Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesotan, safe in Japan, for now March 12, 2011

EVER SINCE I HEARD yesterday of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I’ve prayed for the people of Japan and specifically for a young Minnesota woman living there.

I’ve known Haidee, a Christian outreach worker and English teacher there, since she was born in 1986. She grew up with my oldest daughter, came to my house for birthday parties. She’s the second eldest of my pastor’s children—strong, confident and on fire for the Lord.

So this morning, rather than call her parents lest they give me bad news, I phoned a friend to inquire about Haidee. Thankfully, in answer to my ongoing prayers, my friend shared that, for now, Haidee and her roommate are safe.

You can read about Haidee’s experience by clicking here.

Unfortunately, this native Minnesotan’s home of Fukushima, Japan, is also the site of a nuclear plant. An online news report I just read states that tens of thousands are being evacuated from the area because of the threat of a nuclear meltdown.

I cannot imagine living with such possibilities. But if anyone can remain strong through this epic disaster, it is Haidee with her unshakable faith.

She has managed to maintain her sense of humor. Haidee ends her Friday, March 11, 9:34 p.m. blog post with this: “And now I’m signing out…because we’re going to go walk around and look for bathrooms. People survived walking to outhouses for years, right? :)”

Photos of my 1970s Japanese pen pal, Etsuko Tamura, pasted in a photo album.

IN ADDITION TO HAIDEE, I’ve worried about Etsuko Tamura, whom I honestly have not thought about in decades.

Yesterday after I heard the news about the Japanese disaster, her name popped into my head just like that. She was my pen pal during the 1970s, when writing to someone overseas was a popular hobby for young girls. We stopped corresponding 35 – 40 years ago.

Through her letters, Etsuko showed me the world beyond rural southwestern Minnesota.

Now I am seeing her devastated world through the lens of a news camera and online from citizen-shot videos. And I wonder, all these decades later, whether she’s OK.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


4 Responses to “A Minnesotan, safe in Japan, for now”

  1. Bernie Says:

    I’m glad Haidee is ok and keeping her sense of humor. Any chance she wll be able to come home soon or does she plan on sticking it out?
    I can see where you would wonder about your penpal. I will keep both of them in my thoughts.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Haidee is supposed to be back home in Minnesota in three weeks to be in her brother’s wedding. Two of the other bridesmaids are also in Japan. The problem for Haidee is getting from Fukushima to the airport to fly out. I don’t know the situation, but I expect that the mass transit system is inoperable in areas of Japan right now.

      Lack of food and water and the crisis with the unstable nuclear power plant 35 miles from her home are the major concerns right now for Haidee.

      Thanks for your concern.

  2. Sally Aurisch Says:

    Dear Audrey,

    I wonder whether the Etsuko Tamura is the same one who lived with my son and I as a nanny in Sydney, Australia around 1990?
    We last heard from her 5 years ago when she was living in Osaka and had become a photographer.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Unfortunately, I can’t remember any details about Etsuko–where she was from, nothing. I’m not even certain I kept her letters, or where I would find them if I had.

      I suppose anything is possible and she could be the teen I wrote to back in the early 1970s. In 1990, Etsuko would likely have been in her mid 30s. Does that age fit
      your nanny? Does she look at all familiar from the photos I posted?

      I would like to hear if you have any more info. Nothing surprises me any more. Recently my aunt and I discovered a German woman whom we had been looking for because a distant relative in Germany “found” this blog. The woman had been the recipient of a coat my Grandma donated during a post WWII clothing drive. At the time this German woman was just a little girl and her mom and my Grandma exchanged letters. My grandma had tucker her name and address inside the pocket of the blue coat. It’s a story I’ll need to share here one of these days.

      Anyway, thanks, Sally, for writing and please keep me posted.

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