Hello Papa. Since two days ago, I have been thinking a lot about you. It has been almost four years since I spoke to you. The last time, I remember, was the night I was bound to travel for Buguias near the Mountain Province. It was such a devastating time because, we have been in and out of the hospital for more than four times in five months, and we all needed a break– I needed a break. “Papa, I will just visit my friend Mary. Her family works at a vegetable farm in Benguet. I know you will be fine while I’m gone.” I gave you a goodbye kiss and a hug, but little did I know that that was the last time I will ever hold you alive.
Papa, you know, I have been to several countries now. When I was younger, we used to read together the National Geographic magazines you collected since you were young. Well, you read; I never had the patience so I just go through the photos and follow the story through captions. You would then tell me about your life in Saudi, and recall your dreams when you were younger. All you wanted was to be a pilot. I said to myself, someday, I will take you and Mama some place else, in a cold country very far from what we have in the Philippines. But sadly, you have gone ahead. In 2014, you know, I brought Mama to Japan. She loved it very much. All I hoped was that you were there too, because I have saved enough for you.
Papa, I am still not married, but I hope I will be soon. I have been asking God to lead someone to me, who is as kind as you. Even at my young age, I have never heard you raised your voice against mama, more so, laid a hand on her. You have been very gentle me, to us. You strived very hard to support our education. I remember, there was a time when you had no stable job, and you thought of selling your collection of music tapes and vinyl music records in Quiapo. I knew they were very precious to you, but you had no other choice.
One night when we were at the hospital, I was taking care of you when you suddenly spoke and said to me, “Anak, sorry ha, hindi ko inaasahan na magiging ganito tayo. Hindi ko naman alam.” That time, we already knew that you had severe liver cirrhosis and that it was irreversible.
You have always reminded me to take care of Mama. You have high regards for her, because she has been strong even though you were away. “Alam mo ba, nanganak siya ng wala ako sa Pilipinas.” You were crying when you mentioned that to me.
Papa, I wish you were still here. Because I need someone to talk to, especially today. I miss you terribly. I will turn 29 this year, I have a stable job, and am learning many things. But I always look back to the days when you used to carry me on your shoulder. Because during those times, I have never felt safer. I love you very much, Papa. Very much.
We were on the bus, your left shoulder was resting on mine. That day, we were bound for Alabang, because you suddenly went to my house and decided to join me for a hike in Batangas. The night before that, I just saw you at the gate, and was awkwardly greeted by my father, who, for the first time, had to entertain a young man who is ‘friends with Bibang’. Even though I was not sure if the team would allow you to climb, you said, “Okay lang, ihahatid na lang kita.” I remember that today, and it still brings a smile on my heart.
We woke up very early and had to leave the house at 3AM. I am sure my father was glad to have someone bring me there. On the rugged bus, we were squeezed together in one of those three-seaters. I have always felt comfortable with you, although in many ways, I cannot still figure how in the world I have been very close to you. You are snobbish and often, irritated by a lot of things. In many ways, you would suggest how much you don’t care about other people and declare, “Wala akong pakialam sa kanila.” And there we were, snuggly squeezed as though we were twins. Neither of us had jobs (and money), you were still a student–a very tired student– that time, and I was a struggling ministry worker. We were simple.
I remember you used to go to my dorm very late at night, just wanting to talk. Often, you would send an SMS saying, “I am here at the gate“, and then I would receive a call from the guard saying, “Ma’am, andito po ang boyfriend ninyo“(haha!). We (by that I meant 90% you and 10% me) would chat for hours, walk around the compound, sit down and talk again, and sometimes, we visit the small lugawan. We try all sorts of street food, for, neither of us can afford any other more than fifty bucks. We were poor. But we had fruitful discussions that time, very much engaged with our thoughts, and trying to put together life and faith. In many ways, those times helped me think through my life, and why I was wanting to pursue development at the University. Still, we were poor, but happy.
Maybe what I liked about you was your simplicity. Your thoughts are complex, and you have principles that run deep in your heart, but you used to be simple. And I appreciate that. You were free, rugged, independent, but you valued a few people and you love them deeply. You were simple.
The other night, we were talking face-to-face for the first time, after four years since you left. You told me so many things– where you’ve been, what you’ve done, what you’ve studied and what things you owned. I celebrate what many good things you have had, and what you are becoming. But there was one thing I sorely miss, which, I kept on waiting for throughout the night we were together. But somewhat, I felt it was hidden under all those accomplishments. I miss most the simplicity. That joy I felt when we were together, when we were struggling young people, when neither of us had money, when we were just rugged and free.
Today marks the sixth month since the massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal, a Himalayan nation in Southern Asia. It was also a turning point in my life because, it was my first deployment overseas to support a team of humanitarian workers during the very critical phase of the emergency response. Allow me to walk you through some memories and have a glimpse of what was it like to be there after (and during) the earthquake.
Cut 01: Two weeks?
The journey started with a phone call, the kind that could change your life forever. It was a call from my line manager asking if I have heard the news about the massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal. The disaster was all over the news, with terrible images of people, especially children, being pulled out from the rubble. “We need someone to support the communication work. Will you be available to do it? You will be supporting from the regional office in Bangkok. If you are, we have to send you there by 8:00 tonight.” It was morning of April 26, not even a full 24-hour after the earthquake jolted the country.
I have been sent to an emergency situation before, right after the onslaught of typhoon Haiyan (read my Haiyan story here and here) and so deployment was nothing new. However, what makes this very different is that, this time, it’s not the Philippines. Whilst packing, one question kept hovering over my head, “How will I do it in a different country?” Sure it would be difficult, but maybe I could try and give it my best shot. They said the deployment will only be for two weeks, that, I said, I can manage.
Working in Bangkok as support communication staff helped me witness the backstage work that happens during an emergency response. At morning meetings, I witnessed how our leaders from the regional level engineer the course of the emergency response, as well as hear immediately top-level discussions which greatly affect how the humanitarian community acts on the ground (and apologies for the humanitarian-lingo). In the afternoon, I am one of the first to receive updates from the field, and help craft the reports into a narrative useful for our leads. I was overjoyed upon seeing first photos of aid reaching survivors in Nepal and I remembered myself saying, “Para akong nanganak. (I felt like I just gave birth)– though, I did very little help compared to those on the ground.
Week one was almost finished and I received news that I might come home earlier. I felt a bit reluctant to leave, but I knew that it only meant that the team on the ground was up and running stable. However, in the afternoon, a new message came: “Bibs, the plans changed, you will be deployed to Nepal, tomorrow morning.” It came on the 30th of April, 3:00PM. (Surprised? No. Yes. No. Okay yes.)
Cut 02: Detour Diary
Day 01: “Oh! You’re not Nepali?”
They say that once on a plane to Nepal, never miss the chance to sit on the left window seat, because that’s where you’ll see the majestic mountain peaks of the Himalayas. I was on the aisle but the snow-capped Himalayan Mountains suddenly appeared on what I thought was just a bunch of cumulus clouds. Minutes before we landed, we flew very close to the ‘hills’, which resembled the high mountains I have seen in the Philippine Cordilleras. Upon landing, I saw tons and tons of aid waiting to be released from the airport. We were ushered into a jam-packed bus that will take us to the main building.
I was standing very close to two ladies who were speaking in plain Nepali; one was a Caucasian woman in her 50’s whilst the other a young Nepali lady. I could sense from their faces that they were talking about the impact of the earthquake and their loved ones who survived. Whilst talking, they were looking at me as though wanting to include me in the conversation; I pretended I understood. Suddenly, the Caucasian lady spoke to me in what appears to be a question about my family. She was almost teary-eyed, eager to listen to my story. But I had to break the news: “I am sorry ma’am, I do not understand. I am not Nepali.” The lady laughed, and so as the other passengers who apparently were listening to the whole conversation. And then the comments flooded:
“Oh! You’re not Nepali?”
“It’s the first time I met a Filipina in Nepal.”
“When you go to the market, everyone will talk to you in Nepali.”
“But everyone will think you are a Nepali!”
“Oh, that’s going to be haaaaaard!”
It took us around an hour before finally riding a taxi to Lalitpur (Kathmandu) where the office is located. This area was far from the fault line and one could hardly see the impact, save the barren streets and closed shops that lined the highway. Upon reaching the office, I stopped by the lobby and saw some staff. A young woman had mistaken me to be Nepali:
“What country are you from? You look like a staff’s sister.”
“You look Nepali. We should give you a Nepali name.”
It’s very unusual welcome from my beloved Nepali people, but those remarks made me comfortable and confident that I can easily blend in the local team. I hoped that I could be my best to help them.
Day 02: “Namaste!”
I woke up very early eager to see the view from our hotel’s window. We were housed at the 7th floor, and from my window, I could clearly see the sunrise. “Namaste. Sunrise over Kathmandu, around 5:30AM today.” It has always been a dream to work outside the comforts of my country, and I was very thankful to have this break to serve in a different country. Visiting Nepal was also one of my top wishes, and here I am. Magandang umaga Nepal.
Day 03-07: Aftershocks and our work taking shape
Everyday, several aftershocks jolted the region. In the office, we have this alarm system which produces loud warning beeps once it detects a tremor. This meant that everyone in the office should move outside and wait until it stops. Sometimes, the tremors would last for 5 seconds. One thing I noticed is that earthquakes create a rolling sound and sends vibration that I could feel from my feet. We were working non-stop and I could feel our energies were slowly dropping low. However, what makes us come alive again is whenever we see the impact of our work through photos and stories shared to us daily. Another thing that we always look forward to is the afternoon tea brewed by one of the amazing staff from Nepal! Every time I received my share, I have this little emoji in my head saying “This made my day!”
Day 08-10: A series of why’s, FB Status and getting to know Nepal
Facebook Status 1: “God is God. Because he is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what he is up to.” (Elisabeth Elliot). 13 days nonstop. I’m learning so much, though it’s not easy. Things happening rapidly.
Every morning, a newspaper is distributed to each room.Reading the newspaper in the morning gives me a larger view of the overall response, as well as peek into how the local people and authorities perceive the situation. Every day, they also feature some testimonies from survivors living in far-flung areas; those places which I eagerly wanted to see, but just had not the chance to do it.
Facebook Status 2:
I have never been to the sites, mostly stay at the office for support here at Kathmandu. I guess thelongest ride was just 20 mins from the airport. What i like most here is the food– vegetables, mashed potatoes, lentils, soya meat, buffalo momo– all mixed with chili and curry. The tomato chutney is just the best. And the milktea they serve 2x a day at the office makes me sooooo happy. During lunchtime, everyone eats at the pantry. Life continues here at KTM.
The first day i came here, i found a portrait of Kumari at the airport. It said “Kumari, a Living Virgin Goddess”. We pass by some small temples everyday, most of them brown and old. People here are warm, and they make me feel at home. i wish I could take photos but I don’t understand why I don’t feel like taking any. Maybe, there’s still this lingering sadness everywhere here. More than 7,800 people have died, and many lost their homes, and the memories of their ancestors.
Facebook Status 3:
I just learned 3 minutes ago that when the earthquake struck, the people here were celebrating a festival for Rato Machindra, the god of Rain. So it is believed that in a month’s time, monsoon season will come, sending rains to the mountains and valley farms. There’s a big pressure on everyone to find a secure place to stay, although, many have started to rebuild homes, even just with thin tarpaulin and wood.
Facebook Status 4:
“Raining today here at KTM. I miss home.”
Facebook Status 5:
“Official na, ubos na ang english ko. Two weeks pala ang kaya ng utak ko. #nicetoknow”
Day 11: Out in the field, finally!
For the first time (in forever), I was able to join the team in one of the evacuation sites called Tudikhel Camp located at the North Road, the very heart of Kathmandu. At the moment, there are still around 1500 people residing in the area. One of my co-workers (local staff) came up to me and said, “The children were expecting you to speak in Nepali. You resemble us. That’s your problem.” I have a nice problem. Haha. I wrote something about it here: http://goo.gl/cZk2q1
Day 12: Another earthquake
Facebook Update 1:
“It is 1:25 now here at Kathmandu. Around 30 mins ago, we experienced a terrible shaking. I was at the basement when i suddenly felt my table was moving. The crows were noisy, and the earthquake alarm was very violent. I hurriedly ran up, to the ground floor and saw my colleagues running out the main door as well. I went out and saw the crows flying, panicking, and making violent sounds. The building right in front of us was shaking, i could see the tanks at the rooftop moving. It did not stop until after 30 seconds. I was standing beside the car, and then i held on one of the posts. Everyone was dumbfounded by this. My colleagues began calling their families but they could not contact. The lines are clogged with phone calls. They say it was between 7 to 7.4. People were saying this is not an aftershock. This is a new earthquake. Now, it is 1:30 pm here and we are still outside the office, we cannot go back inside yet. Some were crying out of fear. As of 1:30 pm). It’s 2:05 pm now, there might be some aftershocks later. Our teams in gorkha, sindhupalchok, nuwakot, dhading and here at ktm valley are safe. There are new collapses and might be new casualties.” I wrote a separate story about it too, following a fellow worker whom I called Didi Chinky.
Facebook Update 2:
Each of my co-worker was given tarpaulin for tonight. We are expecting aftershocks. I learned that the epicenter is near the north-eastern side, between Kathmandu Valley and Mt. Everest region. In Sindhupalchok, we heard that there were buildings that collapsed. Some search and rescue teams are active on the ground. I am expecting many people will sleep on the streets tonight. I can say that we are all afraid. there’s something inside me that’s still shaking, even long after the 7.3 tremor is gone.
I was at the BalikBukid (Back to the Farm) Cafe in Davao City when I imagined my friend, Babelyn, whom I met some 6 years ago, during the first time I went to the province of Ambalgan in South Cotabato. She was my first Muslim friend, and was very much like a younger sister to me. I fondly called her ‘anak’ (my child) because she reminded me so much of younger self– quiet and often shy, but always smiling and ready to learn. What’s so special about her is that, even though she her left eye is blind, she could clearly communicate her feelings just by looking at her vibrant face. I hope I could see her again. Maybe, I can go back to Ambalgan one of these days. This sketch was made with sikwati (cocoa chocolate) and black ink. I am beginning to like pouring delicious stuff on my journal.
I wrote in Tagalog: “Mula sa South Cotabato hanggang sa Isulan, alaala kita kapatid ko. Sana ay mabuti ang iyong kalagayan.” (From South Cotabato to Isual, you are in my thoughts my sister. I hope that you are well)