From Japan

  • mustangd

    Posts: 434

    Mar 28, 2011 4:19 PM GMT
    thought i'd pass along a correspondence i've had with a friend working in japan, his story fills in part of the human factor missing in news coverage.


    Socks....little things we take for granted

    We received an emergency request for socks from North Ibaraki City, hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami, and located only 73 km (45 mi) south of the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plants. We faced two questions: Was it safe to travel closer to the radiation, and could we justify using precious gasoline for such a long trip?
    On the first question, we checked radiation levels for the area and found them to be eight times higher than near our base in Sano -- but still safe enough for us to make a day trip into the area. Moreover, our goal is to get socks and care letters to victims and the victims can't leave the area, so if the radiation was deemed low enough to leave victims in place then it was low enough for us to make the trip. We prepared by taking gear to wear in case the levels rose, and stayed in touch by cell phone with our base office where volunteer Rumiko monitored the situation.
    On the second question, we decided to make an exception to our usual policy of operating within a short distance of our base to conserve gasoline. Due to an arrangement with a local gas station that's hidden away and closed to the public, we can get gasoline in case of emergency. We were careful to make this arrangement so we didn't take from public gasoline stocks and contribute to the crisis. The gasoline we use is not part of the public pool, and we use it judiciously. We calculated that we'd need a little less than one tank in an efficient car that's large enough to carry 2,000 pairs of socks. We didn't have that many in inventory on Monday, March 21 when we debated making the trip, but we had more than 1,000 pairs and decided the need was great enough and our ability to help sufficient enough to justify two volunteers in the field all day, one tank of gasoline, and exposure to higher levels of radiation. Here's the route from Sano to Kitaibaraki City, which means North Ibaraki City:
    Here's where Kitaibaraki is located in relation to the Fukushima nuclear plants, with our base located at the lower left near Tochigi:
    The volunteer who agreed to go with me was Yoshiko, who said she was more worried about seeing the devastation and meeting victims than she was about radiation exposure. We loaded up the car and drove past gas-station lines to the tollways we would take north, and were happy to find the tollways wide open and ready to transport supplies from NGOs and government -- our driving on the road did not hinder any transportation. Here are shots of our journey north:
    I thought news footage had adequately prepared me to see the damage done, but it had not. We spoke very little as we drove through Kitaibaraki. Yoshiko's quiet sobs were the only sound in the car as we rolled past lives ruined, through rubble where bodies recently lay, past crying people and official workers whose faces had gone stony to avoid constantly breaking down. "Focus, focus," we told ourselves, but it was awfully hard to do through this scene:
    When we arrived at city hall, workers informed us that about 40 people were staying on the second floor of that building and needed socks. They checked their maps for current demand to send us to the most needy locations. While they worked on that, we took socks to the people upstairs, past emergency signs and missing people reports posted at the entrance. Yoshiko received a radiation update by cell phone. Levels were low and we thought it rude to suit up around people living close to the reactors without suits, so we wore normal clothes and sometimes masks:
    With map in hand and shelters prioritized by need, we set out through town. Our first stop was an athletic center that had been hastily converted into housing for the recently homeless. Heaps of donated clothing lay around the gymnasium, as we expected to find, but there was not a sock among them. We carried in our boxes, arranged them by category, and announced that we'd come to distribute new socks and care letters from around the world.
    A charge of excitement rose up from the sad, stationary groups of people huddled on mats or curled up under blankets. They came over. "For us?" one asked. "Finally, socks!" another cried out, and that word spread quickly through the ranks and people began pouring in from side entrances and doorways we hadn't previously noticed.
    I wasn't sure at first how to behave. The situation seemed to demand keeping a serious face and wishing everybody well in grave battlefield tones, but that's not what these people needed. They needed joy, something colorful, some fun in an otherwise long day at a shelter with an unknown future ahead of them. Cheerful it would be, I concluded, smile in place as we explained where the socks came from and answered cute questions about how we could have so many friends, and when the last time was that I saw Makiko, one of our donors in New York City who works hard on our care letter translation page. Her photo and letter were wrapped around pairs of socks, so several people saw them and commented.
    "I've never met her, actually," I replied to bewildered looks. "We only know about each other because of this program." They wanted me to tell her that they love her socks. I wrote her the next day, "I saw your photo many times yesterday in Ibaraki, from boxes to hands and then carefully folded as a souvenir by people who were already wearing the socks you sent. It was very touching, and I thought you'd like to know about it. I can't thank you enough." She replied, "What a heartwarming anecdote. I'm deeply touched. There is nothing more poignant than to hear that the people were already wearing the socks."
    People wanted to share their stories. They told me how they'd run barefoot or in socks from their houses to escape the tsunami, which is understandable in Japan because nobody wears shoes at home. This is one reason we chose socks as our item of care. Many people asked if I'd heard anything about a friend or relative still missing. The expressions on their faces when I said I had not made me wish I'd lied. One person muttered in the background, "I'm telling you, they're all dead."
    An old man with a face stretched tight like a lizard's had fallen into a hole cracked through his house by the earthquake. Then, the tsunami hit. He couldn't pull himself free of the hole. Trapped, he knew he was going to die as the water rose up his body, over his feet then knees then thighs then waist then belly then chest. "This is it," he thought, but the water stopped. An odd calm settled across the surface of the water inside his home. Submerged in it, he gazed across the ocean in his room, motionless and numb and alone, not dead but not sure about life anymore. For two days he remained like that. The water receded and he shivered until he was dry, then shivered more in the cold. Finally, a helicopter arrived and pulled him up through a hole in the roof above him. He arrived at the shelter by himself with just the seawater-soaked clothes on his body. Everything else washed away. He asked if he could take two pairs of socks. I said he could take ten.
    That raised an issue. Should we allow people to take more than one pair? We could tell they needed them. A new pair of socks today would not be so new tomorrow, less so the next day, even less the next. It was obvious that the situation would not end soon. Is it better to take very good care of few people or pretty good care of many people? What a call. We checked the map and the time to see what we could reasonably accomplish in the day. We realized that we'd never get beyond a few shelters. The compromise we reached is th
  • FRE0

    Posts: 4834

    Mar 29, 2011 5:22 AM GMT
    Thank you for the post. It's good to know that the people are getting at least some help.