February 2014: State of Tacloban

February 2014: State of Tacloban

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This is my second time to visit Tacloban, but my first time to personally see the town after Yolanda, internationally known as Haiyan, destroyed the humble city. City status are enumerated at the last part of this blog entry.

We went there to conduct free seminars and concert for the teachers thru the flagship project of PLDT Managers’ Club, Inc. and PLDT-Smart Foundation entitled Gabay Guro. We already had our first training conduct last August 2013 in the city but due to the destruction of Yolanda that physically and psychologically affected the locals, our bosses decided to somehow help the victims thru these projects of Gabay Guro.

We arrived at the Daniel Romualdez Airport and saw the structure sans the glass windows, wall and AC units. Carousel for baggage is still there, but it’s not working so we had to do check every bag that the porters get from the…

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A TESTIMONY OF FAITH AND HOPE

NOVEMBER 7.  It was not a regular day for me.  I was fairly tired from my daily routine.  After work, I wanted to cancel my tutorial class but decided not to.  I was really exhausted after that class and just wanted to rest.  But before I did, I opened my Facebook account first to check for updates as there was a typhoon entering the Philippine’s area of responsibility two days before Yolanda, with international name Haiyan, smashed my beloved city – Tacloban and other parts of Eastern Visayas.  I saw some posts praying for Leyte and Samar when PAGASA lifted the storm signal on that same day; from a normal yet strong number 3 to number 4 which was rather unfamiliar to me.  I slightly panicked and tried to check if my mother was on my chat list.  I was glad when I saw her online and talked to her over Skype.  I asked them how they were and she told me that the weather was still fine and that they were at my sister’s place in Cogon, San Jose.  My father and a church member, was at our house in V and G to safeguard our things from flood.  On that Skype conversation, I asked them if they were prepared and my mother only replied, “Mag-pray gud la kita (let’s just pray).”  I told her that I always pray for them.  I felt relieved by her calmness and told my mother that I wanted to rest and will talk to her the next day.

After praying for my family and the country’s safety, I slept peacefully that night but I was awakened by an unknown force.  It was already dawn of NOVEMBER 8.  Something strong struck my attention and forced me to wake up.  On impulse, I took my phone and quickly rummaged for any updates of super typhoon Yolanda.  Horror mirrored, worry and fear shadowed me while I was browsing for updates.  Yolanda, the strongest typhoon ever recorded in history, already made her first landfall in Guiuan and was on her second landfall in Tacloban City – the hardest hit by the super typhoon.  I sent SMS to my mother and was hoping to get any reply from her.  I tried to be calm for the next few minutes and prepared for work.  It was 7:00, Thailand time (8:00 Philippine time, being an hour difference), I was already shaking from the news and posts I read on Facebook.  I tried calling my family but their phones were only ringing and nobody was answering my calls.  At 8:00, my stomach started grumbling.  I was tensed, frightened and anxious to know what was happening to my family, to Tacloban City and its nearby towns.  I went back to my room, just few steps away from the school where I work and once again prayed for them and the rest of the people that will be affected at the onslaught of Yolanda.  I fervently prayed and somehow gathered the strength I needed to work for the rest of the day.

NOVEMBER 8 was never anticipated.  I wish it was only a dream but it was not!  It was real.  More so, if it was a dream, it was really frightening.  I was glued on Facebook the whole afternoon asking for updates from friends I have never even chatted before.  All I could get was zero communication from ground zero Tacloban.  The city tried to hide its pain from the world for several hours.  She first kept to herself the moments of the aftermath of Yolanda – the cry, the fear, the terror her people faced on this fateful day.  She faced it alone when the whole world was looking for answers.

Zero visibility.  No news updates.  Just silence.  It almost ended that way.  But after 12 long hours of nothing, a light of hope emitted when one of the country’s TV station got its first and immediate information from ground zero Palo, the closest town to Tacloban City.  I must say, it was first-hand information but I felt sabotaged when the news anchor or the station itself decided to stop the reporter to give way to some unimportant shows.  I was angered by that uncalled-for action and was already ranting because I only watch the news online and it is uploaded 2 hours late than the usual airing time.   I cannot pretend anymore because I wanted to know the real score – how Tacloban City managed to survive a 300 kph wind and came along with it, the storm surge, which made survival inevitable.  I cannot calm myself anymore because I wanted to know the situation of my family.  I wanted to know if they survived or not, if they were in pain, if I will ever see them again on my next vacation.   I regret the day when I felt so tired to even talk to my mother, when I lazily chatted over Skype few hours before the storm started.  I had a twinge of guilt when the day ended with full of questions and worries.

NOVEMBER 9.  As expected, it was no better than the other days when everything else were out of ordinary.  I communicated with my brother in Abu Dhabi.  We do not communicate much but those were the days when we shared the same fear – the fear of loss.  It was in the news that San Jose and downtown areas were seriously damaged when Yolanda struck the city.  We both joined a group in Facebook which aimed at getting information about Yolanda’s victims.  We could not imagine how the search would start and how we would go about it when we found out that they were in serious condition.  We watched the news from time to time and talked with every friend from Tacloban we saw online, maybe we could get reliable information.   I even listed my mother’s name in one of the pages that sought help in looking for family members.  I did not miss any posts concerning Yolanda and its victims.

Later this day, my brother was asking for my sister’s home address.  He requested his friend, who will be going to Tacloban, to include checking my sister’s place.  Unfortunately, both of us do not know their address.  I looked for my sister’s letters but she used her office address.  It was really depressing that we could do nothing immediate for them, that all we could do at that moment was only sit and wait until something popped in.  I felt helpless and so I cried, I grieved, but most importantly, I prayed.  I prayed until my prayers became redundant.  There were moments when I stared at nothing but my heart was purely seeking for God’s loving hands to reach out to my family.  I told God, I was not yet ready to lose any of them.  I pleaded Him for His mercy, protection, love and grace to abound with them wherever they were in whatever situation they were facing.

The hours continued ticking and still no word from them.  Before I knew it, I and my roommate were at our Pastor’s place in Rangsit.  I was happy to be with people who showed concern for my family.  Their encouragements gave me extra strength to continue and never lose hope.  Their prayers gave me the courage to hold on and have faith.  I needed rest so I slept for a little while.  Then, midnight came and I found myself crying again thinking about my family.  I am just blessed enough to have a roommate who was there to comfort me during those dark times.  After I cried, I would try to go back to sleep which was really hard.  Since day one, after the super typhoon marred Eastern Visayas, I always hummed in my mind one favorite song we usually sang during “Family Night” special number in the church were we all grew up.  “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, It is well, with my soul.  (Cho.) It is well, with my soul, It is well, It is well, with my soul.”  When I felt exhausted from all the chaos and confusion, I would rest in His arms by repeating this song over and over in my mind until I would be comforted and I could be able to finally sleep again.

NOVEMBER 10.  At about 3:00 early morn, I was awakened by a dream.  It was a dream I held on from all the queries I had in my mind.  My mother was calling my name.  Her voice was so soft, so calm and so real.  She was whispering, “Tine, Tine, okay la kami (Tine, we are all okay).” And then, my phone suddenly rang.  As short as it was, I felt the connection.  Instinct told me that my mother was also saying her little prayers.  I heard her still small voice to let me know they were really okay.  I was already framing in my mind that my brother-in-law was just taking pictures, my sister was busy cleaning their rumbled house, my two nieces were playing, and my parents were just draining the water that went inside our house and were doing some chores.  I kept all these in my mind.

Time hopped so fast and I had to get up to prepare for church.  I languidly jumped out of bed and did my usual routine.  I kept praying between conversations over breakfast.  At church, just when the pianist started playing the piano, I started crying.  I was already shaking so I went in to a room, knelt down and prayed for my family’s survival.  God was really good for giving me the strength I needed without passing out.  I asked the church to pray for the safety of my family.  I was thankful for the sermon that day.  It encouraged me more to be strong and be at peace with God.  It taught me how to be calm amidst trouble and testing.  It cheered my already disheartened heart.  I left the church with the courage to fight and to win over monster Yolanda because I have a great God, bigger than any monstrous disasters.  He assured me that He will never leave nor forsake His children until Yolanda and its effects elapsed.

NOVEMBER 11.  Four days after the typhoon and still not a single word from my family.  I had every right to mourn.  Posts in Facebook came in late November 10, thanking and praising God for keeping their families safe.  Some posted that their families left Tacloban.  They had to leave because survival was all they had.

I had to live normally like it was before the typhoon.  I still went to work even when my mind and body were tired from what had happened.  I did my responsibilities at work even when half of my concentration was not there.  I tried my best to be very strong while I was loaded with things back home.  Some parents at school asked me how my family was and I told them no news yet.  The owner of the school also showed sympathy and asked me if I wanted help.  I said, “I would NOT refuse it.”  I will never forget those people who empathized at the situation me and my family were in.

At exactly 12:38 (Philippine time), just right after my class, I received a text message in my roaming phone.  I was nervous from who the message was and what was in that message.  I opened it quickly and read the best message I had in my entire life. “All are safe.  Pray for survival.  Relay to all. – Jordan Madjus” It was from my brother-in-law.  Tears were flowing as I kept reading the message.  I read it many times to make sure that I carefully understood the message relayed to me.  Those were the only words I needed to know from them.  I thanked God for keeping them safe.  That was all that matters.

NOVEMBER 18.  I flew back home to meet my family in Manila.  I did not face them with tears anymore.  I faced them with strength and courage that we, as a family, will be in this battle together.  I told them, we will celebrate the second life God has given them.  We will place in our hearts the importance of family bonding even when we are physically separated because of work.  We have to treasure each other while we still have the time because everything in this world is uncertain.  Most importantly, I had with me the financial assistance from my work and from my church in Thailand.  I will be forever grateful to those people who willingly extended their help not just to my family but to the other victims of Yolanda.

In my life, I had encountered many hurtful tragedies brought by nature but super typhoon Yolanda was the most heartbreaking one.  It destroyed my once peaceful hometown.  It harmed my family.  It ruined the many memories I had as a child.  It left the city with nothing but only ruins from the calamity.  It deprived its people from the simple yet happy life they used to have.  It shattered the progress it worked so hard to achieve.  It caused thousands of lives, some are still missing and most who have survived are still trying to move on.  In some way, we, the Waray people may never forget what this tragedy brought into our lives but we will rise from this catastrophe.  We will get up and gather all the broken pieces, put it up together and will be healed from all these pain the nature has given us.  We will make new memories.  We will regain the simple life that was taken from us.  We will work together until we accomplish the progress we once had.  To those whose lives were not spared, we will not forget all of you.  We will face these giants by entrusting everything into the hands of our Almighty God.  He will help us prosper.  The NEW TACLOBAN, the rise of OTHER WARAY TOWNS and REGIONS will transpire.  We just have to keep the faith and believe that we will surpass the greatest challenge that was given to us.  We will make these happen!!!

Bless the Interruptions

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Rescue Tacloban
Photo Credits: Jordan Madjus

                      We have just wired into the threshold of 2014.  Everything starts anew – fresh challenges to face and different blessings to receive.  While reading Our Daily Bread dated January 9, I was already blessed with enthralling words of encouragements.  I decided to use the same title of the write up because it has given me loads of things to think about, to be thankful for and at the same time to respond positively to life’s twists and turns with absolute certainty.  It is not easy to be always on the affirmative side when we only get to see the undesirable angles of it.  At some point, we get paralyzed but before we become too sloppy, always remember that life must go on.  We have a new chapter to start writing and new aspects to consider without leaving behind the pieces that were left broken in 2013.

                      Many of us would not want to look back at the crucial ending of the past year where our country had been greatly tried and tested.  Some would wonder what life would have been if no super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) transpired.  Others have left their sanctuaries because of fear and with the thought that life back home will never be the same again.  Somebody said, “Moving on isn’t about never looking back.  Sometimes we must look back to realize just how far we have come.”  Changes are so drastic that nothing could be able to describe its outcome.  Acceptance is our only key to surpass the confusion and the pain it caused us.

                    Joe Stowell expressed in his write up that interruptions change his day dramatically and while they can be so frustrating, they can also be productive.  While I was reflecting on this phrase, Yolanda and its aftermath came vividly into my thoughts.  It was an impeccable interruption that changed the direction of our lives.  We may close our eyes and wished it never happened but we cannot escape the fact that it did.  And while we dawdle at the hardships we see in recovering from it, we cannot truly say, we have moved on.  Further thoughts backed in.  While we look at it as an interruption, it conveyed a significant message in the lives of many and had shaped selfless acts of love towards those who have been seriously affected by the monster typhoon.  Despite its destruction, many have endeavored to help us so we have now the courage to rebuild.  We have lost our loved ones, our friends, our enemies, many churches, buildings, houses and among other things were destroyed.  As a result, families have bonded closer, more friends were added, enemies became friends and churches helped other churches.  With these, many avenues have been opened.  Bless the interruptions!

                       At any given situation, there are always two sides of it.  While the other side shows every facet of destruction which causes us to be passive in life; the other displays the construction of it which will make us a better person.  We will never know what is on the other side unless we cross it.  So, when interruptions take place, accept it with open arms.  In addition, here are some tips to think through.  Be blessed!

  1. Replace fear with courage.
  2. Seek out for encouragements when frustrated.
  3. Look back but never dwell.
  4. Move on without resentment.
  5. Shed tears but don’t get yourself drowned.
  6. It is best when you are with people.
  7. Have faith, God is still in control!