 and a half of us (their daughter is 2, but can pack away the food), but we definitely had food for 20.  Leora and Lara had been cooking for several days.  Leora made Aunt Enid’s pumpkin bread (delicious), cranberry sauce (yum), pumpkin pie (parve and tasty), mandel bread (with extra chocolate chips!), Brussels-sprouts (oh yeah), and carrot kugel (a-mazing).

Its not like we were just catering a meal for the Mayorals, either.  They made devilled-eggs, salad, and deep-fried a 17.5lb turkey (yes, for 4 of us to eat – kosher turkeys only come in big sizes).  They also supplied the three and a half bottles of wine (and Lara Mayoral is pregnant, so that put the onus on the rest of us to work through the bottles on our own).

We spent hours there, and only came home because Penny would have to go out.  We played Rock Band, but it was a disaster.  Clearly there was a problem with the instruments and calibration, and nothing to do with the tryptophan, meat coma, and copious quantities of libations.  There is also not a possibility that we are just not good at the game.  It was definitely instrument issues.

One full year has officially passed.  I qualify for my first new ribbon: Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon.  I’m testing for my Fleet Marine Force Officer Qualification in the near future.  Leora and I have friends and community here; we have great adventures ahead of us.  But even as we celebrate here - 

Our hearts are in the West.  We are trying to be optimistic about the current cease-fire, and we are hopeful for peace in Israel.  It seems so much more distant from here (even though we are technically closer to Israel than NYC), but we keep our brothers and sisters (quite literally, Shula landed in TLV this week) in the Land of Israel in our hearts and minds.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Thank you for supporting us!

Friday, November 16, 2012

oh, Penny...

First of all, as of this week, our blog is 1 year old. Happy Birthday Blog!

Now, on to the good stuff…

Yoni and I don’t write about Penny too often on this blog, so I think today’s post needs a little back story.

Penny is, without a doubt, a member of our family. (If you asked her, I think she’d say she was the head of the family.) We like to take her around the island with us when we can; we go to the beach, or to the dog park, or even just on drives. Last weekend, we went to Cape Hedo, the northern-most point in Okinawa, and Penny came with us. We tried, not so successfully, to take a few family self-portraits.

She is the star of our apartment building – and she knows it. Yoni and I joke that she has a huge ego, because her natural gait makes it look as though she is prancing all the time. All of the little kids scream out “Hi Penny!” whenever they see us, and when they see me without her, they ask me where she is. Even when I'm at the grocery store.

For the next few days, though, I think Penny will be keeping a low profile.

As you can see from the above pictures, she is looking pretty fluffy these days. For whatever reason, her hair grows faster out here, and it’s been hard keeping it in check. It was also, as you might imagine, hard to find a groomer. Nevertheless – we finally found one that we like, and I made an appointment to take Penny in this past Thursday.

I got a call from the groomer about 20 minutes after I got home from dropping Penny off.  “We have a bit of a problem,” she said. What had happened? Penny (obviously) tried to get away from her while she was mid-cut. The groomer reached out to grab Penny, dropping her clippers onto the table. The clippers missed the table and fell onto the floor, where they broke. The groomer did not have an extra pair. “I’ll see her first thing Monday morning,” she said, “but until then, she might be a bit – funny looking.”

At first glance, you might not realize something was wrong.

But once you get a good look – well, it’s hard to miss it. Poor Penny. If only it weren’t so funny!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Marine Corps Ball - HOORAH!

Last night, Leora and I went to our first Marine Corps Ball.  We've been to a few Chaplain Corps balls, and I went to the Dental Corps Ball once.  But there is nothing quite as motivating as being in a room of 600 super-motivated (alcohol is possibly involved) Marines, in their dress uniforms.  

We walk in the door, and people start wishing us "Happy Birthday!"  There is pomp and circumstance.  The colors (flags) are marched into the rooms.  Sword salutes.  A proclamation by the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps.  A cake is marched in.  The oldest Marine and the youngest Marine eat from it (very "l'dor vador").

Pictures are below, but I want to share with you the invocation I delivered as the Battalion Chaplain (the Marines clapped and cheered, at the end).

Two hundred thirty-seven years ago tonight, they gathered in Tun Tavern; and we were there.

They were called and they stormed the shores of Tripoli; and we were there.
They broke down the gates of Mexico city - into the Halls of Montezuma; and we were there.
They outlasted and won the day at Guadalcanal; and we were there.
They raised the flag at Iwo Jima; and we were there.
They overcame incredible odds at Saipan, Peleilu, Guam, Tarawa, and Okinawa; and we were there.
In the rivers and deltas of Vietnam; and we were there.
In the deserts and mountains of Iraq and Afghanistam; and we were there.

We were there.
We are there.
Almighty God, we invoke your presence here with us.

Eternal God, who connects the generations one to another, bless the Marines of the 9th Engineer Support Battalion; together with their brothers and sisters - the Marines and Officers who make up the United States Marine Corps.

As we strive to serve our great country with HONOR, COURAGE, and COMMITMENT, we ask that you lift us up on EAGLE's wings; Protect us as we serve around the GLOBE; and be our ANCHOR when we begin to drift.

Adonai Ish Milchama - our ever vigilant protector - 
Bless the CO, the officers and leaders of this battalion with your wisdom.
Support those who support all - the equipment operators and maintainers, the water dogs and the gen-techs.
Drive our bulk fuelers to greatness.
Motivate our combat engineers to further excellence.
Protect our EOD Marines, even as they continue their deployments into harm's way.

Lord who creates and destroys.
Be with the Marines of 9th ESB, as we build it, bridge it, or blow it up!


And together, we say Amen.

Like those killer stripes at the bottom of my sleeve?  That's because on top of everything else, I got promoted this week.  On a side note, Leora looks awesome.
Ladies, meet RP3 Worth.
Me and My Religious Program Specialist (Petty Officer 3d Class) - the guy who shoots for me and protects me.

March on the colors!

This is the Marine pageantry that I'm talking about.

March on the cake!

Happy Birthday to you.  Happy Birthday to you.  Happy Birthday, dear Marine Corps.  Happy Birthday to you!
(and yes, there was one drunk platoon-sized singing of "Happy Birthday")

Formation around the cake!
(oldest and youngest Marines take their place for the tasting)

Adjutant reading the order to celebrate the Marine Corps Birthday

Happy Birthday!

Friday, November 9, 2012

coming soon...

Yoni is busy working on his invocation for the Marine Corps Birthday Ball (yes, you read that right) we're attending tomorrow night. As he has no time to post now, he promises to report on the Ball on Sunday. Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, November 2, 2012


What a strange time to be away from New York.

As I have mentioned here before, every year from May to November Okinawa is in a heightened state of weather preparedness. We are constantly made aware of the weather condition, and the likelihood that a storm will pass within 72 hours. Storms are tracked and posted about (often ad nauseum) on Facebook. We bring in the chairs and the BBQ from the porch and put them back out sometimes multiple times each week. Some of the storms that we prepare for come, and some don’t, but either way, extreme weather is part of the spring/summer/fall state of mind here.

How unexpected, then, that the weather event most of us will remember in 10 years took place, not here, but at home.

I’m not sure I can really describe how it feels to be a dislocated New Yorker during this time of intense struggle for the city. Let’s just say that I’m sad – sad for the people who lost their homes, their property, their neighborhoods, their lives. And I’m sad not to be there. I’m also incredibly thankful that my family and friends are safe, and that my neighborhood emerged mostly unscathed while others did not.

Living out here, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it’s easy to feel far from home. After all, as my niece Dafna says sometimes, “Doda lives in Japan. It’s very far away.” But at times like this, when all you want to do is hug your people and help clean up your city, well, it’s especially easy to feel disconnected. Yoni and I are thinking about all of you at home who are dealing with the aftermath of Sandy. Wish we could be there. Libi bama’arav, va’anochi besof mizrach.