Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tohoku Part Deux: Back to Onosaki

First times always leave indelible marks in your mind. Which is why after my first volunteering trip to Tohoku, I was eager to go back again.

Still, there's a nagging reservation in the back of my mind. I was aware that people comes and goes, and the dynamics changes constantly.

I knew there would be some people who have been there since early summer: Rob, Sheila, Quentin, but there would also be other people who had been staying while I was back in Kyoto.

Add that to the fact that my innate awkwardness was bound to get in the way, and that I had the right half of Sheila's boots in my possession. In my defense our boots were exactly identical save for the size: my soles are 2 cm longer than hers.

So I arrived in Sendai early morning, but not knowing that using a bus would have been wiser than going by train to Ishinomaki, I was held in Kogota and did not reached Ishinomaki until 9 am.

But turned out Quentin who was on pick up duty hadn't showed up, and when he did, we still had to wait for four more new volunteers coming in that day who hadn't showed up.

And that's how I met Mika, Mike, Sayaka, and Hieu for the first time. We went straight away to Onosaki, and I successfully made a fool of myself saying I wasn't even aware there's a Foreign Studies University in Kyoto (where all four of them are studying at, and where Quentin teaches). Awkwardness, check.

We arrived in Onosaki just a little past lunch break, to be greeted with general cheers of joy. Well it was cheers for food which had finally arrived back, but ey, cheers of joy is cheers of joy. Plus, it was totally an honest mistake on Quentin's part who had forgotten to take out that day's portion of rice out of the car before he left to pick the new comers and me.

And so lunch commenced and rounds of introduction were in order. Taking break from restoring a house where an elderly couple live are Douglas whom I've met the last time I was there; Heidi, Quentin's wife; Tadg and Brigdet; Shina-san whom I've met as well; Aki, Rob, and of course Sheila who greeted me with, "You wellies stealer!" at the first instance she saw me. Guilty as charged.

After lunch, there was simply too many hands to work on a house's restoration and clean up so a group of us, me included, went with the RQ group at the far end of Onosaki, collecting and sorting the debris near a badly damaged warehouse. Heavy lifting stuff! Rancid driftwoods! Humongous logs! Muck! Mire! The finest physical work volunteering can offer.

While the area is generally cleared up, the work was nowhere near finished when the high tide started to encroach on the bay and slowly cutting us off from the main road. And so we called it a day and head back to the house restoration work.

At this point I wished I remember the house owners' name. At the Hamahata's residence, what I do remember is that they have this beautifully crafted old bonsai that they are quite proud of. And that they are one of very few people who chose to return to their old residence at Onosaki. I vaguely remember Rob told us that they would have been living there while reconstruction is ongoing if it weren't proscribed by the authority.

On one of those nights when we volunteers ponders what would happen to these rapidly depopulated hamlets post reconstruction and why would anybody be wanting to return to ravaged areas, we'd end up acknowledging the fact that the people who will choose to stay have had their whole lives in these places. There was the land they were born, the land where their ancestors are buried, where they had toiled in the soil and next to the seas where they had cast their nets.

There was their whole history.

As was witnessed by the bonsai tree.

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