TACLOBAN – There was a swarm of curious people who loomed over me and the first aid officer. She wrapped my left foot as I winced with pain. On my arrival in Tacloban I fell in a pothole and sprained my ankle.
My first reaction was to catch the next plane back to Manila, knowing in my mind that I wouldn’t be of value as an injured volunteer. But they say everything happens for a reason. I held on to that.
The tricycle driver, Manong Nilo, rushed me off to the nearest ‘Manghihilot’, known to many as Mommy Editha or plainly ‘Mommy’. They both lived in Barangay 88 – Alimasag section, one of the areas massively affected by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), adjacent to the airport and very much exposed to the Bay. I’d never met any of them before. All I could do was to trust that I was in the hands of genuine people who wanted to help.
We went along a dirt road filled with shrubs until we reached a house that seemed to be a half-finished wooden structure. Manong Nilo explained what happened and Mommy smiled at me. She had a soft face and a vibrant positive aura. She touched my ankle and reassured me that everything would be alright. I knew I was in good hands.
‘Mommy’ was one of the Haiyan survivors; lucky enough to be saved by her husband. The story was then told as she showed me the scars on her arms, remnants of her struggles hanging on to a tree while the strong waves tried to claim her life.
She described how the big waves of water stretched from both directions, just like the stories from the Bible. Thousands of lives were taken and those left behind were all bruised and battered, emotionally and physically. They collected scraps from the debris and built their simple wooden house. She told me everything with a light heart as she thanked God for the second chance. No angst; no pain. There was calmness in her voice and I admired that.
She finished massaging my ankle as my shrieks of pain slowly subsided. She wrapped it with leaves from her backyard plant and gave me some steps to follow for the next two days.
With her reassuring smile she whispered that I’d see a miracle the following day and find it wouldn’t be swollen and I’d be able to walk in no time. I was a little skeptical at first, but I chose to believe.
Days passed and I continued on with my daily tasks as a volunteer with IDV (International Disaster Volunteers). The construction project was physically demanding, but I was amazed at how my foot recovered miraculously.
As promised, I visited Mommy and saw how her livelihood (sari-sari) store flourished. On the side she’d sometimes offer pedicure and/or manicure services. It was inspiring to see her positive attitude towards everything and through time I developed a bond with her.
Towards the end of my volunteering stint we experienced the passing of Typhoon Glenda. The intensity wasn’t awful, but due to the state of Tacloban and the vulnerability of the coastal barangays the local Government decided to evacuate the families. IDV decided to do a feeding program. We prepared big pots of Arroz Caldo and visited different sites. I got assigned to the Astrodome, the City’s Convention Centre and apparently main evacuation centre.
Hundreds of kids and families lined up as we filled their cups until we couldn’t accommodate any more. As we scouted the centre I found a familiar face. Mommy was lining up with another NGO, waiting patiently to receive 1 Kilo of rice. I hugged her tight and made sure she was alright. I told her I was leaving in a few days and promised I’d pass by before I left.
I saw her one last time before heading back home. I gave ‘Tatay’ a fishing net, since I knew he was once a fisherman before Haiyan decided to devour his boat. I hugged her and left her something from my family, a small souvenir to remember us by.
My Tacloban stint was filled with so many inspiring moments and Mommy was one of those … fond memories of her smile, her stories, her scars and the both of us … healing.
By Jowe Esguerra