Memories of Old Tacloban: Six Months After Haiyan

Saturday, May 10, 2014

It’s been six months after Haiyan struck my hometown Leyte, and the thought of it still makes me sad.

It’s been a while since I last cried over something, because I have a habit of suppressing it. I don’t want to be seen as weak. But tonight, I won’t stop myself from crying. I gave in to the emotion, hoping that it will somehow ease the burden that I have been carrying inside. From that fateful day, this is the third time that I cried my heart out because of what happened not only to us, but what happened to the whole region that I love.

There were times when the situation wanted me to cry, but the tears just won’t come because deep inside I knew that if I started to cry, I would have a breakdown and it was something that I could not afford to happen. I have to be strong for my kids and for the people who needed my strength. I am so proud of them ,  my kids,for the strength and resilience they showed. They endured one whole day without consuming anything that would make up for a meal, endured hours and hours of walking from our rented apartment in Real St. to the airport in San Jose which was about 10 kilometers, braving the heat of the sun and the stench of death.

Sleeping in the airport was the coldest and scariest night of my life, hearing the sound of the waves crashing by the shore, I could not help but be afraid for what was to come should another surge would happen at that very night. I finally let myself cry the next day, the day we finally met Nikko Dizon, a journalist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She was supposed to be the person I needed to look for the night before to be able to get into the C130s, because family members of media men were given a priority boarding for that day. 

When I finally saw her, the tears just flowed, I forgot how it started, I don’t even remember what happened, all I can remember was the tears. Did I hug her,  what did I say? I cried,  maybe from exhaustion, or  relief, just relieved to see someone who wasn’t a victim like us. Somehow, she was to me, a sign of hope, a glimmer of hope amidst the destruction.

Countless attempts to take the C130 and an interview with BBC after, my sister rescued us from the airport via a van to Catbalogan. After spending the night in a cheap motel, we were finally aboard a bus bound for Manila. I was just so thankful to have brought my family to safety. I knew, at that moment, it was the best decision I had made. With the wind blowing against my face, so did the tears started flowing out I did not even had a moment to suppress it.

We started rebuilding our lives, of what was left of it, or of the kind of life the situation forced us to embrace. We started our new journey towards moving on and healing. But can someone who lost families , friends and possessions move on  in six months ? Can anybody who lost fragments of their childhood memories forget how the water drowned everything? No, I don’t think so.

I am now living in a city, a place that is so much in many ways different than what I was starting to get used to in Tacloban. Waking up to the birds chirping was now waking up to the sound of the cars honking, sure to give me a migraine for a day.  And commuting means a bus ride standing up all the way to my destination.
I did not lose so much compared to the others, but like everyone else who survived, my heart still skips a beat every time I see a homeless person sleeping, thinking that not just one or a group of people but a whole community are still homeless,  or seeing  a blue and orange tarpaulin lying on the street, because it reminds me of the many corpses piled up along the road that we almost walked on or did not even bothered to look at anymore. 

I still feel nervous and anxious every time I hear the wind howl or see the sky turning dark because of an impending rain. I still shiver at the thought of a flood, an unnatural reaction upon hearing the splash of waves. And most of all, I still feel a mix of  emotions every time I think of everything  we had to go through, relieved because we did not lose so much compared to the rest, sad because we have been displaced, uncertain because the future is still unclear.

I still have recurring nightmares of water rising up, because two weeks before the storm surge, I dreamed about seeing the water rising up to the second floor in my former house in Old Road where it was one of the hardest hit.

So have we really moved on? Not yet, in the very sense of the word, but we are trying our best to overcome this biggest challenge in our lives. Some have already started to pick up the pieces of where Haiyan left them. Others are stuck in the same situation as when Haiyan struck, but just a bit better. And as for me and my family, we are trying to forget what happened, which I think will take longer than we expected.

BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes said that there is suppressed grief in Tacloban. Yes suppressed because we were forced immediately to at least create or duplicate normalcy, and did not have the time to process our grief over loss of possessions or life.We cannot waste time to grieve, because more pressing matters were becoming evident like the scarcity of food. It is very understandable why now, six months after, many are starting to manifest mental health problems.

I want to go back, because it is where my heart is. And until I do something for the place or for the people, I will not be able to fully move on and heal. I am trying my best to fit in to this “new” life that Haiyan brought me, and yet I still feel that something is missing. I miss the simple pleasures that I can only find in the old Tacloban.

I miss our Sunday family jog at 6pm which we would then cap off with barbeque and “puso” (sticky rice  wrapped in leaves and cooked with coconut milk) at Mags (short for Magsaysay boulevard).

I miss family park and Lion's Den which became our to-go place everytime there was a scheduled black out.

I miss taking the kids to Dave’s Fun house in Robinsons, or the mini cars and bikes that they love to ride on. 

I miss going to the Shed to do my seafood shopping.

I miss bringing Matthew to the only barber shop he liked having his hair cut, the old barber shop near Gaisano Main in the downtown area.

I miss the pancit canton  me and the other moms of my daughter Arashel’s classmates share every morning at a small sari-sari store at the RTR Plaza just across Sto. Nino Sped Center before I went to work.

I miss eating at Jollibee Real with the kids. Have my kids forgotten the 6 dead bodies that was lying there when we passed by going to the airport?
Photo: Anna Mabelle Lim

How can I not miss Fahrenheit’s fried chicken? And the mango shake? And French fries with mayo that only Fahrenheit can make it as crispy as that?

I want some pancit and siopao from Savory. And the lomi from Formosa. Or some mami from Tony’s . I crave for the “suman latik” and halo-halo at Cherry’s. I want cheeseburger from Quicksnack which ironically isn't quick when you order one.

Can someone sell cheaper clothes, plastic utensils and stuff other than Unitop, 578 and Novo?

I miss the sunny smiles of the pedicab drivers and the vendors that I would pass by every day along Old Road Sagkahan all the way to the Shed. Did all of them survive?

Most of all, I miss my friends. I miss my long-time friends and going to Gerry’s grille for meetings. I miss my new friends , thanks for bringing me to Sunzibar and Giuseppe's. Unfortunately, I lost to the storm surge the first friend I made after I arrive Tacloban.

All of these, I have come to love in the one year that I lived in Tacloban.

But I am lucky, because these are the only things I miss. What about the woman who lost three children? Or the man who lost his wife? Or the woman who lost her house ? What about the businessmen who lost their businesses and source of income? Missing family members who died that day is an incomparable feeling of sadness and emptiness.

A coffin lay undisturbed. Many wanted to bury their dead but there was just too much, even the funeral parlors were closed.
Photo: Anna Mabelle Lim

I chose to stay here in this bigger city, although temporarily, because I chose not to live on dole-outs. This is where I found a source of income. Yes, I survived the first 2 months after Haiyan with the help of friends and family members. But I cannot go on living like that, dependent on others for my survival. I think that it was a blessing in disguise that me and my family did not receive anything from the government nor from private organizations, because it pushed me to work harder and to smarten up for the sake of my family.

Six months after , new leaves have sprouted from the once bare trees, shamelessly beaten by the strong winds of Haiyan. We are starting to feel hopeful, that one day we can stand on our own feet once more, without having to depend on charity from other people. Eastern Visayas has already started rebuilding what was destroyed, although still dependent on the help from other nations. We can only say thank you to the men and women who selflessly given themselves to help Tacloban rise up to its feet.

Here's a video of Tacloban after six months.

And as for me and my family, the future may still be unclear, but our hopes for a better Tacloban lives.

Here's a video which features the mom of one of my sister's friend, Hector Cruz, whose body until now has not been found.

Still keeping the faith,

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