Travel Dates: February 7-10 2015
They said to pack light, bring extra batteries, a power bank for our phones, a flashlight, and even a sleeping bag because we might not have anywhere to sleep on some nights. Having had some experience as a mountaineer, I also brought along a first aid kit, a portable water filter, and some emergency food. They told us to be ready for anything.
We were not.
What we failed to prepare for was to be greeted with a distinctly recognizable display of Filipino hospitality, and the resilience of the human spirit.
At a glance, Yolanda-hit areas were still evidently devastated. Roads were passable, yes. But for the most part, Tacloban and Ormoc still looked war-torn. Piles upon piles of garbage still littered the roadside. Upturned cars remained where the super typhoon had flung them.
Some establishments had begun to operate and, in fact, capitalize on the current situation. Makeshift signs advertised cell phone charging for up to 20 pesos. Coco lumber was also abundant due to all the felled trees like so many toothpicks scattered upon fields of green. Food carts opened up just outside of the Tacloban airport, catering to the traffic of volunteers.
Closer to the coast, particularly in Barangay Macabug where the brunt of the storm surge was felt, it was the void left behind by the structures that was most striking.
Dozens of foundation beams now stand where once were entire communities of houses filled with walls, furniture, appliances, and precious belongings. And even where some sections of crumbling walls still stood like tombstones on wide expanses of barren beaches, they stood only to remind of the structures that once were.
Locals living in the no-build zone (within 40 meters of the beach) were told that they would not be given their share of building materials to put their houses back up. They also complain that the materials given to rebuild their fishing boats are not enough.
Upon closer inspection, though, we began to see something different. As we went around interviewing the locals, trying to draw a clear picture of what they had been through during the past 100 days since Yolanda had struck, what we heard were terrible stories of loss and frustration, but what we recognized through the way in which these stories were told, was surprising.
What I observed in the candid way that willing interviewees told their stories was humble acceptance in the face of fate, pride at having survived such an ordeal, a tinge of anger, of course, towards whoever they felt to be responsible for inefficient or insufficient relief, but also more than just a touch of humor.
In my 17 years of living in this country, I’ve noticed, when all else fails, Filipinos will smile, make jokes, and eventually laugh. In the aftermath of the largest typhoon ever to make landfall, there was no exception.
And just as I write this entry, I find evidence to back up my claim:
At every stop, we met a family, a teacher, a volunteer, a fisherman, a victim who offered us food and drink as they told us their tear-jerking stories as if merely recalling the plot of a recent blockbuster. Through no prodding of our own, one old man in Guiuan told us the story of how he had lost members of his family, but managed to save his big spoiled dog (yung mamahalin na maganda (the expensive, good looking kind)). By the end of our trip, both our stomachs and our hearts had been well fed.
I can only describe it as ownership.
The recurring theme of our trip from Cebu, to Ormoc, to Tacloban, and Guiuan was ownership of the experiences that the people we talked to had gone through, and a fixed eye on what needed to be done for recovery.
For more photos from my time in Leyte:
Thank you to Project EnKindle for letting me tag along. Hopefully I’ll be able to write about that next.