Sendong: A culture of remembrance

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By Maria Rosalie Zerrudo

Yagubyob sa Bulkan

Saturday, December 14, 2013

DECEMBER reminds me of the church bells at dawn, misa de gallo, caroling at dusk, smell of newly baked puto bumbong in open fire and the wind chill. Many sweet memories, a tradition carried from the past that has been a commercial refuge for some people longing to have a white Christmas.

No matter how big and small, all these memories when families spend time together strengthen the Filipino family spirit that specially feels nostalgic to me at Christmas. Every time, I hear the magic of familiar carols, I get into this deep nostalgia which resonates with the loss and sadness of the victims of the killer floods and super typhoons.

Two years ago, I received emails from friends checking on my family’s safety. I realized a tragic event has just wiped out infrastructures, homes, and lives. Cagayan de Oro was a mess and a picture of pain, death and devastation. It became the headline of the news for several weeks.

Sendong has faded slowly in the canvass of print and media overshadowed by other much recent events recorded to be the worst in history of typhoon disasters.

It was not hard to remember Sendong, especially that I received the news on my mother’s birthday. It was one of the saddest Christmases, and I am afraid that it keeps on adding more layers of pain every year as a new disaster comes.

After two years of disastrous cycle, this country has yet to fully recover and go back to its feet. While foreign aid seem coming in like a heavy down pour, the people in some rural areas only have one another to depend to.

I talked to several survivors of Typhoon Sendong, common friends who have experienced varying degrees of tragedy at the height of Typhoon Sendong (international name: Washi) that hit Cagayan de Oro: the destruction of their homes; lost precious belongings and memorabilia; and barely escaped death in the flash floods; being a witness to washed out communities; and the loss of family and friends.

Out of 125 thousand families affected, three of them started all over again with optimism. Sendong experience became a source of inspiration in many of their art projects as visual artists.

As Errol Balcos recalled that at 12 midnight it was total black out. Suddenly, water came in, and in one minute it was knee high. The water kept on rising in darkness. The rain was so heavy and people were asleep.

“I was inside the bathroom, when I went out the water was already chest deep. I cannot open the door. Luckily my feet found a hole at the lower part of the door, and my body can fit. I tried to make the hole bigger.

It was so dark. I swam out. Went on top of the roof and found other neighbors there. I was shivering in cold and after three hours we moved to a bigger house. The water current was so strong. It was like a wild river, unstoppable, scary. If it had risen some more we would have all been swept away,” Balcos narrated.

After Sendong, Balcos moved to another place and never got to use his former studio. Some of his neighbors left, but some remained in their houses. He lost most of his works on paper and canvass; and some he was able to rescue but they were filled with mud after the flood.

It was a traumatic experience for him but somehow, many other opportunities came and the tragic event became the subject for his next exhibition water marks which interpreted the water level rising.

Balcos, known as a very fine portrait artists, combines his social commentary and life’s philosophy. He did not lose hope amid the adversaries, for he believes that “for as long as one is alive, one can start a new life.” Balcos will pay tribute to the Sendong victims in his own way during the anniversary.

An equally dynamic persona who survived the flood was Michael Bacol who learned the lesson well to be prepared for any disaster. He survived from more than 7 feet flood by hanging on to the roof and transferring to a bigger house. One of the hardest hit area, Bacol recalled that his house and his artworks, collections, paintings, books were all destroyed in the flood which was hard to rebuild.

To show their support, many of his friends extended their help by buying some his new artworks. As a fellow of Asian Cultural Council, Bacol received a gesture of support by buying his paintings.

According to Bacol, in the last two years he has traveled more which also helped him to fully recover. Bacol has a very simple formula in life “work hard because life is a give and take. People helped me, now it is my turn to help.” One of his masterpieces recollection is for sale at P50,000 currently displayed at the Capitol University Museum of Three Culture.

A performance artist and visual artists, Nick Aca shows the sparkle even in his pain as he narrates his ordeal that many of his artworks were also destroyed. Using a skim board, he secured himself while navigating his way to higher grounds. His family was evacuated much earlier before the real flood happened. Instead of being hurt, he replaced this experience of loss with his new series of works on watermarks, bul-og or water currents and his performance art.

It took a lot of acceptance to be able to move one. Aca will do performance at the Divisoria area to mark the “emotional remembrance” of Sendong tragedy which will be a message of hope.

For Aca, Sendong is to be remembered and not forgotten because it marked a milestone of experiences in the artists’ lives. Aca inhis performance at the Divisoria will pay tribute to the people who perished and respect to the tragedy in the city which is still longing to find the 555 missing people.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 15, 2013.


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