Influences (or Why I Write the Way I Do)

Natalie Goldberg (free-flowing writing)
Clarissa Pinkola Estes (wild woman writing)
Jane Hutchison (direct-to-the-point writing)
Ernest Hemingway (simple words writing)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Iloilo in Me

june 21 2008, floodwaters were raging in jaro, iloilo and i was there. just at 215pm, after shopping for food, an extra panty pack, and getting a haircut, i found myself with two of my officemates, sheryl and tess in the middle of a street in jaro wading over knee-deep floodwaters. the taxi we were riding could not go on any farther than jaro bridge so we decided to walk. we were walking arm in arm, laughing and crying out 'picture! picture!' oblivous of the danger. then danger came.

as we were rounding the bend to desamparados, en route to tess' apartment, the current swerved and submerged us with its might. sheryl let go on my left while i still held on tightly to tess at my right. i felt like drowning if not for tess and in 2 seconds, the brown havaianas i was wearing was gone. my handbag which now became a neckbag (strung snuggly over my neck) was wet and dripping but it held on strong. sheryl i think was able to hold on to a post and led me and tess to safety at the side of the barangay hall. when we entered the bridge, the floodwaters were just above the knee; now it was near my waist. a man in red shirt led us inside the barangay hall, saying that we are safe inside while tables, filing cabinets, and a tv set were floating precariously. tess climbed a table near the door while sheryl and i shared one next to the window on its left. while we kept on calling out to the man to please ask for some rope (his friends were on the other side of the street, beside the market stalls), the man was egging us to leave his things to him so he can keep it up the kisame of the bgy hall. on my left, sheryl was able to contact one of our engineers, calling for help while crying. i told her not to cry; it was the only thing i can do in a situation nearing hopelessness and helplessness. and still the man in red was calling out to get our things. perhaps in what i have shared before here as the wisdom of split-second decisions, sheryl and i decided to leave our spot, brave the murky and dangerous floodwaters to go outside. it was hopeless to stay inside, we have nothing but the ceiling. outside we could go up the roof and stay afloat. although getting there was one thing.

(The submerged main street in Jaro. Within minutes, the waters rose knee-deep to lampas tao. At this time, DPWH and city dump trucks could no longer enter because of the current.)

sheryl was the one to go out first. when it was my turn, i didn't see her outside so i panicked and shouted her name 'sheryl! sheryl! where the hell are you?". i thought she has been carried by the raging floodwaters! we had to go left and negotiate another left to reach the roof. while doing so, we were holding on to the window grills (thank God it had window grills!) because the floodwaters were now chest-deep in a matter of 10 minutes. when i turned the second left, that's when i saw sheryl up the roof beside a bearded man wearing a long pink shirt, with sleeves torn. he turned out to be our savior.

i am fat at 150 lbs and it was no better time for me to regret it. to be this fat, really. so there i was hanging by the windowsill and i could not reach up. the gutter was made of corrugated iron with the ends showing and i don't want to cut my hands! i write with my hands! i could not stand over the top side of the grills, my 'bilbil' was in the way. up the roof, the man was calling out in ilonggo perhaps to say that i heave my body upwards which i just could not do. but i tried. so one heave up and splash! my feet slipped and i fell down the floodwaters. good that i was holding on to the grills still and it did not give way because of my weight! so another try; i climbed up the grills again. i wanted to cry. cry out of frustration! because i could not heave my body up! until i just saw the man in pink down in the current, he was perhaps planning to just push my body up anyway. i didn't care. until over the raging rains, i called out to him' manong, is it ok if i step on your shoulder?'. he nodded and that's just what i needed! so with the indiana jones soundtrack running in my head, i heaved my 150-lb body up flat on the roof. i had to squirm to get past the overhang; otherwise, tess could not go up. so i was able to get up there in the roof. drenched, covered with green grime and mud yet i was laughing. that's the only way i could react. i could not cry.

when tess finally got up, the man in pink led us to the adjoining roof of a house because up there in the bgy hall's , we were exposed to the elements. when i sat down the rickety roof (the GI sheet was very thin stepping on it gave off crunchy noises), i saw that my right arm was swelling to a light green. no cuts so far.

(Sheryl beside the Man of the Hour, Mr. Reynald Ibuna)

(Tess here didn't want her picture taken nor of any of us. Later she said it was great for 'proof' of what happened.)

funny that circumstances had a way of unraveling. while the man in pink arrived timely to help us, we also arrived at the proper time for the family inside that house. their first floor has been submerged. inside was a 95-year old bedridden woman being cared for by her 20ish-something apo and her tita. while i passed by their window, the tita was crying because they didn't how to escape should floodwaters reach them. so with our help, the lola was carried to the roof, in her mattress and covered with blankets after sheryl and the man in pink ripped apart the wooden windowsill. it was 8 of us on top of the roof; the man in pink, tess, sheryl and myself with the lola, the tita, granddaughter and a dog named cutie. we were to stay on that roof from 3pm to 1am in the morning of 22 june when police on an amphibian lifeboat rescued us.

(In front of me is this sight. A basketball court in water. Just on the farther right is Tess' apartment. About 5 vehicles, including a white CRV have been totally submerged.)

how did i feel when i was up there? did i want to cry? was i angry because help did not arrive so soon. yes, i was angry, at first. when we were down the barangay hall, i was already texting mr. ito, our japanese pm of our situation but his reply arrived at only 6pm. i kept on calling al fruto, a dpwh official but he can't give any assurances. so at first i was disappointed because sir henry and mr ito were not able to do anything; but later on, i came to understand it. no help could come at such time. the floodwaters were raging; lampas-tao that the dump trucks could not enter. iloilo city is not prepared for disasters as it has never encountered one. the province had only 1 lifeboat. what more could i expect even if i was calling on al-dpwh to send over a helicopter save us? it was a flashflood so the barangays were not ready. there was not even an organized presence of the barangay as a source of help at that time. none was prepared for the situation.

(Bestfriend GG notes my pensive look on top of the roof. That's life.)

(Taken later in the office. This is how my arm looked like come Sunday, June 22. Now Friday, it's purplish-green on the sides. Red spots are now healing to a light yellow).

on top of the roof, i was calm and strangely i know i'm prepared to die. perhaps because i could understand the inevitability of death since losing my 44-year old father to heart attack in 1994. perhaps because i understand that in the bible, the thief in the night is no one but death itself. perhaps because i invested much on insurance, and just 2 weeks ago, on a philamlife accident insurance from my brother. perhaps because i pray enough so submission to God's will is easy. perhaps because i'm the type of person who has done everything i want to do (almost) and regrets little. i know i have a daughter of 2 years and 7 months, but i also know i have a caring mother, sister, brother --- a whole brood who knows deep within the meaning of family. i was just ready.

(Tales of heroism abound in Iloilo. This is a snapshot of a band of men rescuing the man in knapsack from the waters below. He just came out of nowhere. He was pulled to safety by means of a rope. What do you think is that man on the water doing? Pulling on his shorts? No, he's balancing on a red grilled gate, with only the top showing.)

the man in pink is reynald ibuna. he is a simple man who cannot speak tagalog but understands it with his heart. he may be a bum, a jobless man, a wife-beater, but in that instant he was our angel; the one who saved us from certain death. i could not imagine how i could go up that roof if not for him. he was calm, just sat there with us. by 6pm he went up the roof and suddenly was gone. he recounted to us that he just returned to recover some of his sister's things when he chanced upon us at the barangay hall. before then, he had helped his sister to safety at jaro bridge. with whatever he may be, i learned that one just cannot judge people. he may be a thousand of negative things, but for us he mattered, really mattered like life itself. right there i learned a lesson in forgiveness. everyone deserves to be forgiven because all of us, even in one single second, we all have done something good, something heroic; something that may have mattered to just one person, and that act deserves all the kindness, all the forgiveness in the world. i hope he survived the flood. i hope to see him again and just thank him.

(Taken on board a car en route to the airport on Monday, June 23. This is the Barangay Hall. The grills on the far right I hang to for dear life, to get to the roofside on the right).

while some may be were ruing the day they stepped in iloilo, i could only stare and look out at the floodwaters in front of me. i want to work full-time in the iloilo flood control project. i will go back to iloilo. there is so much to do.

it's time to learn ilonggo.