debris, journal, otsuchi, photos, rikuzentaka, tono, volunteer

4 months after, in tono

today is the 4 month anniversary of the tsunami. it feels like a long time ago, and that it was a completely different world back then. it’s hard to believe that was only 4 months ago, and hard to remember what it was like. before.

at the same time, time has passed without being noticed, and the disaster area continues to need help.

this trip I didn’t ever have any free time to write or read before lights out, so I’ll try to reconstruct the trip now, while I’m on the bus back to tokyo.

this time, when i registered, gakuvo asked if I could be the lead translator. I said sure, and when I saw the list of students going, there were only 4 international students, 2 of which cancelled at the last minute, so it turned out there was only me and A, my new friend from the phillipines, and 10 japanese students and our leader. so I was kind of a personal translator, which was great. being in a mixed English and Japanese speaking group was also great, as was our super genki leader Y chan and the other team members.

we went to tono, and worked as part of the large number of volunteers that are coordinated by magokoro net, an umbrella NPO. when I came to tono in april with K and M sensei, we also visited this center and joined the nightly meeting–at that time there 30-40 people total in the meeting room, with typed and printed handouts showing all the activities of the following day. of course the needs of residents at that time were different–the volunteers were delivering food to people stranded in their homes with no services, or shuttling them to a temporary bath. at that time I was amazed by the very Japanese organization of everything.

in the last 3 months, the number of volunteers has increased a lot– I think there were 100-200 at the most busy– we were there on a weekend, and number seemed to fluxuate with the largest number on saturday.

and, the volunteer center has become more…lived in. the daily meeting for volunteers in the gym, which also have several hundred volunteers, lead by one main volunteer coordinator. I feel like perhaps there are quite a few similarities with what I experienced at common ground in new orleans after katrina– issues of long term/ short term volunteers, burnout and exhaustion, the challenges of dealing with a large transient volunteer population coming from outside. but social bonds and mores of japanese society will go a long way I think, to keep everything running smoothly! and it is remarkable.

I think that local culture will also effect the relationships between the local folks and the volunteers–it’s a very interesting topic…

on our 1st day, we worked in a field outside rikuzentaka. there was garbage that had been mixed in with the earth, and we picked it up. some of it was rotting samma (saury?) fish. a lot of it was pieces and chunks of houses, bits of walls and plaster. after our break, and the local farmer turned over his field again with his tractor, the part we had cleaned was full of debris again– garbage that had been buried deeper before, and was brought to the surface. it seemed like a metaphor for recovery…

the next field over had been planted with sunflowers, which absorb toxins from the soil.

magokoro net forbids taking pictures in the disaster area, at least of anything that could be recognizable–this is very respectful of them, and probably a good idea, but it means I don’t have any photos of our work site.

because of the large scale of operations based out of tono center, we didn’t have as much contact with local folks as in past gakuvo trips.

there were a few other foreigners at the center, basically everything is in japanese, but everyone was very friendly.

because it was so hot, the work day finishes at 2pm. this is reasonable, but leads me to want to work more days, if I can’t work more hours.

on sunday (day 2) there was a magnitude 7.3 earthquake. there had also been an aftershock on friday night, after we arrived at the tono center, which was also the place I felt my first aftershock in april. but on sunday, when we where going to start work outside cleaning ditches in a village near otsuchi cho, there was a quake, a long one. the otsuchi disaster warning alarm sounded, and announced that a tsunami warning had been issued, along with instructions to evacuate. we walked up a hill to the evacuation area, where we waited for 2 hours until the warning was lifted. it was my first tsunami evacuation, a new experience. everyone was very calm, including a few local residents who also evacuated to the same area. I’m not sure how many times there have been warnings issued for aftershocks, but it can only be a nightmare for people who lived through it before.

during the tsunami on march 11, otsuchi city hall was completely destroyed, and most city hall employees lost their lives.

after the evacuation, and lunch, we wound up working for only an hour on sunday, cleaning up a bank of a stream that had been covered with tsunami dirt and now was full of weeds. other folks in our group worked on cleaning some ditches.

on monday, we spend a few hours helping clean the volunteer center before heading back to tokyo.

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About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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