It is now seven weeks since a huge earthquake and subsequent tsunami wiped out towns along the northeastern coast of Japan. Here in Sakari we are still experiencing aftershocks every day. Yesterday, a 4.9 shook the building so violently people started to run outside – not a common occurrance in a place where building regulations ensure most places can withstand far worse.
Then, this morning, a 5.3 had us all bolt upright before deciding that it probably wasn’t worth getting out of our warm cozy beds just yet.
Check out the maps on the USGS website for some interesting visual information. Today’s map of this area shows 40 earthquakes above magnitude 4.5 in the last seven days, 8 of which were in the last 24 hours.
A number of us were invited to a party last night by one of our local volunteers. After a walking a couple of blocks we arrived at what is claimed to be the only Italian restaurant in the area. Somehow I was still served miso soup with offal but that’s another story!
After many toasts and top-ups of sake the sushi master to my left decided he had work we could do and a mini-assessment ensued. Later, when the restaurant’s chef and owner discovered that one of our group had worked in an Italian restaurant in the US he invited him to come cook with him – a pretty special opportunity considering that since the tsunami he has closed his restaurant and is cooking for hundreds of evacuees in shelters around Ofunato.
It can be hard to find and secure sites for us to work on here. People are ashamed of asking for help and can be suspicious of foreigners. Then you go to a party, have a few beers and the work starts pouring in!
Project Tohoku will double in size as of Friday. Twenty-six volunteers will arrive as many Japanese companies shut down for Golden Week, a vacation period encompassing four national holidays that fall within a week. Work will focus around the clearing and cleaning of a local middle school which was badly affected by the tsunami. Up to 25 people per day will work to salvage and sanitise furniture and equipment. A gym hall will also be cleared of mud and debris to be used as storage for the relief supplies that are still pouring into the region.
The pace of work in the community is starting to increase as the rainy season approaches and people scramble to get things done before wet weather and potential flooding issues affect what can be done. Our Golden Week population boom has come just at the right time!
We finally arrived at Project Tohoku after travelling for a full week to get here. And yes, trains, planes and automobiles were involved!
Day One: pack possessions and receive final donations of warm clothes from wonderful volunteers at Belval Plaza, home of Project Leogane. Get sweaty hugs from everyone on the volleyball court before stopping for a beer with neighbourhood landlord Maritas. Loaded crazy amounts of luggage onto two motorbike taxis for the short trip to the bus station. Took bus to Port-au-Prince, the 18 mile journey taking a mere two hours. Tap tap to airport for 5 minute reunion with returning volunteer – Steve Yes. Car from airport to GRU base for the night.
Day Two: check email to find out tickets from Miami to Tokyo are cancelled. Take motorbike taxi to PAP airport. Drink beer in airport bar before 9am. Almost miss flight. Last ones on. Arrive in Miami and confirm tickets are in fact cancelled. Call ANA and beg for new tickets. Too expensive, no discounts so book for two days after original ticket. Plan to sleep on airport floor and starve but mums and dads come to the rescue and wire money. All communication with parents and on-project staff via airport pay phones – no cell, no laptop, many quarters, many trips to store to replenish quarters, much annoyance to cashiers. Take shuttle to cheap hotel, eat ungodly amounts of snack food in front of the tv and fall asleep.
Day Three: spend 24 hours sleeping, eating junk food, taking hot showers and watching tv. Not at the same time. All impossible during time in Haiti. Bliss.
Day Four: eat as much free breakfast as possible, check out, hang around in the lobby for three hours, eat Peruvian food. Head back to the airport. Sleep on airport floor due to early departure and not wanting to cause parents any more expense. FYI nice spot on second floor outside lift; no people, no cleaners, carpeted. Same announcements every 15 minutes and arctic a/c but 100% better than downstairs.
Day Five: wake up at 4am. Check in. Eat my first (American) biscuit. Fly to Chicago. Eat cheesecake and hotdogs. Fly to Tokyo. Takes 4 hours to notice the man in the seat next to me is not paying for alcohol. Promptly order bottle of wine. And two beers. Watch endless films. Sleep little. Am slept on lots.
Day Six: arrive in Tokyo. Take subway to downtown. Spend 2 hours looking for a bus stop that doesn’t exist. Sit outside in the cold for 6 more hours. Neil falls asleep on the floor. Have to pace back and forth to avoid falling asleep. Fall asleep pacing. Kindly Taiwanese woman also catching overnight bus north finds indoor seating in shopping centre. Fall asleep next to her. Kindly Taiwanese lady wakes us up, gives us snacks and leaves. Go back outside to find telescopic temporary bus stop has been erected. Stand around for another hour. Board bus and immediately fall into coma-like sleep.
Day Seven: arrive in Ichinoseki. Stagger out of bus and fall asleep on luggage at entrance to station. Find pay phone, call project, pick-up delayed. Fall back asleep on luggage. Car arrives. Drive through untouched Japanese countryside. Drive through Rikuzentakata, destroyed by tsunami. Arrive at base.
UPDATE Day Nineteen: no sympathy for incoming volunteers boo-hooing about the hardship of their 12 hour journeys!