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Cardboard and creativity

Japan, April 5, 2011

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Our own truck turned into the parking lot and pulled up to where we were waiting at the gym. Peace Winds Japan uses a professional logistics company which is contributing to the relief effort to ship its goods, so we were unloading the boxes of slippers and school supplies from a neatly packed eighteen-wheeler.

Although people had lived in the gym for a few weeks after the earthquake, sleeping arrangements were shifted to the classrooms, and the gym was at that time being used for storage and organization, and as a common area. At the entrance, a couple of boards were covered in notices and information, such as the male and female times for using the bath and a big thank you to the high school kids who were volunteering to help out there. There were also still some requests for information about missing relatives or friends, and long lists of the people accounted for. Inside, dome tents had been set up to offer a little privacy for women to change their clothes, and a TV was showing a Japanese baseball game. We carried the boxes past a small play area for kids, constructed out of cardboard and creativity.

We were going to unload the remainder of the goods at the elementary school, but first Peace Winds Japan wanted to confer with the head of the school about a movie night they are planning for the kids with a screening of "Tonari no Totoro," a wonderful film by Miyazaki Hayao. The snow had stopped and the sun had come out, and across the sports ground I could see the line for the curry lunch snaking back from the tent.

The rich smell of the curry reached us as we started walking across. "Is it good?" I asked a group of teenagers who were shoveling rice and curry from plastic bowls into their mouths.

"Very good."

"Not too sweet?"

"Perfect!"

We unloaded boxes into the elementary school gymnasium, which was mainly storage. Donated clothes had been spread out on unfolded cardboard along the floor, and elderly women were picking their way through the piles, looking for their sizes.

By the time we came out of the gym the sun had disappeared and the snow was falling fast and thick again. I stopped on the way to the car to look at the temporary bath the Japanese Defense Forces had set up, and the women huddled in their winter coats waiting for their turns.

The snow was falling harder, and sticking to the ground. In front of me the line for lunch rations stretched longer. The evacuees, the volunteers, the army, Peace Winds, all of us were trying to make the evacuation camp as comfortable as possible, but nothing we did could hide the fact that these people's homes were gone.