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The Diary: June 5

June 5–evening

Today’s work was hard, not because of the work but because of the difficulty of having to decide what the work really was.  We are sent to a small children’s park to finish the clearing work that another team started the day before.  When we arrive we are a little surprised to see that it looks finished. It is bare of everything except sandy dirt and a few scraggly bits of grass, and the surface is fairly even.  A closer look reveals stones–lots of them–and many shards of glass. As we dig around, we find clumps of toxic sewage sludge as well, and then begin to wonder: is this really a job for amateurs with a few shovels and brooms? To be really safe for children to play in, shouldn’t the park be scraped down 40 or 50 centimeters and fresh soil be laid? With these doubts, we do our best to remove all the glass shards, wash the sand off the steps and leave.

The afternoon was no less confusing. Asked to clear salty sand and toxic sludge from the surface of Sakurada-san’s  vegetable garden, we diligently dig in. The people already working there have dug out too much, we were shown, so we take off only a couple of centimeters. Well, that is no good, either, as it doesn’t take into account the uneven distribution of the deposits left by the tsunami. With a sigh, we begin again… Not long after, Sakurada-san, a calligraphy teacher, brings us ice cream, so we take a break and listen to his story of March 11. He was in Sendai shopping, but his family was at home and got trapped on the second floor by the tsunami. It took 3 days for the water to recede to knee level, and in the meantime they had no food or drinking water and there were no diapers for the baby in the house. They put a sign in their second-floor window: SOS–water, diapers. He points to the window above; the sign is still there. Finally on the third day they were rescued in boats by the Ground Self Defense Force.

He points to the swath of land across the street, where only a dense patchwork of low concrete foundations stands, saying that houses once stood there but they were swept off their foundations and floated away. Sakurada-san, while waiting for his house to dry out enough to start cleaning and repairs, now sleeps at his workplace, and during the day goes around helping out neighbours.

After a physically and mentally exhausting day I have only enough energy for a quick wash and cold supper before turning in around 8:30.

The start of our day--warmup exercises

The problematic park

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