This appeared originally on our Goodreads author profile and Facebook page. We just joined this forum today, and just to let you in on our secret sanctuary called our brains, we would like to share what Sheila wrote a week and a half after Haiyan had ravaged our beloved Philippines. Please read on.
THE AFTERMATH OF HAIYAN
(A tribute to the relentless soul of the unconquerable Common Tao)
The wind wails outside.
It is three o’ clock in the morning and sleep had forsaken me, eluded me and flew away with the unabashed wrath of the gust.
I got up from bed. I made my tea, and gave up any thoughts of going back to sleep.
Gale, as I contemptuously call her—this tempestuous windstorm of an irritatingly epic proportion—raps at the window and begged to be let in at this ungodly hour, and when she was ignored she tore down the trees outside and threw a hissy fit unrivalled by anything else I could remember.
Except maybe Haiyan, the ambitious and dishonourable imp that recently tore down the most beautiful sanctuary on Earth.
Yeah, let’s face it. I came from there, so to me, nothing matches the beauty, warmth and comfort that my own Inang Bayan (motherland) had bestowed upon me. Yes I may be biased, but this is my view. My posts, my rules.
Haiyan had lashed out and molested the Philippines with wild, uninhibited abandon, and for the love of God and all things seen and unseen, no matter how prepared the whole country could be, nothing could ever get them ready for the anger that this wicked rascal had unleashed, attacking even the most sacred of sanctuaries ever built and meticulously cared for by the people of Visayas. And for a while the world stood stock still, bereft of comprehension as to why this country was left utterly undefended from her shameless fury. I remember watching as the aftermath unfolds, like a film about disaster that I (or anyone else for that matter) know to be a product of sophisticated CGI conjured up from behind a computer, inside the comfort of the CGI whiz’s office.
Except that this is no movie. This is real, unfolding before me at that same exact moment when time had frozen the whole universe, shocked at the inimitable power that one, lone typhoon had the evil gumption to manifest.
Then I saw the people. The hapless, helpless victims.
Conviction has left the otherwise resilient Filipino people; with some waiting to die, others not knowing how to live, and most waiting to find their missing loved ones before breathing again—which is something I do not have the heart to wish on anyone, not even the most vile and cruel person on Earth. They have lost all will and blamed God for their predicament, that God must have punished them and wanted them to perish. It was indeed very heartbreaking and, as my daughter’s teacher puts it, is very painful to watch. Then, wonder of wonders, the whole world responded. Hour after hour, pledge after pledge, I found out how this diminutive, modest archipelago made up of seven thousand, one hundred and seven islands is treasured by the whole world, countries reaching out to the wounded region like a mother would to her incapacitated child. I saw how all these developed nations rushed towards her aid, and unforgivably so, how the local politicians rushed towards sticker printers to have their faces plastered all over relief goods instead of reaching out at the exact time that their able hands are needed. People died. And yet they worried that those left behind might not remember them on the next election. Sad, and extremely depressing. But I would much rather not concentrate on that which made this tragedy into a disastrous comedy of sorts. The only thing I would say about it is that it is sacrilegious to exploit the people’s misery, and a mortal sin to take advantage of their misfortune.
My reverie has led me to this, though: if God wanted them to die, does it mean that those— and I mean those who genuinely cared—who wanted to help out and make life a little bit more bearable for them are actually the evil ones? Rebels, to put it bluntly, for going against God’s will? I am in my right mind to essentially not think so, because the Philippines, no matter how small a country it is, is loved by everyone, in good or bad times, calamity notwithstanding. And there is only one thing that God had reminded us, time and again, to do: to know love, spread love and be loved in return.
But even amidst this catastrophic trial that befell them, the unyielding spirit of the people persists. After the first few days when relief started to trickle in it became evident that once more, the doughty, stout-hearted Common Tao has the capability to rise above the ashes and be unassailable by even one of the worst storm surges in the history of mankind. You see them smiling again while constructing makeshift roofs above their heads, ingeniously inventing things that would come in handy from bits and scraps of what once were modest belongings, now considered junk by most people. You see them flocking to churches despite the ruins that their fortresses were reduced to, and be more accountable for each other and courageously hold up each other’s faith even though they were badly beaten and bruised.
So Haiyan, you brought it on, but you fell short and were embarrassingly defeated. Nothing could break the Filipino spirit, because it is supported by the valiant soul of the whole world.
I was roused from these deep thoughts by another round of Gale’s impatient rapping. I looked at the time, it says half past four. In two hours I would have to be up and about before the sun wakes up, to get my family ready to face the struggles of their day. And as I drank the last few drops of my tea, I knew that this had changed me forever. The scar tissue that it left would itch eternally, long after Visayas had moved on, and though this may be the last words I say to revere my precious country, the events of late would resound in my thoughts. None would ever be the wiser.