Radiation fears bring children from Japan to East Grand ForksSpurred by radiation fears, Kayla Lee’s mom flew the 8-year-old girl and her brother Aidan, 6, late last month to East Grand Forks, their father's hometown. Muzuzu Lee left the kids with their aunt, Michelle Lee, and returned to work in Japan with Clifford Lee.
When Kayla Lee turned 8 on March 18, only one of her friends came to her birthday party.
She was in Japan, where, just a week before, a massive earthquake and tsunami had killed thousands and damaged a nuclear power plant. Fear of leaking radiation disrupted daily life throughout the country, even at Camp Zama, a U.S. Army base in the south of Japan, where Kayla lived.
The quake struck when she was in school, Kayla said. “I thought it was the dishwasher making things shake.”
Spurred by radiation fears, Kayla’s mom, Muzuzu, flew Kayla and her brother, Aidan, 6, late last month to East Grand Forks, their father Clifford’s hometown. Muzuzu left the kids with their aunt, Michelle Lee, and returned to work in Japan with Clifford.
“When they got the earthquake, my brother called me shortly after it happened,” said Michelle. “I got the call at 3 a.m., so of course I couldn’t go to bed. . . . About a week later, he called me up again and said, ‘I’m sending the kids home.’”
The family is used to moving, though not usually for such dramatic reasons.
Muzuzu was born in Japan and raised in the U.S. Clifford was born and raised in East Grand Forks, then served in the Army for 20 years. Their children were born in Germany and also have lived in Michigan. The family moved to Japan so the kids could get to know their mother’s culture, Michelle said.
The parents plan to rejoin their children in June. Until then, family gatherings occur only over the phone or the Internet, scheduled to fit the 13-hour time difference between East Grand Forks and Camp Zama.
New school year
Unlike U.S. schools, Japanese schools start in the beginning of April.
The schools in earthquake-devastated northeastern Japan belatedly opened last week, as Aidan and Kayla were settling into their new home and new school, New Heights Elementary in north East Grand Forks.
Kayla was cheerful. She raved about a recent snowfall, though it caused most adults to grumble. She chatted excitedly about her upcoming First Communion at St. Mary’s Church. She scolded a reporter for trying to end the interview without asking her favorite foods (for the record: hamburgers and pizza).
Aidan was talkative, too, but he was quicker to mention his worries. He described a dream he had about an earthquake-born monster that tried to eat the earth. And he misses his parents.
“I cried one time at school,” the kindergartner said. “Sometimes, I feel kind of nervous that Dad’s not around, and it makes me feel kind of bad. I like him a lot, sometimes too much, so sometimes I start crying.”
“It’s very sad to live in a somewhere else when parents can’t come with you,” Kayla added. “I still miss them.”
The kids enjoy chatting with their parents using webcams and are eager for the reunion.
“It’s all in the air with them yet. If my brother could get a job here, they would like to move here, but they also have their own home in Michigan,” so the family may move to Michigan this summer, Michelle said.
“They’re doing wonderful,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade it.”
Gulya covers education. Reach her at (701) 780-1118; (800) 477-6572, ext. 118; or send e-mail to email@example.com.