by Lj T. Schroeder
Life in the Philippines will not be complete without typhoons. I lived most of my life in one of the most typhoon prone areas in the country- Bicol Region.
My family and I have experienced first-hand many traumatic typhoon days. I have witnessed and accumulated countless typhoon stories and anecdotes. Floods, deaths, missing loved ones, injuries, ruined communities, powerless, waterless and sometimes sleepless nights are typical.
We've cooked and ate local birds that have been victims themselves of the violent weather that sought refuge in our nipa (coconut leaves) roofs. I can clearly remember our usual menu after a typhoon, if not the ever reliable sardines with langka (jackfruit) in (gata) coconut milk, its young lubi-lubi (deadly nightshade) leaves in gata. One of the good things that happens after a storm is, you need not climb coconut trees to get fruits, because they are scattered everywhere. And firewood abound too!
We’ve known what it's like to line up for relief goods. We’ve experienced staying with relatives whose house were sturdier. We've taken turns fetching water from the community pump (poso). We had to time our baths and learn how to re-use water and other essentials. For weeks, sometimes months everyone would be busy drying, cleaning, fixing and re-building things.
I was in second grade when Typhoon Sisang hit Bicol. Once daylight came, the first thing I saw was the blue-painted roof of our neighbor’s house in the main road. There was water, debris, uprooted trees and garbage everywhere. The trees looked like they’ve been stripped, that is if they are still standing. Electric lines were cut off and will not work for months. We couldn't watch the sole television station in the region.
Our school which also served as an evacuation site was not spared from the strong winds and torrential rain. We held classes for almost an entire school year in our teachers’ homes or under the leafless mango tree or at the rice storage building (tambobong) that felt like hell at noon time. We all sweat from the heat! People couldn’t make ice candy, ice water, (dirty) ice cream or run electric fans because there was no power supply. During those days generators were rare.
I forget what typhoon it was, but days before Christmas our province was hit again. Most of our kabarangays (villagers) had already set-up Christmas trees and decors for the merriest season of the year. When the typhoon passed, chaos and destruction were all that was left. We spent candle lit, gloomy, silent nights during the holidays.
But in spite of the hardships and struggles, I also recall that those were the times when I appreciated togetherness, quietness and simplicity the most. The moon and stars became more visible at night without the lights, minus the trees that oftentimes block our views or the TV that steals our attention away.
Those were the moments when we spent more time together in front of a siga (bonfire), or chatting and playing with the neighbors, singing songs or praying in the altar.
Storms teach us numerous things. They bring out the best or the worst in us- the real us.A calamity in whatever form or intensity reveals what we are capable of being and doing. They allow us to appreciate blessings, family and life. They make us realize how powerful nature is, and even more, its Creator.
We’ve learned to move on, to adapt, to make the most of our situation, to rely on one another, to give up certain things, to go back to basics, to start from scratch, to be stronger, to have faith, to wait and hope for better days and most of all to be prepared for the next storm life will bring us. :)