Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The rains and rising waters. It all comes flooding back.

The rains and rising waters. It all comes flooding back.
by rick olivares

There's a man I know as a tricycle driver in our area. He's worked really hard to have a home of his own. Now for the second time in three years, his home along with many others, is once more under water. His children have been evacuated to the nearby basketball court that is on much higher ground.

The driver? He's sitting at the corner of the street where he lives watching over his home. He's afraid that people might loot it when the waters go down. Barely 20 feet from him the flood waters menacingly climb higher. There's a crowd of people watching. There's really nothing to see after you realized that the street is a good six-plus feet under water. At its height, it went up to eight feet. But you have to understand, all these people watching -- they live inside the area that is known as Olandes. The place is obviously named after the Netherlands with its dikes and homes by the riverside. It's residents were forcibly evacuated by noon but it's hard to leave a place you call home. So they linger nearby.

I spot another man standing underneath a shed too small to completely shield him from the rain. But he doesn't care. It looks like he's got the weight of the world on his shoulders. He's covered in plastic from a garbage bag to the type of plastic that is used to cover notebooks. It's a makeshift raincoat worn by Mang Roger.

Mang Roger used to drive for my dad. While handing over clothes, towels, shirts, jackets and water to some of the people stranded (including the tricycle driver), I converse with him. Mang Roger left home this morning thinking that the rains would stop. He's now a taxi driver and he hoped to make some money today because they were due for a grocery run. Before he left, he instructed his eldest son to prepare some rope and emergency supplies should the water climb. Now Mang Roger is stuck at the corner of Maj. Dizon Road (the main thoroughfare that runs through Industrial Valley that connects Katipunan Avenue and Marcos Highway) and President Quirino Street. He is a good 15-minutes walk away from his home. With the high waters and the strong current, it will take him at least an hour. He breathed a sigh of relief when eldest son informed him they are safe at a neighbor's house. On the 3rd floor. 

I asked Mang Roger if he was going to traverse the flood to go to his kids. He said no. Maybe when he was a lot younger. The current is so strong that it pushes you away. If you lived inland in Olandes that means facing the different water flows coming from the many side streets that snake all over the place. If one got swept away, he'd find yourself in the Marikina River in no time. 

I understood. But if my kids were there, no way will I stay out here and leave them by themselves. And I am not the only one who feels and thinks the same way. Three men, all carrying food and water, brave the waters. One tough looking guy opts not to use the rope that Navy frogmen installed earlier as a lifeline. Soon the strong current pushes him towards his right and he soon finds himself struggling to stay afloat. He regains his footing and turns back along with one other.

The first man who went into the water is far away now having successfully navigated his way through the flotsam and jetsam. A cheer breaks out from those watching his attempt to reach his family. I tried to keep track of him but in the fading light, it was difficult. This was the best time to go back in because in the dark, there's not much of a chance.

I went in earlier to help some people who were stranded. The water is brown and at times black from oil and God-knows-what else. The water makes a churning sickening sound that is frightening. It took all my will power and courage to get across. 

You see, I was a victim of Typhoon Ondoy. I lost my home and my belongings (also later to looting). The water was neck level inside my home and I stand 5'11" so you know that's pretty high. Outside my old home, the water was above my head. No big deal as I can swim. Except I never swam while carrying my dog (she's a dalmatian)  to safety. It was one of the most excruciating and tense moments of my life as I had to fight the strong current. When the waters subsided days later, I returned to my home to find it ransacked. I was not only deflated but I felt that I had lost someone or something precious. I sat by the road with the feeling that my world had caved in.

For two months after Ondoy, I was depressed. I would go back to my old apartment (after the flood waters subsided) but I refused to enter. I just stood out there. For what... 20 or 30 minutes every single day. I couldn't accept what happened. As if my mind would return to the pre-wrath of God days. Why not? It was a good memory. Except the reality was painful.

I eventually attended some counseling sessions for victims of Ondoy. I sort of snapped out of it when a woman beside me recounted to the entire group her ordeal of hanging on to a telephone line with her kids. One by one her children were taken away from her by the current. She wanted to go after them but one child clung on to her. She lost two children that day. It is a hurtful and painful memory.

That is why when it rains I can't wait to go home. Those who were never victims of Ondoy, do not understand this. They tell you that what you lost are just material things. Really? How about you lose them and let's talk about it afterwards? So I only talk about it with those who were under water or lost something or someone. They understand and feel the same way.

So I am out here once more today not just to help but to confront my own fears. I made my way out of the flood waters with my clothes soiled. But I didn't care. As long as we got to help some people to safety. Some others who went into the water emerged with torn clothes. That was because of all the junk that was bumping into them. 

I snapped myself back to reality. I went back home, changed into dry clothes then went back out. I brought with me more clothes, towels, jackets and even one of my favorite sweaters. As I gave them away, I realized that I didn't have enough. And I felt helpless. 

I wondered aloud what can be done about this. A soldier who was just relieved after paddling about for hours rescuing people said in the vernacular, "Tell people this story." I was puzzled. It turned out that the tricycle driver informed the soldier (who saw me distributing relief goods) that I was in media. 

I saw many acts of courage and heroism today. From people who were about to lose their loved ones. From people who like the soldier, paddled on against the relentless rain and frightening current. 

I just went home to write this and share it. I have no idea who will read this. After all, this is just one of the many stories that are coming out of this horrible disaster. 

I hope it serves its message and lesson to all. I am shocked that some people are railing against the national government at this point in time. You know, a great man once said, 'as not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country.' This is such a time.

As for me, it's 7:24pm as I finish this. I just bought more cup noodles. Mang Roger and quite a few others will need this.

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