The days are fast slipping by and soon it will be three years since the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. I have been in and out of the affected areas fifteen times so far 2013/10/ 5-8th. Visible changes and restoration are taking place but the deep scars remain to remind us about the devastation. Bridges and ports are built and roads link to some development and progress. But, the invisible human scars of heart-breaking loss will remain. Children born after the devastation will hear about the devastation.Those who have lived through and experienced the devastation still speak as if it happened just yesterday. They have grow to understand that nothing will ever be the same again. A lady told me that if there had been no tsunami I would not have become a part of their lives for I may have not have come to their part of the world. Even if I did come I would have been just another tourist passing through. Somehow the people who I meet on my first or second trip are those who are very close-knit . A trip to the tsunami area is never complete if I do not say hello to these families. Some do complain in a friendly way saying my visits are not as frequent as it used to be. I did the same during the Hanshin earthquake in Kobe. I was there frequently but as time passed people I met were moving forward and it was time I stepped back and became an observer and now seventeen years has since passed. The bridges and ports are built. The roads are linked but, the human loss cannot be replaced . We sowed flower seeds in Spring. Mainly sunflowers. When I got there in the summer it was a joy to see some of the sunflower plants, over three meters tall, just swinging in the warm summer breeze welcoming the locals, volunteers and tourists. People of all ages admired and got pleasure from the sunflowers. These are the little signs of hope. When someone passes you when you are watering the plants and stop to greet and admire the flowers with small chit chats. Strangers offering you cold drinks and mineral water from the vending machines warning you about sunstroke and the importance of consuming lots of liquid. Yes , Summer was extremely hot in Japan this year. Maybe it is the effect of the climate change. As volunteers or repeaters, as the volunteer center calls those who make multi trips into the tsunami area to volunteer, I have met many musicians that come over to entertain the people in the temporary shelters. There are so many different types of volunteering to be done. Children who have lost someone in the tsunami need care and the volunteers take care of these children's need. The elderly just want a cup of tea and a chat . They have a story to tell and I have learnt much from them . Their experience in that part of the country helps me with my work. It is very easy to forget why we are there. We sometimes get too enthusiastic and get carried away in what we are doing . It is very important for me to revalue my volunteering and try as hard as possible to accommodate their needs. My tea and lunch breaks are very important times for me to communicate with the local people and go back to understanding what it was like before the tsunami. I know full v well that I can't turn the tide but I think it is important to know where they came from so we work to give them as familiar an environment as possible.
My October 2013 trip was a bit different. I was invited by an outside group to accompany them and to coordinate their volunteer projects. They were trying to build a bridge between their home town of Marukame in Shikoku to Ishinomaki. They had a long forgotten historical link. It was a 150 years old tombstone of a shipwright. The shipwright was born in Marukame and died in Ishinomaki.We spend the first day collecting all the information and data from the education board and some of the local people.
The second day we drove about thirty minutes across a mountain to a temple facing a small port. A Buddhist priest from the temple welcomed us to his temple and took us where the tombstone stood. A Buddhists sermon was on “help”. Six of us including the priest spent the next few hours cleaning the tombstone and the surrounding area. We had lunch with the priest and spend an educational two hours together. After lunch we headed to the beach to clean until it got a bit dark. I still had my personal work to do so they dropped me off. I spent much time in a green project. I got back and watered the plants for about an hour. I enjoy doing some work by myself. I enjoy spending hours alone cleaning the beach etc. I need the silence to focus and to feel the spirits around. The wind sounds like a whisper. Standing alone surrounded by very old tombstones I try to journey back all those years ago to their world. It is so important to keep their resting place clean for they have set this path for us. I have touched so many old nameless headstones and wondered what kind of person was put to rest here. This devastation has opened my mind and soul. I think it is a luxurious experience with deep sadness and pain. I am sure I would never be able to fathom this sadness and pain but it has help channel my energy to an awareness I would have never known if I did not step up when the tsunami hit.I picked up a pebble from the foot of a name less headstone and brought it home. I have a small collection of stones from here and there.
At night I visit the public bath house and soak my long day away .The winter can be very harsh up in the Tohoku area . The plants have to be covered . But this year it is still very warm to cover the plants or take some of them indoors. I also tried to encourage some of the people to plant winter radish and onion in deep flower pots. I planted two different kinds of radish and they should be harvested by late December. It was very encouraging to get a call five days after I sowed the radish seeds to tell me they are sprouting. They sound very excited for they have something to wait for. I do use the word volunteer but I can't really tell someone what volunteering means in this context. I grew up in Tongaat and we had Beggars Day on Thursdays and now I would not use the word but the reality is that my house in Tongaat was where the old , the handicapped and poor dropped in for mealie-meal sour porridge. Now some one told me it is called corn porridge. That was a natural thing to do. The irony is that my mother cooked that porridge everyday for us but on Thursdays it was just a bigger pot. So growing up in that sharing environment I feel a bit uneasy when I tell some one I am volunteering. Bear in mind we were poor because there were ten children and two adults to feed. I just enjoy being in the tsunami area . It reminds me of Old Tongaat when the whole town was just one big family. We were there at funerals, weddings , parties etc. helping without an invitation. The call is still very strong so I will be heading back to the tsunami area in a few months’ time to harvest the radish .
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