What a difference a day makes

It is daunting how much a single day can change almost everything.

It’s been a little over two weeks since Yolanda came and went, and the shape of our days as we once knew them has changed drastically. There no longer seem to be dates, days, hours or minutes; time just blends seamlessly into two parts — morning, and then night. While the sun is up, life moves at a frenzied pace; people are cleaning, making temporary homes out of sticks and stones, comparing notes about how they survived the disaster, wishing there will never be another one. Thankfully, they can still laugh and smile through their pain, even as they wonder constantly what tomorrow will bring. When the sun sets, almost much too soon it seems, a quiet and calm that is not necessarily reflective of the emotions of the people blankets the entire place with a hush, as if to say “rest now, there will again be much to do tomorrow.” There is no electricity still, save for a handful of homes and establishments that have generators, and just like the olden days, everyone under the charcoal sky falls into hopefully restful slumber with only the stars and the moon as a light source.

There also has been some very poignant shifting of minds. Suddenly once more, there is all this uncertainty, made bearable only by faith, and the hope of better days to come. There also is this newfound gratefulness, for everything we may have taken for granted in the past. What is beautiful now is that everything feels like a gift. A friend, Wesley Chu, has thankfully raised a banner on the highest point of his ravaged building that simply says: “Roofless, Homeless, but not Hopeless.” That speaks volumes about exactly where the people of Ormoc City and the rest of the Fourth District of Leyte are. Beaten up and battered and broken by all that Yolanda enabled, but definitely not defeated. We have a mighty God who holds us in His hands, we have our faith, we are recipients of the overwhelming goodness and generosity that is innate in people, the very same one that thankfully rises to the surface under the worst of circumstances.

Allow me to shout out a big “thank you” now to all who have so wonderfully reached out to help heal and repair all the brokenness that surrounds us, in the literal and figurative sense. If not for all of you, how can we go on? You have given so much of your time, your resources, you have opened up your hearts and hands to all of us. We are all very grateful and thankful, endlessly so. There have been hundreds of boxes of noodles and blankets and banigs, truckloads of rice and canned goods and clothing, soap and sugar plus everything else in between — tents, sleeping bags, solar lamps and lights, portable generators, water filters. The second wave promises tarpaulins and nails and hammers, hopefully even some roofing materials. All the love just keeps pouring in. There are so many of you and on behalf of the people of Ormoc and the Fourth District of Leyte I would like to thank you all. I cannot mention you all by name individually at this point because this paper will run out of space but I am keeping a record of everything, not because you have asked me to but because I want everything transparent. All the details will be put up in a website called rebuildormoc.com (incidentally, thank you Isabel Gatuslao for designing the website as your contribution; and Val Villar, too, for offering your services for free despite the fact that you had to work through many brownouts in Cebu just to get it done), because one day when the dust has settled, I want everyone in the district to know who were those that helped.

Gratefulness is very important. Rest assured that the kindness you have shown will encourage and inspire people to pay it forward when they get the opportunity to do so in the future, in ways both big and small. Countless individuals have also offered their trucks, choppers, private planes, and ships just so the goods can keep going back and forth to the recipients. James, a classmate from UP I have not seen in maybe 19 years, touched base to lend his big generators, which ended up powering two hospitals. Imagine the number of lives those generators saved! There are no coincidences. I have met so many people in the past two weeks and I always tell them that, thankful as I am our paths have crossed, I wish it were under better circumstances. All have replied by saying if circumstances were so good, then maybe we would never have met at all. So I am training myself to be in that space where I do not question anything or wish anything differently; it is what it is and I just have to trust that God’s infinite goodness and providence will be enough to fill in the gaps.

I would especially like to thank the men and women of the USS Mustin (DDG 89), very ably headed by Commander Joseph Ring, this big battleship that sailed all the way from Hong Kong for all of three days to dock a few miles from the port of Ormoc City. When it was impossible to reach the ravaged mountain barangays, Commander Joe dispatched choppers to do air drops. They even found time to interact with the locals, all of who called them uncle this or that. All we had to do was bring him the goods (thankfully there was enough that had already arrived, all from private individuals and NGO’s), point to the recipientbarangay, and it was done. I appreciate very much how he understood the urgency of those relief goods getting to the people who have had to do without any food for water for eight days already because no vehicles could pass the debris-laden roads. While Commander Joe and his pilots and sailors were around, we were at least able to cut through the bureaucracy and simplify the process of delivery — no lists to comply with or sort through, just hungry and restless people given a great measure of immediate relief under what is a very difficult and abnormal situation. Thank you, Commander Joe (most everybody had taken to calling him “G.I. Joe”). God bless the day Ormoc City met you. You made a lot of things possible during your short stay in the city. Know that you all have a friend in us.

Really, it is the goodness of people from all over the world that fuels the hope that we have in our hearts.  And like I have said maybe a hundred times already the past few days alone, even if that hope is the last thing we have left, the same is enough to keep one foot in front of the next, in a walk steadied only by the promise that one day, one very fine day, the sun will shine brightly upon Ormoc City and the other municipalities in the Fourth District of Leyte again — Albuera, Kananga, Merida, Isabel, Palompon, Matag-ob — with all its beautiful and grateful people.

By then, all in God’s perfect plan and time, we will no longer be homeless.

 

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