The Fruit Tree Project – Kesennuma, Day 13


June 12, 2011 – Sunday was a long day, and we used the hours to deliver ridiculously many bananas to twenty-some shelters in Kesennuma.  To begin with, Yui and I left at six in the morning.  We met up with Jon and Jez, and headed to Yokote.  Kathie was waiting for us there, and we picked her up and hopped on the expressway heading east.

There is a supermarket in Kitakami called Super Osen.  They have cheap bananas.  Very cheap.  It seems they have cheap everything, because we got there before opening hours, and maybe 50 people were lined up outside the front door.  Anyway, the doors opened, and we got our bananas.  35 boxes.  Everyone was skeptical as to whether we’d be able to fit all the bananas in our cars, but we did.  Then we hopped on the expressway again, and headed SE to Kesennuma.  When we got there, we met and planned out the adventure.  Kathie went to help Paul with his deliveries, and Jess and Rachel, two amazing Kesennuma ALTs, helped us with ours.  In the morning, we hit up Kujo Elementary School,  Kesennuma High School, K-Wave, Matsuiwa ElementarySchool, Matsuiwa Junior High School, and the Bosai Center.  K-Wave still has hundreds of residents, but several of the other shelters have decreased in numbers as people move into temporary housing or find other places to live.

In the shelters with more space, people can set up tents or cardboard walls, or use several rooms, all of which help give them a modicum of privacy — far better than everyone living together on the gym floor.  The food situation also seems to be improving.  At several shelters, people told me they were getting canned fruit once or twice a week — and on rare occasions, fresh fruit.  A month ago, in contrast, nobody said they were getting any fruit at all.  Even at the shelters where people were getting fruit from time to time, they were very happy to get a few boxes of bananas.  And as we were delivering, we ran into many of Jess’s and Rachel’s students, which was a lot of fun.

After lunch at 7-11, we headed to Hashikami Elementary School, Hashikami Junior High School, Hashikami Community Center, Niitsuki Junior High School, and Shishiori Junior High School.  At this point, we were almost out of bananas, and it was almost dinner time in any case.  Dinner time makes deliveries to shelters somewhat chaotic, and is best avoided.  Yui and I started back, and the rest of the group headed off to a final stop at Omose Junior High School.  3 hours later, we were home, safe and very tired.  I soon fell asleep and almost slept through my alarm clock the next morning.

This is the first time I’ve visited so many shelters in a day, and it’s quite interesting to see the differences.  The Bosai Center is a firestation, and part of it is now a shelter.  But the other part is a functional fire station, and there are lots of fire trucks parked outside.  Some of them have sharks painted on the back.  K-Wave is a huge community center.  We didn’t get a chance to go inside, but we walked around the outside, and there was a skate park with skateboarders working on jumps and tricks.  Hashikami Community Center is a 2-storybuilding, and the shelter is on the 2nd floor.  There are perhaps four large rooms, and because it’s on the 2nd floor, all of the rooms have decent views.  Shishiori Junior High School, our last stop of the day,was a fittingly stereotypical Japanese school.  It’s located at the top of a big hill connected to everything by a curvy narrow road which must surely be impossible to bicycle with any degree of safety.  It being a Sunday, we were lucky enough not to encounter any cyclists with whom to test this theory.  It should be noted that evacuation sites in Japan are typically used not only for immediate evacuation, but also for longer-term use.  As such, they need to have a safe location (a high location), a large space for people to sleep in (a gym, say), and a decent road for supply trucks.  I am told this is one reason that schools are on the top of hills — they already fit two of the three criteria, and being atop a hill gives them an edge on safety.  On the other hand, it may well be that when new schools are being built, people already have houses in the good low-lying areas, so the next best locations are hill tops.  It doesn’t really matter what the reasons are, because whatever they are, we’re very happy that many schools along the coast were on high ground.  It’s also good fitness training for the kids who have to walk up and down every day.

– Douglas P. Perkins

June 12, 2011 – Today was our most impressive day of fruit deliveries yet! ~5,950 bananas to 22 shelters in the Kesennuma area!  Kathie and I took my car loaded with bananas to an area west of central Kesennuma called Karakuwa.  It’s a small peninsula that has about 7 shelters scattered throughout the area.  The largest shelter housed about 90 people while the smallest housed around 16.  It’s really important for us that we try our best to focus on these areas too because in some cases theses shelters located out of the way tend to not see as much relief aid.  The situation in Karakuwa is definitely changing as well.  The temporary housing units are already starting to fill up, and some of the shelters we delivered to told us they will be moving out in a few weeks time.  In the coming weeks, we are going to have to start looking into the temporary housing situation.  By all means this isn’t the solution to all the problems.  In some cases, moving into the temporary housing adds more stress because it then means they are totally independent in terms of providing their own meals etc etc.  Some people don’t have enough money to support themselves right now, so these are the people we need to help provide for.

Delivering out to Karakuwa was an amazing experience.  It was nice to chat with some of these smaller shelters, and the vibe was totally different.  The feeling felt more relaxed and things definitely moved at a slower pace.  A couple of the shelters even offered us food and drink (super kind people) and one wanted us to join them for lunch!  After we finished up in the afternoon, we headed back towards Kesennuma central, and finished delivering the rest of the fruit before meeting up with the crew.  Today was such an EPIC day.  A big thanks to the team we had down here this weekend and a SPECIAL thanks to 3 awesome Kesennuma ALTs (Jess, Rach, and Eddie) for helping us out! YOU GUYS ROCK!!!

– Paul


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