I have yet to distinguish exactly how I felt being away when Metro Manila was devastedly flooded by typhoons Ketsana (Philippine name Ondoy) and Parma (Pepeng). It has been a month since the tragic events that flooded hundreds of homes, displaced many and even taken lives.
Back in the Philippines storms and typhoons are as much part of every year as snow is to other countries. If you haven’t been to the Philippines and in its capital in Metro Manila, part of a student’s life is to experience being sent home early from school because of another storm. And more than once in your life, you will experience finding yourself stranded on your way home in a midst of a storm (at times knee high in floods). But last month’s storms were different.The morning of Saturday, when JG told me about the storm, I shrugged it off because I thought it was just another day in Manila. I didn’t initially understood that Ketsana brought a month’s rain in just one day, and how no one was prepared to something that hasn’t happened in over 40 years.
I felt relieved that I wasn’t there when it happened. I am not the cool and collected type of person, and has proven to be very panicky in times of crisis. Had I been home during the storm, I am sure that I wasn’t going to handle having our house flooded. Not to mention that I am not a very good swimmer, not even a little bit. JG and I attended lunch with his asian diplomatic counterparts that Saturday, which was a good thing because it kept me preoccupied. Exchanging stories of similar local fruits and cooking tips with other Diplowives distracted me from thinking about our family back home.
Ironically, I also hated the fact that I was thousands of miles away. When I finally realized how serious things are and how it wasn’t just an ordinary Filipino day,but a real historical disaster, paranoia stepped in. The internet and its many capabilities gives a bit of comfort when living abroad, but this was one of those things where seeing them in a monitor is not enough. The strong urge to hop on a plane and fly home just so I can hug them and be assured that they were okay was so hard to fight.
I got hold of my Mom and my side of the family, where I learned that our house was then being turned into a semi-evacuation center for relatives and friends who got stranded and needed a place to stay until the storm died down. I didn’t call JG’s Mom, my MIL, because she lived in a town known to be geographically placed on high ground, what I didn’t consider was that mountaneous areas were prone to flashfloods. And sure enough, the apartment where my MIL was staying all by herself was affected. Thankfully JG’s Mom got through safely, despite most of our belongings getting soaked and consequently damaged. We could only be thankful that she and our two dogs were okay – a bit shaken but okay.
The Philippines wasn’t completely safe yet, within the next few weeks, more storms and typhoons came and went. And the country and its people that were once so used to the rains, feared it once more. Even the story of Noah, his ark and the promise of the rainbow brought little comfort as some areas still remained submereged in floods for days.
Back here in the other side of the world, I found myself glued to the news, following weather reports and news flash like I never did before. The Philippine Embassy and the Filipino community held prayer rallies and fund raisings hoping to extend whatever help that they can, hoping that the combination of faith and monetary assistance can make up for our absence.
Nevertheless living away, can really teach you some things. The Philippines wasn’t alone in its struggles. Vietnam and China was next on Ketsana’s path and it didn’t show any mercy on the two countries as well. Our other neighbor Indonesia also had a natural disaster of their own as Padang suffered major destruction and loss brought by an 7.6 magnitude earthquake. And then The Samoa Islands serene island life was destroyed by a tsunami that also left the country reeling.
One of the things that I liked about being a diplowife is that going away can really give you a glimpse of how big the world is. Being exposed to new cultures, and with nothing but the international news to hear from, you get a wider perspective of things; especially that JG is in foreign service. Had I been home, I would probably get caught up in feeling sorry for my us Pinoys and how much we had gone through after the literal storms. But because I know that there are also many others who are also going through their own kind of struggle, you learn to be stronger. Like a child who is starting to grow up, you learn that the your small world doesn’t revolve around you, and that you are not the only one who needs tending.
So I guess that’s what these tragic events brought me and my being away – somewhat wiser and stronger.