It has been more than a month since the typhoon Haiyan hit the grounds of Leyte but I still cannot believe. To me, it happened more of a nightmare than an actual event. The TV always flashes the most recent development in Tacloban and I still cannot believe how much media attention is given to the city I grew up with. Tacloban has never been on the spotlight. If not for the typhoon, there are some Filipinos who might not know there’s a place in the Philippines called Tacloban. Now, some people can already name the barangays and the streets of Tacloban. Without Yolanda, no one would ask me, “How’s your hometown?” No one would respond me a three-second silence when I told them, “I am from Tacloban.” They say it was like a movie but never did I think that it would resemble a movie. How can I believe when Hollywood movies show skyscrapers, busy streets, thick jackets, concrete walls everywhere? I cannot believe a catastrophe is so near to me, a tragedy within my periphery and it happened in a place where my life began. And of all the cities in the world, why Tacloban? I cannot believe…
“You want to find yourself, right? In Tacloban, you will find yourself because there’s nothing you can find here except yourself,” my brother joked. In an article of Huffington Post, Philippines is recommended as one of the places you should go after a break up. I loved how the writer said “Reevaluate your problems in the Philippines.” My personal problems became temporarily less noticeable when I knew that the only problem that mattered in my hometown was how to get food. Anyone should be ashamed of himself for worrying too much on his career, what to wear, where to buy this and that, and how to earn more. I somehow felt how privileged I was. The only problems I had to resolve were frivolous. I may have had some misfortune but nothing compares to people who lost all their possessions to the the sea.
When I was in Tacloban, everything was expensive. I made sure I finished everything on my plate including the sardine sauce and the tiny fiber of green papaya. I learned to like tasteless crackers. When I was walking around the town with a bottle of water, I tried to drink in droplets. When church friends brought us fried chicken, it was so heavenly. When I did not need to make a call, I turned off my phone to save my batteries. Before I left, a bakeshop opened. The price of slice bread was higher than the regular price but a lot of people were willing to buy.
I now live in a metropolis where everything is in abundance. If I get hungry, there is a Seven Eleven to serve me. If I want to eat chicken, there’s a grocery store or a marketplace that sells dressed chicken. And if I want an instant fried chicken, I can always walk to Jollibee. I saw two kids in Tacloban meticulously taking chicken’s feathers off. The chicken was a Haiyan survivor too. He stayed on the comfort room to save his life. I can take a bath anytime. But in Tacloban, it’s not a split-second choice to take a bath. People fetched water and some would have their bath near public water pumps.
Passengers in Manila often complained about traffic jam. There are just too many people, too many cars, too many buses. On the other hand, people in Tacloban walked for miles in search of food and help. There was no tricycle or a jeep around the city. And if there was, it was probably costly. People get agitated for waiting too long for a taxi ride and sometimes I hear some passengers in MRT curse and quarrel. At least, they still had a ride. At least, they did not need to walk.
I was mindlessly wearing a shirt with lines from Dead Poet’s Society. I just realized how ironic it was to wear a shirt like that in times of crisis. My shirt stated: “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute… But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. ” My brother said you will forget whatever principle you keep, you just want to survive. Very true…
Haiyan changed how I think about charity. I used to criticize celebrities and public figures who helped victims of natural calamities. But when I saw with my very own eyes how helpless and how much was lost in Leyte, it was uplifting to know there were a lot of people who were interested to help. Whatever their motives are, we welcome them without reservation. This is not the right time to question people’s kindness. It’s very discouraging to read negative comments about Bongbong Marcos going to Tolosa and other nations giving assistance to Tacloban. It is so easy for a person to criticize if his life is so normal, if he has everything he needs and if he has all his family members alive. But if he lost everything, he will grab whatever help that comes his way. They may be his foes or the least expected people. I no longer care about imperialist ideas. They are only good in theory and paper. When I know that people are dying and no concern from the national government is evident, I see hope in flags of different colors. I no longer question celebrities who travel and send relief. It might be petty to be overwhelmed by a presence of superstar but it is a source of happiness when nothing is left.
How precious life is! This may be another repetitive lesson. I heard a lot of stories of people who fought for their lives during the typhoon. Some lives were paid by heroes we may never heard of. Most of the time, it is a challenge to be satisfied. The summary of our dissatisfaction in life is: “I don’t have the life I deserve” while others are mourning over their loved ones’ death- they do not deserve.
I’ll be spending my holidays in my hometown. I don’t know if we will have soft drinks or fruit salad. I don’t know if there will be fireworks. I just know we will celebrate life.