The Journey Continues

August 14, 2013

It's hard to believe it has been almost two years since I last updated this site.  I had big intentions when we moved to Okinawa.  I was going to write about our experiences living in another country, our travels to other places, the new people we met.  But it just didn't happen.

I don't know why though - I still wrote while we were overseas, albeit not as much as I have in the past.  The writing juices just weren't flowing I guess.  Once in a while I'd go off on a rant and write about something, but those mostly got posted to Facebook or my other blog.  This site seems too . . . sacred I guess for my stupid rants.  In my head, this is Keeghan's Place.  It should be Shannon's Place, but I can't seem to make it so.  This is where Keeghan's story resides, where it was first told.  To tell stories of anything else seems almost sacrilegious to me.

In 17 days it will have been five years since Keeghan died.  How the hell is that possible?  Life has gone on.  We have moved three times since his death.  And yet every year when August rolls around, it all feels so fresh again.  The missing him that is a constant dull ache in my soul every day becomes a sharp pain again.  The dreams of watching him die become more frequent.  The tears that I manage to only let out occasionally now are just under the surface again.

Time most certainly does NOT heal all wounds, and I'd like to kick the shit out of any person who says it does.

Because this month is so about Keeghan in my head, and because this five-year anniversary seems to be kicking my ass even more than the past four anniversaries have, I may bring my writing back to this site for a while.  It seems fitting.

We'll see.


August 30, 2011

This is a rough week for us.  As many of you know, Keeghan died on August 31st.  Tomorrow will be three years we have lived without him, and while yes, we continue to live, I still sometimes struggle with it.  To say that we miss him is so gross an understatement, it almost seems insulting.  But continue on we do, because we have no other choice.

Because this is such a hard time, Mike took leave for the week so that we can spend the week together.  Maxx started school on Monday, and it is nice to have him here when she gets out of school so that we can hear about her day together.  Some things are better when you hear the story firsthand, and the first week of her senior year in high school is definitely one of those.

Rather than sit around and be sad all week, however, we have been using the past couple of days to wander around our new island home.  Today we set out to go look for new beaches.  We had been to one beach on a local Army post that we liked, but we wanted to see more.  We started off by going to Araha Beach, which is less than ten minutes from the base.  It was a beautiful, clean beach.  Very resort-like, with cute little beach hotels beside it.  It reminded me of Venice Beach in Southern California, although it was much smaller.  We walked up and down the shore, took some pictures, and marveled at the sand crabs that darted all around us lightning quick!

We arrived at Araha so early, the beach was deserted.  There was this one pair of bright yellow flip-flops that had been left behind by someone though, so Mike made good use of them for a photo op!

We then decided to head north to Cape Zanpa and work our way back down to Kadena.  We found a very nice little public beach at Cape Zampa, but I was looking more for a place to walk along the beach and look for shells and sea glass, and this was more of a family swim beach, so we jumped back in the car and started heading south.

The next beach south on my map was called Nirai Beach.  We missed the turn for it, but decided to take the next turn and find our way to the beach (it’s an island, right?  We figured if we headed west, we’d hit water eventually).  We didn’t make it to Nirai, but we did find a little gem of a place called Murasaki Mura.  The place itself was once the set for a television series about the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom (which is now Okinawa).  After the television series ended, the set was turned into something of a craft village.  There were different buildings spread out on the grounds, and each offered a different craft to be learned.  You could paint your own Shisa dogs, learn to make lampwork beads, clay pots, seashell lamps - so many possible crafts to make!  Mike and I chose not to make anything today, but instead scoped out all that was offered so that we could tell Maxx about it.  I’m sure we will be heading back there this weekend so she can make something beautiful!  Below are pictures of some of the different Shisa Dogs we saw placed around the grounds.

After Murasaki Mura we headed home.  “Headed” being a very general term really.  I should say “we headed south toward home” instead.  One of the many wonderful things about living where we do is that it’s very hard to get lost.  We could see the ocean on our right, so we knew we were headed in the direction of the base.  Since it sits almost on the beach anyway, we knew we would eventually run into it!  Knowing that gave us the freedom to drive on roads that we hadn’t driven on before and admire the local sights.

Overall, it was a good day.  There was one small low point in the day . . . it was out of my control really . . . but I’m afraid I must now share my shame with all of you.

When we arrived at Murasaki Mura from Cape Zanpa, I needed to use the restroom.  Since there was a public restroom right by where we parked, I stopped in there first.  Japanese public restrooms can be interesting at times, with “toilets” that are really nothing more than a hole in the floor that you have to squat over, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that this restroom had normal toilets.

There were approximately 8-10 stalls in the restroom, all appearing empty when I walked in, so I randomly chose one.  I don’t want to share too much information, however some necessary details must be shared. 

One thing I must share first, however.  In Japan, the toilet paper dispensers on the wall have a metal flap that hangs over the actual roll of toilet paper.  They are like this in public restrooms as well in homes.  Below is a picture of the dispenser in one of the bathrooms in our house.

The restroom stall at Murasaki Mura had two dispensers like this, side by side. 

So . . . as I sat and began my business, I reached up to one of the dispensers to get some toilet paper.  This is where time morphed into a slow-motion-yet-lightning fast speed for me.  As I pulled the toilet paper, a cockroach about 2” long came flying out from under the metal flap over the dispenser, and landed in my lap.

That was the slow motion part.  Here is where things went lightning fast.

I am not a screamer.  I just don’t know how to scream.  I do know how to curse though.  When the cockroach landed on my lap, I jumped off the toilet, spewing profanities and hopping around like a crazy woman because I could not see the cockroach.  I grabbed the front of my shirt and shook it.  The fantastically ginormous bug then fell from somewhere on my person to the floor where it proceeded to run in a figure eight pattern around my feet.  Finally, after much hopping, it ran under the wall and into the stall next door.  Finally I was able to breathe again, and that was when a certain realization hit me.

I was still peeing.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, I did it.  I peed on myself.  Thank all that is good in the universe, I had my bathing suit on.  But still . . . ew.

Seriously, what are the odds?  Out of all those empty stalls, each with TWO rolls of toilet paper, I choose the one with the monster cockroach hiding on it? 

After quite a few minutes spent trying to get my heart rate down, I walked out of the restroom to where my oh-so-oblivious husband was waiting for me, no idea of the trauma I had just endured.  I must have been walking the total Walk of Shame as I approached him because he got this questioning look on his face (with a small amount of grin thrown in), so I told him what happened.

He DOUBLED OVER laughing at me.  Can you believe it?  I was attacked by the Mothra of All Bugs in a public restroom, but does my personal Godzilla come to my rescue?  Does he even feel sorry for me?


Oh, the humanity . . . next time I will be sure to carry a bat if I think I will be in need of a restroom while we are out and about. 

Shannon, out.  (probably for a drink)

August 22, 2011

I said a few weeks ago that I was going to be writing about Japan once we got moved.  Well, we’ve been here for nearly a month now, but I just got my computer a couple of days ago so I’m finally able to get my write on!

The weeks leading up to our move here were hectic.  So much so, in fact, that there were moments when Mike and I were ready to throw in the towel and say “Forget it!” and not move at all.  All I can say now is that I am SO glad we did not give up!

Traveling was easier than I thought it would be.  San Francisco was a little tense for a few minutes as we went through security though.  One of Mike’s carry-on bags was a case holding the urn with Keeghan’s ashes, along with his stuffed dog Spot who went everywhere Keeghan went in life, and now guards him wherever he goes.  The TSA agents in San Francisco insisted on taking the urn out of the case, turning it over and looking at every inch of it.  Mike says they even mentioned opening it!  

Maxx and I had already gone through security, so through all of this ordeal with TSA we stood a few feet away.  As I stood watching them examining his urn, I had tears just streaming.  My worst fear in the weeks leading up to flying was that TSA would not let us take Keeghan on the plane.  We had already decided that, if they didn’t, we were not getting on the plane either and the Air Force would have to figure out a way to get us to Okinawa.  In the end, however, they let him go through.  

What I find interesting now, looking back, is how different the treatment of his urn was in America compared to Japan.  Because we had to go through Customs in Tokyo, we had to pick up all of our baggage and then re-check it for our flight to Naha.  As Keeghan’s urn went through the x-ray machine in Tokyo, the young girl looking at it on the screen knew exactly what it was.  As it came out of the x-ray and moved down the belt, she turned and just watched it with this sad look on her face.  It was so touching to see the respect she showed for him, rather than the suspicion of the agents in the States.  I understand the need for security, but Americans could stand to learn a lot about respect from the Japanese.

As for our flights, they went well.  It took ten hours to fly from San Francisco to Tokyo.  I thought the flight would feel like forever, but it went faster than I expected.  Customs in Tokyo was easy, even with the dog and the cat.  

Funny side note #1 - our cat B.B. weighs 19 lbs.  He’s huge.  Mike was pushing a luggage cart with the cat’s crate on it through the airport in Tokyo when a man ran up and took a picture of B.B.!  I guess he’d never seen a cat that big before.  We still laugh about the fact that there is a picture of our cat floating around Japan somewhere now!

The flight from Tokyo to Okinawa, while only 2.5 hours, felt like forever!  By that time, I think we were just so tired of traveling that we were done.  When we got to Naha there was a whole crowd of people from the squadron waiting to greet us - it was amazing!  Considering the fact that we had the two animals and about 8 bags with us, it was good that they were all there.  Japanese cars tend to be small, so it took 2-3 of them to get us and all of our stuff to the base!

The first few days here are something of a blur to me now.  It went something like this.

Day 1 - Arrival
Day 2 - got a house (practically unheard of to get one that quickly around here)
Days 3-7 - miscellaneous in-processing for Mike, shopping for stuff for the house, buying cars.
Day 8 - got hit with a Typhoon!
Days 9-10 - stuck inside listening to 90+ mph winds outside

Honestly, a typhoon?  Really?  What a big welcome Okinawa saved for the Barry Clan, eh?

Since then things have moved pretty fast.  Mike had a huge exercise during his first full week of working in the squadron, and then a surprise inspection by the Air Force Inspector General the second week!  Talk about a trial by fire, right?  So far he seems to be loving his job though.

Maxx and I have been exploring the base and the area immediately surrounding the base.  I’m still getting used to driving on the left side of the road, so we haven’t ventured too far.  

Funny side note #2 - in getting used to driving a car with the steering wheel on the right side of the car, I have learned about something called “the Okinawa wave.”  The turn signal in my car is on the right side of the steering wheel instead of the left like I am used to.  On the left side is the windshield wiper control.  In the first few days of driving, I kept turning on my wipers whenever I went to use my turn signal.  That is the sign of new people on the island - the wipers are the Okinawa wave! 

There is a small marina not far from the base that we go to just to walk in the sand and look for hermit crabs.  It’s peaceful.  I think that is the one thing I have noticed the most about being here - there are so many places we go where I just feel at peace.  It’s a big change from California in that respect.

The Japanese recently celebrated Obon, which is a 3-day holiday honoring ancestral spirits.  It is a time of celebration and, here on Okinawa, includes a traditional dance called Eisa.  We live close to one of the gates heading off of the base, and just outside this gate is Okinawa City.  We like to head out there to walk around and check out local food and shopping.  We were able to see two local Eisa dance groups on the first day of Obon.  To hear the drums and singing, as well as observe the traditional clothing they wore, was so special!  It was our first chance to truly experience the local culture and traditions.  We learned our lesson that night though - never leave home without a camera!

This past weekend was, without a doubt, the best we’ve had since arriving here.  We started off by going to the beach on Saturday.  Mike and Maxx rented paddle boards for an hour and proceeded to baptize themselves repeatedly in the East China Sea!  It was pretty funny.  I found a new favorite pastime of my own on the beach - collecting sea glass!  Glass from the ocean gets broken, and then the edges smoothed by being tossed about in the waves, so that when it washes ashore it is smooth.  I had read about this before coming here, but it wasn’t until I was finding pieces on the beach that I realized how unique these pieces of glass really are.  I already have ideas for jewelry that I can make with sea glass!  Mostly right now though I am just enjoying collecting it and interesting shells.  Keeghan loved walking on the beach and looking for cool shells, so in a way my beach combing has become my own little time to commune with my boy.

After the beach on Saturday, we headed into Okinawa City for a beer festival we had heard about.  I have to admit, when I heard about a beer festival, I was expecting a small street festival with maybe a few hundred people.  I could not have been more wrong!  The Orion Beer Festival 2011 was held at the Koza Athletic Park, which is huge, and there were thousands of people there.  Dozens of food booths with foods that looked and smelled incredible, game booths where you could play games and win a prize, a stage with local pop and rock groups playing all day and into the evening, and a fireworks show to end each day of the festival.  Talk about experiencing the local culture!  The best part of the festival (for me) was what took place in the stadium.  This was where the annual Okinawa Zento Eisa Matsuri, a competition between Eisa dance troupes from all around Okinawa, was taking place.

Eisa is mesmerizing to watch and listen to.  The drums are so loud!  Watching these young people move and drum together in this traditional dance is beautiful.  The drums have such a tribal sound; if you can imagine 50 drums all being played at the same time - you feel it in your gut and it just . . . speaks to you.  I can’t find the right words to describe it, but I love it.  I could watch it for hours.  The troupes consist of children who appear to be as young as 4- or 5-years-old up to adults.

Funny side note #3 - we were down on the grass in the stadium last night trying to get pictures of the Eisa troupes, and a little boy from one of the groups tripped and fell into Maxx.  He was probably about six-years-old (judging by his absolutely adorable toothless grin).  When he looked up at Mackenzie, his eyes got huge and he ran back to the older boys from his group.  One of them leaned down and said something in his ear, and then the little boy said, “I’M SORRY!” to Mackenzie.  It was beyond cute!  Mackenzie said, “It’s OK” back to him, but he didn’t understand.  One of the other boys made a thumbs up sign to Mackenzie with a kind of questioning look on his face, so she smiled, nodded and and made the thumbs-up sign back to the little boy.  He smiled, gave her the thumbs-up, and then said “I’m sorry” a few more times (for good measure I guess!).  It was so sweet!

In an effort to practice her Japanese, Maxx asked one of the staff members in the stadium where the bathroom was in Japanese.  He seemed very impressed with her and gave her directions.  As we walked away, Maxx was practically jumping up and down over managing to ask in Japanese!  Then, while waiting for me to come out of the bathroom, a young boy of about 10 walked past Maxx and said “Hello” in English.  He then said something else in English, but Maxx didn’t understand it, and then he said, “Bye” and walked off.  It was pretty funny.  It was like he was practicing his English!  

Watching the children at the festival was one of my favorite things.  Many people dressed in traditional clothing for the festival.  Seeing toddlers in these outfits was precious!  Mike took numerous pictures of these adorable little ones!  The Okinawan people have been a joy to interact with.  As guests in their country, I only hope we haven’t done anything to offend them so far!  We are eager to learn more about their culture so that we can interact more.  All in all it’s been a good first month in our new home.

To see more pictures from the Orion Beer Fest, click here.