Its 7 a.m., and loudspeakers throughout Ishinomaki ring a sing-song tune that echoes off the soft, green hillsides and the slow-flowing river.
Im awake and making morning coffee with a few other volunteers who boil water to pour over dehydrated noodles. We are about three miles from the coastline, and despite the mellow aftershocks that rattle our tent poles at least three times a week tsunamis, earthquakes and radiation are at the bottom of our list of worries.
More than 100 volunteers have pitched their tents in the sporting fields of Ishinomaki Senshu University. We are more than aware of the early-rising students who show up before class to jog around the track. In an hour and a half, most of us will be on buses bound toward work sites.
I interact with residents on a daily basis, usually on the work sites, and always at the public bathhouse set up by the Japanese Self Defence Force a must after a day of shoveling mud from beneath a floor. Even after volunteering here for more than a month, it is difficult to tell whether the quality of life for the locals has improved. As one woman said, shes been so busy trying to achieve at least some sense of normalcy that she hasnt yet had time to cry.
At noon, the work crew and I are taking a break for lunch.
Our typical day consists of gutting a house of everything but its wooden frame and removing the mud beneath the flooring. Life is far from what it used to be for those affected by the tsunami, and many of them have accepted that their lives will never return to what they used to be.
Some have found new sources of joy: Mrs. Hashimoto, an Ishinomaki resident whose home was nearly destroyed, became our team mom shortly after the team did what it could to assist her. She seems to find happiness in cooking for our 20-person work crew a feast on a daily basis. She has remodeled her kitchen with camping stoves and has turned a vacant lot by her home into an outdoor dining room to feed hungry volunteers.
Meanwhile, back at the university, supply trucks unload boxes of bottled water and crates full of work supplies and instant noodles.
East of the tent city, a construction crew finishes work on another row of mobile-home refugee housing. When the new units are ready to be lived in, evacuation centers will hold another lottery.
Later, at 8 p.m., were going to drink beer, then get up tomorrow to do the same thing again. Only 27,000 more houses to go.
Reach Gavin Wisdom at herald@durango herald.com