At the last week of March, I was given the precious privilege to go on a medical mission to Homonhon, Samar. I went with OperationBlessing, a Christian humanitarian organization closely related to 700 Club and Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).
But before reaching Samar, I saw Tacloban first.
The sky was gray and overcast when we touched down in Tacloban. We stepped down the plane and approached a decrepit, one-storey warehouse-type structure, not unlike what is commonly depicted in old Filipino action movies. For a moment my brain refused to make the connection between this miserable structure and “airport”. Then I remembered: Yolanda. Storm. Poverty. Rain.
I followed a group of people gather around a huge hunk of steel – what was left of the conveyor belt. Airline personnel manually took luggage and piled them on the conveyor belt.
We walked out the exit and were instantly swarmed by 5 men – taxi drivers and jeepney drivers lighting up at the prospect of having passengers. They are so persistent, and I have to swallow hard. Having to think of the possibility that the reason for these men’s persistence is desperation to make a living washes over me. I am surprised at these almost instantaneous connections my mind makes and I remind myself not to get overly emotional.
You are most definitely having it easy, I remind myself. People had to deal with much, much worse when they first came here. There was looting, and trafficking, and whatever else.
“At least there are no more corpses,” Doc Wen, the dentist I was with, tells me. “Months ago, the stench reeked.”
How comforting that I have one less of my senses to worry about.
My sense of sight, however, was put to full use.
Rows and rows and rows of ruined trees lined the road. Stumps of what used to be coconut trees are seen everywhere. Those that remained standing looked utterly miserable… and side-swept.
“As if the trees all got Justin Beiber hairdos,” said Doc Wen, my new commentator. She and Doc Sheila, my team leader, had been in Leyte and Samar many times since Yolanda came, doing medical missions.
A common sight was yero, galvanized iron sheets, wrapped around trees like tin foil on a barbecue stick.
Everywhere are signs of foreign and non-government aid: tents, logos and banners of various organizations.
“In the first few weeks after Yolanda, it was like the end of the world had come,” Doc Wen describes. “And all those huge C-130 planes! It looked apocalyptic.”
That’s one thing I heard a lot from the people I talked to – when Yolanda came, people thought it was the end of the world.
I sigh inwardly. So this is what Yolanda did.