Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Volunteering in Japan

I’m finally back with some posting, traveling and blogging is HARD, so, all those Travel bloggers out there: I respect you even more now.

I should start by writing about the WorkCamp we (me and my sister) did in Hanawa aka Hanawa City, it was a 2 weeks Work Camp where we were going to “Make Toros (Paper Lanterns) with children from the community”, yup, that’s the catch of the camp, I thought we would be working with the children for those 2 weeks and it turned out different….

We spend 2 days in Tokyo before leaving for the camp, and coming from Mexico City, it wasn’t much of a change, except for the insane weather, Tokio was HOT but still a city and we were not ready for what was waiting for us in Hanawa.

We took a Shinkansen train from Tokyo -> Koriyama (in Fukushima) and then transfer to a Local train to Iwaki-Hanawa, the 1st train was 1 hour and then we had to wait almost 2 hours for the next train, the local train was a small train and it took for ever (or 3 hours), I’m glad we decided to travel light and leave most of our luggage in Tokyo, it was easier to go from one place to the next one.
Hello Iwaki-Hanawa Station
Weird pic at Koriyama Sta.
Of course, when we arrived at Iwaki-Hanawa, the Camp Leader was already waiting for us with some other Campers and an older man w/his 2 daughters, little did we know, he would be with us most of the camp taking pictures non-stop lol. After some other campers came, we took off towards our accommodation, Hanawa City Hall’s GYM, yup, we were sleeping on a Gym, a not bigh enough gym were the 14 of us slept for the 15 days we were there, one side for girls and the other for boys, not quite fair since we were 8 girls and 6 boys and all the other girls had big suitcases and decided to make their own closets there, Ah!, I also should notate that there was no division between the Girls-Boys sides, by the end of the camp most of us girls were sleeping almost side to side, kind of uncomfortable when it’s 30°C when you wake up at 6-7am, anyway, after leaving our stuff at the CampStation (the gym), we went to the Public swimming pool/showers, we had to walk 20 minutes to get there, not that a 20 minute walk is bad, but when you go to take a shower and walk those 20 minutes back, you get hot and sweaty again…. Oh, and did I mention there are no Western style toilets at the Camp Station?, there’s only 1 at Hanawa’s City Hall and it’s ony available from 9 to 9, and yes, you guessed it right, this was my 1st time using an Japanese toilets (TMI?? Lol), all this freaked me out and I wanted to run away, I made up a Code-word and told my sister, if you want to leave this place FOR REAL, just let me know cuz I’m ready to go, I had only been there for an hour and I was already thinking about leaving, I just felt out of place, almost everyone spoke some Japanese except for me and my sister,  and most of them were Crazy-in-love-with-Japan.

We were 14 Campers:
The Leader: Alex (aka Bebé) a Korean/Japanese with a weird sense of humor, but still fun at times.
Sub Leader: Go, a 22 y/o Japanese who has traveled Europe doing workcamps, he sings, dances, has an awesome hair and is just fun to be around, although he is also very quiet and loves reading.
The Japanese Girls:
--Yuki from Chiba, fun, always smiling but her lack of English skills and my lack of Japanese made it difficult for us to talk more.
--Risa (pronounce Lisa), a 16 y/o from Osaka, Highschool student, almost no English but hella fun to be with, scared the heck out of me when did an impression of Sadako (The girl from The Ring) on one of our first nights at the camp, taught me useful words in Japanese like Oshiri (butt), Opai (Boob) and is 1 of the 4 Tomodachi=Friends, also, her Spanish accent is very good.
--Mai aka Roberta Gato, 22 y/o from a town close to Osaka, 1/3 Japanese, 1/3 French and 1/3 Mexican (not really), she lived in France for a while and can Speak French, traveled to Spain and knew a couple phrases in Spanish but learned much more in the Camp and that’s how she got her Spanish name, VERY good English skills, easy to talk to, fun to be around and enjoys rolling (lolling) on the Tatami (Japanese floor), she has an amazing confidence and for her, is always Beer/Drink o’clock!, of course she is also a member of the Tomodachi club.
The worldwide Campers:
Yin-Chia from Taiwan, quiet, likes taking pictures but knows how to have some fun J
Amulanga from Russia (Not exactly Russia, she always explained her roots but I forgot now, Sorry Amulia!!!)
Martina from The Netherlands, 18 (2nd youngest), senior student in High school, she seems very quiet but she is not ;) , does not like Cheese, Coffee, Caramel, Tofu, and a billion things more, my favorite question to her was “Do you think he is cute?” and she would always say YES.
Eric, 28 from Cataluña aka SPAIN (lol), spoke with his “Mexican” accent the whole camp (not really Mexican), always complaining about how Diana and I complained haha, my Tea-mate and a very nice guy to be with. 
Federico from a small town in Italy, has the most Italian English accent ever and doesn’t even know it :P, also enjoys drinking and drinking games.
Luca and Roman, small town in Italy and Ukraine respectively, didn’t get to know them, both act like kids, didn’t actually cared to spend more time with them… sorry.
Diana, from Mexico, kinda bleh… lol :D Love ya sis!!!
The Boss: Yusuke San
Shiori San: Lovely lady, always wiling to Eat and Drink, actually, we drank almost every day with her hehe.

As you can read, it was quite a good mix the one we had, little by little the idea of  leaving the camp went away and ended up having a wonderful time.

On our 1st Welcome Party it was only the Campers, the Boss and Shiori San, I don’t know how but our fridge was always full of drinks/beer, we bonded through alcohol (lol) and stories.

The next day it was Sunday so we had free time half of the day, we went to a Mud Festival and I got sunburned way too much L I suffered for a week from the pain, but it was there we met Mrs. Ottomo and her baby daughter, she’s one of the nicest person I met in Hanawa, after lunch we watched a video of what we had to do, a brief explanation on the Toros and how we were going to work, there were 2 kind of working teams,  1- The Cooking Team (I was with Federico and Risa) and the Working Team (I was with Martina and Go), each working time gathered and we had to decide our design for the Toro, make a sketch and receive the approval of the design, my team was really quiet but we got our design, sketch and approv al in 10 minutes (Go team!!), after that we went to the pool to swim for a bit, take a shower and come back to rest and get ready for the real welcome party, this was organized by the people from Hanawa, they cooked lots and lots of Japanese food, brought enough drinks to last a week and there was a Taiko (Japanese drums/music) performance for us, they were nice enough to greet each one of us in our language, we ate, met the locals and drink for a bit, when the party came to an end (around 9—Camp rules, no much noise after 9 and no lights after 11), everyone started helping cleaning and 20 minutes later almost everyone was gone, but the rest of us decided to drink some more and continue the party.
Mud Fest (Not my kind of event)

The next day we would start what would be our schedule for the rest of the camp:
7:30 Breakfast ~ cooked by that day’s Cooking team
8:45 Leave Campstation and go to Workstation
Go next to our Toro "Tori Tori" 
Here is where Eric and I had to go to the City Hall and make cold tea for everyone to drink while working (this lasted the 2 weeks)
9:00 Start working
10:30 Cooking team had to go start making Lunch
12:00 Lunch (Lunch was usually over at 12:15 and then it was cleaning time)
1:00 Back to work
3:30 Cooking team had to take the bikes to go shower (at the public pool), go to super market and come back to cook dinner.
4:00 Finish work and take Shower or go swimming
6:00 Dinner
7:30 Activities or Free time
9:00 Drinking –almost everyday- lol
At some point we had Icecream, people was always very nice to us and would buy us icecream, at this point I didn’t know our “work” was on the Town’s newspaper lol… we were the talk of the town.

Random pic because I didn't take enough pics lol
Every day was pretty much the same, cutting Bamboo (Like Panda bears, only not as fun or cute), making structure for our over 2meters Toros, pasting paper (with GRUE aka GLUE, I loved how they said GRUE), paint the paper, put on the lights, test, check it, put tires at the bottom to make it float on the river, cleaning, etc, etc, there was always something to do, even if they said “If you finish earlier you can have free time!!”, that was a LIE and I believed that lie every single time, I’m not trying to brag or anything, but my team was the 1st to finish, when I learn how to do something I learn quite fast (except things that require rhythm or coordination), and each time I finished something before the schedule I was required to do something else, I can still hear the “Gisela, clean here, pick up the garbage, wash the shows, help with this, that, skrgnse}ñkngsñkea”, I got tired of that because there was people who barely helped, after lunch we all had to clean the room where we ate and the kitchen but there was people who would only bring their plate to the Kitchen and run ASAP, pft, I wish I was so careless…(not really)  but I did think the activities were kind unfair, yea, you finished earlier, you can have your free time and when everyone else is done we can re-arrange the work, right?

TMI? lol 
After the 1st week people started to get very comfortable and would take any free time to sleep, and what happens after a week when there are 8 girls using the same restrooms?, it’s time to Clean!!! But if the Camp Leader doesn’t say so, no one does it, it got to a point when I couldn’t even brush my teeth inside L so, Martina, Diana and I decided to clean it after we told Mai about it and she simply said “Just open the door” lol… Oh bebe Mai! And then the Camp Leader wouldn’t even tell us what soap were we allowed to use to clean it, so fu*k it, we used every product we found, a hose and cleaned it, of course, after we cleaned everyone was saying “Good, because it smelled” O_O FML.

Those little details are what make me not want to do another WorkCamp ever, at some point it stopped me from enjoying what we were doing, especially when after just a few days there I had a confrontation with a real a**hole, see, if you know me, you’ll know I’m nice and barely every get REALLY upset, but this guy got to do it in less than a week and we got into a point where I had to put a stop and just let him know I didn’t want to talk to him or even have anything to do with him, work is work and we can do it together but I didn’t want to see him more than that, and that’s how I LOST it in hanawa (lol), even my sister was shocked.

But not everything was bad, I’m done with my complaining and now we can go to the good stuff!

I can honestly say this was a Once in a lifetime experience, I loved it and I love the people I got to meet, this allowed me to see the real Japan and meet amazing Japanese people, I didn’t know what we were doing there was so important but the people from the town were always sending us drinks, snacks, food or inviting us to do something with them, we were in the newspaper a few times and people would always say Hi to us on the street, one day we went into a store just to look around and one of the owners gave us a small stuffed kitten on a Keychain! <3 .

We took a Taiko lesson and I knew that was going to be a huge FAIL for me, I was going to be really embarrassed since my coordination is 0, I have no rhythm and I basically suck at any music activity, it took me 1 Taiko Professional and 20 minutes later to finally get it (lol), he kept looking at me like “WTF is wrong with you, just do what I do” haha, but in a nice way, we sweat our asses off, who knew Taiko was so exhausting? , anyway, Thank you to all the involved in this class!

Us girls rocking the Yukata
On another night we got to try on Yukatas (Summer Kimono), it was…HOT, lol, not Paris Hilton kind of HOT but I can barely breath and I’m sweating kind of Hot, but it was fun, we all got dressed up and then learned a dance (I of course was unable to coordinate), we took pictures and just  had a great time, thank you to the Yukata Sensei’s for allowing us to use them, put them on and teach us the dance, it was really nice meeting you all!.


There was also a Karaoke night (OBVIOUSLY!!), at 1st I didn’t want to go because I can’t sing and I hate when people makes me sing, but when I found out the a**hole was staying, we decided to go (lol), we had to pay Y1,000 (about 10 USD), got 3 beers, snacks and all the singing you wanted, it took us (Diana-Mai and I) 3 minutes to get used to it and get crazy at the Karaoke, ended up singing everything that was playing, clapping, playing the tambourine and the Maracas haha, I love it when you go somewhere with no expectations and you end up having the time of your life, by the end up the night (and some drinks) we all ended up singing “We are the wooooooooorld” and hugging each other and that’s when Eric got touched in ways he wasn’t expecting hahaha.
I guess for now this is enough, we also did a Home Stay but that calls for its own post and another one of the Night we finally took the Toros into the liver (river)! And our Farewell Party!

Time to enjoy the last hour of my Shinkansen ride from Hiroshima-Tokyo!

-Gisela V.

P.s. I’m so excited to be back in Tokyo, is better to have 27°C everyday than the 34-37° we had in Kyoto an Osaka!!!!
P.s.2. For better Quality pics, you can check my sister's pictures here

P.s.3. I didn’t say much about making Toros with the children because those Toros were pre-made, we only had to glue them and finish them aaaaand there were just 6 children, yup 6!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! L I was really disappointed at this.
They don't look amused
Work Camp Info online: We will mainly help and join the festival by making four big lanterns ‘TORO’ (2 x 2 meters) and hundreds of small lanterns together with local students