Pilgrim's Knapsack

Pilgrim's Knapsack

My Tatay is a Spartan: A Celebration of Life amidst the Mayhem

Jeromel N. Candido 
When super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) wreaked havoc in the Visayas in Central Philippines, our tatay (father) was in Baranggay San Isidro, Hernani, Eastern Samar, one of the devastated areas. Anxiety set in for no news, no words were received from tatay after the blackout, which completely cut any communication possible in the area. After nine days, on 18 November 2013, Monday, I received an unexpected call from tatay himself! At the time when hope was almost gone and tremendous apprehension ensued, he called and we talked for an hour as he imparted the details of his arduous ordeal and the challenges the survivors faced in the aftermath of the catastrophe.

According to tatay, Yolanda started hammering at 11:30 pm of 7 November 2013, Thursday. He used his cellphone to track the time. At 2:00 pm of the following day, our bahay kubo (nipa hut) was already blown away and ripped into pieces.  Miraculously, he got out in time and secured himself in our pigpen, which was made of concrete materials. With deadly winds that can reach up to 195 mph, even its roof was no match to Yolanda. Nevertheless, tatay got hold of our old "batya" (laundry basin). It was the only thing that shielded him at that moment. Try to get the picture of a Spartan’s shield from the film "300" that was used in protecting the body’s of soldiers while on defense mode... that's how big our battle “batya” is and that’s how resilient our tatay is. 

At 4:30 am of 9 November 2013, the situation changed from worse to worst: strong winds were whirling as if one is inside a washing machine that is spinning out of control. At 6:00 am, the wind reached its peak and sounded like crashing and rolling boulders that produced a horrible scream (just like in a horror movie). It was not just once that tatay asked himself, “Could this be the end?” At 10:00 am, the wind dwindled down; but the casualties that Yolanda left was far beyond words. Everything was gone in our farm: our bahay kubo, our crops and our livestock. It is as if everything was harvested in just a blink of an eye just like the online games Farmville and Hay Day. Our good ol’ pigpen stood still and sheltered tatay for the next nine days. 

At the brink of psychological breakdown, my tatay managed to cope up with the situation through prayers. On the fifth day after the typhoon, the relief operations of the government reached the place, handing the survivors a kilo of rice, a can of meat loaf, and a pack of instant pancit canton. It must have been a relief for the desperate survivors to have food. They must have been very grateful yet the operation only pushed through days after the typhoon. A survivor to survive such a situation must be extra resourceful. The noodle was good for only one serving and there was no regular ration. For nine days, my tatay endured having only coconuts to nourish and sustain him. There was no potable water so the coconut juice sufficed at that moment. Hopefully, the situation has improved.

He also related that there was a time when he was already confused, wandering blank and just snapped out of the bewilderment after hearing the voices of his family calling him. The people in San Isidro may have survived the wrath of Yolanda, but most of the survivors find it difficult to survive, or worst, have died trying to survive because of hunger and sickness. It was such "a very depressing scene", said tatay.

After a period of denial to what had happened to our farm, a sense of acceptance and gratitude for God’s gift of second life lingered. From Hernani, Eastern Samar, tatay decided to travel to Catbalogan, Samar where our nanay (mother), Mely, together with my family, was. My uncle Rey described a very emotional encounter of my parents. Saddened and still on the state of grief for we have a number of relatives who passed away in Tacloban City, Leyte, where Yolanda smashed everything and only few survived, we nevertheless still managed to celebrate for the return of our tatay. In spite of everything, I would say that, “God is good all the time and all the time God is good.” We should move forward, be positive and accept everything as a gift. God loves us very much no matter what. There is always a brighter side on this. Let us all trust in God’s mercy, grace and love. Amen.

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