Sunday, April 10, 2011

My Experience Up North

Almost 2 weeks ago, I was a part of a 5-person team that went up into the Sendai area to help with relief efforts.  Our main role during this trip was to help distribute food and supplies. I am finally ready to put to paper (okay computer) some of the stories from my trip.
For most of the time up there, I felt like I was walking on a movie set. Living most of my life in the Midwest, I found it hard to wrap my head around the reality of the situation.  What I was seeing was a far cry from cornfields and soybeans.  Houses inside stores, buildings on top of buildings, cars inside houses, cars wrapped around poles, a ship in the road. Stuff was everywhere it shouldn't be.  The smell of stagnant seawater and fish was overwhelming.  It was all so surreal.  
So instead of thinking about the total devastation around me, I concentrated on the people we were there to help. Our main focus was to work with those who are not in evacuation centers. Those who have remained living in their homes, local areas or abandoned buildings.  These are the people who seem to have slipped through the cracks as far as receiving aid.  In the morning we went to the warehouse and loaded up the vehicles with food and supplies. Then we worked with other teams and went to the Ishinomaki area to set up several drop stations. 
At these drop stations we set up blue tarps and placed food and supplies on them for people to choose from. We then spoke with people in the area and asked them to help spread word that we were there with supplies and food.  You could tell during these drop offs which areas had not been visited in a long time as those people seemed more desperate for supplies and food items.  
The people were just completely amazing. You still saw people joking and laughing through their tears and their fears. We took candy in our pockets and passed them out to the children and it was wonderful watching their faces light up with the sight of a small piece of candy.  Then you saw the parents smile because their children were smiling. I was playing with a little boy, who happened to be the same age as my youngest daughter. We were playing keep away with a small piece of playdough while I tried to tell him in my limited Japanese that I have a beautiful 7-year-old daughter who he may find cute.  
One woman had a hurt knee and asked if I could help her back to her living area. Along the way she was telling me how she thought she was going to die in the tsunami and how she knew God sent us here to help. When we arrived at her place she asked me to "chotto matte" (please wait). She came back a few minutes later and handed me a bag with some bread and sweets that she was saving and told me to tabette (eat) and share with my tomodachis (friends). Here was this woman with nothing and she was giving me something to say thank you. I was overwhelmed with emotion. So I hugged her. And for those who know me I am not a hugger.
At another location a woman told me it was a special day because we were there to help her. She then told me how she fears every night going to sleep that she will die.  She told me how frightened she was.  This past Thursday there was a 7.4 magnitude aftershock and her face and story haunts me. I can't imagine the fear she much have had at 11:30 pm when this large quake started and the tsunami alarms went off again.  
The other people helping were pretty amazing as well. At one location we ran out of bottled water and one elderly woman needed water to mix with the chicken rice packet we gave her. One of the other relief workers with us, a boy of only 18, went into the car and got out his backpack and handed her his own personal bottles of water from his bag. We ourselves, gave the one group of people our food for the remainder of the trip. They needed it much more than we did. 
On that Friday the US Military was working with the Japanese Special Defense Forces on a 3 day intensive search. It brought tears to my eyes (like I didn't have enough already) to see my country there helping the country I have grown to love. From what I have read, the US Forces will be there until the end of April.  
When disasters such as this one occur, it is common for people to question or ask where is God in all of this.  How can God allow so much destruction and suffering? While we were driving to where we were staying the night after our first day of helping, it was starting to rain. I looked out of the van and over to the left, and right over the seaside was a huge, beautiful rainbow. I am sure the other two people in the car thought I was a bit weird for being so excited about this rainbow. But I am one who wants to see signs.  So for me, this rainbow was a sign and a promise that God IS there. God WAS there. And God WILL CONTINUE to be there.    
I have uploaded additional pictures to my family's shutterfly account. Please know these photos are both of the devastation and of our relief efforts. You can find the photos here.  I also took several videos. One of my friends made a compilation video of some of our footage while up North. Here is the compilation video.
It will be a long time before things are rebuilt. The train lines are gone. Debris needs cleared. Water needs pumped. Cars need removed from rice fields. But I have faith that Japan will come back and be better than ever. 


Rani said...

God has placed you where He wants you, Alexis. I can imagine your brain soaking up all of this experience and creating something wonderful and amazing from it. Who knew this move would result in such a life-changing source of events? I feel so tiny and insignificant reading about your adventures from my boring midwest living room. You are creating so many amazing memories with your family. Stay safe and God Bless!

it's me, Val said...

I don't even know what to say, AJ, except that your journey to Japan hasn't been just to follow Matt as his wife, but to CHANGE PEOPLE'S LIVES. And these experiences you will bring back to the United States as a part of you are to make further changes in whatever ways God has planned (obviously He wants you for some amazing things!). I'm SO HONORED to call you my friend and doubly honored that I am a person you hug :) I love you and I'm so proud of you!

Terri said...

Agree wholeheartedly with Rani and Val (except knowing you and hugging you : ). Amazing Stuff Alexis, just amazing.