my most meaningful christmas ever. ♥
the 24th of december 2011, saturday. i finally had a free day from work. jc also had a free day from work and willingly went with me on this trip. we took the 925AM flight out of manila. over an hour after.. touch down: cagayan de oro city.
even from the plane you could already see the areas that were wiped out by the floods..
and as soon as you get on the streets outside the airport, you can already see how much mud covered the city.. you can already see the different buildings by the river that was hit. up until the part of the city on high ground, floods of mud were up to the knees, and up to the waist. this is all one week after typhoon sendong struck the city.
we were extremely lucky to have been in coordination with an uncle of ate pia cayetano, the extremely gracious tito max seno who is based in cdo, and who helped us get around the city.
before we went to cdo, we asked around and researched what might be good to bring, that we can carry on our own. we were told that there is already an abundance of old clothes and water and food supply is sufficient. so we decided to bring rubber slippers, since footwear seems to be lacking. tito max took us to barangay barra in iponan, right by the river. they weren't the ones hit hardest by the floods, but their homes were also affected, and some destroyed. this was the only area we had access to, and we were so, so, so blessed to be given this opportunity.
seeing the smiles on their faces after tragedy unexpectedly struck them a week before christmas.. smiling at them, shaking their hand, hugging them.. the warmth that you can feel.. PRICELESS.
for those of you that are thinking that you can't help, or that you only have a little to give.. please believe me when i say that EVERY LITTLE BIT OF HELP COUNTS. it doesn't have to be big, it can be small, it can be just one item. it all counts. to see them smile, really, is one of the best feelings in the world.
the rest of the day was spent going around the city, hearing stories of survivors and families who lost their loved ones..
i was very, very emotional the whole day. and i think anyone would be.
allow me to share with you a few images i took, and a few of the thousands of stories.
|a bridge in CDO where tourists usually stop to take a photo of the beautiful river and sky, is now the place where people stop to look at the washed out riverbanks and pray for the people affected by typhoon sendong. the flood was so huge that it rose up til above this bridge. over three stories high. sounds unbelievable, but its true.|
|right below the bridge, where there were homes, is now this.|
|people with homes that were two stories high had to actually break a hole through their roofs just to be able to get out of their houses. everything was submurged not just in water, but in mud.|
|typhoon sendong struck during early morning on a saturday, december 17. by the next day, the floods subsided, but it left a whole layer of mud all around the city. some areas are covered with mud up to one foot high.|
|everything below the bridge became one big river, bringing furniture from miles away crashing into other homes also miles away.|
|this man stands on his roof cleaning the furniture left in their home after the storm.|
|the stories go like this.. one minute they felt the floods by their feet. before they could even run to grab anything, in a matter of seconds, the floods rose up to their ceilings. only a few seconds.|
|some homes were totally destroyed.|
|some strips of land were totally wiped out.|
|people, furniture, and cars alike were taken by the muddy floods. there was a heartbreaking story about a man who already fled to safety, but realized he wanted to go back to save his brand new car. he made it to the car, but he never made it out. an all too real and literal example that you cannot take any material possession you have to the grave.|
|this young boy named manuel looks after the things they were able to save from their home. appliances, clothes, all covered with mud. some families like that of manuel choose to stay in their homes, despite being destroyed by the typhoon, so that when officials come to check on the homes, they are there as proof of being victims, to be able to be eligible for aid from the government.|
|some houses were totally uprooted, brought by the mud, then dropped miles away. there were stories that people living in areas on higher land could actually hear the screams of people living in the lower lands during that dark morning when the floods hit..|
|one week after the typhoon struck, this woman is still cleaning out the mud from her home. on the eve of christmas day.|
we then moved on to see one of the many evacuation centers. this was west city elementary school where we attempted to bring boxes of bottled water.
upon entering the campus, this is the first thing you see..
|i cannot imagine the pain of having to look at this sign and finding the bracelet or t-shirt of someone i know. this is one of the saddest signs anyone can ever see....|
|clothes, water, and food are sufficient in the evacuation centers. telecom companies have also set up libreng tawag stations for people who may want to call loved ones. we were told that what are needed are blankets to keep them warm at night, and fresh underwear to change into.|
at the end of the trip was when we visited the area that was hit the worst by the storm. we were told that this is where most of the people who died, lived....
|an apartment complex all covered in mud.. at the top of the gate, you see garbage.. an indication of how high the water really went..|
|as they say, tragedy does not choose. rich or poor, young or old, it hits everyone. from tricycle drivers to vendors, from lawyers to doctors, people with all kinds of professions became part of the casualty list. even the family living in this huge two storey house had to break through their roof to get out to safety.|
|a wake on december 24.. although a sad event, this family was still fortunate enough to have found and identified their departed loved ones to give them a proper burial.. a lot of families are still looking for their loved ones taken away by the floods and are unsure if they will ever find them..|
|a week ago, this was all covered by water and mud. it was described as raging mud, because it wasn't just water being taken by the strong current, it was also mud, debris, wood, furniture, and cars. there was a story of a promising 20-year old girl who fled to safety, but who chose to go back for her mom and dad in their house. sadly, none of them made it out alive....|
|the mud with the flood was so thick that now, that is all that is left in some areas. there was a story of a mother holding on to her two kids, battling the flood. she had one child in front of her, and the other child behind. she held on as long as she could. when she couldn't hold on any longer, the flood took away one child first, then the other....|
i've seen people and places affected by floods.. but nothing like this.. i was thankful that jc was with me because he kept me strong. so many times i wanted to break down and cry (and some of those times, i really did), but i felt like, who am i to cry when i wasn't the one who experienced what they did.. it is so different. in this area, you could really smell death.... and its a smell like no other. it will move you and it will break your heart.
and just when i thought that all that i would see would be heavy on the heart, i saw these two girls. i smiled at them. and they gave out one of the warmest smiles ever, with their eyes glowing, as if they weren't surrounded by loss and by death. it is the most hopeful thing for anyone to see.
so again i will say, every little bit of help counts. should you want to help, i encourage you to donate what you can in kind to any reputable group that is collecting goods. again, i appeal to you, footwear (slippers or sneakers that are still useable) and fresh underwear are needed most. if you are looking for an organization to donate cash to, unicef has relief efforts on going since the typhoon struck, until the next weeks to come. click on the photo below and it will lead you to the website where you can read more on how you can help.
aside from cagayan de oro, iligan city was also badly hit. my friend gang badoy of rock ed philippines has a cousin who is running rock ed iligan, and they have a soup kitchen for the victims of typhoon sendong in iligan. they are also collecting blankets, underwear, or any other goods in kind if you want to help. please click on the photo below and it will lead you to the website with details on how to help rock ed relief operations.
. . .
it being christmas eve, with heavy and fulfilled-beyond-words hearts, jc and i left for manila in time to reach noche buena with our families.
but i really pray that i never forget. i pray that when i go home, when i'm back to my daily routine, that i never forget the compassion i felt on this day. i pray that i never take for granted things that i usually do. i pray that my heart will not forget the feeling of seeing the cagayanons and the hopeful smiles on their faces.
when i got home, i freshened up, shared stories to my mom (and cried all over again.. then prayed again..) and sat down to join my mom for noche buena. even my nanay (yaya) virgie of over 15 years, her son gerald, and niece majo joined us in the table for a simple but made-with-love meal. my dad also joined us for this evening. it was as complete a family as complete can get. we had salad, tomato and cream based pomodoro pasta, glazed slices of christmas ham, and rosemary and olive oil lamb chops. :)
after noche buena, and after our little gift giving, it was time to celebrate with the rest of the family.. online.
past midnight of the 24th here was the daytime of the 24th in san francisco. my sister aissa who lives in london flew to be with my brother jc and family for christmas. when we called them on skype, roco had just woken up and was in quite the jolly mood. he even sang "santa claus is coming to town" for us. we shared stories on how we spent christmas, and what their christmas plans were. they watched us opening our gifts and they saw all our reactions from laughing to clapping, as they laughed and clapped with us. :)
so there we were, all together on christmas thanks to technology. me, my mom, my brother, my sister, and my darling godson roco on christmas day. ♥
i sincerely wish you all a happy and meaningful christmas with your loved ones.