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Living in Awase

It wasn't a tough time living there! I can think of many worse places to be trying to raise a new family, keep down a job and have enough to entertain yourself. Awase was "good times" for us and we didn't really appreciate it too much.

Oh, that's not to say we didn't know that we were better off than some - I think we just didn't have a clue because we were both so new at being away from home and new at being newlywed. A lot of good times came from that little 30,000 yen/month concrete block that we called home.

Our neighbors, for one... nice people and not unaccustomed to Americans in the neighborhood. The area in which we lived wasn't inundated with Americans but there were enough of us to make our presence known. One of our utmost crusades was to do our part to dispell the image of the "ugly American."

In retrospect, our greatest and most rewarding experience living among the locals wasn't to occur for another fourteen years, but for the time being, we tried our darnedest to be good neighbors.

I regret that I can remember no one's name - the family right next door had a great dog! They welcomed us with a traditional offering of baked goods and, ya know, we didn't really know how to respond. Yeeesh!! We really felt like geeks... they were so nice and we were just scratchin' our heads and wondering how to return the kindness. Should we go to the commissary and buy them a bunch of American made goodies? Heck! They probably wouldn't like it and we'd have gone to jail for black-marketing!! Well, maybe not....
We decided that the best way to return the favor was to simply be decent neighbors. As it turned out, we didn't have a whole lot of contact with them and this being our first time on island, I didn't know any of the language. That was definitely a stumbling block.

The house.... oh that house!! There are really big bugs on Okinawa. We called 'em water-bugs. We called 'em roaches. We called 'em a lotta things that I'd ought not put in print here!! *grin* I don't want to say these bugs were huge but... at night, if the lights were off in the kitchen... you'd go in, turn on the light and listen!! One could literally hear them skittering across the floor, rushing back into cupboards and drawers, just hustling to hide themselves from the hungry or thirsty giant who had just interrupted their feeding time!

We used to get those little packs of powdered spaghetti sauce mix. They loved that stuff!! Before long we had learned to take a look at the package before using it. Many times you could see where they had chewed through the packet and dined on the seasoned goodies therein. Ugghhhh! And Kool-aid!! Lord, they had a penchant for that stuff. It was bad enough that sometimes we had only twenty or twenty-five dollars to buy two weeks worth of groceries.... be damned if those varmints would get half!! Guess we hadn't discovered Tupperware yet!
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June bugs!! From April to July, there were June bugs! All a guy had to do to see 'em was to open the door... the screen would be covered with those li'l bastards!! Going in and out of the house was a trip... trying to slide through the screen door without letting too many of 'em in. They never hurt a flea, but just the size of 'em and the noise they made was enough to make your skin crawl!

Geckos! Now those were some neat little beggars!! Those slimy- looking creatures... lizards, that would hang out at the top of your draperies. They were in other places too, but could most often count on having a couple or three of those guys flee when you'd open or close the draperies! Non-poisonous little reptiles, they are! And they were really our friends. Why friends? Because they ate those nasty, ugly, creepy spiders! Oh yeah!! It was a virtual entomological zoo living off base! For that matter, I don't think they cornered the market on off-base living facilities! There were pleanty when we moved to Machinato (now called Makiminato) - but that's another era! At least we rarely saw mice in Awase!! *shudder*

There were other kinds of creeps though. One night while I was at work (I worked nights the entire time we lived there) my wife was in the shower. A small window opened into the shower from the extremely narrow "back yard." While rinsing her hair, she looked at the window and saw a pair of beady eyes and a curious grin looking right back at her! A ghecko? Nope! One of the many rats which often walked along the top of the concrete fence which surrounded our house? Nope!! A young nosey, thrill-seeking teen-age local human being? You got it!! For some strange reason I got a brow-beating over that one!! Hell!! We can't afford to move now, I proclaimed!

Those bathtubs!! Rectangular, tiled and moldy! It was nothing more than a concrete trough, all right angles except for the bottom back of the thing which gradually sloped upward to serve as a backrest. No thank you, I'll stand!! All the bleach and bathroom cleaning sprays, brushes and elbow grease that we could conjure up was insufficient to win the battle over mildew! I thought it odd at first, that they had used black grout between all those teeny little tiles! Black grout indeed!!! *smirk*

Water rationing! Hmmm.... when the island became perilously low on fresh water we went into what was so fondly referred to as "rationing" of water. There was no ration! There was NO WATER! To ration means to reduce consumption - to allow only so much of something to be used! Rationing my butt!! We were put on water-deprivation!!

Every third day we'd have our water on for 12 hours! Now it doesn't take a public works guru to know that after your water's been shut off and lost its pressure, all kinds of icky crap can find its way into the water distribution system. Remember what I told you in the Nakasone Era about the waste disposal system in the early 1970s? Well, if the "benjo" was outside of the pipes, what do you suppose was seeping into the pipes!? Anyway, we were advised to fill our tubs during our "On" hours and then use that water for the next two days. Use it to cook, drink, wash, flush.... and with a newborn baby to
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boot!!! So, with all that black grout..... suffice to say we drank an awful lot of Clorox those first two and a half years on Okinawa!

I mentioned earlier that a very important part of survival back in those days was the ability to acquire "stuff," remember? One of the best things I scrounged, relative to water rationing, were a number of big 5 gallon plastic jugs with a spiggot on it. We had a bunch of 'em at the clinic. Distilled water was put into them and was used copiously throughout the facility. So, on a midnight acquisition foray, a few of those jugs happened to come into my possession. We still had to use Clorox but at least we didn't have to store drinking water in that old bath trough! The water in the tub was saved for flushing! God help us should we run out of water for that!!

The first year that a person spends on island the "winter" doesn't seem bad at all. I guess that if you get there in the spring of the year, the following winter might seem kinda cold, but for the most part, I think the first winter goes well for most folks. The second one, though.... ya know, it feels cold! I think the coldest it ever got there in my experience, was in the low 50's. Now some would say, "How can you possibly call that cold?"
Even to me, after weathering many a winter in New York, Vermont, Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana, the 50's is a dream come true! If global warming continues the way it has, we might see Montana temperatures plummet into the low 50's some day! But, the feeling there is of cold! The house in Awase had no central heat. We had an air-conditioner for the summer months, but unfortunately had no money to pay the power bill if we'd used it! I can remember a few days when it was sooooo hot that we thought it would hurt our new DyLon so we turned it on. It didn't work all that well - and it showed when we got the power bill!
(NOTE: 11-3-2011 - When I wrote this story back in 1998 there was a general acceptance, I believe, that the Earth was warming, and we used the term "global warming" rather glibly. I believe today that there is no scientific evidence that we are experiencing any man-caused aberrant warming. These warming and cooling cycles have been going on forever.)

Anyway, when the wet chill set in during the monsoon winter season, the only heat we had was a little Alladin heater. It was adequate and we lived through it. The place always stank of kerosene though! *pout*

Let's see.... what other "adversities" did we have to endure? Peeping Toms, big rats who nightly patrolled the brick wall, water bugs, June bugs, sweltering heat in summer and a chill in the winter..... Dang!! You'd think there was every reason to hate that place!

Instead, we got stronger and more dependent upon one another for comfort. We had a new baby boy to love and care for and we had Okinawa! What a wonderful time we had! I'd be lying if I said we never missed the good ol' U.S. of A. - but through all the trials, some of my fondest memories are of those austere early days of our lives on a far-away rock! A rock that comparatively few have ever seen. A rock that few have ever heard anything about other than some vague reference to a war.

Okinawa, and Awase - beauty untold!


7-19-98


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