journal, ofunato, photos, repairs, volunteer

gutting at O san’s house

i’ve already been here a week, which has passed very quickly.  today’s work was continuing the floor gutting job at the O’s house, for a mother and son. the work is actually putting in styrofoam insulation between the joists, before putting the floor boards back down. for this architecture student, who hasn’t built a model in years, it’s really fun to cut and fit styrofoam.  non-architecture-dorks might not understand why. today i wasn’t the official translator of the team, which was relaxing, and nice to have more than one J speaker. the boys started practicing their japanese, which was great, and also hilarious. mrs. O made us delicious lunch in addition to our bento.

when the tsunami came, mr. O (the son) was at work in the city office, and mrs O was at home. she went up to the 2nd floor when the first wave came, and then when the wave receded, she ran out of the house and escaped on foot up to a higher place.

on the first day at the O’s house, the contractor came by and took a group photo of all of us. the next day, he brought back laminated copies for each of us, with a message of gratitude from the homeowner.

this work is probably the most rewarding activity i have ever done. not because of the thanks we get from the homeowner, but because of how great it feels to be able to help these residents with the work in their homes, to talk to them. and to feel like there is something that we can do, and we are doing it together. it’s a simple thing, to work together with a shared goal to help people. but it’s powerful.  through this shared experience, it doesn’t take very long to form connections and friendships that feel like they have a much longer history, and will last longer than the brief time we overlap here, where volunteers are always coming and going. it’s something that is difficult to put into words, but when people say their goodbye speeches, when we have to face the fact the we are leaving this place, it’s hard not to cry. and want to come back as soon as we can.

About liz

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

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