Monday, September 4, 2017

Our temporary home

I have very mixed feelings about our tour in Okinawa being only seven months long. Seven lousy months. Every time it comes up and I am bemoaning the limited time we have here, Tim reminds me it's never to late for him to call the monitor again. He always wants to find a way to fix the things that make me upset, and I appreciate that but it isn't always possible. I wouldn't want him to call the monitor and tell him he doesn't want command in Cherry Point after all, and pass up an opportunity he's worked for his whole career. I want us to go there, I love eastern North Carolina, and I'm really, really proud of what he's accomplished so far and will accomplish as commanding officer of his unit. I'm overjoyed we'll be able to make it to the family beach vacation in Topsail in June, and that both our families will be a day's drive away again. I want that and I want this. I can't have it all, but I keep forgetting that.

So I'm going to attempt to get it all out of my system the reasons I (so far) love it here and wish I could stay. Once it is all down here in words and pictures, I get to keep it forever.

A neighbor in Parris Island who had just come from Okinawa told me that it took her a year of hating it before she finally got used to being there and then started to love it. I'd heard that a bunch of other times too. The expression is "You go to Okinawa kicking and screaming and you leave kicking and screaming." I'd heard it takes anywhere from six months to a year to finally feel like you're home here. Knowing there was a good chance we'd only be there a year, I told myself I don't have the luxury of time to spend hating this place. I had to skip straight to the honeymoon!

The reality is we don't even get a year because the commanders' course is in April. Seven months is all we get. Seven. Months. So I'm going to sit here and just list all the things that I like or love about being here. Maybe once I've done that I can stop complaining about having to move so soon, and just start looking forward to North Carolina. That probably makes zero sense, but here goes.

1) House and its location.

If we're going to have a condensed Okinawa tour, there's one huge thing that worked out in our favor, and that's housing. Ordinarily, people move here and live on base and get no other choice. But with so many base houses being renovated, many people are being told to go out in town. The rental market has been inundated and people spend a month or more living in a hotel while they try to find a place to live. Getting the house locked on right away freed us up to just start living here.

When my friend down the street first described Camp Lester and the houses here, it didn't sound all that great. I didn't and still don't know what "tier two" housing is, and why it is not being offered to people; you have to know to ask for it. But I figured if it was good enough for them it was good enough for us, so Tim asked for it at the housing brief and we got offered two houses here.

Like a typical Okinawa house, this house has zero curb appeal. Picture a concrete bunker and you've got our house. But inside it is perfect! It has the exact amount of space we need, no more no less. No huge, huge expanse of living spaces that we're trying to fill with random furniture like on PI. Plenty of natural light pours in throughout the day through a handful of windows. It's an open floor plan, which is very conducive to our family. The kitchen is way bigger than most kitchens here, with ample counter space and more storage than we know what to do with (that is, until our slow shipment arrives).
One of our resident lizards
Speaking of storage -- we have so much upstairs and downstairs. The bedroom closets even have cabinets above them. There's a huge storage space behind the stairs too. In our last house, we had all this space, but no places to put anything away besides the closets! It was so strange. There are certain times of the year when you could really use some hiding places if you know what I mean, and that house had none. This house has lots.

There are two small full bathrooms upstairs, and small bathrooms with itty-bitty sinks are a cinch to keep clean. We also have four bedrooms upstairs. The girls and the boys each share one, and the fourth is a spare.

Besides the house itself, I'm really happy with the neighborhood. For one thing we already knew one family before moving in, and they have introduced us to several more. Our next-door neighbors have all approached us to introduce themselves. Timmy, ever the sociable one, has already made friends with the boys in the surrounding houses. There are plenty of places to play, and the neighborhood is quiet and safe. It's just like Parris Island in that regard, and that's why as a stay-at-home mom with young kids I prefer living on base over the other options, however nice and affordable they may be. I like being part of a community, not just a nice neighborhood. As introverted as I am, I still hate to feel isolated and alone among people who can't be bothered to wave as they walk or drive by. That was how it was living off base in North Carolina, and I won't soon forget it.
Across the road from Camp Lester and in walking distance (as long as it's not the middle of an August day) is Starbucks and Blue Seal Ice Cream. Behind that is Sunset Beach, aptly named because the first night we went there, we saw people lined up along a wall watching the sun go down. The portion of the water that swimmers are allowed in has netting all around it to keep out the jellyfish, and the water is so calm it's hard to believe it's the ocean. It's just like being in a big shallow pool. American Village is about a block away from that. We've walked around there a few times and gotten dinner. At night it is all lit up, colorful and flashing like a mini Las Vegas strip. There's a ferris wheel that the kids can see out their bedroom windows, and a fireworks show on any given weekend night. This place is what first got me thinking that the way people have always described Okinawa to me is very misleading. I remember our first next door neighbors on PI telling me about what a "simple life" it was there with no distractions. I said, "Simpler than here?" She was emphatic that yes, Okinawa has even less to offer than Parris Island, Beaufort and the surrounding area. There were the beaches and some hiking trails and that was about it. Well, maybe a lot has changed since she was there about 8 or 10 years ago, because this place is very built-up and touristy just from the little I've seen with my own eyes. We came from the simple life. This is not the simple life. But I'm OK with that because it's been a fun change of scenery.
This was right outside of Starbucks the same night.
Tim has a 15-minute drive to work in the morning and about a 30-minute one on the way home. (It's a small island, but traffic is heavy.) Unfortunately he works long hours and will be traveling a lot too.

I haven't gotten the lay of the land here by any stretch, but I'm comfortable finding my way to the commissary (five to 15 minutes away depending on the lights), the library, the pool and school. I know enough to get me by, but I have to push myself to venture beyond that. It makes me nervous, but it can be really rewarding. I took Timmy to a fish market across the island a couple weekends ago, and it was only about a 22-minute drive, but it felt so far away. When we got there I had no idea what to get -- we just guessed and pointed to things, and it was all delicious, the stuff we ate there and the stuff we took home for later. We even sampled squid jerky and squid ink. We both gave them a thumbs up.
Timmy was feeling very smug because he had picked out our lunch himself. Also because of this: As I was paying for our meal, I did the math wrong and gave the lady way too much yen (of course I did). She laughed and gave it back, I laughed too, and then she handed me my change, a 500Y coin. Timmy held out his hands for it and without thinking, I just dropped it in his palm. A minute later I realized I'd just handed him basically $5! Keep the change, you filthy animal! So he got to keep that one and I learned my lesson. But every time I'm paying in yen he holds out his hands next to me, hoping I'm distracted enough to just drop the change in. He's bound to get lucky at some point. One more reason I like using credit cards.
Today we drove to the big mall a few miles away. We'd had other, more outdoorsy plans for the first part of the day, but changed them because rain was threatening. Tim missed a turn and Google Maps rerouted us down this hilly, windy, very narrow two-way road.. And I'll tell you, every time I think I'm finally accustomed to being on different sides of the car, this happens. I'm on the side of the car that I used to drive on but feeling completely out of control, like we're about to careen off the edge or hit a telephone pole. It's terrifying. Tim, very amused at my discomfort said, "It's a real Okinawa experience!" I said, "I'm closing my eyes, let me know when it's over." I think I drove down the same road on the way to fish market awhile ago, but it's a completely different experience in the driver's seat.

2) School.

I've always heard people sing the praises of the DoD schools here. After just one week here I don't know enough to form an opinion on this school in particular, but their teachers made a good first impression on me and the kids seem pretty happy so far.
Joey waits eagerly for them to get home and yells, "Annie! Annie!"
Annie's finally lost one of her top two baby teeth! Both girls have lost teeth since we've moved here, and we're finding the Tooth Fairy to be very fickle, sometimes leaving 1000Y for a single tooth, and other times forgetting to come at all.
Their school is about a five-minute drive away depending on traffic, and that alone makes me happy. They spend about 20 to 30 minutes on the bus round trip, and they walk to and from the bus stop which is about a quarter-mile away at the entrance to our neighborhood. In Parris Island, they went to a school that was 25 minutes away by car, but a 45-minute bus ride each way. I really hated that the kids spent so much time getting to and from school, and their days were so long. This was something I really worried about as we prepared to move here. How far away from school would we be, what time would they need to be up, how long would it take to get there? I am very grateful for how it's turned out to be -- it's an answer to many fervent prayers.

3) Nothing in the air or on the ground trying to bite me or sting me.

The heat and humidity are as bad as Parris Island, maybe even worse. But I can handle some sweating because at least I know I'm not getting bitten to pieces by mosquitoes or sand fleas every time I go outside even for a minute. I can also wear sandals and flipflops without looking down all the time watching for fire ants. Anyone who lives in the South knows what I'm talking about.

We go walking and running at night and come back with only an occasional mosquito bite. It's amazing. The ants are all over the place, even inside the house, but they are harmless and I don't care.

We've enjoyed a few meals outside since we've gotten here. Amazing.

Once the weather starts cooling down a bit, I'm afraid Tim really will have to drag me out of here kicking and screaming.

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