There is a social life in this sleepy little town once ravaged by Yolanda. A ballroom dancing party of senior citizens is in full swing in a local restaurant beside a fish processing plant that ran the risk of closing down because of poor catch and a prolonged power failure. At the tail end of their lives, ladies shimmy in sequined skirts that hide arthritic limbs. Dance instructors thrust, pull, stretch and hurl their clients in full trust that the music of these ladies’ days can silence their creaking bones. Whatever happens, never let go of your happiness, especially those that made your heart leap when you were younger. That’s what these Yolanda ladies tell me.
I am here for a consulting job. The past days have been spent talking to government and communities, capturing people’s sentiments as best as I could in my ratty notebook. At least now, the place doesn’t look as littered with debris and desolation as in November last year and good days are ahead of these people. I feel that this little “mission trip” here is helping me in spirit and in love more than it does for these strong people. Inasmuch as it is my job to do analysis, it is they who seem to be thinking for me. The people in these damaged communities are smart people who lack the confidence and affirmation worthy of them because of faulty systems and harsh stereotypes.
After a lengthy meeting of assessing needs for community rehabilitation, I slipped out and went around town on my own to have a sense of how the people live now. We had a Hilux to go around but I opted for the Crosswind that the townspeople use for transport. The Crosswind, coined by some nifty colleagues, is a single motorcycle, a public utility vehicle with no sidecar that people take when they go the most rural, upper reaches of the town. It is not the Crosswind from Isuzu, but it is a Crosswind from experience. While riding it, this is what you feel: ga krus-krus ang hangin.
The Crosswind brought me to the site of the temporary shelter for those whose houses by the sea were swept by the storm surge. These are the bunkhouses that Palafox looked down upon for their low standards. The way up is a wild adventure, imagine what a Crosswind does to your hair, to the dirt road, and to your balance. With no basket for luggage, the Crosswind is a much wilder ride if you are carrying loaded fish banyeras on both hands. If you are the finicky type (thankfully, I am not), the best way to survive a Crosswind is to have three more passengers squeezing you to the driver’s back for protection.
I reached the bunkhouses surprised either at Palafox’s criticism, or my seemingly low and lowering standards. Made of thin panels of plywood, and a floor area the size of a GK house, I found them okay. They could look better, of course, but to address the need for temporary living in a tropical country, they could suffice. The body and soul could live there, but it’s the ego that can’t. I just hope that no outsider comes in condescendingly commenting on standards and living conditions while the evacuees listen, else the latter would lose their morale, vulnerable as they are after the super typhoon.
At the far end of the row, I found a man in his mid-sixties tinkering with his motorcycle. I exchanged pleasantries with him, and he in turn asked why I was there. I said I was just looking around and that I wanted to try the Crosswind. He thought I was another one of those humanitarians who have the knack for dictating how they should live.
I learned that he used to be an architect who worked abroad but had to come home because of a relationship crisis. He left his lucrative job to make up for his neglect of family. He said leaving the Middle East after decades of toil was the best decision of his life. Along with leaving the money and its promise, he also left worry and sadness behind. Coming home, he bought a boat and fished. Yolanda happened, but he said things will be fine. “Don’t worry, be happy.” And then there I was looking up to the sacred mountain that looked upon his home, thinking, “another little surprise, huh, G?”
“You could be a fisher of men,” I had wanted to tell him but quickly rephrased it to, “You should inspire your neighbors to think that way. We can never run out of goodness. What do you busy yourself with?” — natural ga Ilonggo lang ko. “I am a pastor and here, I don’t have to go far to fish.” And this was the clincher. I knew then what this little Crosswind adventure had been all about.