Friday, February 21, 2014

Philippines Typhoon Response - Day 1

I only signed up to be a typhoon relief volunteer for one week because this will be the first time I've done any sort of physical labor, or work at all , since I was diagnosed with cancer.  And before I boarded the ferry, I was trying to psych myself up for the task.  I kept saying things to myself, "ok, it's only a week, you can totally handle a week, even if you are so tired everyday, you can do that for a week."  And so on Friday night, the night before we boarded the ferry, I made a plan. Everyday,  I would go to bed early, not partake in drinking, rest when I needed to and drink lots and lots of water.

On the morning of the ferry, I was happy to wake up and see that the skies were clear and the ocean calm, it was going to be a nice ferry ride to Ormoc, Leyte from Cebu.  

When we started to approach the Leyte by ferry from Cebu, I nervously scanned the shoreline for any signs of damage. which wasn't immediately obvious and it made me feel at ease. I was nervous of my reaction to the first signs of extreme devastation. Would I be able to handle it?  Will I be able to keep myself composed?
Ferry to Ormoc City, Leyte

Damage at Ormoc Pier

I was traveling with another All Hands Volunteer, Martine, whom I met through the Facebook group for the project.  She was really nervous about coming, and almost didn't come.  We had several conversations back and forth and I told her I would meet her at the hotel in Cebu and we can take the ferry together.  She's nervous about everything: traveling, getting dengue fever, getting sick from the food and has taken to me like an older sister.  Even though she's nervous, it hasn't killed her adventurous spirit.  I think in a week, she will have no problem walking into town and back by herself.  But I totally get her apprehension, the Philippines is very different, and can be quite intimidating at first.
Martine and I

When I told her I was thinking of going to Tacloban the following day, she immediately said she wanted to go. Tacloban is a major city that was almost completely destroyed by the typhoon.  It was bad enough Haiyan had over 300 mile/hour wind, but the City of Tacloban was also swallowed by a massive storm surge, similar to a tsunami, that completely put the city under at least 2 stories of water.

When we got off the ferry, a porter helped us with our stuff and led us to the jeepney going to Kananga. a town about an hour away from Ormoc City where All Hands Volunteers base was located.  We waited for it to fill until we were all smashed together in one sweaty human pile.

As we made the one hour trek to Kananga from Ormoc City, I tried to look out the jeepney window, but I had to hunch over so much just to see anything and so the damage wasn't' at first obvious because my view was obstructed.  What I could see were a lot of damaged roofs and also a lot of obvious signs rebuilding.  As we rumbled down the road,  the sun was being reflected off of brand new shiny metal roofs. I Could see then between the trees and sugar cane as they glistened like a scattered new nickles in a field.  At one point we past a church whose roof had been ripped completely off.  It was a rather large church and the sunlight filled up the interior space from the sky above.  Outside, under a large tarp, were neatly placed pews arranged as they would be in the church.  Over the past 2 days,  this scene has presented itself over and over again: destroyed churches with  pews they uncovered, cleaned off and neatly arranged somewhere else so that the people could have a space to worship.   And the image always struck me.  Here were these pews arranged so deliberately, and so perfectly,  among such chaos and devastation.  That seemed to be the theme of life here in Leyte.  Order among chaos, beauty among destruction.  Whether is be students huddled in a classroom, under a tarp because the roof was ripped off or neatly cleaned laundry hung so perfectly outside of a house whose roof and walls have been caved in.
Damaged Church

When we arrived in the town center of Kananga, a man came up to us and asked if we wanted a taxi, which we did.  He grabbed Martine's suitcase and then hoisted it up on top of his tricycle, and bicycle tricycle.  So basically it was a bicycle that that had a side car attached to it.  And there was  roof on that side car with a rack to carry luggage.  We got inside the little car attached to his bicycle, and off we went to make the 2 kilometer trek to the All Hands Base at Kananga Hosptital.  As a person  who has recently gotten into cycling, I greatly admired the strength it required to transport us and our stuff all on a one speed bike in extremely poor conditions, in extreme heat.  So when he demanded 80 pesos for a ride that should have only cost 20, I stopped myself short from negotiating the price because I knew it required a lot of effort and I believe he certainly earned those $2.

We stepped out of our trike and we were greeted by stares, this time not stares from children peering out of windows or between gates, but stares from a dozen or so white faces.  Other All Hands Volunteers.  One quickly greeted us, but with a hesitant/blank hello, and it quickly became clear to me that they were not expecting us, even though both Martine and I had specifically selected the 15th as our arrival date.  It then became clear to me that this sort of thing happens all the time as he began the process to register us and give us a quick orientation.

The base is currently inside of a hospital which they are repairing and at the same time living in. It makes for a very interesting situation. Most of us sleep inside a large army style then with 2 long rows of the flimsiness bunk beds. I was terrified every night the bed above me was about to cave on top of me, one board was already missing and I could see a row of nails ready to stab me to death if the bed ever did fall.  We all ate lunch and dinner together made by a team of Filipinas who would come everyday to cook.  There was also another team of women who would arrive early in the AM to wash our clothes.

  As we walked around, several people working in the hospital stopped to greet us and shake our hands while others were much shyer or maybe it was that they were completely uninterested in us.  I am starting to get the sense that a lot of people are constantly coming and going and maybe there are sick of constantly meeting new people and saying goodbye to the ones they became close to.  Right now, there are 40 people at this base.  and clicks had been formed.  So far I can identify the hip young people, the nerds, and the not-so-young people.  I think fit somewhere with the nerds and the not-so-young people. They seem to be mellower and more my speed.

Even though I usually do well around other people, I hate meeting large groups of people all at once.  It is extremely intimidating, and at first  I generally like to sit in the background and watch to try to figure out where I belong.   Once we finished orientation, we sat down for dinner and people slowly began to warm up to us.  I think they felt just as awkward as I did.

Later that night, we were invited to go to the 'Beer Lady' and have some drinks.  Just outside of the hospital is a small store, called a sari sari, with a couple of wooden handmade benches.  People from AHV were already sitting at the benches drinking and laughing.  I would guess there were 20 of us huddled outside this women's store drinking, which is also her home and with her children sleeping just a few feet away.  I choose a sparkle, which is similar to a sprite.  I still feel uncomfortable drinking publicly in rural Philippines.  Having already lived here for 2 years, I know that drinking isn't really accepted for women.  I also never wore shorts or tank tops and still makes me uncomfortable when other foreign people here wear them.  After a couple of hours sitting at the Beer Lady's store, I decided I was ready to call it a night and headed back before most of the crowd. I wanted to get up early to head to Tacloban the next day.

1 comment:

  1. Erica,
    I admire so much what you are doing. it takes immeasurable amounts of strength and compassion to not only travel to, but lend your hand, somewhere that is foreign and different. I have no doubt you will thrive in this adventure and find even more parts of yourself you never knew existed. I smiled when I read "as as person who has recently gotten into cycling" =) I'm thinking of you and wishing you the best of luck on this journey. I know you will do amazing. You are touching so many lives, even those simply reading your blog. Keep writing and keep shining and keep passing on your strength to others. Love, Marjie