Ishinomaki part 1. / by airi katsuta

The last two weeks left in Japan, I finally had the will to go volunteer for Peace Boat. To tell you the truth, I was kinda scared about going and almost got cold feet. But I was only planning on going for 2 days so I was just gonna get it over with. I was unsure about the group I was in, a 60 year old leader, a skinny middle aged sub leader, a mom, and 2 girls my age that were already friends. I didn't know I was gonna fit in so I felt like the loner at school eating lunch all by myself. But on the bus ride to the location, I started talking to the mommy type, Kuga-San, and we found the common ground of our love for cats. We talked for hours and I finally made my first friend. We finally get to Ishinomaki, I'm so tired because I couldn't sleep on the bus. We stayed at this building called Kasuka Fashion. The room was separated in two with a blue plastic sheet between the males and females. I head to the smoking area and smokers know what I'm talking about, it's just easy to get to know each other with smoke breaks lol. So I started talking to this guy that just looked wise. I guess he's been here three times and keeps coming back on the weekends. The first half of the day, we couldn't do anything because of the rain. It was too risky to work in the rain because people can slip and get hurt. So everyone was just anxious to do something, I was just puffing away, listening to people's stories.

Finally, the rain stopped. I get ready in my suit, ready to scoop up some mud. But instead, our group head over to this house where the wall fell down because of the earthquake. We bagged all the bricks. And it took about two days to finish this task. It took a lot of team work and the bricks were so heavy. My back and shoulders started to hurt but no one was complaining so I just shut my mouth. The sky started to clear up and the sun came up, and my sweat started dripping down. My suit felt like a sauna. I never work out or do any kind of sports so this was the first time I actually broke a sweat in over 7 years. But I felt accomplished moving all the bricks and cleaning up around the house. The owner of the house was a 60 year old lady, oh such a sweet lady. She gave us coffee and snacks and shared her stories. She just wanted someone to talk to and someone who will listen to her. And that's a part of volunteering too, being there for the people. At the end, she was in tears thanking us. I've never done something to a complete stranger and felt so appreciated for something. I felt so good helping her and I wanted to do more.

The local people are so nice there. Always saying "Hello. Thank you for all your help" and it made me feel good. Everyone is smiling there even though 3 months ago, everything they had washed away in the tsunami. They're so brave and kindhearted.

Our group leader, Don-san, he's been volunteering there for about 2 months now. He took me to the place where they dump all the trash and it was a size of about 4 or 5 football fields, all covered in hills of trash. There's a hill of just mud, or trees, bricks, cars, washing machines and refrigerators. It smelled horrible and the flies were taking over the place. He said that it's Ishinomaki's 30 years worth of trash. It was unbelievable.

But he said that even though the place is still covered in trash, it's slowly cleaning up and people are starting to move back into their place. The roads were destroyed completely but now after 3 months, people are driving. He told me, "Nothing is impossible, humans have the ability to do anything." Even if its just moving bricks, we have to do it step by step, day by day. All the cleaning, even if its just one house, it means something. We have to start somewhere and keep going.

I was supposed to go home after that day, but I wanted to stay longer. I couldn't just go home and be okay with it. I knew I was gonna regret it so I asked Don-san if I could stay for another day or two and he said yes.

Dinner time was always fun. We all shared everything, shared stories, our 60 year old member started doing yoga and was doing a headstand. So random and sooo funny. I was becoming friends with these people that I would never have any relations with. Total opposites just bonding together. It was the best experience of my life.

On the third day, my group was leaving. I decided to stay but it was sad seeing people leave. But I got ready for another day of cleaning the streets of Ishinomaki.


to be continued.