Reflections in Leyte

Last January, the NGO that obliged to my doing a study on them, asked me if I could do the same study in their Leyte branches. I was not enthusiastic about the idea, as the sample did not fit in my study, but more than that, I feared going to the dead town after Haiyan washed the whole place in November last year. I did not know what to expect and if I could stand the place, emotionally and physically. With eyes closed, I said yes to the NGO. Quid pro quo.

Few weeks before my flight, some concerned souls gave me tips on survival and warned me about mosquitoes, funky-smelling water, stench, power failure, and security issues. Thus, I went there ready for the worst, riding motorcycles included (and I have been swearing I’d ban these vehicles if I become the president of this country). So off I went to Palo and Tacloban in Leyte last Thursday.

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Murphy’s law. The first motorcycle I rode got a flat tire, it rained on my first day of field work, and the generator that powered the branch office that hosted me did not run that day. Lost a data sheet and some pictures from my camera were deleted (and I am sure I did not do it accidentally). Until today, I am trying to let go and convince myself NOT to get pissed with the people whom I suspect were responsible for these incidents. Om.

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Four months after Haiyan hit the country, the main roads are congested with buses, private vehicles, delivery trucks, tricycles, shuttle SUVs, and motorcycles. Public market is alive with fish, meat, and fresh produce. The fields are green, promising a good harvest a couple of months more. Business is back. Flowers are in bloom. Toes are pedicured. Everything looks normal, save for the sight of abandoned houses and leafless trees. No indication of presence of international aid agencies either, except for the tarpaulins that bore their logos and now have become part of temporary abodes, and some Caucasians walking around the city. 

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People are different and so are their survival strategies. Cash abounded the place after Haiyan. Various foundations gave away money to the residents from as low as Php2,500 to as much as Php20,000. What did people do with their money? As soon as water subsided, some bought goods from places less affected by the typhoon and sold them in the city at double or triple the normal prices, just so they could get back to business right away. Some admitted to looting the biggest supermarket in town so they had something to sell, while others admitted to buying from looters so they had something to resell. On the other hand, some would lie about how much carpenters are paid, jacking up the rates.

Others rebuilt their homes. Still others spent their money on food and clothes. Some stopped working while being sustained by their children who are either working or are forced to work outside the province after Haiyan, never mind if they are still minors.  

When asked what they still need, they also gave different responses. While some asked for houses (and the insensitive me could not help but ask what they did with their Php15,000-Php20,000 supposedly for rebuilding their homes), other asked that help and relief be sent to them continuously. I am most proud of the people who were grateful and said that what others have done is enough already for them to start their lives anew, as well as with people who are still generous with others while they themselves struggle getting back on their feet.  

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My trip to Leyte was a humbling experience. I brought nothing to Leyte but I came back home with data, seeds for planting (from the lady who grew the flowers in the photo above), a spirit renewed by greenery and scenic views, a better understanding of human nature, and freedom from fear of riding motorcycles (in fact, I have learned to enjoy it). 

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