As you may remember, I am a crosswalk guard for my neighborhood. Every morning, the elementary school children congregate in their respective groups and with the oldest child being the school group leader, the children walk single file through the neighborhood, across a fairly busy road (but only one lane each way), down the narrow sidewalk, back across the road where there is a light and into the main gate of the school. Mothers are asked NOT to drive children to school nor pick them up, but on rainy days some mothers will give in and take their child's group in the car. The children are supposed to walk like little ducks, following the leader (in order to stay out of the way of bicycles going in the opposite direction to the jr. high school) and not too much chatting is supposed to go on. There are 4 groups in my neighborhood made up of between 4 and 7 children to a group. The walk takes about 15 minutes.
7 years ago when Leiya was in the 6th grade and the leader of her group, there was an odd person living in our neighborhood that I felt was dangerous. I decided to walk Leiya's group past his house every morning and see them safely to the corner. And while I was there, I decided I might as well see the other groups to the corner. And while standing at the corner I realized that even though there was a crosswalk, the cars didn't stop to let the kids across! All over Japan there are little plastic yellow flags that are ripped and torn and are stuffed into stands at the corners for people to use when crossing the streets. A car is supposed to automatically stop if the driver sees someone holding a flag, or if the pedestrian even holds up his hand. (You often see little grandmas barreling out into traffic with their hands held up as if they've sent up an invisible shield around them stopping them from getting hit. A lot of car breaks screeching when an obaachan suddenly scuttles across the road in perfect confidence that she holds authority over all traffic.) So, since I was at the corner already I grabbed a plastic flag and stopped traffic until all the kids were on their way out of the neighborhood.
Over the years sometimes other neighbors will join me for crosswalk time and we chat while waiting for the kids to go along. Most often I am the only one out there because other housewives are using the time to tidy their houses and hang out the laundry. I've never given priority to housecleaning and laundry. It only takes a half hour of my time and I get a few extra steps on my pedometer. The dangerous person no longer lives in the neighborhood so there really is no reason for me to be out there but the cars still don't stop for the kids. I guess until someone tells me to mind my own business or the city puts in a traffic signal I will continue to do crosswalk duty.
The little plastic flags are supplied by local corporations as a community service and though bright, they don't last very long. Sometimes vandals will just come along and break them, sometimes the wind whips them out of the flag stand. Mostly the cold winter causes the plastic to become brittle and the flags crack and rip. The kids don't really use the flags much anyway and I'm the only one that tries to get a pitiful shred to hang flat so that the drivers can see. One of my friends and I were looking at the broken plastic flags a couple weeks ago and she mentioned that the plastic wasn't really very good. The flags need to be made of nylon or something. But since they are donated, we can't really suggest that someone spend more money making these, and as I say, I'm the only one who really uses them.
WELL! I don't have any nylon around, but I have fabric! I could make my own flag and carry it to the crosswalk every morning! That is what my STOP block turned out to be! A crosswalk flag! I made two blocks, machine stitched each one and then bound them together. I stuffed one of the broken flag handles into it and tacked it down with a button. VOILA! An American crosswalk flag! Even if they don't read English I think the drivers will get the message.
Slightly embarrassed, I took my crosswalk flag to the crosswalk this morning and got a lot of snickers and smiles from the kids on their way to school. GREAT! My flag does more than just stop cars! It brightened a few children's day! It may give a few drivers something to talk about too.
"Crazy American lady with a handmade stop sign..."
This week the neighborhood kids made me a bunch of origami flowers and wrote me a letter thanking me for seeing them off every morning. Yep, I guess I like being a crosswalk guard.