It was the 16th Team HEAL Japan volunteer trip up North yesterday and the 12th one I've been able to join. The immediate needs of debris removal are thankfully decreasing now but this trip was memorable for another reason.
Our job was at an elementary school in Taira where the kids were having a Saturday afternoon baseball practice. Since there were 30 of us we were able to finish not long after lunch. A couple of veterans from other volounteer groups joined us for the first time along with another five or six first-timers. As usual, everyone got on like a house on fire.
Before we left we had a photo session with the kids who were all running around, cheering, laughing and high-fiving the five foreigners in the group. It didn;t seem a good time to explain that a high-five is not something we do a lot in Wales... so of course I just went with the flow.
Lyndon and Matt, the Ishinomaki veterans, were both big fellas. Chuck's an action-movie martial artitst and stuntman so after Lyndon picked one of the kids up clean off the ground with a growl, all the kids were crowding round the three of them, begging to be next. I'm sure they got through all 20 of them... maybe four or five times each.
The early finish meant we had time to head back to Hisanohama, an area where we've volunteered five times before. We'd been invited to a kids' Halloween party at the small shopping street near the new temporary housing area.
When we got there, the festivities were in full flight with all the kids and most of the adults dressed up in fancy dress, playing party games and just running around having fun. After all our previous volunteer trips here being so focused on damage and loss, rebuilding and recovery, it was quite powerful to see all these families, especially the kids, having a chance to just have a bit of normal fun like everyone else for a change.
We'd only been there a couple of minutes when Sean brought over the mother and the grandmother who ran The Supermarket which we helped to clean up last June. It turned out that this is where they've been running a mini-mart business since September 3rd. Three THJ volunteers from that June trip were there yesterday so there was a lot of catching up to do.
They took us over to their new mini-mart where they seemed to be doing a pretty good trade. The mother reached under the desk and brought out an envelope with some 8x10's taken the first time we met.
It wasn't long before her and her grandmother were both smiling through their tears again.
I'd called into the original supermarket for some food on a surf-trip up to the Yotsukura area in 2008 and remembered seeing the grandmother as she had quite "distinctive" dental work. To see her again last June when she'd lost everything was one thing, but to meet her and her daughter again yesterday as things are very slowly starting to come together made me feel very close to them.
They were both an incredible example of positive thinking, of not giving up. After 100 years of the family being in business at the same spot, they'd lost everything but have found a way to get back to work out of a small portacabin, and just get on with it, working towards getting back to their original site one day. They knew others had been dealt a much worse hand.
Outside, the party was showing no signs of running out of steam. Chuck once again went above and beyond by dressing up in something that looked like a too-small joker's outfit and posing for anyone who wanted a picture with him. He needs to give up the action movies and stunt-work, and get a kid's show instead.
We had to get the tools back to the volunteer centre by 4pm so after some long goodbyes and some more photos, we made our way home with a detour past the original supermarket to see the progress that had been made around there.
June 25, 2011
October 29, 2011