Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ondoy and moving on

It's just one of those days when I feel so lazy to get out of the bed and get my morning started. My alarm clock had been boisterously ringing, and I kept turning it off, hoping to log more minutes in snoozeland. But finally, I woke up a few minutes past six to a rainy Saturday morning. As usual, I had to hurry a bit and get dressed, since every week on this day, my brother Ron and I accompany mom to the wet market.

Everything was unusual. As we drove along Imelda avenue, the street was already a mess. Garbage littered the busy lanes, and water was already mid-calf high. It rained incessantly the whole time we were marketing, but it wasn't the type of shower the likes of which will scare you. It was just mild showers throughout, and since we already spent about an hour buying food for the following week, and the waters along Imelda avenue had surely risen even more, we decided to take a different route and go home via Amang Rodriguez avenue.

I helped unload the stuff we bought, then proceeded to enjoy my breakfast. The rain hadn't stopped pouring in since we left, but I just ignored it. The news the night before forecasted moderate showers, and predicted that Metro Manila was under Signal 1. So I sat on my computer desk and emailed so and so, and browsed such and such website, oblivious of the fact that small bodies of waters were already forming in our street.

It all happened so quickly. Mom cancelled her appointment for that day. Then, she asked me to start packing my bags and things, frequently calling out each one of us to hurry. This may be a mild shower for now, but something was definitely wrong. Pools of water had already entered our gates, and at the rate the waves were violently dancing through the streets, and at the speed by which the waters were increasing in volume, it was only a matter of time before the waters entered our home and swallowed everything it contained.

I looked at my watch: 12NN. Our maids started securing the appliances and electrical gadgets. Mom had started to pull out the meat and vegetables from the ref, and loaded them to an ice chest. Then it dawned on me: we were going to evacuate, and we don't know when we could go back.

I immediately got my office bag, my cellular phones and a charger. I also packed several undies, shirts and shorts. Then I hid and secured the jewelry and laptops, and piled my other stuff on top of one another. The rest was a blur.

We took a very quick lunch, perhaps the quickest meal I ever ate in my entire life, then left the house. It was already thirty-eight minutes past 12NN by the time we locked the front door, and the waters were already chest-high in our street.

It was the weirdest walk I ever took. The trip seemed like forever as I struggled to maintain my balance. Between seeing the water already chest-deep and still continuing to rise, and trying my best not to scream at the sight of cockroaches and rats swimming a few inches from me, I must say that this has got to be the worst calamity I ever witnessed since that devastating earthquake of July 16, 1990.

It must have been a few minutes past two in the afternoon when we finally reached Tita Emy's home. It would normally take me seven minutes to reach her house on a sunny day, but it seemed like forever when we walked to her house on that day. The good samaritans that they are, my sister's in-laws offered their humble apartment for the eight days that we couldn't find a shelter to sleep in. It was a nice and an intimate home, and it surely made us comfortable, but it was torturous having to endure the brownouts and the endless thinking about my things I left at home.

The next day, since all phone lines were cut, and Globe was practically useless too, my brother Ron and I decided to walk to Marikina to check on my brother Eric and his children. We walked for two hours, pausing several times to wash mud off our feet. He was okay, but the three vehicles were almost completely submerged in the flood. The first floor of the house was inundated neck-deep, but they managed to bring upstairs all the important gadgets and stuff.

Ours was worse since we had no second floor. When we went back to the house late Sunday afternoon, the water inside the house was still waist-deep. I guess I wasn't prepared for what I was about to see: the flood almost submerged the entire house! The ref was afloat, the CDs and compo were scattered everywhere, and my two laptops, which I earlier secured in what I thought was already a high place, was also very much wet. All my books were gone, and so are all the pictures of my siblings and nephews and niece. Woodwork stunk, and the house was a complete mess, with all the mud and crude oil clinging so tightly to the walls. The sofas were soaked and browned, and several glass works were broken. Piles upon piles of clothes were waiting to be washed, while several others were waiting to be discarded.

It took us around three weeks to bring back normalcy to the house. We took turns washing, drying, sorting, cleaning, scrubbing ---- everything! It was an endless cycle of waking up, cleaning a portion of the house, throwing out stuff, and resting awhile to eat, and then resuming everything again, until we retire at night, too tired and spent to lift a finger.

I have never seen a calamity of this proportion and of this magnitude in my whole life, and I hope I'll never see it again. Until today, the loss haunts me no end. I get a little paranoid whenever it rains, be it a momentary drizzle or a powerful shower lasting a few minutes. I struggle to avoid brooding over lost pictures, lost memories, lost clothes, and yes, lost books --- the very heart and soul of a teacher's entire career. I spent precious hours scouring every cabinet, and every pile I could lay my hands on, hoping that somehow, something could still be retrieved, repaired and redeemed --- to no avail. I am sitting in this neighborhood's internet shop, thinking about the two laptops I lost to Ondoy, and the desktop pc and table I have loved since my teens. I lie down at night, and turn several times, missing my old, firm bed which I lost to the muddy waters. I look around the house, and it seems bare now ---- devoid of the pictures of our tykes and toddlers in their cutest poses. I roam the street, and there's a mountain of garbage in every household.

Ondoy has taught me not to love material things too much, that I get so attached to them to the point of depression. Now that we have cleaned up everything, I miss my stuff, but I am thankful for the months and years I have been allowed to use them. I lost a lot of material things, many of which I might never be able to regain in my life, but I am grateful no one got hurt, or got sick in the aftermath. We came out alive from this disaster, and we truly thank God that we have each other --- whole and well. But most of all, Ondoy has taught me to trust God, though sometimes that very act seems illogical and useless to do. That Ondoy has claimed countless of lives and billions of property do not change the fact that God is good, and that He is in control of His universe. I often repeat in the church and in the office that God, in His wisdom, allowed us to do the marketing on the morning of the typhoon so that in the days to come when there was widespread panic-buying and hoarding, we would have plenty to feast on. We were perhaps the only household in our area who didn't have to line up for relief goods or assistance. We were literally feasting in abundance in the midst of the chaos.

The clothes have all been washed, and the carpentry works have begun. The home smells great again, and the floors have been waxed. Life goes on after Ondoy. God is good, and though I couldn't figure out a lot of things about this calamity, His grace shines through.

Ondoy hasn't robbed me of my joy. As long as there is life, there is hope, and we can start anew.

Meanwhile, excuse me as I go back to my daily grind. And yes, I'm shopping for a brand new laptop again, thank God :-)