typhoon hagupit

Mga kaibigan at kalakbay,

Habang papalapit nanaman ang isang napakalakas na bagyo, ako’y napuno ng pag-aalala at takot para sa mga bayan na nasalanta ng Yolanda noong nakaraang taon lamang. Ang mga maliliit na barangay sa tabing dagat, ang ating mga mangingisda, magsasaka, magniniyog, ang mga nanay at mga bata. Mula rito sa Vancouver, para akong nag-call center agent at tinawagan ang mga community partners sa Leyte at Samar nitong nakaraang mga araw. Maraming nakapaghanda na, ngunit may pangamba at takot pa rin sa tinig ng aking mga kaibigan. Mayroong tunay na galak din na sila’y naaalala at hindi nag-iisa sa mga panahong ito. 

Nagising ako nitong umaga na mabigat at madilim ang pakiramdam, tulad ng makulimlim na langit dito sa kabilang dulo ng mundo…

Hanggang sa malakas akong hinila pabalik sa isang sulok ng aking kwarto, nilatag ang mat, at naisipang gumalaw sabay ang aking hininga. Agad-agad ay lumambot at bumukas ang aking gitnang-puso, lumuha ng tuluyan, at inalay ang aking lungkot at mga takot. Hinalik ang nuo sa lupa, pinaabot ang dibdib sa langit. At mula rito, madaling dumaloy muli ang liwanag at lakas, na inaalay ko ng buong-buo sa ating mga kababayan.

Huwag matakot, hindi tayo nag-iisa. Sana’y sama-sama tayong mag-alay ng ating buong puso’t isipan, ng ating buong paghinga at paggalaw, para sa ating kapwa.

Mabuhay! Mabuhay tayong lahat!


people of the storm 2

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?

people of the storm

2 months since yolanda. it’s my 1st time to land in leyte. i arrive and do not spend too much time in tacloban city –2 ships crashing on top of entire villages, an oil tank dredged over to someone’s backyard, a city that appears to have been bombed over and over, by explosions made purely of the fiercest winds, ocean waves, and terrifying rain. instead i ride out farther down the coastline, town after town, to understand what else had happened.

20140105-141904.jpgpalo, santa fe, tolosa, tanauan, dulag, pastrana, dagami, javier, alang alang, barugo. my eyes simply could not understand. outside the city death still screams everywhere. where vast coconut plantations were are now endless fields of matchsticks sticking out of the ground. rice fields turned into dark swamps. iron sheets must have flown in the wind like rolls of toilet paper. wooden huts crumbled now swallowed whole by the earth. concrete walls crushed like styrofoam. once in a while a waft of decay would still blow by.

people of rice.
one step at a time, i saw farmers walk through their fields planting rice again in time for the harvest in march, while thunder clouds still loom over us.
people of copra.
fallen coconuts have been collected, piled up, broken, the white meat readied for the last burning. centuries of enslavement. this is all the farmers know to do, scraping a handful of coins for backbreaking harvest, faces blackened by smoke. yolanda has killed all the landlords’ trees, maybe now the farmers are freed — but what do they do next? perhaps they never knew.

people of the storm.20140106-000702.jpg
the main roads have all been cleared. military trucks collect endless mounds of debris. i’ve visited many town halls, and municipal social workers say no one goes hungry now. we drove through small dirt roads to go deeper into villages. relief goods come in abundant loads; all barangays are fed. but houses are still wrecked, leaking and flooded. tents are hot in the day and cold at night. no one speaks of the need for ‘counselling’, but the same fear grips them when rain again begins to pour. angels and marias stand over mass graves to look over the dead; names are each handwritten on pieces of wood. a statue of the christ standing on imelda’s mansion on the mountain top is miraculously unscathed; it once looked out with arms open to the sea, but now he faces us inland.

20140106-000727.jpgwala man kaming problema dito. bago man mag yolanda gutom na kami.” (we don’t have problems here. even before yolanda hit us we were already hungry.) a parish priest rebuilding his church for st francis of assisi talks to me about poverty. the roof has been shredded and ripped off like carton, and the padre still celebrates a packed sunday mass. his homily was weeping uncontrollably at the lectern. “mabuti maging pobre. matagal na kaming survivor” (it’s good to be poor. we have long been survivors), he tells me for some consolation.

philippine flags tied to bamboo poles are raised on top of trees, ripped rooftops, and broken electric poles. a strange sea of fluttering flags, i thought: well, no one needs to be told we are in the philippines. but they seem to call out to the world: UNFPA, UNHCR, World Food Program, USAID, Tzu Chi, UNDP, the Korean Army Engineers… all of them and many many more are here. the flags rally everyone to stand up on their feet. “bangon leyte.” “tindig palo.” “bangon javier.”bangon pilipinas.” stand up, stand up tall, they say.

through the twisted queues in the manila airport 3 days ago, i stood by a tall foreigner pacing restless for a seat in the next flight. his ID showed he’s part of the red cross medical team. spotting his rolled up outdoor gear, i thought i smelled the pine trees of british columbia for a bit. we could have been classmates. we exchanged the warmest of smiles; his had a glow of sleepless exhaustion, and mine of deepest gratitude. i wanted to wrap my short arms around this giant to say: “maraming salamat, thank you for being here.”

now on my return flight i watch an old man sweep in the tacloban airport. without any walls or glass windows, airplane fumes blow straight at us in the waiting grounds. i watch manong and his thin dark frame gently piling grey dust with his broom. i start to cry, watching his slow persistence, the futility of cleaning an endless stream of dirt. just like other men who hammer new iron sheets over their broken house frames, one nail at a time. repetition, work, effort. to forget for a moment the 10,000 lives gone, missing, buried, rotting all underneath us. how long before we fall again? how long before we rise back up?