climb

my thoughts on ondoy

for the last four nights, i have been struggling in bed, unable to sleep. the basement parking of the building where i live was flooded by at least 17 feet of water, trapping 9 vehicles including a luxury sedan, and leaving us powerless since saturday. i have kept my petzl myo XP headlamp handy, as walking through pitch-black corridors can be a little daunting. i have been told that the situation will likely last until next week after they dry out all the cables and inspect the wires and circuit boards. despite my open windows, the heat has been unbearable, and i have to constantly wake every hour to fan myself with a piece of cardboard. my sheets and my pillowcases have been drenched by sweat, and the circles under my eyes are proof to my lack of good sleep. i have put my mountaineering equipment to good use: i turn on my black diamond camp lamp when i need to go through my routines at night and in the morning. when i arrived last monday, the refrigerator was a stinking mess. everything that could possibly rot inside it has perished, and i will likely give up many more things. despite that, i had given up a good portion of my groceries from the previous week to my mountaineering club's relief efforts: about two weeks' worth of stash, consisting mainly of a lazy bachelor's inventory: canned goods and noodles.

i have decided against going home to my parents' house in QC, as i have grown unaccustomed to the 2 hour stressful commute each morning. i still have running water, and food can easily be had within 2 minutes. i am able to charge my phone and other gadgets at the office, and internet is available. despite the lack of quality sleep, at least, i still have a dry, warm bed to plop down on every night. so no one has heard me complaining about the situation here in makati. it would be shameful of me to whine about the little inconveniences i have to deal with when so many others have to contend with far worse conditions. thanks to facebook, the inquirer, and gmanews, i have kept myself updated of the goings on, post-ondoy.

when the worst rains experienced by manila escalated into the worst flooding in the last 4 decades took place, i was up in the mountains, faced with difficulties i have decided to endure. when i arrived at the campsite late afternoon on saturday, we were instructed to inform our loved ones in manila that we were fine. we had also received news that manila was flooded. completely detached from the precise details of the carnage that swept through manila and its nearby provinces, we laughed off the news and partied with the sound provided by my altec lansings. it was only the following day, when successive messages reached me asking about our safety, that i began to be inquisitive. and still, the picture wasn't complete. only upon our return to baguio close to midnight on sunday were pieces of the puzzle appearing.

i am used to hearing about flooding in parts of metro manila. it is a regular occurrence along españa, and in villages along riverbanks and near the sea. i would have kept laughing it off until i began hearing about the loss of property, the loss of livelihood, and the more tragic loss of lives.

and i was away while all these happened, all in the space of a few hours. could i have made a difference? i am thinking of where i would have been had i decided to stay in manila. i would probably have just stayed in my building, waiting for the rain to stop. what a difference that would have made.

right now, i am inundated by stories of the scale of devastation. i have read accounts of tragedy in the past, but it has always been impersonal, many times removed: testimonies from people not known to me, anonymous names flashing on the screen or spelled on print. but it is different this time. this time, the stories are intimate. i would count friends whose lives have been altered by ondoy, but i do not seem to have enough fingers. homes and other valuables have been ravaged. for many of the people i know, it is just a matter of cleaning up, a chore that might last a week, or maybe even two. but picking up the pieces afterwards might take a little longer: rebuilding the lives altered by this catastrophe would take years. so far, the worst stories i have heard from the people i know is having to shovel out mud from inside their homes. i have not yet received accounts of death, and do not know whether i am prepared to hear them.

and while reports of tragedy number in the tens of thousands, accounts of selflessness and heroism from the simplest of individuals number in the hundreds of thousands. in an earlier blog, i said that the worst times bring out the best in all of us, and while i may have been talking about a mountaineering experience then, the light of the human spirit shines brightest in no other situation than now. i am actually ashamed that i have at best been an armchair volunteer. work has banished me in front of a computer and on top of a chair, and the best i have so far done is sacrifice a few groceries. i am embarrassed by that fact. the last that i have volunteered for any serious relief efforts was in high school, in the aftermath of the july 1991 earthquake, when we helped to repack goods and used clothing for the victims. i want so much to be a part of something. i want so much to make a difference. i want to celebrate the fact that my family and i are unharmed, by God's grace, and i would like to share my good fortune with those who have been hit the worst. it is not that i want to count myself among countless heroes who have given up a part of their safety or a portion of their wealth to contribute to something greater than themselves. i just want to express my gratitude.

and also, i want to celebrate my heritage. ironically, it is during these most trying of times that i am most proud to be filipino.