Sunday, September 26, 2010

Septembers to Remember

In September 2009, Ondoy happened. We were so lucky our lives were spared by the supertyphoon. This September, only God knows what I went through. What is with low moments during September? Lol. So instead of imbibing bitterness and negative energy, allow me to recall how we survived Ondoy. How I survived this September will be recounted in a different entry all together, to be posted probably next year. Haha.

Here's an article I wrote for the March 2010 ish of Meg Magazine.

We were no swimmers. The only swimmer in the family, our Dad, hasn’t returned to the Philippines since I was 10 years old. As he worked abroad, he barely witnessed me and my sister grow up. Unfortunately, he was absent during all of our most memorable days, including that fateful day of September 26, 2009.

It was a Saturday and I didn’t have work. I was resolved to sleeping until noon, but then our mother woke me and my sister up at around 10 a.m. It was raining hard and she needed help in preparing for an impending flood. At our place in Concepcion, Marikina City, it was but normal to experience floods once in a while during heavy rains.

As expected, water began to rise outside. It was around noon by that time. My mom, my sister, and I elevated our sofa set by placing them on pots and casseroles so it won’t get submerged in water. We were still calm during those times. We found nothing sinister from the way the water crawled out of the cracks in the floor. This wasn’t the first time we’ve experienced this. My sister and I even playfully waded in the ankle-deep flood water and took pictures of the experience.

Surprisingly, the water level outside the house rose rapidly and started to enter the house through our doors. By 1 o’clock, our house was a basin and the water in it was already waste-high. We did everything humanly possible to save our appliances and other pieces of furniture but apparently, girly strength was not one that can rescue everything. Panic began to overcome us as our beds, drawers, cabinets, even our gas range, washing machine, and refrigerators floated, causing a chaotic rumble. Everything got wet and underwater—our encyclopedias, our pictures, our clothes, our dining ware, even our toilet bowl. We felt miserable seeing how our once orderly house become a mess.

Good thing, our neighbors took the extra mile to help us. They left their house to check on us, steadied the floating appliances, double checked if we have turned the electrical power off, salvaged our television and computer sets, and made sure we were fine. They also encouraged us to leave with them, but we decided to stay, hoping that the downpour would come to a stop soon. My mom was in tears as she led the rosary. The three of us hopelessly watched our house gradually sink in murky water.

At around 3 in the afternoon, the water got even deeper. That was when the three of us agreed to move to a safer place. The rain didn’t stop nor did it let up. We thought it would be very dangerous to be trapped inside our house if the water level continues to rise. Ironically, our home was no longer a safe place to stay in that time.

Heavyhearted as we were, we left our properties—or what was left of them. We only brought with us the most important documents and belongings we can’t afford to lose. When we got out of the house, we faced a bigger problem: the muddy waters were already as high as my shoulders. The biggest problem: Where shall we go?

My mom feared for our lives as she didn’t know how to swim. She let out a scream hoping someone would find us wandering along the sidewalk, with nowhere to go. The water was already neck-high and the current was somehow difficult to fight. At the back of my mind, I was calculating whether the too little swimming skill I had could save both my mother’s life and my sister’s, but I know I had no chance.

We heard our neighbor yelling at us, inviting us to stay in her two-storey house just across the street. However, it was not yet time to feel relief, considering the water current and depth we have to deal with just to be able to get to the other side. The water was neck high in the elevated sidewalk. If we were to cross the street, it would even be deeper.

Despite our hopelessness, help came our way. One of the neighbors who assisted us earlier was brave and tall enough to carry us to the other side of the street. And then, we felt a sense of safety.

There were five families who found refuge in the two-storey house. On the second floor, we managed to find our own resting place despite the cramped space. None of us had an inkling that this would happen. We weren’t prepared. Our hostess selflessly offered us dry clothes and a few canned goods for the 16 of us to share.

We waited for the storm to subside; sleep was very elusive. Our mobile phones were of no use since the lines were busy. It seemed like the networks were also affected by the typhoon. We were not able to contact our relatives the same way that our relatives and our Dad, were not able to reach us. Despite the lack of electricity and the weariness we were all feeling, we managed to get through the night.

At 4 in the morning, the flood subsided and we were welcomed by ominous, thick, foul-smelling mud as we returned home. Our house was an awful sight.

Realizing that we need enough energy to start cleaning, we sent my sister to the market to buy food. There, she saw that more MarikeƱos suffered worse than we did. She recalled seeing people covered with mud and weak because of hunger. Most of them were from Barangay Nangka and others were from the town of Montalban. It took my sister two hours to return home with two cups of coffee and a few packs of biscuit. According to her, it was a frenzied morning in the market and the grocery store. Stocks were unavailable in spite of the throngs of people needing them.

We devoted the next days cleaning, moping over our lost possessions, and grieving for the great devastation brought about by the typhoon to our country. We were able to watch TV after the power was restored. We were flabbergasted to see in the news that innumerable damages were inflicted and a great number of lives were lost. All the while, we thought we had the worst experience, only to find out that that what we have gone through is nothing compared to those people who lost their homes, their loved ones, and their lives.

This experience is by far the most tragic event that happened in my life, but it made me and my family realize who really cared for us. We felt blessed as the help from relatives, friends, and workmates came unceasingly. It also made us realize how lucky we still were. We are alive and that is the most important blessing that was given to us.

Coping with the tragedy was not as hard as I imagined it to be because of the people who were there to help. Our Dad who was relieved by the news that we were okay gave us his valuable support, financially and emotionally. Our aunt and her whole family in Marikina Heights adopted us during the time our home was still in the rubles. My boyfriend, uncle, and cousin came to help clean our house and bring it back to its former order. My boss who was also affected by the typhoon personally came to bring the contributed goods of my officemates. We were deeply overwhelmed by the concern they showed us. In return, we shared with our neighbors every blessing we received.

A few days after the typhoon, my sister and I participated in an outreach program headed by my aunt. Their organization based in Jeddah, KSA, The Maria Community, gave out relief goods to the people of Nangka and Tumana who were greatly affected by Ondoy. That was the least we could do—volunteer and offer our services in order to ease the burdens of those who had worse experiences and those who have less in life.

Typhoon Ondoy drew the line and made a clear distinction between the victims and the survivors. He spared no one. Both the rich and the poor suffered. The most significant outcome of this mayhem though is the emergence of the spirit of bayanihan. It is comforting to know that in of calamities, we have people who are ready and willing to help.

I am very grateful that we survived Ondoy. My family and I owe it to the people who stood beside and prayed for us during this time of catastrophe. Most importantly, we owe it to God who spared our lives. Now that we have started anew, I can’t totally say that 2009 is a bad year. Yes, there were a lot of struggles, but I count my blessings.

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