Emma Pierce – No Day But Today

With Silver week came another opportunity to volunteer with PeaceBoat for a weekend in Ishinomaki.  Much like the July trip, we went up with the British Chamber of Commerce (BCCJ), slept on the bus two nights, and stayed at the same shelter.

It was nice returning to the city a third time.  Each time the progress is more visible; each time the work becomes a little more positive.  This time, we worked for two days clearing rubble from the shore, so that the residents could finally enjoy their beach again. A city bus driver took us from the shelter down to the coast.

The work day began with the morning taiso exercises as usual.

Much like hauling wheelbarrows of mud, this work took a lot of strength. The logs and pieces of debris were large at first.  Working as a team, we passed the splintered wood and shattered plastic up the beach stairs in sections.  At the top, everything was tossed over the edge into an endless trash pile.

So much rubble had built up in places, we had to be careful for our own safety.  Once – trying to work quickly –  I got too close to some other volunteers who were hauling a heavy log.  When they swung it onto the pile, it came smashing back down onto my foot.  Fortunately, I was only bruised.  Other boards had many nails and broken bits of fiberglass.  I was lucky.

Later on, as the larger items were cleared away, the work became a little less physically intense.  Some of the volunteers and I went out to the edge of the shore, picking up small things from the sand.  A million little plastic caps, medical items, poly-foam, pill bottles, children’s toys, and things that couldn’t even be identified filled our white burlap sacks.  Some things we found made us sad, other things – we were simply baffled at how they could have even ended up there.  With the sea roaring and the sun beating down, it was easy to get lost in the endless collection of it all.  Looking up, we were surprised how far we had drifted from the group.  Where had it all come from? What was the story here?

For lunch breaks, our bus driver was kind enough to have the bus waiting so we could escape the sun.  Tying plastic bags to our boots, we stepped on the bus to enjoy our mid-day onigiris that were provided for the volunteers.  The inside walls of the bus had become a museum of graffiti.  Japanese and English messages scattered everywhere, we could see the short but detailed history of all the volunteers who had shared this ride for months before us.  Some of them had been on teams to rid houses of dust mites, others – more cleaning crews.  Many of the messages were positive words of hope for the locals, messages of encouragement, or else simply stating things how they were.  The one message that stands out in our minds – as we rode and ate on that same bus for two days – scribbled across the back wall read, “No day…but today.”

The second day, we worked on the side of the beach that was half flooded; it was a bit messier work here, requiring more hauling. As we saw the beach finally looking like a beach again, we became frantic to finish and bask in the end product of our labor.

By the end of it, our boots were filling with the stagnant water and our gloves were drenched.  Some of the volunteers had to go splash themselves in the ocean to clean off.  The sun, lower in the sky, made out last glance at the sea worth it.  Almost a beach again, we all hoped the locals could finally feel more comfortable wandering down to the shore.  It was the least we could do to ease their long and painful journey, rebuilding their relationship with the sea again.

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