This past Saturday we returned from a week of volunteering with Peace Boat in Ishinomaki. Devastated by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, Ishinomaki presents another facet of the disaster. These days the majority of media attention focuses on the Daiichi Power Plant and Fukushima Prefecture's efforts to emerge from that radioactive shadow. Yet, what's not covered is the continuing struggle of Tohoku's coastal communities - large and small alike - to emerge and rebuild.
What we saw was both uplifting and heart-breaking, and I struggle to wrap my mind around it all much less find the words to describe it in a meaningful way to others.The water forced its way into each and every home and business without exception, and left behind a jumbled mass of debris large and small. Many buildings have been cleared and cleaned, but many more remain broken and jumbled. Trees stand mostly dead with branches still full of debris, and the landscape is mostly barren of life. I have never seen such devastation, and try as I might I cannot imagine the fear of that moment. And I cannot imagine the grief permeating the lives of those left behind to shovel and shift debris, to forge ahead on the edge of a sea that can be as generous as it can be vicious. The best I could do was add my back to the thousands of others trying to push the region forward to some kind of stability, some kind of normality. It didn't feel like enough, but I know it made a difference to a few.
What I did see, though, that made me smile were the gardens. On empty lots where homes once stood, next to tsunami bent rebar still clutching bits of cement, or in front of homes with blue tarps for windows were vegetables and flowers. Planted to reestablish a sense of normalcy while residents wait to find out if the government will allow them to return, the gardens removed a very thin layer of the helplessness and hopelessness filling their lives since March. My guess is that a homegrown cabbage never tasted so good.
Volunteer or donate with a well-organized effort committed to the long-term redevelopment of the community and region.