Monday, December 19, 2011
Floating on Flooded Dreams
A couple of hours later I woke up to turn my laptop off. Checking the results of the scan would have to wait because working half unconscious is always a bad habit I needed to break. The task of pulling the plug also seemed to difficult for someone who has already been to dreamland. I dozed off with the steady yellow light of my charging laptop on a chair beside my bed.
I don't know how long it took but I was aware that the lights were off. I knew that the power had been cut and there was a black out. Yes, even in the dead of night with all the house lights off I can tell if there's been a power outage. It just seemed unusually dark and I concluded that the electricity was out. Skipping back into the comfortable arms of sleep, I heard my father walking out of their bedroom asking where the flashlight was. I knew the flashlight was on the sofa in the living room and I remember saying it out loud even if it was for certain he wouldn't hear me. He found it eventually and I transferred to their room to stay with my mother. She told me he was going to our church mate's house because flood water has started to enter the first floor and is rising rapidly. We weren't alarmed. Somehow, flooding wasn't such a threat to us. We never get floods in this part of the Philippines. We fell asleep to the sound of the rain being blown around by the harsh wind.
A few more blinks and I heard my father park the car and come inside the house. He reported that the road was blocked with water and people carrying their belongings from their houses. The area was flooded and some of our other church mates could not leave their house. He said the water was reaching waist level in that area and outside our house, the water was rising. We checked the garage and saw that it was still dry. When we got inside, my mother heard a dripping sound and thought that there was a faucet left open outside. We checked the back door. Lo and behold there were only a few inches left before the water entered the house. We checked the front door and garage again and it was already covered in flood water. That happened in less than five minutes. That's how fast the water rose.
It was exciting! Don't think me sadistic or weird but that was the first time we've experienced flood inside the house. Sure, we've been flooded before but only up to the garage. That was knee level and a long, long time ago. This time, the water crept into our living room and dining room. It filled every area of available floor like a shadow casting darkness in the night. Soon our feet was ankle deep in brown water, evident of mud and other unwanted things touching your skin. We carried the lower items like the rug, sofa foam and other items into our rooms which was a semi-second floor. About 4 or 5 inches of water up, we realized that we needed to transfer the ref. The compressor had already been soaked but we knew it would still work. Then the TV had to be transferred.
It was all very spontaneous. We were smiling, carrying various items and arranging them in the upper rooms. By the time the murky water started eating the second step we knew it would be a problem. At first we even took pictures and made fun of the instant swimming pool. It was an experience but it would turn out to be an incredibly terrible experience for others.
The water stopped rising and soon receded but the devastation it left has made its mark in history.
The Bigger Picture Part 2
About two years ago, I wrote a piece for the Inquirer Youngblood. I told them about my friend who died and how our world seemed to revolve around that fact. I told them that I was hit hard in the face when I saw the destruction the earthquake in Haiti and realized that our problem is a small portion of what they were experiencing. The pain we experienced was just a glimpse, nay, it wasn't even close to a glimpse of what they were feeling. There is a bigger picture and we all must learn to see it.
We didn't see it soon enough.
While we were laughing and playing around with the flood, there were people fighting for their lives. There were families holding on to their loved ones and letting go of others. There were houses and properties being torn down and swept along the torrent of muddy water. The flash flood came without any warning. People were still sleeping. People were unaware of the dangers of such an event. People died.
That night, rivers swept on to land and cleared houses and trees off the ground. Cars floated on to roofs and furniture flooded the streets. There were people climbing walls, walking on wreckage and holding on to makeshift ropes made of curtains and bed sheets just so the current of the flood won't carry them off. It wasn't the rain and the storm that the people had to battle for survival, it was the parade of mud, water, trees and houses that seemed to float through their streets.
Out there, beyond our walls, there were children crying because they lost their parents, there were mothers having to choose whether to let go of her child or her sister's child or risk killing the three of them, there were fathers who had to go home to empty lots without their families. All around there screams of loss, fear and trauma. All around there was heartache and heart break. All around there was death.
Beyond the four walls of our own house, lives had changed forever. December, one of the most joyous months of the year, will be tainted with heaviness and longing. It will be remembered as the month when loved ones died. The month when houses were lost. The month when people saw everything they owned and lost them. Whatever would happen next happened in a blur and everyone would see it that way. The quick succession of events that led to their life and the death of others.
The Stench of Death
We saw floods before. We saw its devastation to various cities in the Philippines. We saw the dead bodies on TV and all the tears people cried for their lost loved ones. We have seen all this before but we've never been close enough to actually know it's real. To feel for ourselves what the mud felt like under our feet. To see with our own eyes the houses and cars that have been overturned and destroyed. To smell the stench of death from the pile of bodies building up on trucks.
We thought it would be okay. We thought that floods were sensationalized on TV, that people acted panicked and traumatized only to reach generous hearts and gain donations. We thought it was all an act and that getting flooded would be bearable. We were wrong in so many ways.
Having your house filled with mud, hearing the furniture bump into each other while floating around is bearable but the experience is tragic. Everything we saw, all the tears and the pain, all the pleas for help were genuine. We saw for our own eyes the roofs of houses under water. We felt the cold of the flood water around our bodies and we could smell the air. We could smell that something is wrong. There was a feeling that beyond that corner, under that brush, beneath that tree is a dead body. It was not bearable at all.
We drove through the aftermath of the flood and saw empty lots where houses had once stood. We saw cars over cars and furniture in pieces. We saw people sitting on sidewalks, waiting for food or any kind of help. We saw all of them and we realized that everything is real.
Maria Ressa said it right. There was a stench of death all around and the stench is awful. The stench goes beyond the sense of smell into your emotions and the psychological repercussions of loss. It goes into your system like getting burned in the throat. It fills you with terror and disgust and sympathy and anger and confusion and depression. The stench of death continues to fill the city as it mourns its loss.
Hearing the News
So this is how it must have felt like to be Ronald Weasley. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ron kept listening to the radio that it annoyed Harry and Hermione. She said the reason may be he just doesn't want to hear a name he recognizes. That must have been what people around here felt like.
All throughout Saturday and Sunday and even now, there are radio programs reading lists of missing people, outpatients and dead bodies. Some names are familiar while others don't ring a bell. At some point I'd wish I didn't know anybody from the list, at others, especially in the outpatients list, hearing someone I know would be okay. When the host starts reading from the dead bodies list, I don't understand whether I want to hear someone's name or not. There's a thrill and a terror in me that I may hear of someone I know but would rather not. The names being called out are like final statements of death.
It is all well when we know that everyone we know is safe but what about those who have seen their loved ones' dead bodies? What about those who already know the fate of their children or their parents? They must have been crushed once more by the publicity and the plainness of the names on the list. Like a teacher was just reading an attendance sheet of which everyone present were already dead. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for them and I don't want to experience such pain.
On the other side of the country, it seems that life does go on. Everyone seems to have placed a time slot on the flood and will only talk about it during said time slots. It seems that it's so easy for them to set aside the gravity of the situation. I don't know what's really going on and I'm sure that they are doing their part to help but people down here feel like we're being downgraded. Just because it's in the lower part of the country doesn't mean we don't belong to the same country as they do. Many are affected by the media's seemingly apathetic response to the tragedy. I'm sure they're doing their best but they can't do it all.
I am torn between wanting to defend the flood affected and defending the media. This, however doesn't matter. What matters is that people who need help will be helped. Provisions will be sent and everyone will get what they need. It doesn't matter who's to blame. What matters now is that everyone works together.
Where's our President?
Reluctantly, my views on our president will have to be voiced out. I don't mean any disrespect to the highest official of the country but I don't even feel that he is needed. Despite the fact that we need a president, a leader to help us through this calamity, it has become so easy for me to forget that we even have a president who is capable of doing this. He is no longer the first person we seek in times of trouble but the first person we blame. The president no longer is the beacon of light but a beacon of light to illuminate his own deficiencies in leadership. It is depressing but it is real for me.
In response to the party issue and the defense his sisters gave, my opinion is that 'we don't care anymore'. I've lost confidence in this president and that alone should not be cause for such a post. What irks me is his sisters' ready explanations. Sure, he's a president and he can't get to the disaster affected areas at once. Sure, the party had been planned for a long time. Sure, he's not like everyone else who can jump on a plane and fly to Mindanao but he is the PRESIDENT. If he can't comfort his own people, what can he do? He says he works for the people. Now that the people need him, where is he? Sure, there are other national concerns and sure the world shouldn't stop because of our loss but we're all Filipinos and we all experience pain like this. Does it not deserve at least a national address? Does it not constitute a call for attention when over 600 of your country's population has been swept away by flood? If you're a leader and you see your people dying, will you not stop partying or hiding? Will you not be visible for all the people to see? I think we'd rather see our president acting like he cared rather than hear that he has been monitoring the situation from inside a room full of partying people and laughter.
And to his sisters, please, don't defend someone who needs to defend himself. Let him lead. Let him be the person the people elected. Let him be the person everyone expects his father to be. Don't be the punching bag, taking all the blows that's supposed to be for him. Let him face his problems head on. He needs to. He needs you, I'm sure, but he also needs to prove that he can handle a country in crisis by himself, with only people advising him and informing him. He makes his decisions and he should stand up to those decisions. He is not an actor or a superstar. He is a public servant. Let him serve.
Smiling in the midst of everything
Well, despite all this, I believe that the Filipino people still have the ability to find their happy place. We see video footage of devastation but somewhere in between there are people smiling and waving at the camera. There are people who are excited about the publicity. There are people seeing the silver lining.
We Filipinos can rise above the depths because we have faith. Our faith in God and our God is powerful. We may not understand why these things happen but we believe that God has a plan. We believe that everything is under His control. Through all the loss and the pain, we know that He still stands. His hand still covers us and protects us. He is our God and no matter what tragedy will strike us, He will be on our side.
God bless us all.