High fives

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My first project back was in Rikuzentakada, working in the rice fields, which i worked on once before. We hauled debris out of the fields last time (the project was called Field of Dreams) but this time the seven of us went digging for the drainage ditches that were buried far under the debris and mud. It was a super muddy job, made even worse by the two rain pours. I couldn’t have been muddier if I were getting a mud pack! Repeatedly unsticking my boots from the quicksand-like mud has left me with very sore legs now.

In the fields, we were actually surrounded by a team of 100 Japanese men from Japan Agriculture something-or-another, volunteering from across the country.  For most of the day, there was not much interaction. We worked on our section of the drainage (which we never actually found under the mud) and they spread out and worked on other parts. They took their breaks by their bus, we ate our lunch on the side of the field.  Then, in between the two rain pours, a few Japanese guys working near us found a big piece of debris in their mud. They were groaning and putting their weight in it, trying to pull it out, so our team lead Vinnie went over to lend a hand. It took them more digging and several more pulls to dig out that big piece of iron netting-looking thing, but when it came out, I heard the guys go “wow he’s strong!!” and laugh appreciatively. Then they asked Vinnie to join them for tea-time :)

I have seen this scene play out many times during my time in Ofunato. An individual or group of Japanese people would be around us, but not until we have joined together to pick up a big piece of crap or tear down a whole freakin’ wall would we actually come together as a team beyond the language barrier. And it happens, usually because the Japanese guys start cracking up at how strong (they use the word “powerful”) the All Hands members are. “Sugoi!” they would say. Over and over.

I enjoy watching these moments. I know that a lot of these Japanese folks are slightly intimidated by the foreign “force” that shows up, because of the perceived language barrier. It definitely exists, but it can be overcome because we are working, physically, on the same cause. Seeing Vinnie and one of the guys high-five in the mud was the highlight of my day.

Departure

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Car, plane, plane, bus, train, bus. 36 hours total. I’m on the second plane of this long trip, with only 3 hours until landing. I always tell people I love the 14 hour flight. It’s my chance to sit down with a book (nook!) and snacks, see a movie if I want, and sleep. Perhaps because of the chaotic last few weeks, I have pretty much slept the first 11 hours so far.

And what a month it was…! I am a social person, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as social as I was the last two weeks since I started telling friends about my departure. As I sit and reflect on it all – and finally being able to do so without sobbing, now that Japan is a few hours away and reality is settling in, I feel blessed and inspired by what I experienced.

Many whom I connected with over the last month have told me that I was inspiring. What I know is that it’s me who got inspired. The two big surprise parties, the lunches, dinners, lunches and more dinners every day, coffees, “meetings”, emails, phone calls, facebook posts, texts… Old friends and new, even friends who’s names I never knew (like my salsa friends who I see every weekend… names are not necessary to feel a connection!) sent me off with kind and encouraging words. So many people took the time to think of me. Little ol’ me.

Sure, it’s a fairly big move. But it’s not anything unheard of. My friend DJ who I met in Ofunato is now in Guatemala doing a Habitat build, and then she’s off to Georgia (the country) to do 6 more months of service with Keva. A couple dozens of people, most who have no prior ties to Japan, were there in Ofunato when I got there the first time and will still be there when I return. They never stopped hauling the debris. How about those repeat volunteers going from country to country each year to help? And I know there must be people on this flight who are going to Japan or beyond on some crazy adventure. All I’m doing is going home.

It’s all about timing. I’m not too tied down to one place (being single pays off sometimes :) ) It happened to be a transition time at work. I had been saving up over the years, unsure what for, but because my financial advisor told me to :) I happened to find myself in a place in life where I can do this. That’s not so much inspiration as it is good timing. And then I experience this outpour of love from friends close and afar. How humbling!

Many friends offered to help with my move. Others asked how they can help. My friend Aurora hijacked a list of goodies to bring to the long term volunteers in Ofunato and put together a care package that I can’t wait to give to the team! I just launched a fundraising site after several friends advised me to create a way for them to be a part of this cause. Ridiculous amounts are pouring in already :o And the messages… Verbally or written, they are all so thoughtful!!! I know I surround myself with good people, but this kind of massive thoughtfulness is a reason to believe the world, despite all of it’s problems, will always be a beautiful place. Because of all the good will. Good people. Such good people.

So I don’t take lightly all the hugs and messages that I received in the last month. I stow them in my heart and will take them out to ponder over them from time to time, even way after this trip is over. I want to make my friends proud, to prove to them that their support is worth it, to return their kindness in some form of action.

The debris in Ofunato has no idea what’s coming after them…!! I’m only a bus, train and bus trip away.

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