Today we woke up in Morioka and made our departure for the coast by 10AM. Just before noon we pulled into Ofunato and when to the temporary housing area in the small fishing port of Nochinoiri, on the north side of Ofunato bay. We set up our BBQ gear again and spent the afternoon serving hamburgers and connecting with the residents. There are about 160 people living in this cluster of temporary housing but many of them are gone during the day for work. We ended up serving about 100 meals and they went quickly. We served a few elementary and Jr. High kids and mostly elderly people.
As a team we always have to deal with certain issues when holding events like this. How can we efficiently work together as a team? What’s the best way to strike up conversations with local residents? How can we come in as strangers and actually help them build community among themselves? And there are lots more questions similar to those.
My overwhelming impression at today’s event was that the local residents seemed to know the answers to those questions better than we do. When we got there we were quickly trying to assign jobs and make sure everyone had something to do. But from the moment we got there a group of men were sitting nearby and and as soon as we got started the lady in charge told us, “Those men want to help”. So we invited them over and they knew exactly what to do with the fire, getting the charcoal going. Soon the coals were glowing, the meat was sizzling and it was time for burgers.
Another area of uncertainty is always, “How do we approach these people and enable them to open up?” In reality the local residents were often the ones who approached us. An elderly man came up to me and began “reminding” me that in some places after the tsunami it was the U.S. navy that showed up to help before anyone else. He was so impressed and just wanted to express his thanks.
At another table a group of elderly women were trying to figure out how to eat a hamburger. Young people in Japan have all eaten many McDonalds hamburgers but it’s entirely possible that for some of these elderly folk in a rural location this was their first experience with a hamburger. A couple of them were trying to eat them with chopsticks. How’s that for an awkward moment for a foreign volunteer. After all, how do you tell someone twice your age how to eat their food without sounding condescending? But right a way one of the Japanese volunteers who works at the temporary housing area jumped in and started showing the whole group of elderly ladies how to eat a hamburger. Not only was it not awkward, pretty soon she had all of them posing for a photo as they ate their hamburgers! Everyone thought it was fantastic!
If there is one group that might be characterized as “shy” in Japan it might be Jr. High girls. So imagine our surprise when two of them showed up at the BBQ and immediately started chatting and laughing with these strange foreigners. They were so friendly, so cheerful and so outgoing that everyone of our staff who interacted with them were blessed. Pretty soon they were trading songs with our staff on iphones. They are best friends and recalled how they had ran up the same hill together to get away from the incoming waves that swept away their homes and almost everything they owned. And yet one girl told me with a beaming smile that she and her family are now living in a new home that they rebuilt in the same location. I asked her if it isn’t scary and she happily replied, “Maybe a little, but it’s home!”
I hope our smiles and warm food were an encouragement to these people who have been through so much. But one thing I know for sure; their smiles and friendliness were a huge encouragement to all of us. We hope for an opportunity to visit them again in the next couple of days and appreciate your prayers and thoughts!
For more photos visit my gallery.