for my last work day in ofunato, i had the pleasure of helping prepare for the tanabata festival, which unfortunately was happening after i left. but putting up the decorations in the street was pretty fun! the decorations are attached to huge bamboo poles, which have to been carried, set up, and lashed to the electric poles, all with the correct angle and without getting them snagged on any power lines. the first one took a long time, but our team got better after that. actually i didn’t do much heavy lifting, but mostly trying to translate for the guys from all hands who didn’t understand japanese, as we guided the bamboo up and down the street and angled it. the streets were destroyed by the tsunami, so when they rebuild them, they built in little holes to hold the bamboo. we worked together with some local guys, and there were also student volunteers from a university in tokyo, and also high school students.
also, for the last few nights, i had the chance to help a local neighborhood group who was preparing their float-a wooden frame, which is then covered with paper panels hand painted with scenes (in this case, it was the kid’s float, so lots of cartoon characters) and hand painted geometric trim.
i still feel like there are a lot of challenges involved with bringing outsiders into a local community in general, and all hands is not immune, and is in fact working on this. in fact, the night before i left there was a meeting about how to improve the role of the translators on job sites. but when the local neighborhood groups are welcoming the international volunteers to join in their festival, and i have the chance to work next to the local ladies as they are brushing glue on the frames for the paper, as we are carrying the bamboo together down the street, i’m not worried about this relationship. we (foreign volunteers) may be strange and different, may sometimes be awkward or accidentally rude, and we definitely are a new sight that was not in ofunato 6 months ago. but it feels like the local people have embraced all hands, the volunteers’ smiling faces that are as bright as the clothes are dirty after a day in the ditches. i feel that huge credit is due to the folks who organized all hand volunteers’ participation in the tanabata festival, which you can see more of here.