Monday, November 11, 2013

Tacloban after PAMS and Yolanda

The other week, I was in Tacloban City for the 12th National Symposium on Marine Science. For three days or so, over 400 coastal and marine specialists, exhilarated by fellowship and the prospect of sharing new science, laid claim to the city.

Many of us attending the symposium flew out on the day NAIA was dealing with its radar system upgrade. It was a novel kind of purgatory for someone like me whose most eventful airport debacle was being unable to find a quiet spot to read. While getting off the plane at the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport nearly five hours after our original ETA, my boss/ friend Mags gestured at the darkness beyond the runway, pointing out that we were surrounded by water. We walked towards the terminal, marveling at this proximity to the ocean. This is what I thought of when I read the tweets about the Tacloban airport being all but wiped out.

The symposium was the first time I would present what I've been working on for my Master's thesis. I also had additional duties as a member of the communications team. With everything going on, I didn't really see a lot of the city.

But I remember the people.

The symposium was held at the UP Visayas Tacloban College, a small but lovely campus, much like my UP Baguio. Dr. Marge De La Cruz, the lionhearted dean, and her tenacious faculty made all 400 of us feel welcome. The secretariat, even when they had no idea who I was or why I always appeared to be hyperventilating, helped me out whenever they could. The college chorale group and their mad vocal skillz serenaded us during the first symposium dinner, their rendition of an Imelda Papin classic an instant crowd favorite.

New images from Tacloban show that much of the campus has been destroyed. I bear the news with sorrow and disbelief, and this tugging helplessness in the face of all things being transient.

Photo from Rappler/ Rupert Ambil

The night we arrived, Mags and I with biodiversity conservation warrior queen Nanay and a research assistant Audrey ended up at the Italian restaurant Guiseppe's for a late dinner. I had the pumpkin soup and the ravioli ragu. Our waiter was a character, a young man made memorable by his affable (and slightly subversive) cheekiness. At the end of the meal, he surprised us with complimentary shots of amaretto.

The night before my very early flight back to Manila, I worried about getting to the airport at 4AM. But the girls working the front desk at Hotel Consuelo arranged a ride for me, no problem. The driver of said ride, upon learning that I didn't have change for fare, stopped at different gas stations (at that ungodly hour) until we found an attendant who could trade me smaller bills. When we reached the airport, the driver gave me his name (Victor) and number, and told me to call if I needed a taxi service in Tacloban again. I thanked him and promised I'd recommend him to other graduate students who'd often return to the city for fieldwork.

I think about these good people now in the midst of all that suffering and devastation, and hope they are okay. 

Many of the people I work with have families in Visayas and Mindanao. It's extremely frustrating not being able to do much to comfort these friends who are sick with fear and worry. The right words escape me, but my thoughts and prayers are with them and their loved ones. And in my heart of hearts, I'm thankful that my own family is safe, far away in the mountains.

The intrepid Solera sisters from Cebu, Leilani and Ligaya, initiated a small relief effort among their friends, and it has gone a long way. I'm grateful to these girls and others like them for being strong for us, for opening up avenues for us to extend some measure of help. I'm drawing light from these individuals, and trying to follow their example. Here, from Rappler, is a list of ways we can assist in relief operations.

0 seen below:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...