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The Diary: June 3 – 4

June 20, 2011

June 5–morning

Awake at 2:20 a.m., bladder about to burst and the headache that began last night still there and getting worse. There are two, sometimes three, snorers sawing away on the men’s side of the curtain, a sonata on the theme of dissonance. On the women’s side, all is quiet, but little blue or green cell phone message lights flash here and there around the room. There are 92 of us packed in here elbow to elbow, foot to head. I am far from the door and cannot imagine how I could get to the door without stepping on someone’s face, so resolve to tough it out till dawn. I insert earplugs against the cacophonous concert, and try to settle down again.

Impossible. Images of the previoius 36 hours play out in short clips like trailers from a movie.

June 3: The long overnight bus ride, with its multiple stops, the final one in a gray dawn at a deserted shopping mall. The country road approaching Ishinomaki, rippled and cracked in many places from the quake. The briefing, sitting near the independent relief workers’ campground at Senshu University in the hot sun, downwind of the portable toilets.

Arrival at our home for the week on the morning of June 4. It is the ground floor of the Kasuka Fashion factory–restored to usable condition by Peaceboat in exchange for free use of it. The confusion of trying to secure a sleeping spot in one very crowded room and a space for gear in another. Dressing in all that safety gear for the first time–it seemed to take forever. The first of the daily pep talks by “Ted,” the head of the Ishinomaki operation.

My teammates are Claire, Eric, Erica, Andria, and Rene, and our leader and interpreter is Michito. With members from 6 different countries, suffice to say that we are a truly international team. We get our first assignment: cleaning the yard and outbuildings of Takahashi-san’s house just around the corner. In spite of a late start, we manage to clear out a mountain of mixed debris and shovel out a 10-centimeter layer of dirt and sludge from a large shed, separating out hundreds of shards of glass as we go. We take regular and welcome breaks, as it is backbreaking labour and even the fittest of us are feeling the pain. As we walk to and from the site, we eye the neighborhood. The inundation point shows clearly on every building that remains standing– almost 3 meters. Debris has been mostly removed from the streets, but the houses, gardens, and empty lots are still full of it.

At the end of the day, we have a cursory “spongebath”–no soap allowed–cook a meal from camp food pouches, and in my case, turn in early. Despite a slight headache and all the noise around me, I quickly fall asleep.

Now, in the early morning hours, my headache grows steadily worse, and my bladder can no longer be ignored. In the darkness I thread my way through the maze of sleeping bodies. Working hard to keep my balance but slipping on the plastic-covered floor mats, I try to purchase a toe-hold between the bodies, bags, and paraphernalia without harming anyone, but to my chagrin–and theirs–am not always successful. I find aspirin in my bag in the common room, don my head lamp, and then make my way to the toilets outside. It is pleasantly cool and misty, and very dark. There is still no electricity in this block, though I can see street lamps further down the road.

Back in bed, I write, as there is to be no more sleeping. There will be a rush for the kitchen at 6:00, and we have morning warmup exercises in the yard at 7:45, after which our workday begins again.

Takahashi house–cleanup in progress

Crew takes a break

Takahashi house after cleanup

The bags we filled--sludge and debris

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