the BIG CLEAN – Kesennuma Field Report

Group shot!

May 21, 2011 – A small group of determined ALTs left Akita in the rainy early morning with hopes of better weather in Kesennuma.  Lucky for us it turned out to be a beautiful day on the other side of the mountains, and it was a perfect day for volunteering!  We joined up with three other foreigners and two Japanese volunteers to make “Team International.” Our project for the day was cleaning out a lady’s rented apartment. The surrounding area was completely clean, and when we got out of the car our first question was, “Did the tsunami even come here?” The pachinko parlor across the street was up and running business as usual and the neighboring shops were all clean. However, we walked in the apartment and quickly realized that yes, we were in the disaster zone.

Water line

Everything in the apartment was covered in a layer of mud, and the tatami mats that had been pulled up and thrown around by the tsunami had molded in the two months since the disaster. The lady asked us to throw everything out, so we got to work moving out the furniture and bagging up everything else. The worst part of the day came when we were shoveling up the mud and discovered the large pile of fish the tsunami had deposited in a corner.  We worked through it though, and were able to have the apartment entirely cleaned out by early afternoon. By the time we finished, the trash pile outside was enormous.  The big furniture had to be relocated to a nearby park to make room for all the other things we brought out, and a special garbage truck came by to pick it up after we left.  Since the apartment was a rental the lady asked us not to throw the tatami mats out, but instead to put them back in. They were caked in mud and molded, but she was afraid the landlord would be upset if they were thrown out. We did as she asked, but the mats are definitely NOT safe to ever use again.

When we said goodbye to our friends at the Volunteer Center they asked if anyone from “Team Akita” would be coming the next day. They are looking forward to our visits, and I am definitely looking forward to returning!

– Ashley

Inside the apartment

After shot


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