Mental tsunami – when disaster strikes

A scary scene during the March 11 earthquake in Sendai.

People take shelter in a Sendai book store during the March 11 earthquake. (Photo by euronews on flickr)

When a natural disaster strikes somewhere in the world, everyone is saddened. We were too of course, but perhaps more personally touched than most people who live far away. Because we’ve been there. We’ve lived there. And we have friends there. We lived in Japan for several periods in the past and we’ve been to some of the places that are now in ruins, shattered by the tsunami.

Among the devastating and horrible news of the past weeks, we found comfort in a few things: Fortunately all our friends in Japan are safe. Fortunately the tsunami was not causing major damage as it passed Hawaii.

I’m so far away…

This highlights a common theme among expats: The distance to “home”, to friends and family. What if something happens, either to them or to us? It is not a pleasant thing to think about, much less to prepare for, but nevertheless something that it is wise to take into consideration. Questions like: What if someone gets seriously sick back home? What if someone dies? What if we have an accident – what about the children? Do we have people here we can rely on in such situations? Most of the time, nothing happens of course. But should something happen………

Know how to be prepared

The effect an emergency has on you is an unknown. You will not know your response to disaster until disaster strikes, but you can make an appropriate response more likely by preparing for the eventuality.

Here are the obvious points:

  • Know the local emergency numbers – they differ a lot around the world.
  • Find out where the local emergency room is, and how to get there. And how to get there when you can’t drive!
  • Know the specific dangers for your location and how to prepare (earthquake, tsunami, volcanoes, …)
  • Have a network! Have people in the neighborhood who will help you if an emergency occurs.

The ever present risk of moving away – something could happen. We have to be aware of the possibility, but we cannot live in constant fear. Risks and downsides have to be estimated, and sometimes they may even outweigh the positives of being far away. That judgment is personal as well as both emotional and practical.

How have you prepared for possible emergencies in your expat experience, and what have most difficult aspects been? Or have you just been avoiding those unpleasant thoughts?

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