Japan Miscellany

A few things not big enough for their own post:

My surprisingly delicious matcha bagel had tiny white chocolate chips.
  • The other day at the commissary Brett and I bought a loaf of American-made seven-grain bread. I used some for sandwiches the day before yesterday, and the first comment from both of us was, “Wow – the bread is so sweet!” This was our favorite kind of bread back in the States, and we never noticed it before, but after two months here we have become accustomed to things being a lot less sweet. Yesterday our daughter-in-law brought me a matcha bagel with white chocolate chips. I was a little wary about how it might taste, but the chips offered a tiny bit of sweetness, and otherwise it was a nice chewy, yeasty bagel with a slight matcha flavor – delicious! Besides enjoying foods with little to no sugar, things here also seem to have a lot less fat – our palates are going to have to readjust when we get back to the U.S.
  • Spring has arrived – flowers are blooming everywhere and the cherry blossoms have come and gone – so when it was 70+ degrees yesterday we figured it was time to ditch the jackets and break out the spring clothing. I went without a jacket, Brett put on shorts . . . and boy did we get some looks! Most people seem to still be wearing darker colors I associate with fall and winter along with sweaters, jackets or a coat. I remember once I wore a sleeveless dress here on an especially hot day during Indian summer, and got many stares because I was apparently not dressed appropriately for the fall season. Maybe there is a dress code in Japan, and certain dates when can safely switch one’s clothing from one season to the next, but I have no idea if that’s true or when that is.
  • Above is a page of calligraphy Brett produced last week in his class. Lots of orange corrections from the sensei, but see the small circle-like strokes in a couple of places? Those indicate his brushwork is correct! He studies every day, practicing his kanji and learning both characters and the kana, although the brush he bought last week is too large and causing him problems. One of the things I love about Japan is that while his teacher is considered a master calligrapher, she still studies under her master! The pursuit of perfection is a lifetime goal here, no matter what form of art you pursue.

    I’d like to say I’m sitting in this chair as I type, but actually I’ve slid down to where I’m practically lying flat! 
  • We don’t have a sofa in our apartment, just two big leather armchairs (and one ottoman). They are mostly comfortable, but the leather is slippery so as I read or write in my chair I slowly slip down, ending up almost on my back after a while. Also, I had to put tape on the bottom of the ottoman because it was slipping across the rug and I was ending up in the space between it and the chair (which was annoying but also funny). Lower furniture is just one of those things we have to deal with in Japan, with the chairs nearer to the ground than we are used to, and it can require extra effort (especially in the knees) to get up. Brett usually sits at the dining room table to read and work, but those chairs are low as well. We like our apartment but I have to admit we’re looking forward to having a good old American sofa to stretch out on again.

    Three of our CookDo favorites here: sweet & sour pork, chili shrimp, and stir-fried pork & peppers. The instructions are in pictures on the back so they’re very easy to follow and prepare.
  • It’s been difficult at times coming up with ideas for meals when all we have is a cooktop, a small microwave, a rice cooker, and a small kitchen. We eat American foods occasionally when we can find stuff we like at the commissary (things like bacon or sausage, or Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese or stuffed green peppers), but I mostly use things we find in the supermarkets here. I miss being able to make casseroles or put something into the slow cooker. My favorite product here is CookDo, sauces for making easy and delicious Chinese dishes. I used CookDo back in Hawai’i to make mabo nasu (ground pork with eggplant) and mabo dofu (ground pork with tofu), but we only could afford them when we could find them on sale, and even then it was $3 – $4/package, a real splurge. In Hawai’i a store might have three or four different sauces, but here there are over 30 varieties (!!!) available, and a package costs around $1. The bottom of both of our suitcases will be filled with packages of CookDo when we return to the U.S.
  • There will be giveaways after we return to the U.S. – three of them! I have been having a great time putting things together and hope you’ll be motivated to enter. Stay tuned!
  • Finally, I am currently unable to comment on Blogger. I have made comments using the Name/URL selection on several blogs, but when I hit submit the comment vanishes. I don’t know if it’s a WordPress thing, a Blogger thing, a Japan thing, or a combination of all three.

Even More Portland Miscellany!

Life for us Nomads right now is just small things happening every day – some good, some not-so-good, and some very, very sad.

Please pray for Strasbourg.
  • Brett and I are deeply grieving over the terrorist attack that took place on Monday in Strasbourg. The city is currently celebrating its annual Christmas market, so there were lots of locals and visitors out and around, and we can’t see the attack as anything but planned and intentional. They know who the terrorist is, and hopefully he will be caught soon. When we saw the path he took we knew exactly where it had happened, just a tram stop away from where we stayed and in an area where Brett and I had often walked. I hope you will hold Strasbourg in your thoughts and prayers.
  • Both Brett and I got our teeth repaired on Monday – yeah! Brett’s was a permanent fix but I will have to go back for more work when we return to Portland next May. The angle of the break made it look a bit scary at first because it appeared that part of fracture had occurred below the gum line. If so, it would mean a couple of extra procedures in order to attach a permanent crown. But, on closer examination the problem didn’t exist so I will only need a crown. I am also going to have the bridge on my lower teeth replaced this summer too – it’s almost 30 years old, and frankly a miracle that it’s still in place. Thank goodness for good dental insurance!

    I think we cleaned up pretty nicely!
  • We also both got our hair cut yesterday, and boy does it feel great! I am so glad I no longer have to walk around with whatever that thing was on my head. The host at one of the places we’re staying in New Zealand happens to be a stylist and you can arrange to have her do your hair during your stay in her home. It will be the perfect time for both Brett and I to get trimmed up again so I’m going to set that up and then we’ll only have to worry about finding a stylist later in Tokyo. There is no way I am going to let my hair get so long again. (First world problem, I know.)

    I wanted something useful made with marbled paper from Florence, and this phone case is perfect (apologies for the poor lighting).
  • It took me a while to decide to do it, but back while we were in Florence Brett and I decided it was time for me to upgrade my phone, so that’s something else we did on Monday. T-Mobile currently has an offer that let me trade in my old phone (almost four years old) making the new phone quite affordable. My old phone worked, but it was very slow when we were traveling compared to Brett’s newer model, and at times downright useless. As a sort of promise to myself, I bought a phone case when we were there for the new phone, one made with beautiful marbled Florentine paper. My Christmas present has been taken care of!

    I found a box of cheap tiny ornaments at Target and added some to the plastic succulent arrangement that’s on the coffee table in the house. We also bought a string of lights to hang around the doors in the living room, and along with our poinsettia we finally feel like we’re decorated for Christmas!
  • All of the gifts we bought for the girls are wrapped and ready to put out on Christmas morning. I’d love to show and tell what we got for them, but they may be reading the blog now in hopes that I would do just such a thing before Christmas. Brett and I came up with a plan before we set off and stuck to it, and were able to find everything we wanted all while staying within our budget. With one major exception the girls are pretty much getting the same things, but we’ve personalized each item to each girl’s taste. I still have to purchase a gift for my Secret Santa recipient but will take care of that once the girls are here.
  • It feels like ever since we arrived in Portland that we are hemorrhaging money – we seem to stop in at a grocery store almost daily, or at a Target to stock up on travel needs. I also got the new phone, we got our hair cut, etc. Intellectually I know we’re getting stuff done that needs to be done, and we’re getting ready for the girls who will be eating us out of house and home if past experience holds true. Travel stuff also has to be replaced. I think it’s because after just buying food for the two of us the past few months I’m having a somewhat difficult time now buying the amount of food required to feed five people. We’ve paid cash for everything and are still well with-in our budget, and under our daily spending average, but it still seems like it’s too much at times.

Can I just say again that we’re greatly enjoying our Portland “downtime” even if the weather is lousy? We’re getting plenty of rest, slowly getting over our jet lag, and we love being able to eat lots of Trader Joe’s and other goodies that we’ve missed these past few years. Our colds wax and wane depending on the weather, but on the whole they are diminishing every day. All that’s missing for us now are the girls, and they’ll be here next week!

Some Florentine Miscellany

This many biscotti should last us for a while (or so we hope).

Just a few things that have been going on here recently:

More Italian cookie favorites
  • Our favorite snack in Italy (well, outside of gelato) continues to be . . . cookies! We’re talking the kind you can find at the supermarket – they are tasty, affordable, and w-a-y less sweet than U.S. cookies. We usually enjoy two or three for dessert in the evening but have been know to nibble them during the day if the desire arises. Some favorites are pictured above (don’t know their names), and we have also been enjoying different flavors of biscotti.
  • WenYu and YaYu’s FAFSAs are done and submitted for next year, and they and Brett will finish up other financial aid paperwork when we’re together in December. Brett carried along our financial information on a thumbdrive for just this purpose, and even with all the time differences, multiple questions and so forth he and the girls finished everything up in a few days. This is our last year of filling out the FAFSA for WenYu; after this we’ll have just two more years to do with YaYu and then we are done with the FAFSA for good!

    Candy Ninja and his sidekick, Bubble Gumby!
  • We loved the several Halloween pictures from Japan our daughter-in-law sent (yeah social media!). She made the kids’ costumes this year from an idea she found on Pinterest. Our grandson was a candy machine (his costume won first prize at his school!), and our granddaughter was a gumball machine. So cute! Neighborhood trick-or-treating is not a thing in Japan, but they go to friends’ homes and parties to celebrate, and our son always carves a pumpkin with them.

    The money bag with its expanding collection of coins.
  • We’ve been saving coins and bills along the way for our grandson to help him start a currency collection. By the time we get to Japan he’ll have some assorted Argentinian pesos, Uruguayan pesos, all sorts of Euros, some British money (thanks to our long layover in Gatwick on the way back to the U.S.), Indian rupee, Hong Kong dollars, and Australian and New Zealand dollars (and of course American bills and coins). We’ve also managed to pick up the odd coin here or there, like a five peso coin from the Dominican Republic (?????), and we plan to help him find a book when we’re in Japan where he can keep and display his collection. You can find a book for any sort of collection in Tokyo – the fun part will be the hunt!

    The remainder of our Florence souvenirs.
  • Earlier today we did some planned shopping and bought ourselves some gloves as well as a beautiful spring green stovetop espresso maker that we’ve been admiring in the window of a small hardware store we pass almost daily. The gloves are cashmere-lined lambskin. Brett got a black pair, and I got two pairs: black and bright purple. They should last us for years.

    This is a copy of Michelangelo’s David that stands in the Uffizi courtyard – the original is in L’Accademia.
  • We are going to take it easy again tomorrow because we will be up early, early, early on Sunday morning to begin four days of Operation Museum Overload. Sunday is a free day for national museums, so we’re going to head over to L’Accademia and get in line early. We’ll be back in line again early Monday morning at the Pitti Palace where we’ll pick up three-day passes to see it, the Boboli Garden on Monday and finally the Uffizi next Tuesday.

Last Bits of Miscellany Before We Go

A delicate white hibiscus out by the pool – I will miss the unlimited variety of these beautiful flowers.

A few final things not big enough for their own blog posts:

  1. My number one concern right now is getting my back into shape for travel. I really messed it up last Saturday working at the election, more than I realized. We sat almost the entire day at middle-school cafeteria tables, with no back support, and three hours in I knew I was in trouble. By the end of the day I was a wreck, but figured time in the hot tub, pain medication and proper sitting conditions all would be well in a couple of days. Nope. It’s getting better, but one false move and it seems I’m right back at the beginning again.
  2. This past Tuesday was the deadline for our former landlord to return our deposit, or an itemized list of deductions (which has to include receipts, not just figures he comes up with). If he mailed it to us he was required to supply us with proof of mailing before or on Tuesday, and if he didn’t, by Hawai’i law he is required to return the entire deposit to us. Brett messaged him on Tuesday afternoon and asked about the status of our deposit and got a message from him just a few minutes before midnight that the check would arrive by 8:00 p.m. Wednesday (at Brett’s sister’s house). He asked us to “confirm receipt of the tracking number” but of course never gave that to us and nothing from him has arrived in Texas so far. Maybe something will show up there later today, but at this point we’re doubtful, and there’s a better than good chance we’ll be coming back to Kaua’i next year to meet him in small claims. Update: We finally heard from the landlord on Friday morning that the check had been mailed . . . to a completely unknown-to-us address in Texas, in a different city from Brett’s sister! Where he got that address is anyone’s guess, but it’s definitely not the one we gave him. Supposedly now it will be delivered to the correct address in three days, but I will believe it when I see it.
  3. We’ve all been throwing away pieces of clothing for the past three weeks, things we’ve worn almost the entire time we’ve lived here and but that are now past the stage of being saved. All this tossing away though is rather bittersweet as it means we’re very close to heading out on the Big Adventure, but also marking how very close we are to the end of our time on Kaua’i.
  4. Brett and I packed our suitcases yesterday, and except for a last few items to go in on Sunday evening that task is done. Neither of the suitcases is anywhere near full, and they both weigh 37 pounds so we each have some wiggle room (our goal was to have each suitcase weigh no more than 44 pounds). Of course, we still have YaYu’s suitcases to re-pack and will do those on Sunday. She calls her biggest suitcase “the body bag” – it is huge, but has to be to hold her comforter and other linens.
  5. We’re eating some very interesting things these days (like curry over leftover spaghetti) as we finish cleaning out the fridge and cupboards here at the condo. I have no idea what we’re going to do on Sunday because we’ll be out of everything by then, and tired of going out to eat.

Sunday Miscellany

My favorite view on the island.

There’s no regular Sunday post today – Brett and I are down on the west side for the weekend with no Internet connection. I do have a few odds and ends though:

  1. We’ve had a long, cool winter and spring, and I knew it was coming, but . . . the humidity is back. Ugh. It’s not as bad as it’s going to get, and the trade winds are currently still brisk, but the humidity is noticeable and has gotten uncomfortable at times. For a brief while though I had almost forgotten what it’s like to sweat so much! We’ve got less than two months to go in the house, and the condo we’re moving into at the end of July is air-conditioned – we’re all looking forward to it!
  2. I’ve been reminded that while there are a few big moments during the downsizing process, mainly it’s lots and lots of little tasks, ones you have to keep doing every day. Sometimes I look at all that’s left to do and feel discouraged, but then realize that our shipment at the end of this month will take care of a lot of what’s here; friends moving to the island are taking a big part of our furniture at the beginning of July; and right after that we’ll have a big garage sale and will hopefully get rid of most of the rest! It all will be happening sooner rather than later.
  3. I’ve also realized that because of the above scheduled events, for most of July we won’t have a TV, or any furniture other than our inflatable mattresses. We’ll still have our Internet connection to the end of the month though and will watch stuff on our laptops, and we’ll be working hard in the meantime on getting the house deep cleaned. It’s going to be an interesting month though, to say the least.
  4. This month will mark the fourth anniversary of our arrival on Kaua’i. It seems though like we’ve been here a lot longer than four years. I feel very sad when I think about leaving, and I find myself looking at things around the island more closely these days, or closing my eyes and picturing different places in my mind so that my memories stay strong.

Language Learning for Adults

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, especially since I’ve been studying (and struggling to learn) French now for many months in preparation for our travels there later this year. I also spent a considerable amount of time (like years) trying to learn Japanese, only to find myself with an ability less than a two year-old. Because my professional  background is in adult language learning and acquisition you would think I’d have this all figured out by now and would know all sorts of tricks to make learning faster and easier, but sadly, no.

Children pick up new languages very easily, at least the spoken part, typically because they are usually far more immersed in a new language than most adults (i.e. in school all day with other native speakers). If children learn a second language before the age of twelve they usually become fluent speakers with no accent. Although adults learn a language in the same steps as children, how adults process what they are learning is different based on cognitive differences and other previous learning experiences. The reality is it just takes adults longer to acquire a second language. The good news is it’s not impossible.

When adults are learning a second or foreign language, there are three main aspects that come into play: 1) motivation, or the reasons for learning another language; 2) how an adult views themselves as a learner; 3) who an adult sees themselves to be when they speak another language. All three of these are important, but any one of them on their own can have a profound effect on the learning experience. Being aware of these forces and the roles they play can help adults through the process.

Motivation falls into two classes, intrinsic or extrinsic. That is, motivation to learn another language either comes from within or from without. Are you learning a new language because you want to or because you have to or need to? How strong is the desire or need? A combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic reasons for learning is best, and together can provide powerful motivation to push through difficult stretches and improve.

Language learning has often proven to be a sticky problem for adults who have always seen themselves as successful learners or talented in other respects. Recognizing that language learning calls on a whole different set of skills than learning math or history, or participating in a sport or hobby, and that it might not be as easy for you as you thought (or as fun) is an important step in staying motivated and continuing to learn.

Finally, how do you see yourself when you imagine yourself speaking another language? As a native speaker of English, I view myself as a confident, skilled adult when I speak, read, write or listen to English, able to know what to say in almost any situation or figure out what someone else is saying or inferring. With a new language I often find myself with less ability than a small child, making lots of (sometimes embarrassing) mistakes, sometimes unable to order in a restaurant or ask directions, let alone manage any other social or professional situations. It’s very humbling, and can also be humiliating at times. One’s self-image when learning a new language can sometimes take some serious blows. Also, there’s the aspect to self of fitting in socially and culturally where the new language is spoken. Knowing that these feelings are perfectly normal can help you stick with language learning.

Based on my many years of teaching English to adults learners, here are some tips for making language learning more productive and less painful:

  • Communication should be the goal. Not fluency, not perfection, although you can strive for those. Can another person understand what you’re trying to say or write and communicate back to you? That’s what really matters.
  • Know how difficult a language is to learn. Russian or Chinese or Finnish are going to be w-a-y more difficult for an English speaker to learn than Spanish or French. All language learning takes time and effort, but if you want to learn one of the more difficult languages, give yourself even more time. Although the goal may be much less than professional proficiency, here is the Foreign Language Institute difficulty ranking for English speakers, and the time it takes to reach Speaking 3: General Professional Proficiency in Speaking (S3) and Reading 3: General Professional Proficiency in Reading (R3) in different languages.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Seriously, mistakes are how we learn, especially in language learning! Think of all the mistakes children make when they’re learning to speak. Adults go through the same steps, and mistakes will happen. The important thing is to keep trying to produce the language in some form rather than shut down. An ideal instructor (or online program) will always model the language correctly for you when you make a mistake and give chances to try again. It’s also important to find a classroom and instructor where you feel safe to make mistakes. My Japanese instructors in college didn’t go for safety and it was an incredibly stressful and miserable experience. I remember nothing from those classes other than wanting them to end (although I was able to get a Master’s thesis out of the experience!).
  • Be prepared to memorize. Memory is a very big part of language learning. We memorize constantly when we learn our own language (I took weekly spelling tests through the eighth grade because much of English spelling and pronunciation is based on memorization, even for native speakers), and it will be true for any other language. It’s more difficult to remember things when we’re older because we’re carrying around and having to deal with so much more information in our brains than we did when we were younger. The best way to remember what you’re learning is to practice. Every day.
  • Don’t sweat pronunciation. The ability to speak another language without an accent ends at about age 12. That’s when our mouths and oral muscles “solidify” around our native language. Not worrying about pronunciation doesn’t mean not trying to pronunciate a new language correctly in order to be understood, but sounding like a native speaker doesn’t need to be the goal.
  • Find ways to expose yourself to the language. Learning French in France is going to be a whole lot easier than trying to learn it in the U.S. Why? Because learners are immersed in the language there – it can’t be escaped and has to be dealt with. In your own country, once you’re out of the classroom it’s difficult to find opportunities to practice and use the language you’re learning. Immersion experiences here in the U.S. do exist though. Shop in international markets and read the labels or ask questions in the language you’re learning. Pick up a newspaper or magazine in the new language, go through it and see what can be figured out. Watch foreign films or TV shows in the new language without subtitles. For example, when our girls were learning Chinese, they found that all their favorite Disney Channel shows could be watched online in Mandarin, so they got lots of extra listening comprehension practice from those. Go to a church service where the language you’re learning is spoken (they exist). See if you can set up conversation experiences through local colleges, or hire a tutor and have them provide a weekly immersion session. I was sometimes able to match up my students, if they had time, with an English speaker who was trying to learn their language. They’d spend one hour together in one language, the second hour in the other language.

Knowing another language opens doors for understanding a new and/or different culture, but language learning is a process that takes time, in some cases LOTS of time. It’s important to remind yourself, especially if you’re struggling or on the fence about sticking with it, that you didn’t learn English (or any other native language) quickly as a child either. Unless necessary for professional reasons, fluency doesn’t need to be the goal of language learning; rather, you should strive to learn enough of a new language to communicate effectively, and as a means to better understand and enhance  experiences in a different culture.

Finally, one other interesting side effect of language learning is that you will probably learn more about English as well, and what a crazy, difficult, and sometimes impossible language it is. I thank my stars every day that English is my native language, and that I didn’t have to learn it as a second or foreign language. My years of teaching gave me an immense amount of respect for anyone trying to learn English, a daunting task if there ever was one.

A Glass Half Full Kind of Girl

We’re living in scary and discouraging times. Last Friday Hawai’i began monthly tests of a nuclear warning siren, designed to let residents know of an impending nuclear attack, apparently to give us time to say good-bye to our loved ones. Other things, like ending net neutrality or the tax bill to name a couple, are things that could have profound effects on all Americans (well, unless you’re included in the 1%) in the very near and not-so-distant future. Arguments are actually being made for why it’s OK to support a child molester for elected office. Truth and facts have been turned on their heads.

I’ve had my share of hurt, heartbreak, illness, misery, loss, betrayal and violence during my life, and have several times wanted to crawl in a hole and feel sorry for myself for a good long time. I’ve felt really, really, really angry. I’ve gone through a spell where I wanted to leave this world. But deep down I’m an optimist, and overall I’ve always focused on the positive, on looking forward, accepting that the past is past and that thinking “woe is me” never really gets anything accomplished in the end.

One of my strongest role models growing up was my grandmother. She lived in the same town we did, and I often spent weekends with her at her house, reading with her, watching TV, and asking her to tell me stories about her early life. She had had a tough childhood, but although she’d tell me about things she did, she didn’t dwell on her past, and always stressed the power of positive thought. She was someone who lived the saying, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything.” She always could find something positive to say about any situation, and her kindness, optimism and positive nature stayed with me. To her, I was a “diamond in the rough,” destined for great things. She taught me to think that even if life seemed unbearable, or a situation impossible, it didn’t have to stay that way, that everything changes eventually, and we all have the ability to adjust, adapt, learn and grow.

For the most part I’ve found it just isn’t worth the effort it takes to be negative, or at least not for long. I’m not a Pollyanna though. I still feel frustrated or scared at times, and I still get (very) angry about things. As tough as I think I am, I can still be easily hurt, and it can take me a long time to get over those hurts. But, I stick up for myself, my family and what I believe, and I’m assertive when I need to be. I’ve found I get a whole lot more done and the world turns more smoothly when I see my glass in life as half full instead of half empty. I honestly believe the main reason Brett and I have made it as far as we have is that we’ve both stayed positive and continued to look forward, hard as that’s been at times.

Written on a 4″ x 6″ card that now sits in the drawer of my nightstand is a set of thoughts I’ve collected over the years, ones that, whether I knew it or not, channeled my grandmother, and guided me through both good and bad times. They’ve help me re-focus when I’m feeling out-of-sorts. I think they’re worth sharing:

  1. However good or bad a situation is, it will change. How I face those changes and what I make of them is up to me.
  2. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful. Including relationships, sad to say, or ways of thinking that aren’t productive.
  3. Frame every disaster with these words: “In five years will this matter?” Or one year? Or a month? Or a week?
  4. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need. In my case, I’ve probably always had more than I needed but didn’t want to accept it. I have been incredibly blessed.
  5. Your children only get one childhood. My job is to love them. All the time and unconditionally. And for all of my life.
  6. Not “Why me?” but “Why not me?” Why am I so special that bad things should only happen to someone else?
  7. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift. I am grateful for every day of the life I’ve had.
  8. Growing old beats the alternative.
  9. The most important thing is that you loved. Yes, yes and yes again.
  10. The best is yet to come. This is why I continue to hope.

I Hung the Jury

The trial ended yesterday with no verdict. Eleven jurors voted not guilty, but I voted guilty and refused to change my vote. A mistrial was called.

We heard testimony about and deliberated on not one, not two, but 28 counts of sexual assault. The defendant, a former police officer and then the manager on the island for another state law enforcement agency, was accused of raping his stepdaughter, beginning when she was 14 years old (she’s now 24). According to the victim’s testimony, over a period of approximately four years, he assaulted her two to three times a week. He threatened her with death if she told anyone. She eventually broke down and told a friend and then a relative what was happening, and from there it went to the police, the prosecutor’s office, and the grand jury. The trial was the last stop on a long, difficult road.

The testimony we heard from the complainant was disturbing, to put it in the nicest way possible, and sad, but I found her very credible as well as the other witnesses that spoke for the prosecution. The complainant was consistent, and her distress on the stand as she recounted what had happened to her was obvious. Other witnesses supported her testimony. She wasn’t acting. The defendant and his wife were the only witnesses presented for the defense, and the wife made false statements in her testimony. They didn’t refute anything the victim said – the defendant only said, “I didn’t do it.” I had been eager to hear the testimony from the defense, but in the end it was completely underwhelming. Basically, there seemed to be no defense – just a lot of smoke and mirrors from the attorney (which was his job, I guess).

From the moment we entered the jury room though, the other eleven jurors began to tear apart the victim. They accused her of making it all up. There was no acknowledgement that an act of assault causes trauma, that a victim might not remember every single detail, that a victim might have been terrified. There was no attempt at all to try to understand what it might mean to have been assaulted repeatedly, especially as an adolescent. Not one other juror ever took the time, at least not in the jury room, even for a moment, to imagine how the victim might have felt. Over and over again someone would say it couldn’t have happened because she didn’t tell anyone, or she didn’t run away (she testified that the stepfather had threatened not only her but her siblings with death if she left).  My least favorite comment though was “Where’s the evidence?” like she would have kept mementos from the assaults, some that occurred seven years earlier. One juror seemed to want or expect pictures of her in torn clothes, with blood and semen running down her legs – without those it just didn’t happen. Several of the assault descriptions were judged to be physically “impossible,” like having intercourse standing up in the shower for example (intercourse is too polite a word for what she described in her testimony).

Here are a few things I heard in the jury room:

  • She was in love with her stepfather, and they were having an affair, but when he broke it off she accused him of assault. (This juror stuck with this story until the end. Unbelievable.)
  • She cried on the stand because she had lied and now her lies were coming out.
  • I have a lot of family on this island, and I don’t want to deal with me or any of my family living with the aftermath of [the defendant] being convicted. (It didn’t matter that he had been abusing his stepdaughter for years.)
  • She was jealous of her younger (biological) sister so she made all this up. (This was actually the motive someone offered – sibling rivalry, which caused the victim to falsely accuse her stepdad of assault?)
  • She enjoys being a victim and likes all the attention it brings.
  • His daughter is getting married on Saturday, and if we convict him he won’t be able to walk her down the aisle.

There was more, but I think you get the idea.

They also all believed if he was not guilty of one count, he was therefore not guilty of ALL counts. They were ready to acquit after less than an hour of deliberation.

The judge came and spoke to us before we left the jury room yesterday, and told us there was no problem with not being able to reach a unanimous verdict. She told us that it can be difficult to do so in sexual assault cases, especially one with so many counts. She also told us that there was lots of evidence we didn’t get to see, things that had been preemptively excluded from the trial. I hope that registered in a few people’s heads.

While the trial is over it’s going to take a while for me to get over it. Besides the testimony, besides the deliberations, it was a bitter experience. The other jurors hated me for not agreeing with them, for arguing, for defending my opinion. I was accused of always dominating the conversation – I guess it seems that way to others when you’re the only one arguing for a side. One juror said she wished they could call in the alternate juror (so they could get rid of me) and acquit the defendant on all counts. Another juror asked me at one point, “What can we do to help you see things differently?” I told her I didn’t need any help, thank you, that I  believed the complainant’s testimony, and it was my belief based on that testimony that the defendant was guilty, guilty, guilty (28 times). Only one other juror stood up for me, and reminded the others that I was entitled to my opinion, and that it should be respected.

The whole experience has also caused me to wonder why any women or child bothers to report sexual assault. The journey this young woman took to get to this trial took a long time and was emotionally grueling. She had told her what happened to her seven times before the trial – to a friend, to family members, to the police, to the prosecutor, and to the grand jury – they all believed her. But 11 people on the jury yesterday thought she was a liar and had  fabricated the whole thing. It was ugly and cruel.

I need a couple of days to recover, but I’ll be posting again by the end of the week.


I Am Juror #12

My name was the last one called for the jury yesterday, and I apparently passed the voir dire questioning because I was eventually sworn in with eleven other jurors (and two alternates) and we began hearing testimony yesterday afternoon.

It turned into another long, exhausting day, but at least the courtroom is cool, and we now get to sit in comfy chairs versus hard wooden benches. There’s a fridge in the jury room for us as well as a microwave which will make bringing my own meals easier. There’s also a cold filtered water dispenser so we can refill our water bottles.

We have no idea how long the trial will go – originally we were told we’d finish on Friday, but jury selection took much longer than expected, and there are a LOT of witnesses to go through. Plus, once the trial is finished we have to deliberate and who knows how long that might take?

All this is to say I’m not sure how regular I’ll be with posting for the next week or so. I’ll do my best.

But now I’m heading to bed – I’ve got another very long day ahead.