Saturday, January 13, 2007

Buhay Pa Tayo

One of the most familiar phrases people say here when you ask them how they are is "Eto" (here) or "Buhay pa" (still alive). Never has it had more meaning than in recent weeks here as we recover from one of the worst typhoons to hit the Philippines in decades.

I have written much in my blog lately - mostly because I've been busy, sometimes because I just don't know what to say anymore. When Typhoon Reming struck us on Nov. 30, 2006, hitting Legaspi (my new home) dead center, we all experienced a brush with serious injury, if not death. For a few minutes there, as the flood waters rushed inside my little apartment on Marquez Street, I wondered, 'Is this the way it's going to be?' I'll drown right here inside my tiny apartment far away from my family and friends? Thankfully the water stopped rising at my waist and the pressure was off.

But there were others here who were not so lucky. In a freak of nature, Typhoon Reming dumped what some say was 40 years of rain in one day. Heavy winds helped send torrents of water from the top of Mount Mayon crashing down on Legaspi below. So many times I've looked at Mayon and thought, 'How beautiful.' But now I look at her and think, what will she do next? As many of you know from news accounts, Mayon sent tons of volcanic mud, rocks and water barrelling down on homes below, killing hundreds in the path. Though I live much farther from the base of the volcano, the water and mud came tearing through my little neighborhood too, in a flashflood, carrying cars, refridgerators and rooftops before our eyes. But we, of course, were the lucky ones.

Just today, I went to visit the people of Padang. They have been relocated to a safer place now, but are living in a tent city with few latrines and no good potable water. The walls of their temporary shelters are made of tarp and their floors are mud. This, after surviving a massive lahar that wiped out their village and took with it more than 200 of their family members. In the days after the storm, myself and other Peace Corps volunteers went to Padang to help the people there. We met some new friends and became celebrities to the hundreds of kids there. After a short break, I returned to teaching at my local college but decided to visit the evacuees at their relocation site this morning. "I thought you had forgotten us," said one woman, as many came to say hello. I don't think I could ever forget them.

But it is hard to visit people you know are suffering and yet there is little you can do to help. Peace Corps as many of you know is not a relief organization and does not necessarily involve itself in relief work. For those of us affected by the typhoon, we are trying to do what we can to help. Thanks to those of you who contributed in December, we were able to give them a little cheer at Christmastime. With your generous donations, we gave each child a pair of flip-flops (tsinellas) and at T-shirt, plus some give-away toys. We also bought hundreds of household gifts and held a family Christmas raffle. One of our volunteers, Alvin, who is big and jolly, played Santa. We all had a lot of fun and it was good to see the kids laugh again.

I'm trying to think of a way to help, even if it's just to visit the kids and say hello and lend support. There is a great little new American relief group here now, Hands On, based out of Boston. It's a funky little group that just gives people a chance to volunteer all over the world when there is a disaster. They will be here for three months at least and I'm hoping I can work with them on helping out those in need here. Come join us! Or donate, if you can...