It’s Wednesday morning here in Tome, Japan. Yesterday we had a full day of playing with kids at two different “Child Friendly Spaces,” as they are called. We had one shift from 9-11:30 and another from 1-5pm. The first place was very far, almost an hour away, and we drove right through the disaster area to get to the school. Last night I was exhausted and went to bed around 8pm last night, no kidding.

On Sunday, we volunteered at a big sports day for kids from Minami-sanrikucho. There were about 91 kids and everything went smoothly. When kids asked us “Where are you from?” we had fun telling the kids we are aliens. One of them replied, “That’s not true – aliens can’t speak Japanese!” Another said that if we were aliens, we would have dozens of eyes across our foreheads, not just two.

Two enormous teams from YMCA/ YWCA Sendai and Yokohoma ran the whole event and I was very impressed with the sheer amount of stuff they hauled up just to make this event possible. One team cooked a huge lunch of vegetable soup, takoyaki (little balls stuffed with octopus), curry rice, and hot dogs plus drinks and dessert for about 120 kids and 100 volunteers and the other ran the sports day event and brought tons of equipment with them.

There were three main events at sports day (all indoor because of the rain). The first one involved a relay race rolling an enormous ball. The second one had a raised basket and the kids had to throw small red or white bean bags into the basket to score points; whichever of the two teams threw in more bean bags won. The third one was tug-of-war and it was pretty fun, but in my bare feet it was not very comfortable.

Counting the balls that made it into the basket

The school overlooks the sea and the rubble lies directly in view of the play area. About 30 centimeters of water entered the school gym, but the school looks just fine now.  I had a few culture shocks throughout the day and one funny story to share.

First off, it was FREEZING and raining outside. I had on jeans, a t-shirt, a long-sleeved jacket, and a vest but I was still so cold. Much to my shock, we were asked (everyone was asked) to remove their socks for the events. Matthias and I were both pretty surprised, since in Germany and the US it’s not considered a good idea to run around barefoot for hours in the freezing cold. However, in the end there were  hundreds of volunteers and small kids running around a freezing cold school gym in bare feet.

Second, I was surprised to see how many small kids had black teeth. I have seen it before but it still shocks me. It’s like someone has taken a black Sharpie and drawn black/ dark dark brown dots on the kids’ teeth. The kids were laughing a lot and I got a good look at the black marks on their teeth. Does anyone know why this happens in Japan? I haven’t seen it in other countries before.

Third, we played a very strange game where you had to squirm around on the floor pretending to be  a cockroach. It was kind of a weird feeling being in a gym with 120+ Japanese people on the floor all pretending to be cockroaches…kinda weird.

Funny story: in the middle of the event, a tall, bald gaijin comes out of nowhere into the gym. Matthias and I were talking to a Japanese lady and we noticed him right away since he was so big. As we were staring at him, he started running towards a bathroom door marked in Japanese “DO NOT USE” (使用禁止 in Japanese). He obviously couldn’t read and headed into the bathroom so Matthias had to sprint across the gym after the poor guy before he used the toilet. Matthias caught him in time, and he was a bit embarrassed and admitted, “Sorry, I can’t read.” He turned out to be a very interesting fellow! He is a director with BBC/ HBO who is making a documentary about children and the tsunami. He was definitely in the right place, and we were able to direct him to our World Vision team leader. Since she speaks fluent English, they were able to have a long talk.

Daniel the HBO director standing behind the schoolyard overlooking the sea and the wreckage

Monday was our day off. We enjoyed having taking a walk, going to a tiny art museum, doing a little shopping, and having yakiniku for dinner. We’ll be here with World Vision for a few more days and then we’ll travel again to Sendai before heading to Nagoya and Tokyo to see friends.

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