after the storm, the laundry. people are picking themselves up, over 3 months after yolanda. my regular visits to leyte reveal new roofs hammered a nail at a time. farmers and carabaos tilling their fields one step after the other, rice stalks planted one by one in neat lines. bangon visayas! tindog tacloban! buhat mayorga! every city, municipio, and sitio is still called and cheered on to stand up.
the world remains here in our islands. the UNFPA, the UNHCR, Catholic Relief Services, the Children’s Fund, the Samaritan’s Purse, the World Food Program, Tzu Chi, the Korean army engineers working under the noontime heat, the Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières.
there are perhaps countless more who, like us, work quietly without name, without uniform nor ID. it is like moving through a movie of a war zone or a battle field. after all yolanda has been declared a national state of emergency. time is a real race here, and no real work can be accomplished lazy and lacking in compassion.
working through all the rubble, unlike anything many of us has ever lived through, i needed to see myself in this place and moment. a conscious inquiry into my own relations now to a people of a storm.
with our jeep’s windows rolled down, i taste a smell of the sun. the sea breeze now calm. the scent of rain and soil, and wood burning. quickly i was back in a pick-up truck driving down farm roads in uganda. and then suddenly, sitting in a cramped bus rolling through the guatemalan highlands. the whole world arrived in a single moment. with us here in the visayas, alive in the midst of our misery and decay.
a stranded boat and an orphan. huge fishing vessels crushed over entire houses. and this boy who we met in the town plaza lost his mother to the storm. a man who lost 17 in his family in a day. a doktora and her midwives who attended to a mother in labour while yolanda shook their birth clinic in a mad fury. an employee of the department of education clung hard to his toddlers while waves surged through their neighborhood; the very next day, with a limping leg, he resumed to work in a crazed 1-man search for their public school teachers.
though our team was tasked with a job order to deliver relief operations, and assist local leaders in their post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation plans, moments like these still hold me in a muting shock. the heart shaken — all of this i must understand! how can we bring each other down when such noble courage breathes fire in so many among us? later i write and make images to make some meaning out of these collected stories.
to be vulnerable and poor is an injustice.
on our way out of leyte our van caught up with a large surge of protestors gathering outside the tacloban city hall. “saan po kayo galing?” where are you from? most of them came from samar, another island province ravaged too by fiercest waves and winds to ever hit landfall in recorded history. to us they reported: “not much help reaches us.” “we do not need more rice; we need money.” “where do we live now?” everyone gathered there were survivors-protestors: claiming their right to life, to survival, and to a life better than the one of poverty they already had before the storm. how do we rise –out of mounds of concrete, steel bars and cables, and out of the tangled circuitry of powers that keep a few mighty and bind many low down to their dirty knees?