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Thomas Kantha
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11 December 2013, 10:54

 It is funny to be called Shaman thousands of kilometers from home. When I was playing soccer back in South Africa,  I was called the Sangoma. Many people thought I was possessed because I was in different world when I was keeping goals. I also tied a red ribbon to keep my long hair in place so it would not to disturb my keeping.

 I got settled in the volunteer campsite in the tsunami area. With my work schedule set I was ready to roll. But while walking around the volunteer campsite I noticed that not all volunteers were prepared and ready to tackle this great task waiting like a monster for them. There were many young volunteers with  enthusiasm but without the resources to fulfill what they came to do. With the four well organized volunteers from Shikoku  we opened our tent to those who need help .The conference tent, as we called it, can accommodate about twenty people sitting. I went to the office and explained that there was no form of assistance for the volunteers, not even  counseling. In the morning they got lined up in front of the volunteer center office and were put into work in teams without anyone even finding out what each volunteer was capable of doing. The experienced volunteers made up their own teams and found work so that they could show results .

There was this huge warehouse that had just about anything volunteers needed to get their jobs done. But tools in the wrong hands were of no use. I became the shadow that moved among the volunteers and had my ear to the ground finding out their needs. The city office and the volunteer center were under restructuring to cope with this mass destruction that they had no experience to handle. They were also catering for the big organizations and well connected NPOs. As a result the ordinary volunteer who came in response to a calling were left  to fend for themselves. 

The nights bring in dropping temperatures. I went to the Red cross warehouse and in the city ware house were hundreds of blankets were still in boxes so I took about ten and distribute to the volunteers freezing in their tents. Simple rule when you finished fold it and bring it back to me to be re distributed.

The rule was this: when you need anything from the warehouse you first visited the volunteer center and got an application form filled in . The center will then stamp it after that you march to the warehouse and hand over the slip and the people in the warehouse would than supply you with what you need. To me that was so much waste of time and I did not have the time to do that . By now my friendship , manner and my work with the therapist and in the shopping area got attention.  So with that I told the leader of the volunteer center that I needed an open pass so that I could get what I wanted  when I wanted it. I told him that some mornings I was away at the seven and only got back at seven and they were there from nine to five. So he told the staff in the ware house to give me free rein to come and go at any time. That gave me the power to not only supply the people in the tsunami hit areas but also the volunteers.

 For dinner or all meals I was a bit fussy.   I said, “Let us eat well and let us sleep comfortably so that we are able to function well the next day.”

This surprised some of the volunteers. I had to explain this to a group that gathered at the conference  room/ dinning / kitchen that  we were not victims of the tsunami and we should not feel guilt or we would not be able to do what we were  there  to do in a balanced way, so we should eat well and rest well.

 As we were eating and talking there, men that I seen in the volunteer tent village came to the conference tent. These guys were from Peru and spoke a little Japanese and Spanish and no English.

They were like the three wise men in the bible. They came with fruits and coffee. We welcomed them in and introduced ourselves. Their coffee was strong like a drug. I sip was enough for me. They came to talk and ask us about what we do. One of the guys was staring at me. I asked what wrong. He  told me he was in a school, drawing with children and the children wanted to know if he knew Thomas. When the children described me he told them he had seen me  at the volunteer center .They told him to tell me they were waiting for me. He was an art therapist. We made some of the same rounds. His friend was helping clean up the shopping street and even there people asked about me. I was one of the first volunteers to get into the shopping area to clean up. The shopping union and I work to get other volunteers into that area. In the beginning the volunteer center refused volunteers for that area .They sent the volunteers where the needs were greatest. How they calculated that I still do not know. The third guy from Peru wanted to know if we were able to get anything here .I told him it all depends on what you need. He told me he wanted a pair of  gum boots and  a pair of water proof pants. I got his size and just cycled down to the warehouse and told the people what I came for, and that was that . I was back with his order.

The art therapist asked me if I was a  Shaman from Africa . I reminded him of the Shaman in his village growing up as a boy. Everyone knew the Shaman.  He had to explain to the Japanese what a Shaman does. As soon as he finished two of the female volunteer asked if I was a fortune teller also.  “Oh yes I do that too,”  I said.  I told her to show me her  right hand palm.  After a few seconds I told her that according to her fortune,  it was her turn to wash the dishes and everyone burst out laughing. That art therapist said,  “Only a Shaman can make people laugh in such a depressing time. That is why the children and the old people wait for you. You are their Shaman.”   One of the guys from Shikoku said, “He is just plain crazy.”

The night we had a surprise visit from one of the local politicians. She heard about of community conference tent and was interested in what we do. One of the volunteers told her we eat, drink , gossip

and complain about how dysfunctional things are. When the volunteers  are heading back home  they leave  the food and things other volunteers can use. Many come alone and we try and get them to join us for a cup of tea or a meal. We were also able to introduce them to other volunteers with the same interest. The tent become the talk of the village. It was on the national T.V.

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