Monday, June 24, 2024

Deadly December

by Maria Franciss Nikole Elli | December 26, 2021

Just as the orange hues decorate the dusk skies, the man in green long sleeves and a yellow hard hat marches his way home. 

I remember counting my neighbors as they make their way home. One… the man working in the nearby sugarcane factory. Two… our close neighbor who worked in the electric cooperative. Three… a doctor residing near our house. He especially loved greeting my grandmother and sometimes stayed for a few chit-chats. There were also elementary and high school students with their parents coming home from Bais. 

These were the people who frequented our street in the small town of Manjuyod. They may seem like ordinary people, but trust me when I say this: Manjuyodnons are not your typical people. They are the most hardworking individuals — providers for a waiting family back home. Day in and out, they toil somebody else’s land to bring dinner home. 

From a commuting kindergarten student, the sweat that trickled down their necks seemed just another usual day. But as I look back on it, the meager pay kept them staying, in hopes of sending a child to school. 

This is my attempt to build an introduction — to take a breath before I go on penning a tragedy I thought only existed in books and movies. 

One terror night…

On the early dawn of December 17th, when the town slept soundly in their houses, a damaging flood rushed fast to the unassuming houses of the town. It swallowed each house within its sight as it brought heavy debris with each spin. The hurling winds flayed the roofs and uprooted trees.

It was like a washing machine. A survivor, holding on to dear life as the murky brown water tried to consume them, tried to recollect his emotions as he narrated his story. “Una, sa tiil lang man! Pagpamilok nako, hawak na dayon.” (The water hugged my ankles. Just a blink later, I felt it embracing my waist.) He took a labored breath as he continued narrating, feeling a familiar sensation of the water choking him and trying to consume him.

Just a short trip away from the water’s currents, a family tried jumping from one roof to another. With each step, clunk the old material of the roof. Each leap creaked the burdened wooden pillars of the house. They felt the waters going up to get them, to snatch a life. They jump from one standing roof to another while the aggressive currents try to consume them. The desperate leaps saved their life, but not without cheating death. Upon our last leap, the whole house collapsed just as our feet got off from them.

Hours after the flood subsided, the town was left in shock. The eerie silence seemed to take the toll of the unforeseen deaths the night just swallowed. A prayer was whispered into the vast nothingness.

My grandmother, who experienced the calamity firsthand, held her tears as she told me that some relatives came to our house just as the flood subsided. Their kids were trembling from the cold and the shock after two of their family members got swallowed by the unforgiving flood.

Another trip to this horrendous sight took me to another tragic tale. A man went back inside his house amid the wrath of the typhoon. The roof collapsed! He was the third casualty who never got to see the still-deceiving daylight. 

For the survivors who fetched water at our poso, their common thought that night was only, “Mamatay nako ani.” (I won’t survive this).

A week after…

“HELP!”, a placard silently shouts by the roadside.

The roaring surge of the flood and the strong winds were long gone. The shout was for another battle to fight. The people’s throats were dry, their stomachs empty, and their then-wet clothes dried. The storm took lives, and for the living, the means to live. We survived, but death seems to be wooing us. We have no food, no water, no power. Only our will to live.

They spent their Christmas in the dark, living off of their neighbors’ kindness, sharing meals. The plate-full biko and pancit were celebrated on the dining table, thoughts lost deep in gratitude for a second life.

On a visit to the evacuation center, I heard stories of evacuees saying, “Ma’am, salamat kaayo. Gigutom na kaayo mi.” (Thank you so much for this. We are very hungry.)

I have lost count of the number of people begging on the streets (a scene you may have seen on social media), and it really pains me because it hits home.

These same people asking on the streets are the same people I saw toiling day in and out when I was still a kid. These are families that remind me of how simple my hometown is. And what greatly pains me is how I cannot help them with the little resources I have, which is why I am writing this article in hopes of reaching people who can help my little hometown. The people of Manjuyod need your help. 

Manjuyod is more than its picturesque sandbar, more commonly known as the  “Maldives of the Philippines”. It is a town of hardworking providers and simple people who do not even get leisure time in hopes to spend their last penny only on the most important things. This is the community that gave me life and has the culture that least deserves the wrath of a super typhoon. 

When the town slowly recovers, nothing will be the same. I won’t be greeted by the jolly people who have left ahead. The death toll even continues to increase as I write their story. But, the survivors of that gruesome night continue to live. May we, in all our small ways, help them rebuild their lives. 

Written for the Manjuyodnons who were taken by that deadly night and those who remained to tell the story.

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