Sunday, October 4, 2009

Starting Over After Ondoy

TURNS out Typhoon Ondoy or Ketsana as the rest of the world knows it was not the worst storm to hit the country and the nation’s capital this year. It was in fact the worst disaster we ever experienced in decades and arguably the most destructive in the Philippines’ history.

Around 300 dead, thousands and thousands homeless, millions worth of properties destroyed. People I personally know lost everything and are just happy to be alive. There is some measure of relief, however temporary, from goods donated by kinder souls who were either a little more fortunate or who simply happen to be at the right place at the right time. And by right place, I meant the very few areas where Ondoy’s damage was minimal to none at best.

Me and the members of my family were among those who were spared from Ondoy’s wrath. Our kitchen was briefly flooded at ankle length high but that’s about it. But as “kind” as the recent storm was to us, we weren’t always that lucky.

Back in 1992, we lost everything in a fire that gutted more than 300 houses in our area in Pasay City. The fire started four streets away and for a while, it looked like it was going to be either contained by attending firefighters or the fire will take on a horizontal direction and spare the neighboring streets. Unfortunately, the wind took the blaze to a different direction to yes, across the neighboring streets. When it was over, our apartment was one of the last houses to get caught in what was literally a crossfire or should I say, a crossing fire, to be exact.

There was not much we can save. As far as I can remember, there was the washing machine, the TV, some cassette tapes, a few photos, my then still relatively new boom box, some clothes, a few small things and our dog. Everything else, the major appliances, the furniture, most photo albums, our school yearbooks, my Jingle magazine collection, those memories, all gone.

I don’t think I was earning enough from both my work at the bank and my freelance writing jobs to easily and immediately replace what was lost. At that time, I had also just completed 28 units of the MBA course I was taking at Ateneo. Whatever little education funds that I intended for the rest of my post-graduate studies had to be rechanneled for more pressing needs. All the loan benefits available to me, I also filed. There was some help from the office and some relatives but that was all the relief we got.

See, unlike typhoon victims, fire victims usually don't have evacuation centers to go to. People, groups and especially the government (both local and national) don't often ask for donations or relief goods for us. There were also no water-damaged things to test if they would still work. Whatever insurance proceeds rented apartments like ours are entitled to usually go to the landlords, not the tenants. Yes, more often than not, fire victims are pretty much on their own, at least we were at the time.

It was tough. For months, there was a lot of belt-tightening. We had to buy only what we can afford including a second hand refrigerator that hardly made ice, ever. I remember sleeping in a folding bed, sometimes in the mat or banig, sometimes in the sofa. The apartment that we initially settled in was located in an awful street corner area where noisy vehicles including pesky tricycles pass by regularly, especially at dawn. And yes, there were many nights when I cried and wonder why something like this had to happen to us, to me.

But just like anything that breaks one’s heart, things have a way of getting better as the days go by. It didn’t happen overnight but yes, we found a way to pick up the pieces. A better place, better sleeping conditions, well, better everything at our current place in yes, Better Living. With a little luck, a little faith and yes, a fairly decent amount of hard work, everything was eventually back to normal. Well, almost everything. Not all things and memories were physically brought back or replaced and no, I never did get back to pursuing my MBA but hey, we can’t win ‘em all, can we?

Different circumstance? Pretty much the same results. For most of Ondoy’s victims, things are likely to get worse before they get better. As the relief goods stop pouring in (and they eventually will) and these victims are left to their own devices, their resolve and faith (in government, in God and in each other) will be repeatedly tested.

But this much I can say. We didn’t have a well-thought and foolproof plan to get back on track but hey, we somehow managed. The next few days and months are going to be tough for the typhoon survivors but as bad as they'll continue to get, things will eventually get better. If there’s anything good about starting over is that, well, one does begin with a clean slate. As past demons are left behind, there’s always a new day to look forward to. Each building or rebuilding block will feel like an improvement over the last one. And every upgrade, however small or seemingly insignificant, will feel like major progress.

See, the thing about hitting rock bottom is there’s really no other way to go but up.

Ondoy's path of destruction (please help donate):

1 comment:

hypermom said...

Hey Edwin! I cannot imagine starting over; am sure it was liberating but gosh! Ang galing ng family nyo! Best! :)