The newest site to be added to our roster here on Project Tohoku is possibly the most disgusting this All Hands has had volunteers do since I joined them way back when. Before the tsunami many sea front areas of Ofunato were pretty industrial. Whole blocks are now bare where rows of fish packing and canning factories have been demolished, the tsunami damaging buildings and equipment beyond repair. A few streets further inland shells of buildings survive, surrounded by a sea of pre-packaged, once-frozen fish. They were fresh and ready to be sent out across the country and now the electricity has been off since March and it all sits rotting in the sun.
The city wants to dump the fish into the ocean, but with commendable environmental foresight havewaited for a solution to the problem of separating the putrid fish from the plastic packaging. That solution is our volunteers digging through the stinking piles and picking out the rubbish by hand. The stench of the team when they get back is eye-watering and yet still the team has filled up
every day, despite everyone knowing what they’d be letting themselves in for on
account of sleeping a maximum of a few feet from someone who’s already been.
This is a job that couldn’t be done by machines and wouldn’t be done by community members, even for money, due to the extreme conditions and sanitation fears. The assessment team were unsure if even our usually up-for-anything volunteers would be up for this, but after a poll in the nightly meeting showed more than enough raised hands the job went ahead. We have provided masks, eye protection and waterproof suits to minimize exposure to contaminants and everyone seems determined to see it through. It is yet another example of the importance of unskilled labour, if used in the right way and the right places.
The fishy smell that hits you in Sakariwhen the wind blows the wrong way is a touchy subject to local people so lets hope that by sorting the last of these fish for dumping we will be one step closer to the sweet-smelling town those people all remember.