Every home has a story and all have loss, from the woman that lost her children and grand children and was ready to give up, to the senior couple that were picked off of their balcony by a black hawk helicopter, to the grandmother hiding in her closest as the flood waters closed in on her home. I cannot imagine what this deep loss attempts to do to the lives and land within its scope. This trauma, a tragedy like this, can never be overstated, written off, or ignored. But as life unfolds so does the strength of the human heart, just as the Sakura blooms in spite of the devastation so does the graciousness and love from a people torn apart.
Iâ€™ve been blessed this week to learn about the giftÂ of giving and how powerful it is. Doing a physical act without condition or pretense may be the single most powerful act each of us has to give. Today we wrapped up our last day of work, tomorrow we make our way back to Tokyo. My team was amazing. Richard, Martine, brother Joaquin, Seam, Yoko and Natsue were a dream. I have discovered a new family here in Japan.
We gave our soul to the mission and we touched the lives of many. Our hard workÂ may not haveÂ made a dent in the devastation but our ears, hearts, commitment and the stories willÂ hopefully resonate with those we have met and those whom we will share these moments. From time to time this week, we were asked to give well wishes and thoughts to the people of Tohoku and one of those moments, brought me to tears. With her giving hand she wrote â€œJust when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a beautiful butterfly.â€ -Nadine
The people of Ishinomaki amaze me daily and deserve all the assistance the world has to offer. From randomly dropping off cold drinks and food as we worked, to their daily wishes of â€œOtsukaresama desuâ€ (â€œYour tired, but thank you for your workâ€) by my account, they are already butterflies.
With the end of Golden week in Japan, the amount of volunteers has fallen drastically. Peace Boat needs your support, finically and physically alike. The need has never been greater and the people more deserving. Please consider these possibilities, if you have questions Iâ€™ve become a great resource. This is an opportunity that only happens a few times in your life. Please jump, and I promises a net will appear.
Sending love to the butterfly of Japan,
A quote that has never more meaning for me, I hope it resonates with you.
â€œOur deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.â€
Everyday, when we walk to our assignments we are greeted with the sameÂ bundle of words from all of the locals. Otsukaresama desu. For the first few days I did not realize they were all saying the same thing. Today I asked what it meant. â€œYou are tired, but thank you for your work.â€ Writing this now, my eyes fill up with emotion and I am deeply moved.
Today we were told two stories of survivors that Peace Boat was able to help. The first story was from a woman that donated space for Peace Boat to use. When the Tsunami hit she was in her large restaurant with nowhere to go, so she went to the third floor of her building. She said she felt so hopeless as she sat at her window and watched her city wash away, person after person floating by, but there was nothing she could do. Helpless, trapped and confused. I canâ€™t imagineÂ how theÂ pain of this moment felt. When it was over she was ready to give up. She had lost friends, family, her business and all hope. Weeks later, volunteers started coming to her city with shovels and wheel barrows to start the clean up. She knew they were from Peace Boat because we all wear the same shirts. She was amaze.Â Â Just as she was ready to give up, people started coming to help. Even though her hopeÂ was beingÂ tested everyday, she still wanted to give something back.Â She donated her third story to use as an office and place to stay for Peace Boat staff. Most of us will never endure the pain that this woman has gone though, but like the Sakura that is in bloom just weeks after the flood, the strength of her heart is persevering. Her restaurant may never be a restaurant again, but she is determined to help in whatever way she can.
The next story was from a Florist. When the Tsunami warning was activated, he was able to make it to higher ground. Like many, he watched as the city was swallowed up by the wave, destroying everything in its path. He lost his shop and many of his friends. When the waters receded he was at a complete loss of hope, for so many reasons. His main concern wasÂ with how he could help the city when he could not even deliver flowers to funerals. Here is a man would felt that he had spent his entire life supplying flowers to his city, but just when the cityÂ needed his service the most, he had no way of delivering. One afternoon he offered one of the Peace Boat volunteers a flower as a token of appreciation.Â But sheÂ insisted on paying and so bought aÂ bundle in order to contribute to his recovery.
These stories are the reason I am here. Nothing Iâ€™ve ever done has felt so powerful and I canâ€™t imagine anything ever effecting me again with so much intensity and emotion. I feel blessed to be in this moment.
I am up early again, it is 5:30 a.m. and as many of you know, I have insomnia. But since arriving, I have slept like a baby. Through wind, rain, snoring, conversations and dogs barking in the distance, I have snoozed. Maybe it is the physically demanding assignments or maybe it is being unreachable for work, but whatever it is that has allowed me this rest, I feel balanced. It has been five days since I showered, my body is sore, and I canâ€™t wait to pick up a shovel and get back to work.
My hope is while reading this in your warm home staring at this screen,Â you will stop and take a minute to pray for those affected in Japan. They need it, please.Â Â If you have the resources and feel inclined, donate to a Japan based non-profit. If you need any assistance ask, as Iâ€™ve become a great resource for all of you. When you look at these pictures imagine yourself in their place. These are realities we may all share one day. If you are considering volunteering, I can put you in touch with the right contacts. They need help more than ever.
Today, we added another member to our group. Her name is Yoko, she is a sweet and quiet Japanese woman that works at the Panamanian Embassy. She had come from the embassy with her boss, to work for a few days on the Relief. I am excited to have another Japanese speaker in the group, it makes for a nice balance.
We spent the day cleaning a yard for an Ishinomaki older couple. It was covered in a toxic sludge. At this point it had mostly dried with the consistency of thick pudding that was black in color with no detectable odor. Initially, some of the group were concerned that today’s task wasnâ€™t making enough of an impact. For myself, cleaning the yard was well worth doing, if it meant happiness for even one person; one victim. Happiness has a way rippling through a community. For me, each day holds its own opportunities, from cleaning someoneâ€™s home, to collecting fish in the streets. Each mission creates its own ripple. Today, was spent making a familyâ€™s beautiful garden whole again. Yesterday, it was helping to prevent disease and tomorrow who knows.
The families are always so grateful and insist on bestowing upon us a small token of their appreciation. Today, they gave us chocolate. I always feel awkward accepting something from a person that has lost everything, but in some small way, I think it helps them too. They are such a proud and gracious people. I am amazed by their warm hearts and their desire for honor, even in the face of a tragedy like this. This experience makes me want to be a better man.
The work had been psychical, today. We shoveled sludge for nearly seven hours, but it was the kind of work in which I excel. We moved sludge at a back breaking pace. I enjoy the meditation that can be acquired during physical activity. In this case, the repitition of shoveling, the engaging of every inch of the body, allows a deep connection for me to the work I am doing.
We were only able to get through half of the yard today, but it was nice to see how the family saw our small contribution as a major improvement to their yard. We decided as a group that we would like to come back tomorrow and finish what we had started.
Right now my body hurts and I smell awful. It is cold and windy, but I feel truly fulfilled. Because of the language barrier, I only understand fragments of what people are saying. People’s faces provide a universal language of gratitude and humility on both our parts. These are the moments you cherish in life. I feel blessed to have this experience, to find a way to live in this moment, to the fullest.
Peace boat is asking that volunteers consider staying for an additional week. I wish that I could, but bills call and I have not worked in weeks. I dream of staying longer. It is all so complicated. I do know though, that this is the beginning of a lifelong journey of service and I will be back to Ishinomaki to help again.
Iâ€™d rather sit in a hot port-o-potty than endure the smell of cleaning up rotting fish.Â Now, with that said, today was a long day.Â I started at 4:30 a.m., sunrise. Â I promised that I would make everyone pancakes today. When I awoke I was greeted to 30 mph winds which had scattered tents, laundry and debris everywhere. So I rallied, and rounded up all of my ingredientsfor making pancakes and set off to an extra tent for international volunteers.Â There, I made my futile attempt to make semi-edible pancakes, severed with maple syrup and peanut butter.Â Â I was greeted with many â€œOshi Desuâ€ (it tastes good.)Â Â I think they were being nice, but it was wonderful bringing everyone together to share a meal.
At breakfast Joaquin was convinced that it was much too windy and dangerous to work today, I assured him that everything would be o.k. and we should continue to try and make an impact wherever it was necessary.Â We just needed to make sure that all of our tents were secure and everything was stowed away.
At 7:30 a.m. we headed out for our daily meeting and exercise.Â The wind was picking up and even more as the sun rose.Â Many more people were up at this point and realizing that their tents were flat and their belongings were blowing about.Â They scurried around trying to stake down and cover all of their belongings.Â For whatever reason, I feel more comfortable in these conditions than most.Â Every year, I go camping in the desert.Â We always have a few days of wind much stronger than the mischief that the weather was giving us that day.Â So, I welcomed the old friend.
At the end of our meeting we were given our assignment: we would be working in a fishing town called Ibarazu and cleaning up the dead fish that were strewn all over the city from the local fish processing factory.Â It was hard to fathom at the time what this actually meantâ€¦until we started collecting.
We loaded up on buses and set off for the 30 minute bus ride.Â When we entered the city it was clear that Ibarazu was hit even harder than the section of Ishinomaki that we were working in previously.Â Cars were hanging from trees, upside down, in buildings and even on top of buildings.Â It was a ghost town.Â We saw military and aid workers, but very few locals.Â I was a bit shell shocked by the devastation and the smell that permeated from the area.
We were given maps with sections of the city to work in, along with wheelbarrows, shovels and burlap bags to collect the fish.Â It is hard to imagine a fishing plant large enough to strew fish across an entire city but as the day moved on, the reality of that possibility became clear.Â The smell was horrendous; five week old melting, rotting, maggot filled fish carcasses were everywhere.Â They fell apart when you grabbed them and were too slippery to stay hoisted on a shovel.Â Â Some were in boxes, some inside bags, most just strewn about. They were in any place you could think of: cars, under cars, on sidewalks, hanging from trees and in big piles of trash along the road.Â It was like a smelly Easter egg hunt, but the eggs were too easy to find and you were not as excited to find a good one.
I brought menthol, Vickâ€™s vapor rub, to put on my nose under my mask.Â This was not the most glamorous task, truth be told, and I wouldnâ€™t wish this on my worse enemy.Â But I wasnâ€™t there for the glamor.
I think I was most impressed with Richard; he seamed to have no reaction to the stench.Â By the end of the day I was referring to him as the Fish Pit-Bull. Richard would just dive in and grab fish like he was as at sushi bar!Â For me, as the day went on it didnâ€™t get any easier.Â Somehow it just got worse.Â When we came close to done with our task, I came across the most fowl smelling box of fish on the planet.Â When I picked it up the box tore apart and shot maggots all over my rubber gloves, then came the hot rotting stench that I may never forget.Â My stomach decided that was enough.Â I begged Joaquin to remove my mask as he had his gloves off already.Â As soon as he did I started dry heaving, and then I lost my cookies.Â I made my way up the embankment that we were working next to, but it seemed I couldnâ€™t escape that smell.Â The hot wind blue the stench right back to me.Â For the next fifteen minutes I fought to contain myself.Â When I recovered, it was back to work.Â Vickâ€™s, you failed me.
At the end of the day we were told that our group of 60 people recovered 10 tons of fish in one day.Â It was unbelievable and rewarding.
Today, I felt the most powerful earthquake so far.Â Until this point, it has just been a little wiggle here and there, but this evening we experienced a 4.9 with the epicenter very close.Â I know this isnâ€™t much by most Japanese standard, but it did throw my heart into action.
Today was emotionally powerful for me.Â But in the end I feel that we enabled some amazing change to occur.
We were dispatched to assist in the cleanup of a government building as well as a womanâ€™s home in the relief area.Â Today began at 7:30 a.m. with our daily meeting followed by group exercise.Â Yes, group exercise.Â In Japan, older blue collar workers and labor intensive companies participate in group exercise.Â It is so foreign to me, this ritual, but I really enjoy it.Â I rely on the person in front of me, as a model, for the morning poses.Â Since there are many of us in the same boat for that matter, it is always a gamble as to whether or not anything effective will be accomplished.Â I am often one move behind the entire group.Â This act allows me a tender awkwardness, like being a child again.
After our meeting our shuttle took us to Eye Plaza.Â From there we began our walk.Â The streets were eerily quiet, they sky a deep gray, and there was a slight chill in the air as we made our way.Â The longer I am here, the larger the devastation seems to appear.Â I am starting to realize that we are only on the fringe of the destruction.Â We are in the area that has â€œsurvived.â€Â Many buildings are completely destroyed.Â Rubble, debris and peoples’ belongings are heaped in a haunting architecture, everything from appliances to books, furniture to children’s toys.Â And in the end, all of this will go to the dump.Â It seems less than fitting or respectful to the personâ€™s life, but a necessary evil at this point.
As we made our way through the train station, I was struck by the presence of hundreds of bikes.Â Many people bike to the station and catch the train to their next destination, so there are large bike parking lots everywhere.Â The odd thing was that very few of the bikes had been moved since the quake.Â Hundreds of chains were slowly collecting dust, the rust layering their skeletons.Â I canâ€™t help but imagine a lost soul for each one of these bicycles; tombstones of sorts.
My heart sinks and my eyes fill with everything.
When we arrived to the government building we were asked to move tatami mats and clean the floors.Â The large space felt more like a church than a government building.Â We were given brooms, mops and a high-pressure washer.Â This section had restored electricity and water.
The hard wood floors had buckled and the room was a wreck.Â We were assigned two other teams to work with because the project was so overwhelming.Â The men made quick work of the tatami mats, shuttling them to the street while the others started on the floors.Â It was amazing to see what the will of these teams will accomplish in a short amount of time.Â Everyone worked extremely hard, no one complained about the job at hand.Â We worked in unison as a team with a common goal.Â It felt amazing and within a couple hours we had made a huge impact.Â Our leaders asked that the groups break into smaller units as there was still so much more to do in the rest of the city.
Our second assignment was to assist a single older woman in cleaning her home.Â She was only a few blocks away but had no running water or electricity, nearly six weeks after the quake.Â Peace boat had already dispatched to her home prior to our groups arrival and had done an amazing job. Â We were asked to help her continue the work they started, beginning with scrubbing the floors.Â We were given rags and pales and begun to clean on our hands and knees.Â We had to walk around the block to a school where the military was dispensing the water we needed.
I canâ€™t express how amazing it feels to know that what youâ€™re doing in that moment will affect someoneâ€™s life.Â Iâ€™ve never cleaned and worked so hard.Â I wanted the job to be perfect.Â Â While we were working she brought us drinks, I was moved by her generosity.Â This woman had lost everything but she still felt the desire to bring us tokens of her appreciation.Â As we worked Natuse had a conversation with the woman.Â When Natuse returned I could tell she was moved by the womanâ€™s words.Â Natuse shared the womanâ€™s story with me, later in the day.
This woman lost her daughter and two grand children right before the quake to a car accident.Â She was ready to give up, then the earthquake ripped through her life, destroying her home and killing three more family members.Â Just this thought brings me to tears.Â When we were done she kept thanking us and bowing.Â She was embarrassed by the lacking of color in her hair, but kept lowering her head to us anyway.Â In her excitement and gratitude for our work, she started to break off branches of a Sakura tree (cherry blossom) and handed them to us.Â I was overwhelmed.Â I felt like this was one of the only things left that she had.Â Something sacred, something that was beautiful and complete.Â And she gave them to us.Â We had to beg her to stop, and everyone was in tears.Â We captured a few moments with her in photograph, and left with our cherry blossoms.
Just as we were almost back to eye plaza we were stopped by a woman with a large bandage on her thumb.Â She thanked us for our hard work and asked us where we were from.Â When she realized I was from California she started crying.Â She said that the doctor who had arrived to help her and many of her friends, were from California.Â While I had no idea who this man was, it was obvious the impact he had made on this womanâ€™s life.Â I did not want her to see me cry so I thanked her and quickly moved along.Â Once out of sight I made my way to the port-o-potty and lost it.Â These women had lost so much but were still so gracious, so willing to hope and find joy.
I have been able to keep it together until this point, but today has changed me forever.Â I know that in this moment, right now as I write this, I am in precisely the right place.Â I have never been so fulfilled.
Last night, we arrived to Ishinomaki, ten bus loads of volunteers strong, the scale of the relief is astounding.Â We are only a small portion of the NGOs working in this area and I am told many more are still needed. This week has reached its peak for volunteers.Â It is Â â€œGolden Weekâ€ here, a yearly vacation time for Japan.Â So, for many Japanese, itâ€™s the only time of the year they can get off from work to help.
We took an overnight bus from Shinjuku, Tokyo, setting off at 9:15 p.m., traveling through the night and arriving to the campsite at 8 a.m.Â Apparently, we stopped every few hours, but I slept though the entire trip.Â Â Thank you, sleeping pills.
It feels good to finally have my boots on the ground.Â Itâ€™s been a bit of a whirlwind but Iâ€™ve made it and it feels invigorating to know we will be getting to work very soon.
This morning we set up our tents at a college track field.Â It was a bit strange to see students doing their morning training while we made our small homes in preparation for the week.Â By 11 a.m. we were in our first meeting and by 1 p.m. we were working.Â Peace boat is running this mission with the efficiency and preparation of a military operation.
Our small group consists of our team leader, Natuse, Joaquin from Spain, Richard from the UK-Australia, Martin from Guatemala and myself.Â As we drove into the city from our encampment making our way to our assignment, we had our first glimpse into the scale of the devastation.Â Homes and business were completely washed away.Â Piles of trash, dirt, and peoplesâ€™ belongings were everywhere, filling every square inch of free space, stacked ten feet high.Â Boats scattered the roads, but oddly with no sight of water.
Itâ€™s shocking and I am not sure how to feel.Â The images are surreal.Â Coasting by us, in a bus propelled film strip.
We made it to our meeting point in the center of the city, the place is called Eye Plaza.Â From here we broke up into our teams and deployed to our work sights.Â We were given our assignment and started our walk to the specific home where we would be doing our work.Â The first day consisted largely of moving Tatami Mats.Â Â These are 4 x 7 straw floor mats which are 3 to 4 inches thick.Â They make up the traditional flooring of many of the homes in Japan.Â They are beautiful maps of a familyâ€™s life.Â Unfortunately, when they get wet they are ruined and extremely heavy, my guess is nearly 200 pounds each.Â We were asked to carry approximately 30 of them 150 yards to the street for disposal.Â As a group, we worked together to move these beasts to a wheel barrow to shuttle them to the road.
It has becomes clear that this is going to be a very physical week, but I only find joy in that idea.
Once we were finished the owners asked us to come into the house to help them with another project.Â Entering a Japanese personâ€™s home is very unique and very much unlike the west.Â The Japanese culture tends to be more private.Â They welcomed us in and asked that we assist in removing some drawers from cabinets that had swelled from the water and were stuck in their places.Â I felt awful that I had to resort to using a crowbar to loosen the cabinets, but it had to be done.Â When the drawers were removed, we discovered they were full of rancid black water from the floods.Â It was devastating to see the trauma on the familyâ€™s faces.Â Their home was slowly being reduced to ruin, remnants of what it once was.
When we were done, they thanked us profusely.Â We all bowed and I left wishing that there was more that we could do.Â As we walked back to Eye Plaza, it became even clearer that each house we passed had the same need, the same loss.Â Each person, possessed a story, which I could not even begin to imagine.
I pray we can make some difference while we are here.
The rest of my preparation list was very short but proved to be a bit of a struggle to complete.Â The city proves, time and time again, to be just as complex, if not more than I had expected.Â Today, I went in search of a store called Bic Camera.Â I walked up eight flights of stairs looking for cameras, only to find floor after floor of appliances and electronics, but no cameras.Â After the treasure trove of gadgets, I finally discovered that the cameras were in the basement.Â All in a days work.Â Iâ€™m taking it all in stride, it is part of the adventure.
Today I also visited a museum in Roppongi Hills, called the .Â I love this gallery.Â It is situated on the 53rd floor which provides spectacular views of the city.Â At this point, I have been here a few times and find I love sitting at the window, soaking it all in.
Art is my drug. I always feel so energized and inspired after leaving this museum.Â Â If you ever make it to Tokyo, donâ€™t miss this place, you wonâ€™t regret it.
Tokyo is remarkably resilient. At first glace everything seems quite normal. If I had not been here a few times before Iâ€™m not sure that Iâ€™d recognize the differences. Tokyo has to be one of the best lit cities in the world; even at half power it appears intensely bright. The effect of the recent events can be seen in the in the new dim of the city. The escalators and trams are non-functioning while many of the stores appear to be closing much earlier than I remember.
But life continues, and everyone seems to be on there way somewhere and in a hurry. This densely populated city is filled with the warmest, most polite and considerate people that Iâ€™ve met anywhere in my travels. Maybe that is why Iâ€™m here? That question seems to be coming up a lot lately.
When 9/11 happened I was on the west coast 3000 miles from danger. What struck me was the outpouring of support that immediately followed from my international friends. This event became one of those pivotal moments in life, for me. They all reached out to me, in one form or another to make sure I was alright and to wish me words of encouragement. I was overwhelmed. There gestures meant so much to me.
Through travel, maybe it becomes clearer that our planet is not as large as we perceive it to be. Maybe we learn that we are all not so different? As a global society we all share universal values. We all want love from our family, safety, and a better life for our children. Sometimes its easy to dismiss anotherâ€™s suffering when it is observed from a distance.
So I guess that is why I am here, to let the people of Japan know that they are not alone, that what happens in one part of the world deeply affects us all. Iâ€™m only one individual with two hands and my physical efforts will make little difference in this massive devastation, but I hope my heart will.
Today, Natsue and her husband picked me up by car and we went shopping in Tokyo.Â The city of Tokyo is immense and the language barrier is incredibly challenging.Â I am certain that I would never have been able to get what I needed without them.Â They were amazing, leading me to the perfect stores that sold the most items on my list.Â I got almost everything I needed and I am so grateful for their assistance.Â I bought gloves, mats, boots, rain gear, towels, tea kettles, carts, and the list goes on and on.Â I wish Peace boat would have provided me with this list before my departure, but such is life.Â By the time we were done it was nearly nine in the evening and my jetlag had kicked in.Â Â They dropped me off at my host apartment.Â I placed my things near my bed and proceeded to pass out with my clothes on.Â I guess I was a bit exhausted.