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.