Sights, Sounds, Smells

June 2011

Roberta Adair, Asian Access/Japan Missionary

Working in this region has been sensory overload. It has been challenging to process what we are seeing, hearing, and smelling.


We’ve seen cars and boats in houses, buildings totally ripped from their foundations, and ruined pianos, books, and clothes. We’ve seen the tsunami’s waterline in houses anywhere from 6 to 15 feet, far-off looks on peoples’ faces, and countless gutters full of sewage, rotten maggot-filled fish, and all sorts of debris. We’ve seen entire neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly devastated. Yet we’ve also seen some elderly people at an evacuation center laugh at our attempts to sing Japanese folk songs and dozens of kids who live in government housing shout and play at the fun fair we organized.


We’ve heard many, many stories of loss. I was cleaning out a closet in a family’s house, and I heard some of the memories attached to what I was pitching. There was a kimono from a wedding, the dress that a daughter wore to her first piano recital, and much more. We’ve thrown away so many ruined children’s toys and pictures and tools . . . so many memories. We’ve met people who have lost neighbors, siblings, spouses, and children. We have heard stories of a woman who was up to her neck in cold water for 14 hours holding her two children before she was rescued and of a young man who waded through the water covering his ears because he was overwhelmed by all of the cries for help. We’ve also heard a lot of gratitude expressed for the help that we’re giving. A lot of our time is spent simply being extra hands and together are able to accomplish quite a bit – shoveling mud out of gutters or under houses, digging out stumps, taking trash to the dump, etc. Less frequent but still significant, we’ve been able to distribute fresh vegetables, diapers, clothing, umbrellas, and bug repellent in a few hard-hit areas. Again, the recipients are very generous with expressing their gratitude.


I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but there are places that I can only breath out of my mouth. It’s been over 3 months, and . . . sometimes the smell is pretty rank. We get to leave at the end of the day, take a hot bath, and sleep far away from the smell. Yet for the people in the devastated area, the smell (and flies!) is the new reality. A nice smell, however, is the smell of barbeque. We, together with other volunteers, grill chicken, hotdogs, vegetables, fish, and/or Japanese noodles, and people in the neighborhoods come out to get a hot meal. It’s sometimes the first meat and/or fresh vegetables they’ve had in weeks. We’ve been able to do these a couple of times a week in nearby neighborhoods, and it’s been fun to connect with people over grilled meat and watermelon.

Although our senses are often overwhelmed, we are confident that the Lord has directed us to be his hands, feet, ears, and sometimes mouth in this region.