Thursday, 30 May 2013

Guests, Children, & Prayers

Last Friday, the Let Us Walk Together welcomed a group of representatives from the Diocese of Leicester, UK.  We kicked out their weekend with the Let Us Walk Together Project by having dinner with the Standing committee  and the staff. With the project coming to an end, Friday was the Standing Committee’s monthly meeting. I think everyone was a little thankful those long meetings were over. 

The next day we headed to Sendai Christ Church to celebrate a Thanksgiving Mass for the Let Us Walk Together Project. Last week everyone in the office was asked to write a prayer for the various activities we have been a part of. During the service several of us read our prayers aloud and then placed them on an old map of Tohoku region. It was beautiful. One of the priests from England added her own prayer as well. After the service, everyone was able to take some time to talk to one another. There were many former volunteers and staffers of the project who came to the service. It was so nice to catch up with them a little bit as well.  Since I spent a lot of time with the group from Leicester I felt the need to point out who everyone was. I felt the need to tell them about each person’s personality, what they have done in the project, what they have meant to the project and to me. It’s interesting how fast people can mean so much to you even when your conversations are at the most basic level. 

We then headed to Shinchi Base. We had lunch at a local noodle restaurant. Since the tsunami came through Shinchi, business in the town has gone down. So every time people visit Shinchi, the Base always suggests eating at this little shop. This is one of the ways that the project supports the town. They gave us some special food as a sign of thanks and gave the people from Leicester traditional Japanese fans as souvenirs.

From there we went to the base where there were people from the community waiting for us. Through the help of the interpreter from England, some of the residents of the community told us about the history of the area and their experiences from the disaster. We also watched a few videos of the tsunami coming into Shinchi. Then we loaded into the vans and took a tour of the area. We went to the coastline where we saw the ruins of many of the people’s houses who we just met and saw where someone ran to safety. We then saw the ruins of St. John’s church where many sought shelter during the tsunami. The last stop of the tour was at a kindergarten. 

On the day of the disaster that kindergarten lost 13 of its members. Three were teachers and nine were children. One of the busses that took the kids to safety was lifted by the water from the tsunami. Everyone inside was able to escape the bus by climbing into a window on a second story house. That was how high the water was, they were able to seek rescue in the second story of a house. That night two of those kids died from hypothermia. The kindergarten building is not in use anymore but they have a memorial in honor of those who lost their lives that day. They have rebuilt a kindergarten further in town where the kids are able to play. They now have 103 students in the classes. 

On Sunday we had two church services. The first being with Sendai Christ Church's congregation. Afterwards there was some time for everyone to talk with one another. The women gave some of their stories and talked about how the project has helped them. When it came to an end the resounding stories that were passed were how they now have a community among themselves. The project helped bring them all together in one way or another but now they have each other for support.
second mass was for the Filipinos that we work with

We then sent the Diocese of Leicester to the station. I miss them already. It was great getting to speak English the entire weekend and to explain what the project has been doing. Having guests visit the project always makes me realize how little I know. They always ask the questions I have never thought of. It was great getting to know them and hear their stories. I also learned how to "properly" drink tea, how to ask for a "nice cup of tea and a good cup of coffee," and various other things that will make me look like a native when I visit them. Overall it was a great weekend. There is so much more that I want to share but I have made this blog too long as it is.

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prayers at the ruins of St. Johns

Hearing stories of life in the temporary housing

Signing a book at the memorial for the kindergarten

Talking with the principal of the kindergarten

handing out crosses made by parish members of
Diocese of Leicester

Mass with the wonderful Filipinas

Glenda received an award  from Japanese class

Monday, 27 May 2013

Cakes, Husband Hunting, & Super Extra Large Clothes

Once a month the Women’s Club of Sendai Christ Church, visits the residents of the Hirotta Temporary housing unit. They take cakes, tea, coffee, and of course smiles to share with those residents. This past week was the first time I was able to go. 

On Thursday we loaded the cars and headed to Shinchi. That day we took clothing and various other donated items for a mini-bazaar. The first hour of this café time was filled with eating some DELICIOUS cakes, drinking tea, and chatting. I spoke with Mrs. Keikko for a little bit. She is the head of the women’s group in Shinchi. She lost her house in the tsunami. Her husband’s family had been living in that house for generations. She told me how Shinchi community is mostly filled with the elderly. Many of those who have survived the tsunami and are now living in the temporary housing, are very old. There have already been 3 deaths in the past two years. It will be at least another 6 months before they can move out of the temporary housing into new houses. She said that the weekly café hours and getting to meet all of the different volunteers that come makes living in the temporary housing so much better. One of the positive things that have come from the disaster is that it has brought people together that would not have met otherwise. It brought has brought opportunities for conversations and to share one another’s life with each other. 

Making Japanese traditional matcha
After she finished telling me about difficult life in temporary housing she tried to set me up with one of the young men in the area. In fact before we left all of the ladies were asking if I was ok with marrying a Japanese Buddhist. Apparently there are many young Buddhists in the area that they would love to set me up with. Looks like I am set if I ever want to move to Shinchi. I could not help but life throughout these conversations. It was like being the only single girl at a church gathering in the South.

After eating and chatting we all sang a couple of camp like songs together. One of them was to the tune of “the littlest warm” (for those of your girl scouts out there you know the song I am referring to) but it was about a bear. It is always fun to hear tunes I recognize even if it’s in a different language. After on encore of the bear song everyone was invited outside to take part in the mini-bazaar. We sold half of the items. Since most of the clothes we brought were way too small for the residents we promised to bring bigger sizes next month. I even think one of the men guaranteed to bring LLLLL size clothes.

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Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Speeches, Dances, & Graduation

The graduates, teachers, and judges
On Saturday, we had the much anticipated graduation and speech competition for the Sendai Japanese class. For the past 2 months we have been preparing for the speech competition. Everyone in the class wrote a speech and then we had a speech tournament to narrow down who would participate in the speech competition on graduation day. The final four did a great job on the day of the event. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house by the end of the speeches. 

In between the speeches we presented Filipino
dances and songs. There was a dance with big bamboo poles. After the initial performance was finished they
invited one of the guest priests to try it. It was awesome. I participated in one of the dances where we modeled traditional clothes. One of the women in the office wrote out the certificates in beautiful Kanji. We (the graduates) also received cup mugs as a souvenir of the project. I am enjoying some delicious tea out of as we speak. 

Overall it was a wonderful event. I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of that class. I am so thankful that I have had the opportunity to meet these wonderful women. I have learned so much from them and can’t see where their lives will lead them.

Speech competetors

Trying to lift Shota Sensei.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Chickens, Clothes on the Line, & Radiation

Shinchi Base
On Thursday, I went to the Shinchi base. It is a base that the project set up for support in Shinchi City. This city was devastated not only by the tsunami but it is also in an area with some radiation (very low in comparison to the area immediately surrounding the nuclear power plant). There are three sets of temporary housing in Shinchi. Two of which, are for those whose houses got swept away. The other one, Gonya, is filled with residents who lived in highly contaminated areas before the disaster. It has the most kids and is the biggest set of temporary houses in that area. They used wood instead of the steel walls that other housing unit have. They also made space between each individual unit, that way you can’t hear everything that your neighbors say. That is a common problem that other temporary housings have. Since there are so many children living there they even have a playground.When building this set of temporary houses they put a lot of thought into it. For people who have been displaced from their homes that makes all the difference in the world.

I went with one of the staff members on his daily rounds to the housing units. I was able to visit the bigger of
Gonya Temporary housing
the three units. In the common space there were four older women making some beautiful origami artwork. We sat with them for a little while. About a month ago the local government told them that it was ok for them to return to their houses. Even though the electricity is working, they cannot use the water in the area. Therefor they would have to buy water at the store if they wanted to wash anything, shower, or cook. They are allowed to go home for a short period of time but not allowed to live there yet.

Origami artwork
One of the women we met, recently visited her house for the first time since the day of the disaster two years ago. She still had clothes hanging to dry from that day. She said she immediately put them in a trash. When she went home she took a Geiger counter (an instrument used to count the level of radiation) with her. In her house the levels were low but when she checked outside it was a 5. That is very high and definitely unsafe. She was shocked and upset. She said “how in the world are they saying its safe to return home when the levels are still so high?”  After her explanation they laughed about making these temporary housings their permanent homes. They joked around saying “well Shinchi is a nice place, right?” Though they have lived in those temporary houses for nearly two years, they are not their homes. They are craving to turn home, to return to their normal lives, to no longer be displaced.

Matchan! He is my favorite Anglican Brother

They have chickens at Shinchi Base!