I always visit Tacloban. My frequent visit in my hometown made it closer to me as if there was no ocean that separated us, as if there were no islands between us. But this time, I felt I was visiting my hometown for the first time. It was a universe away like a page from a history book. I planned my trip as if I was going to an isolated island. I packed sanitary napkin, laundry detergent, shampoo. I brought home a large luggage of goods, in fear there was no grocery store. Back then, we used to have everything. We had malls, restaurants, hotels, and parks. Watching Tacloban through the window pane, I was guessing which stores were opened. From above, I saw the skeleton of my city. The green mountain tops surprised me. The last time I was there, Yolanda made everything lifeless. The airport was naked and dead. We passed through San Jose, one of the places that were covered by flood. Tents donated by United Nations stood in the grounds flattened by Yolanda. The rain poured and I wondered how the people living in tents could survive. It had rained for the past few days.
Everything was normal at home but outside, everything was too far from its original state. There was no place for strolling. I accompanied my mom to the store that just reopened. The prices went down but the place needed a major cleanup. We walked through the wet floors. A lot of people squeezed in to buy items they had lost during the typhoon. Women were buying stained kitchen utensils. On the store walls, I spotted muddy hand-prints of Yolanda. There were a lot of vendors in the streets though we consider them now as the business in Tacloban. Only a few big retail shops opened. I bet tourism went well. Almost all the operating hotels were fully booked by foreigners on mission. Though the downtown area had electricity, it was still a haunted city.
Every house in Tacloban needed a repair. Too many streets needed to be cleared and cleaned. Too many stories. Too many smiles. One smile came from Kuya Tantan. He lived near the airport area which we knew had been soaked by the sea. During the storm, he transferred his family to his neighbor’s house. As soon as he reached the second floor of the house, the entire first floor was a pool of seawater. They stayed in the second floor with broken glasses from the window. He heard people outside asking for help. He spotted a hole on the wall, where the air-conditioner was intended. He removed the bars and let the people in. He saved the lives of eight random strangers. One was a 15-year-old boy. After the storm, he told the boy to come back in case he never found his family again. The boy did not come back.
One afternoon, we went to the city hall. Kids were running with their balloons. A group of Koreans performed Christian songs. One stood out and prayed, ” I pray Tacloban will be the richest city.” Tears streamed down my face. I felt he meant what he said and I believed in it. Tacloban will be.
Welcome to my hometown where every photo you take is a Pulitzer price, where every day you spent is worth keeping in memoir.