by Laguna Lupie
***This is late I know. I wrote this over two months ago but was too distressed to post this after this tragedy.
We are a country of storms, we hurdle typhoons of varying degrees of strength all year, every year. Ask a Filipino, any Filipino, and each one will have their own flood story or typhoon story of disaster and survival. But more than a week ago, one of the strongest storms in the history of the planet (yes, it is that strong), a typhoon named Haiyan (we called it Yolanda here in the Philippines), hit our shores and we are forever changed by this unprecedented calamity.
Thousands dead and many more missing, injured, homeless. Disaster preparedness did not anticipate the strength of this storm, the whole city of Tacloban in Leyte (where the storm first hit landfall) decimated. Its local government at a standstill because everybody – local officials, government employees, police and army forces—were victims who are either dead, burying their dead, looking for lost loved ones or scurrying for relief goods and makeshift housing materials to save the survivors and their families. The national government on the other hand has merited widespread criticism from local and international media alike for the slow pace of relief operations on the ground. And I don’t think the Aquino government will ever really recover from the disaster that was Yolanda/Haiyan. People will never forget their incompetence or insensitivity– President Aquino irritably asking one of the survivors “But you didn’t die, right?” will always haunt him.
I spent the next few weeks after Yolanda organizing a couple of relief operations with my high school classmates for the victims of this storm. The response to our calls for donations was lightning quick, everybody wanted to help in their own way, and after the initial relief operations, we were even able to organize a second round of donations which were Christmas care packages for children who were survivors of the storm. Many of our friends gave toys and school supplies and we sent them to organizations who were hard at work sending the goods to the Visayas region.
After that, the mad Christmas rush consumed me. We organized the Christmas party for our small printing press, then Christmas came and my brother came home from Australia and we had a great New Year celebration with him. Then we organized a grand 67th birthday party for my mom and then after that we went on a weeklong vacation to Singapore with my Aussie-based brother who financed most of the trip. The past couple of months were hectic to say the least. But mostly I am left silent by the contradictions that marked this time.
The disaster that rocked our country and resonated with every Filipino, was also a time of celebration and joy and reunions for many other families. We Filipinos have the longest Christmas season in the world (it starts around September) and we take our Christmas traditions seriously. Many Filipinos have relatives abroad who come home for reunions and celebrations during this time (such as the case with us, with my Kuya coming home after more than a year of not visiting the Philippines). I’m not saying many Filipinos were celebrating like hell while a big chunk of the population were in mourning, many of us donated our funds for celebrations to the relief operations. Other companies cancelled their Christmas parties and gave the party budget for the donations. People were all sensitive to the tragedy that was Yolanda, but for those of us whose families were still alive and complete, those whose loved ones came home for a reunion, we all felt a need to hug each other a little harder, we all felt the need to celebrate while we still can. And this feeling, well, it made me feel guilty as well. Because we could still hug our loved ones, because we could still serve Christmas dinner and be happy together. It felt wrong and it felt right all at the same time.
That’s why I couldn’t write this in the post couple of months. I didn’t really know what to say or if what I had to say meant anything at all.
But I remember reading the stories of the families shattered by Yolanda, the mother walking the streets like a zombie, her husband and six children all taken by the storm surge. The man who wrote a note to his brother in Australia, saying both mother and father are dead. His wife having just given birth, lost her mother and father as well. I think to myself, how does one go on from there? To have six children and loose them all in one fell swoop? I cannot. I cannot imagine it at all. I could not speak of it. I could not write of it and I’m not sure writing about it now is not just me making my own noises to keep from falling into a void.
I think about them still. Everyday.
The world can be such a horrible place. I wake up some mornings when the sun is bright, the trees outside my window dappled in yellow, birds perched and chirping, my children’s laughter a wondrous background to all that beauty and all I feel is dread. My thoughts filled with the previous night’s terrors. I think of all the things that one stands to lose in this life, and I wonder if we will be spared.