Japan has been a part of my life since I was 5 years old, thanks to my parents I can't imagine my life without Japan in it. My father was my Judo sensei and I shared my mother's passion for Japanese textiles, especially kimono design. I clearly remembered the red sun as I landed at Kansai, it has been over 5 years now and fortunately I was able to witness the same red sun going down over Miyagi last week.
March 11th I felt dizzy and my mansion shook, even in Osaka I knew something terrible had happened. I watched the reports and the biblical tsunami live from my computer. You all know about the overwhelming loss of life and the devastation that the earthquake and the tsunami caused, so I would like to dedicate this blog to the positivity that is being created from such bad times. I have finally had the chance to give something back to a country that had given me so much in my life. It was a small effort and a step in the right direction for those affected.
'The Golden Week Tsunami Clean Up' was organized by a great guy who made our volunteering possible with 'Tsunami Lists, Protocols and Info' to communicate all the details including : Schedule & Route, Personal Questionaire, Cost List, Protocols, Kit List, Website List, Bank Details and Volunteer Insurance. This is so important if you want to volunteer as some centres were inundated with people, wanting to help, but they couldn't accommodate them.
There were 30 of us from all the world including 3 Japanese, 7 Americans, 6 Canadians, 6 Brits , 2 Kiwis, an Italian , a Turk, an Irishman, a Frenchman, an Australian and a Romanian. Including the native speakers a third were fluent in Japanese. We were a motley crew including a cosmetic salesman, an artist, a marine corp captain, a retiree, a farmer, a couple of graduates, a sound engineer, a chef, and of course every ilk of langauge teacher you can imagine. Most importantly eighteen of us have building experience.
Friday the 29th of April: The Beginning of Golden Week
We travelled in 7 cars and rented a 1.5 tonne truck, 2 drivers to each vehicle, we had already purchased the important tools for the job before we set off. It took 13 hours to get there and we stayed in 2 6 berth and 2 10 berth cabins. The accommadation was cheap, 800 yen a night for simple tatami mats and light only. Of course I was apprehensive about the work we would be doing and hoped nobody got seriously injured.
I woke early the first morning to be greeted by a vista of sakura cherry blossom backed by snow covered peaks. We left our vehicles at the Volunteer Centre which was located at the Japan Agriculture Office in Higashi Matshushima situated in the Miyagi prefecture. We were escorted into our first clean up locations. In this area the tsunami had been a meter or so deep, cars floated away and every house was flooded.
My team's first job was the removal of mud from a car park, moving an abandoned car - how many foreigners does it take to move a car? 8 I think, then we limed it but everyone was getting carried away with lime powder, so masks back on and goggles. Our next job was a bit of a shock actually, it was much more challenging and set a benchmark for how far we were prepared to go. We arrived at the job to find the owner and two university students in the under floor crawslspace ferrying out the semi-dried sludge on two plastic sleds. The team zipped up, masked up and went in. I went in as I am small but didn't have the man power for what needed to be dug out and felt uncomfortable with only one way in and out. I pulled out and the boys went in. Our organizer arrived to check how we were getting on, I found it reminiscent of a scene from The Great Escape with half a dozen of them under the house and the rest unloading the sleds and bagging the sludge outside.
We were supposed to finish the job at 3.30pm but it was already 4 pm we said we wanted to finish it especially as we were almost done and mudded up to the neck, the co-coordinator of the VC agreed and beamed with a smile that went from ear to ear the whole time we were there. The dad was pretty pleased that it was done as it would have taken him another day or two.
Day 2 required us to work on 4 rental suites, rip up a floor, dig out the mud, wash the bathrooms and kitchen floors, clear the garden and paths and yes move another car. You could still see the water marks on the side of the houses and the slimy mud that was still inside the wet car. The son and owner and wife had the odd joke with us, as he fell to the floor as we pushed the car, the big boys were stronger than he thought, and we laughed. The son helped even though the shovel was too big for him, he joined the team photo and got shouted at by his mum for not studying English enough.