Sunday, March 27, 2011


I heard that Peace Boat was the first cruise ship to visit Egypt since Egypt's revolution began, less than one month earlier.  We were not allowed to enter Egypt freely, but instead were required to join tour groups.  All of our buses headed to Cairo in a convoy.  I don't think this requirement was anything new, but the many military tanks we saw along the highway are probably new since the revolution, as the country is now under military control.
The great thing about being among the first travelers back is that there were few tourists at the pyramids, and we had them much more to ourselves than could ever normally happen.  The down side was that the souvenir hawkers and camel ride vendors seemed to have saved up a month's worth of energy to expend all on us.
A few days ago in Athens I was amazed by the ancientness of the Acropolis and Parthenon.  Built more than 400 years BC, they were the oldest human sites I had ever seen.  But they are new compared to the pyramids at Giza, completed around 2,600 BC.
We visited Tahrir Square where much of Egypt's revolution took place, and then we met with two of the young people who were part of the revolution.  They told us about some of the reasons for the revolution.  These included:
  • having the same ruler for 30 years
  • poverty (60% of the population lives under the poverty line)
  • poor health care (because of a lack of hospital beds, many patients sleep on the floor)
  • police violence
  • human rights violations such as lack of free speech, and an "emergency law" which allows people to be jailed for opposing the government, for example in a blog or newspaper
The young revolutionaries felt very good about conducting their revolution in a peaceful way.  Because the media was controlled by the government, they did much of their organizing over Facebook and Twitter, and this was successful even though only six percent of Egyptians have access to the internet.
Since President Mubarak stepped down, Egypt has been under military control, and the military will run the country until elections are held in September.
When asked about the situation in neighboring Libya, the revolutionaries expressed their disappointment that Qaddafi has not stepped down, but they spoke against foreign military intervention.  "We do not need another war in the world," one of the revolutionaries said.  "Who knows if those countries will pull out after overthrowing Qaddafi?  A revolution can be done peacefully." 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Naples, Italy: Atomic Bomb Survivors Call for Abolition of Nuclear Power

Nine survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were on a bus in Naples, Italy, when they heard the news that hundreds of people are being treated for radiation exposure due to explosions at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan in the aftermath of the massive earthquake that struck Japan on March 11.  The atomic bomb survivors, or Hibakusha in Japanese, gave testimony of their experiences several times in Naples, to junior high school students and to the public.


 "The most horrible part of the atomic bomb is the radiation that it releases," said Sakaguchi Hiroko, a second generation Hibakusha whose mother was exposed to the atomic bomb at the age of 23 in Nagasaki.  "Radiation has no color or shape.  However, it penetrates the body and damages DNA."  Because Ms. Sakaguchi's mother was not near the hypocenter of the atomic bomb, she didn't have any immediate injuries.  But later she died of rectal and lung cancer. 


The radiation released from an atomic bomb and the radiation released when a nuclear power plant malfunctions are the same, and Ms. Sakaguchi is concerned for the people who have been or are being exposed to radiation in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami which led to an explosion at a nuclear power plant.  "The myth that Japanese technology is good enough to make nuclear energy safe and clean has been broken by this earthquake," Ms. Sakaguchi said.  "We cannot stop earthquakes, but we can stop nuclear power.  And we must," she said, quoting Felicity Hill, a leader in the struggle against nuclear energy.   She urged the audience to work toward developing sustainable energy and creating a world with no war and no nuclear weapons.  "It's not only the nuclear bomb, it's all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle, including the uranium mining, that create risks for human beings." 


Ms. Sakaguchi, born four years after the atomic bomb, emphasized that radiation affects not only those who are exposed but also future generations.  "Radiation causes a special damage, and that damage is also in my body," she said.  Several of her classmates and cousins, also second generation Hibakusha, have died of leukemia.


An Italian junior high school student asked why Japan, after having experienced nuclear bombs, has nuclear power plants.  Tasaki Noburo, who was exposed to the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, explained that until now Japan has relied heavily on nuclear power, and has exported nuclear power overseas.  "But because of the earthquake we now know for sure that nuclear power plants are very dangerous," he said.  He recommended the use of solar and natural energy.  "The use of nuclear power is not just a problem in Japan.  Many countries use nuclear power, and they all share the same concern," he said.  "As Hibakusha we know the horrors of radiation.  We really have to think about how to move forward to make clean and safe energy," he said.


Yamanaka Emiko, exposed to radiation in Hiroshima when she was 12 years old, explained how radiation affects not only future generations, but also human relations.  "When I was a teenager I had a boyfriend," she said.  "For four years we had a lovely relationship, and eventually he proposed to me.  But his parents forbade our marriage, saying that they didn't want any Hibakusha in the family."


Nishida Goro, exposed to the atomic bomb in Hiroshima at the age of three, also emphasized that radiation is the scariest part of nuclear weapons.  Mr. Nishida's mother was not in Hiroshima when the bomb exploded, but she was unknowingly exposed to radiation when she entered the city of Hiroshima several days later.  His mother passed away when he was in high school, after she had suffered many years from an enlarged spleen caused by radiation.  "Radiation is invisible but it comes out in sicknesses such as cancer and leukemia, and it has a strong effect on people and the environment," Mr. Nishida said.


Currently in Japan, radiation has been released during several explosions at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, and radiation has been detected in the populous Tokyo area. 

Kakefuda Itsumi, a psychologist in Tokyo, said that in evaluating nuclear power people should consider the psychological impact of nuclear disasters.  "People in Tokyo and the surrounding area are experiencing a lot of stress due to worry about radiation," she said.  "Some have started to move away.  Radiation is not visible, and people can't obtain accurate information.  Even the authorities don't know what is happening," she said.  "Nuclear power plants are not worth having."



Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Worried about Japan

I was on a bus with nine Hibakusha (survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) when I heard the news that 400 people in Japan are now receiving treatment for radiation exposure due to the nuclear accident caused by the earthquake in Japan.  The Hibakusha had just given testimony about their experience of nuclear bombs to a group of junior high school students in Naples, Italy.  I'll have an article about it on the Peace Boat website soon.
It seems like my friends in Japan are doing ok, although I'm very worried about the radiation.   I am not able to get news every day, but today in Naples I was able to use internet, and buy an English newspaper.  On the ship we're doing fine although of course people are worried. 
Here is a photo of me in Morocco taken just before the earthquake.  This party was our welcome as we got off the ship!  My favorite experience in Morocco was going to a hammam (public bath) with two friends.  We were scrubbed, massaged, covered in mud and wrapped in plastic, and it was sooooooo relaxing.  Also in Morocco, I visited an NGO that works with street kids. 
Before Morocco, we stopped in Las Palmas on Spain's Canary Islands, and I visited a center for immigrants.  I've also been busy onboard giving a couple of presentations about migrant farm workers and immigration issues and human trafficking. 
Tonight we will leave Naples, and in a couple of days we'll be in Piraeus, Greece.

Friday, March 4, 2011

In a new ocean

We spent an entire day passing through the Panama Canal, and then we were in the Atlantic!  I had a free morning in Panama so I went to the beach with a couple of the English teachers onboard.  In Cartagena, Colombia I visited a dance school that teaches low-income kids to become world class dancers, and in Trinidad (Trinidad and Tobago) I went to a steel pan factory and learned how that instrument is manufactured.  I haven't had time for blogging, but you can read my articles about the ports and more on Peace Boat's website.  Now we are crossing the Atlantic, heading for the Canary Islands.  In a few days we'll be at the mid-way point around the world.
Due to the war going on in Libya, we won't be stopping there, and we will instead spend an extra day in Naples.  It looks like things have settled down in Egypt and we will be able to go there, and if everything works out with visas and government permission we will also make a quick stop in Saudi Arabia!
Onboard, I'm busy with events and writing articles.  I gave a talk on migrant farm workers a few days ago.  Also, I have a volunteer Japanese teacher (classes started last week), and amazingly I have a lot more opportunity to practice Japanese here on the ship than I ever did in Japan.  I try to go to dinner by myself rather than with other volunteers.  That way I get seated with passengers, and they are always happy to try to chat with me in Japanese.  I've been improving at making basic conversation.  Many of the passengers are retired people, and since older Japanese people tend to speak less English, and they have lots of time, they make good conversation partners for me.
Here's a picture of a performance at the dance school in Cartagena, and one of me climbing up on the top deck of the ship trying to get a good shot of the Panama Canal locks.