Children of the Storm, Warm as the Sun

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Every typhoon season of my years I would hear of a massive tree falling, a street flood, soaked furniture, a landslide, or people dying or drowning. I ask myself: in all those years, have I learned to adapt? Have my people adapted to living in the typhoon belt?
In the basement of my childhood home where I decided to stake my independent kingdom away from my boisterous siblings upstairs, I would permanently place my once-soaked books and clothes on tables and cabinets above the water line. The young me knew trees and shrubs absorb water so I planted them in our garden. The water still seeped into my basement kingdom. The kid that was me also cleaned the drainage canals of leaves and debris, and built miniature canals to draw water away from our house garden into the street canal, but rainwater still overwhelmed my Panama canals.
In my youth I would carve Mississippi and Hudson rivers from the ground when it rains. Why foreign rivers? Blame it on tomes of old, flood-soaked, American books I rummaged from the neighboring missionary church. I would direct the rainwater towards the rivers of my imagination. Often the water followed my will, until it finally got tired of childhood play and flowed all over. Sometimes I would build Hoover Dams in water canals. Piece-by-piece I would carefully lay down rocks to form my dams, and for minutes, hours, sometimes days, my engineering marvel of a dam would hold, only to be eventually destroyed by the onslaught of rain and floods. My rivers and dams - eventually the flood would engulf them, but every rainy season of my childhood I would make them.
Growing up I never really learned to temper the storms and floods. And so I made peace with them. I learned to read the signs of its comings and goings. Know when it is safe to venture out, or when to stay at home. I see neighbors helping out cutting dangerous tree branches and clearing clogged canals. We did our share too. Sometimes, our neighbors and our family exchanged food stuffs during those stormy times. There would always be fallen trees, flooded parts or windswept roofs, but somehow the community survived and thrived.
Charles Darwin says animals either adapt to their environment, or they perish. We Filipinos are ravaged by typhoons yearly. Have we learned to adapt?
The Japanese are said to have adapted to earthquakes through technology - a slew of earthquake-proof or disaster-ready buildings and a racket of sensing gadgets. What do we Filipinos have? I do not think we have developed the same technological sophistication as the Japanese, but somehow we thrive? What do we have then?
I look back at my hometown, the images in today's TV news, and I see the answer. We have bayanihan - a sense of community and local heroism. We are a people united by a shared experience of living with typhoons year-in, year-out. We know the storm's power, and how it affects us. We do what we can to prepare for it, but we know in our shared collective experience that no human technology can contain nature's ways. We have been humbled many times in our collective memories. So while we may be individually fortifying our fortress of a home, we take comfort in the community tradition that should our individual fortifications prove weak relative to nature's vicissitudes, we still have a community to fall back on. We may be beaten and battered by storms, but like the bamboo used for our original homes, we stand up ready to face the sun.
We are a people made resilient by storms - warm and nurturing as the tropical sun.
I am proud to be a Filipino.

2 comments:

Gingerbreadman September 30, 2009 at 1:14 PM  

Wonderful writeup Ricow. There is a fine line between safety and tragedy, and we will never know when we will be a victim. That's why it's always nice to help out, you never know when you will be on the other side of the spectrum. :)

Rico Villanueva September 30, 2009 at 5:09 PM  

Thanks Luis. I have just have to write something. I feel it is both cathartic and empowering. I hope this warm cycle of giving and receiving continues. :-)

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