After much preparation of baking and organizing, a few of us had the opportunity to visit a temporary housing facility. This housing area was setup for people in the area to live in after damage to their homes by the earthquake/tsunami forced them to move away from their homes. Due to economic and procedural challenges, it has been difficult for them to get the means to repair and move back into their homes. It has been over 16 months since the disaster and they are still living in temporary housing conditions.
We met up with Mr. and Mrs. Ono, Mr. and Mrs. Cummings, Herman, Pam and myself. We arrived early to set up the visiting area with coffee and snacks. The ladies arrived around 2 pm. I had brought my knitting and shared photos of my life in California. They loved looking at them. One of the ladies called her friend who teaches crochet and she taught me how to start crocheting one of their items – a strawberry. We ended up trading yarn! They also gave me some of the items they had made. They usually meet on Tuesdays and their husbands bring the treats. I shared that my friends and I meet about once a month on a Friday – we have soup, salad, muffins and tea - and we talk about our children and our husbands. They said they do the same!
One of the groups Pam was visiting with wanted to know what we had seen on the television about the tsunami. Pam is a teacher and shared about being in the classroom with her fourth grade students and watching the tsunami on the computer. The group was very pleased to meet Pam and enjoyed shaking her hand and looking at her hair and squeezing her young arms. They tried to guess her age. For many women, Pam was the first African American woman that they have ever met. Some women even shook her hand because they had never shaken the hand of an African American woman before. They wanted to know what Pam thought about Japan and what her initial impressions were. They were very much interested in her life.
Herman spent time taking photos of the activities and getting to know a few of the members of the small knit community, who have bonded together with the close quarters and shared experiences of losing family members, friends and their homes. They make the best of their living situation, although it has been a long time. They remain hopeful of better days. One person shared how she was bicycling when the earthquake hit. She stopped to gather herself and then in the distance she saw a large dark object coming from the ocean. She rushed home to get to her bedridden mother. As she got in the house there were book cases falling but they missed her. She was able to get her mother up and bring her upstairs before the waves hit. They were stranded there to the next evening before rescue arrived.
Towards the end of the gathering we shared our gifts with them and in a very kind gesture, they reciprocated with gifts for us.
During the course of our meeting, there was a small earthquake which shook for what seemed like approximately 20 seconds. You could see in a few of them an initial shock, but they remained calm, however you could tell they were concerned. After it settled down, we went back to our social time. Shortly thereafter, a few members of the local police department stopped by and checked on them. They were very polite and joined in the activities, chatting with the residents and us. I was really impressed with the amount of respect the police showed and their concern for the residents. I found out later they were not there due to the earthquake, but it was part of their normal routine.
As Herman took pictures, he said each face he saw through his photo lense was more intimate than he bargained for. It seemed each face he focused on was the soul of a person loved by Jesus.
Written by Ann Olson, Team Member for Japan Team - June 2012 (Crosspoint Church - Chino, CA)