Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Noda Village Clean-Up

On Tuesday, Corey and I went on a volunteer clean-up trip to Noda village, about a 2 hour drive south of Misawa. You can read an article NPR did on Noda a week after the quake HERE, but the basic rundown is that this small village of 5,000 residents was hit hard by the tsunami. 27 people were killed and 400 homes were destroyed after waves destroyed the concrete seawall protecting the town.

All that's left of the once forested and sea-walled coast

A month later on our visit, we saw that the devastation is still jaw-droppingly apparent. Much of the rubble has been cleared (and transferred to a gigantic mountain of metal and wood that we drove past just outside the town), but a lot still remains in what looks like an empty wasteland of total destruction. I've never seen anything like it before. I only had my point and shoot camera available to take quick shots with during work breaks, but these photos should give you an idea of what the scene looks like.

So we dug in. For most of the day, we moved rubble, piece by piece, into piles along the side of makeshift roads so that trucks could come haul it away. Among the wood and metal building remnants, trees, cement, etc. were haunting reminders of lives and livelihoods lost. Shoes. Dolls. Playing cards. Electric blankets. Dishes. Puzzle pieces. Photos. Makeup bags. Flooring sample catalogues. Lots of little glimpses of "before." I hope the owners of those things are alive, healthy, comfortable, and safe, wherever they might be now.
The "before" shot of one of the sections we worked on clearing

One area we cleared. At least a bit better than when we arrived.

Later in the day we helped a construction crew salvage (heavy) clay roof tiles off the top of a house that had been destroyed. With our volunteer group, we formed two giant lines and passed the tiles down across a muddy field. It was basically like doing 10-15 pound dumbbell raises nonstop for 45 minutes. With 50 big burley military men. In a muddy pit where your boots were firmly stuck in the mud so you couldn't move. Sound fun? Yeah, it wasn't. I'm just glad I still have the use of my arms.

It was a long, hard day of work, but very rewarding in the end. It was an intense place to visit and a very humbling experience. I'm so glad we went, not only so that we could appreciate and properly recognize what our neighbors are going through, but also so that we could help put a drop into the bucket of the task that is rebuilding northeastern Japan. It was a very small drop in a very big bucket, but it was something.

Toward the end of the day as we were clearing debris from a field at the edge of the destruction zone, a group of school kids walked by, waving and shouting "Goodbye!" (presumably one of the only english words the knew) to our group. In that moment, it felt like a group of smiling, happy kids getting on with their lives was the most beautiful and hopeful scene in the world. If those kids can be smiling, there's nothing stopping the rest of us. Japan will be alright.

For a few more pictures from the Noda clean-up, click here.

All Quiet on the Blogging Front

Blossom buds are only a couple weeks away from blooming. We're all ready for a hopeful dose of spring!

People keep telling me they're waiting for my updates here, so I'm sorry I haven't been keeping up with it very well. The first 3 weeks or so following the earthquake and tsunami were a bit... blah (although I'm feeling better now). Life was mostly back to normal on the base in a practical sense, but so much seemed so very different. With all the uncertainty in dealing with the aftershocks and the nuclear plant and knowing all the suffering going on around us, it was hard to settle into any kind of groove or feel like things were ok again. But things here are ok, and where they aren't, they will be someday. Japan is resilient.

It's been such a surreal past month, but now spring is starting, the snow is gone, the sun is shining, and everything feels much better (haha, a mini earthquake literally shook just as I wrote that sentence. The earth loves to remind us not to get too complacent...). Radiation levels in Aomori haven't risen, so all seems to be ok (for us) on that front. I don't know what the long term effects will be with food, water, travel, electricity costs/future blackouts, who knows what all. We'll deal with those kinds of things as they get figured out, I suppose. For now, we're going to try to enjoy the last chunk of time we have here together before Corey leaves for his deployment and life gets weird again.

So, I'll try to get back to posting more often now that things (and my mood) are on the upswing. I hadn't done much photography at all in the weeks following the earthquake, but I'm feeling the pull to do more coming back. Hopefully I'll have some stuff to share soon. Thank you so much to everyone who has been there for us and the people of Japan, near and far. I love you all so much!