Mallory Flippin led her bucket list with living in Japan.
Mallory Flippin led her bucket list with living in Japan.
Each summer since she was 10 years old, Mallory’s family had hosted Japanese student ambassadors as part of the Japanese Sister City Committee relationship between Independence and Higashimurayama. She made her life’s goal a reality in February 2010 when she moved to Sendai, Japan, to work as a second grade teacher.
Swimming in all of the oceans, traveling to all seven continents, bungee jumping and skydiving remain on her bucket list. Mallory even listed “live like a homeless person for a few days” and “shave my head” on her life’s to-do list, but nowhere does the list describe experiencing firsthand one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded.
Mallory, an Independence native and a 2005 Truman High School graduate, lived through Friday’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake in Sendai, just two days after her 24th birthday. Her family, who still lives in Independence, has relied on social media such as Facebook and Twitter to keep close contact with her since the disaster.
Mallory’s sister, 20-year-old Caitlin Leavy, says they often communicate through Skype, a software application that allows people to make national and international calls through the Internet, about once a week and also leave comments on the each other’s Facebook profiles. At about 11:40 p.m. Thursday, Caitlin checked her Facebook profile one last time before bed and saw a photograph that Mallory had posted of a crack in the ground, the result of the earthquake.
The news of an earthquake was nothing to get too excited about. After all, Mallory’s family had experienced one just three weeks ago when they were in Japan for a family friend’s wedding.
Caitlin logged onto Skype and made immediate contact with her sister. Mallory told Caitlin she was safe, and the sisters resumed talking about other subjects. According to Caitlin, Mallory suddenly signed off of Skype and proclaimed, “I’ve got to go.”
Caitlin scanned news websites for information on the earthquake and turned on CNN. Upon seeing images of the tsunami and hearing “Sendai” repeatedly, Caitlin says she woke up her parents.
“The rest of the night, we just stayed up,” Caitlin says.
Within two hours, Mallory had called home to let her family know she was safe. She kept the call short, though, so she could pass her cell phone along to another teacher for calling home. Known for her outgoing, bubbly, full-of-life personality, Mallory has not cried once to her loved ones since Friday, and she is not panicking, according to her mother, Robin Leavy.
“She’s incredibly strong,” Robin says. “I’m just amazed.”
On her blog, mallyeryn.wordpress.com, Mallory describes herself as a “girl on a mission ... a mission to tell people about Christ in every situation that I am encountered with.” Several blog entries describe her relationship with Jesus Christ.
Page 2 of 3 - According to Caitlin, her sister is unforgettable.
“She’s possibility the craziest, loudest, most outgoing person you’d ever meet. She lives her life,” Caitlin says. “If you were to compare her to a day, she would be the brightest, hottest day outside at the pool.”
Beginning in 1997, Mallory’s family participated in the Japanese Sister City Committee for several years, hosting 10 exchange students during the summer months. That experience, Robin says, inspired Mallory to move to Japan following her college graduation.
“The longer we did that, the more she came to love Japanese people,” Robin says. “As a child, she was always interested in other cultures and other people. She was the kid who always wanted to go spend the night at anyone’s house who would have her.”
A significant amount of the teaching staff at Mallory’s school, MeySen Academy, have evacuated to a U.S. military base, Robin says. Mallory has been asked three times if she would like to go, too, but she has declined every offer, saying she would rather stay to help in relief efforts.
Her school has become a distribution site for materials and supplies. Mallory has made adjustments, such as rationing her food and sleeping with tennis shoes on so she can run outside during an aftershock, but her life is moving on.
“She said to me (Monday) night, ‘Mom, my story is not remarkable. I’m very safe where I am at, and there are people much, much worse off than I am,’” Robin says. “She’s just kind of amazed that people are interested in what’s going on in her life over there.”
Caitlin and Robin both say they are trying to get back to life as normal, too, but they still have looming fears about the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plants, which are about 50 miles from Mallory.
“I’m becoming more confident in her ability to take care of herself,” says Caitlin, adding that the ability to contact Mallory more frequently in recent days through Facebook messages has eased her fears. “It’s not as scary as it was. It’s beginning to become OK.”
Mallory’s teaching contract is set to expire on April 5, though she might stay if other teachers don’t return, Robin says.
“Four weeks from today, I will be getting on a plane, hopefully, and going back to America,” Mallory wrote in a March 8 blog post. “I am not really that excited. Actually, the thought depresses me. ... I just don’t know if I am ready to leave Japan.”
Caitlin says she hopes Mallory comes home.
“She’s put down roots there, so to watch a community she’s grown close to go through something like this and then pick up and leave is really difficult,” Caitlin says. “I can’t say what she’ll do. I think it just depends on what the situation is like over there.”
Page 3 of 3 - No matter Mallory’s decision, the situation has brought her family closer together.
“Everything’s all about Mallory. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is go downstairs and talk to my parents about Mallory and what we may have missed overnight,” Caitlin says. “It’s definitely brought our family closer; I just wish it didn’t have to include thousands of deaths.”