DAY 5 after Typhoon Yolanda, the clotheslines were up.
As of this writing, a week after Yolanda’s storm surge left Leyte, Samar, the northern part of Cebu and other places in ruin, many problems continue to make the aftermath of the storm as challenging as the uprising of the sea.
We could dwell on these problems and lose sight of the most important: the survivors’ will to live.
I first heard a CNN reporter close his report that life in Tacloban was moving on, five days after Yolanda and with no sight yet of relief goods reaching survivors.
His narration was direct and matter-of-fact. There was no attempt to squeeze every ounce of emotion. He just said that after the rains fell on a city where few had shelter, he saw clothes being hung out to dry.
As the camera panned and caught in passing the few pieces of clothing hanging on a clothesline that tossed and swung above a sea of debris, I was filled with wonder.
Filipinos are meticulous about personal hygiene. In a disaster, where just finding water to drink is a challenge, the act of using a spot of rain to clean up is a shout to the rest of us: I am here and I am moving on.
Awash from Day Zero in horrific images—first destruction, then death and misery, begging, looting, the mass exodus to leave what the media now call ghost cities or towns—we view the residents left or fleeing Leyte and Samar with pity.
Yet pity is only an emotion reserved for those unable to help themselves.
As the residents of Bohol and Cebu picked up the pieces after the Oct. 15 earthquake, residents of Leyte and Samar have shown they are shaken but determined to keep their stake in the land of the living.
While considerable airtime has dwelled on the looting, there are reports of local businessmen giving away food stocks to their fellow residents. One entrepreneur said that he no longer had anything to feed his hogs.
Yet, he could very well have slaughtered his pigs and sold the pork at exorbitant prices. Or taken his cue from another entrepreneur who shot two men dead because he suspected them of wanting to steal from his auto warehouse.
Yet, of the choices open for profit or self-protection, these survivors, victims themselves of the calamity, chose to help neighbors.
In the place of calamity survivors, would I have done the same? If family members were struck down or unaccounted for, if I lost all I owned, if I had nothing to my name, if corpses surrounded me, if I did not know what to do first in the paucity of choices facing me, would I have the presence of mind to see a downpour as not another trial but an opportunity to clean up and face another day?
That is why I believe we should match the great dignity and strength of the stricken residents of Cebu, Bohol, Leyte and Samar by doing all that we can.
There will be time enough for inquisitions and audits. It is important that the national and local governments listen to media criticism and continue their duties, intent on efficiency and accountability.
Long after the foreign media pack up to chase a bigger disaster in another part of the world, Filipino journalists will continue to show to us what still has to be done: reach communities that have yet to articulate their needs to media or government, protect children orphaned by the disaster from human traffickers and other exploiters, assist tent cities or settlements in Cebu and Manila set up for those who have left disaster zones, volunteer as wet nurses to breastfeed infants in evacuation centers to fight hunger, malnutrition and diarrhea, listen to those who have lost loved ones or, worse, do not yet know what has happened to them.
There’s enough work to keep us occupied even when the national and local media move on to other assignments. Every person keeping house knows this: there’s no end to laundry work.
Wash, dry, use, wash. For as long as the clothesline holds, “way problema”.
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 17, 2013 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”