A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: No toys for Christmas

TACLOBAN CITY (MindaNews / 21 Dec) – Early morning of 20 December, I woke up very early at 3:25 at dawn. I wanted to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. There have been so much raw emotions to process that one’s mind and heart couldn’t be still.

It was very quiet in our part of Tacloban City; very few roosters sounded their morning call for people to rise for the dawn Mass – Misa de Gallo. Very few dogs barked and as I rose for a minute I wondered why. Just as suddenly I knew why – very few were left after the storm surge swallowed so many lives of people and animals along its kilometric path.

I went out to our convent’s verandah and was struck by the morning’s utter loveliness. Despite the still-almost full moon that hovered over the battered city, the brightest of stars twinkled in the sky. The moon’s glow – gently reflected on the leaves of mahogany trees that are starting to recover their foliage – hauntingly blanketed all that can be seen.

Electricity is back in the city, although there are lights only along the main street; few of the remaining houses are lit as connections to the wires still need to be undertaken. In a little while, those who came for the dawn Mass began to enter our compound and sat at the pavement as the church gates remained closed.

One is struck that many of them are children and the youth and I surmised they must be evacuees staying for more than four days already at the nearby San Fernando Elementary School. I dressed up and joined the people in our church that survived the deluge. Except for its main door that got hit by the strong winds and the windows shattered on one side of the building, this church miraculously survived and is surrounded by so much destruction.

The big stain-glass window of Our Mother of Perpetual Help at the very top-center of the main facade was hardly touched by the strong winds; Our Lady’s iconic eyes now gaze across the desolation of the wiped-out coastal villages facing San Jose; perhaps the most badly hit in the city where hundreds of lives were lost.

Fr. Gary Alvarado, a young confrere from Tagbilaran, Bohol was the Mass’ officiant. In his homily, he shared about how his family survived the October 15 earthquake and then spoke how he felt about this calamity not knowing that a worse disaster would take place two weeks later. He did his best to communicate to the people that he shared their grief and pain; the captive crowd seemed comforted at the thought that this young priest shared the depths of their desperation.

For all the psycho-social integration processes that have reached the victims after Yolanda’s scary visit, the words spoken at this homily and the liturgy perhaps tied up the loose ends of those debriefings. This was the third Misa de Gallo I attended here and the crowds got bigger as the days are moving towards Christmas. At the Our Father when the people sang in Waray, one could hear them sing from the depths of their lamentation; even as some of them may have thought that God was made “absent” by the deluge, nonetheless, they remain holding on to their faith.

It is five days to Christmas in Tacloban and except for the recycled lanterns in the church and Christmas trees salvaged from the debris there are very few manifestations of this merry season. Like the years during the second World War – as remembered by my parents when I was a child – there seem to be no toys for Christmas here. Although this is not exactly true as Christmas parties for children are being organized; and one intuits there will be toys given to them. But children – always the most cheerful of survivors – always manage to creatively make their own toys. At our backyard during the day, boys flew kites and on the streets I saw kids playing hide and seek.

The main street named Real – and nowhere is the reality of this calamity most clearly manifested than here – trucks continue to rumble. Jeepneys are full as they cruised up and down the city. While some pockets of the city reflect a ghost town, in some others there is hustle and bustle, especially around the Tacloban Convention Center where a market has sprung up and hundreds of shanties have been set up to serve as stores and shelter.

The Robinson Mall – heavily looted a few days after the deluge – is now open to serve the public. There is money as the economy perked up with cash-for-work and the infusion of aid from all over the planet. There are still lines of victims claiming relief goods and a long line of those who no longer wish to eat sardines and noodles is seen at the Jollibee store across our church.

But many fear that when the aid runs out in a month or two when the DSWD and the international aid agencies would no longer be here, hunger will stalk Tacloban City. The people further down the coast towards the villages beyond Tacloban and Palo will be luckier as they are now able to plant seeds. In a month or two there will be root crops and vegetables; in three to four months, there will be rice and corn.

But the informal settlers in Tacloban City cannot yet go back to finding jobs, vending to earn money to buy food. The future is not bright even as there are now signs of life returning to this city. It is five days to Christmas and to hope against hope seems like an exercise in futility.

But for the moment, families are starting to buy food for their noche buena. Mothers are getting their kids to take their bath at public water stations. The sick are being taken cared of in tents put up by the Médecins Sans Frontières.

And Nang Rosita Larao, whose family lived in Cotabato City until they were pushed to return to Leyte with the war there, have returned to a newly built shanty by the seawall in Barangay 56-A-Laring. She knows it is not a wise thing to do, but she says she and her family have no choice. Besides, at the moment, she is delighted that she is reunited with her friends and neighbors who did not perish when a Lady named Yolanda came for a visit on the 8th of November this year.

MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, former head of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team and author of several books, including “To be poor and obscure,” and “Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures,” writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A Sojourner’s Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw].