This Is Not My Story To Tell

(This is part of the compilation of the blog Fandom For Philippines (http://fandomforphilippines.wordpress.com/) which was spearheaded by a lovely Dutch colleague for the Philippines after Haiyan. I wrote this piece on December 20, 2013).

This is not my story to tell.

But as a Filipino, I feel the pain that my “kababayans”(countrymen) are feeling right now.

Yolanda, or Haiyan – as she was known globally, came, conquered and left her wrath in that central part of the Philippines: approximately a month and a week before Christmas.

When the news of the devastation aired worldwide, my first thought was “Some of these houses might already have decors set up for Christmas.” A little so far away from the horrors that were about to unfold.

I was thinking about the children. I then found myself hugging my Zoë real tight.

Yes, we Filipinos are known to have the longest Christmas in the world. September comes and I remember our neighbors already setting up their homes with Christmas decors. Christmas songs can already be heard on the radio as early as August.

Today. December 20. Five (5) days before Christmas. I cannot imagine how the parents (and the elders) are feeling: with barely nothing to scrape for their everyday needs. I am sure they are worried about their children.

Christmas is about them.

This is not my story to tell. And to be really honest, I do not even know what to write and what to share. I am sure though that I was overwhelmed when the country of my husband’s (and now my child’s) origin took the big step to help the victims of the storm surge in my beloved The Philippines.
The photos, stories of those who survived and did not survive, of those who have lost love ones, those who were lost and of those who became lost after the devastation that Haiyan left crushed my heart.

Knowing somebody who lost her mother and leaving her siblings injured, her investments wiped away by the sea , and acquaintances and friends who were killed on that one Friday in November is beyond reproach. You just wish that you have more to give and to offer to help. You wish that you have the power to make all bad memories go away with just the swish of a stick.

“Ate” (term of endearment that means “big sister”) Rebecca is still in the Philippines, until now, helping and seeing to her siblings and their families. She left just 5 days after the typhoon hit land. She lost her mother in the storm. She said that days before the storm surge, her family was telling her that the “anticipated” flood will not reach the house. They were completely wrong. Actually, as the Philippine government placed it – the Filipinos were innocent. Ignorant. They did not understand the meaning of storm surge. Had the government used the term “tsunami”, I think, a lot would have had survived.

Haiyan left and took with her – not only Ate Becca’s family’s house – but also the life of her mother.

They were also left motherless.

Ate Becca said that her mother was in her bedroom when the storm made its landfall. She was trying to open the door of her bedroom to run outside and save herself but her arm was caught and the door pushed back by the water.

She did not survive.

It took some three days for Ate Becca to finally hear something from her family. I remember clearly all her posts on facebook asking for help to contact her family or even just to find a list, per se, of survivors. Communication lines were off. The airport gone. Electricity cut. Water supply – zero.

Nothing.

She then finally heard something when her sisters took the C130 plane to Manila. They were brought to the military camp where they were given the chance to contact and connect with families and relatives abroad or from other parts of the Philippines. Finally, a contact with their sister in the Netherlands. (Rebecca is married to a Dutch national. They have a son named Angelo).

It was just amazing how her Filipino friends (with their Dutch families) responded. Everybody offered their share of help. Some even organized “benefit dinners” with the proceeds intended to help Ate Rebecca and other Filipinos whose families and relatives were affected by the typhoon.
Angelo and his father are going to celebrate Christmas (and perhaps New Year, too) without their mother and wife. Rebecca and her siblings in the Philippines are going to celebrate Christmas with nothing but just much love for each other. Her last message on facebook included her taking her whole family and relatives away from Tacloban and taking them all to Manila. There, she rented two apartments for them and bought some second hand furnitures at least to help them live by. She said that they did not have a refrigerator (not really a basic necessity in the Philippines. Only those who can afford it have it) that they have to go to the wet market every single day to buy fish (or meat) and vegetables.

She also mentioned that she is now helping her siblings secure official documents and identifications. The process is long. Red tape is awful in the Philippines. Not to mention, these papers are very expensive and very slow to acquire.

She said that she is doing ok, but she is really having a hard time coping with the very warm and humid weather. She also mentioned that she is longing for a long, hot shower.

These are things that come really handy, and straight-away, in the Netherlands. Or in Europe. In the United Kingdom. These things: hot shower, a fridge, stove, bicycles, cars, clean and tiled toilets, a database and registry of names and data readily available in the government offices – they do not always come easy in a third world country like my beloved Philippines. Millions and millions of poor Filipinos have to fight the battle of malnutrition even without the likes of Haiyan (or Yolanda).

What more if something of this gravity comes, and left, with nothing but just dead bodies and the air of hopelessness?

I work as a Customer Service Representative for one of the biggest Sports brand in the world. Everyday, I hear mothers, fathers, grandparents complaining and grunting, “You ruined my Christmas, my child’s Christmas. How am I going to tell my 8-year old son that he will not have the gift under the Christmas tree he asked from Santa with his favorite brand? ”

I know it is not fair to be thinking a lot of bad, evil thoughts. The poor woman just wants to make Christmas perfect for her children. She is not at fault that some children from the other half of the world do not even have food to eat or water to drink.

The Filipino children after Haiyan? Am sure they still believe in Santa. I am sure that even without the lighted Christmas tree, even without the gifts because “Santa” is sure not to come – they still have that joyous feeling of the holidays.

The Filipinos are people who are born with Hope in their souls.

They are people who will still put smiles on their faces even when their whole world is crumbling down.

I know. I am a Filipino.

And I am proud to be.

Note:
The proceeds from http://fandomforphilippines.wordpress.com/ went to selected relief organizations.
Thank you Jolanda (Fairusa84) for this.

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