WAITING is the easiest yet one of the hardest things to do. It is easy because one does not need to do anything other than sit down, lie down, converse with a willing talker, walk to and fro and check the wall clock from time to time. But doing nothing is the part that makes it the toughest. Evacuees displaced by the Taal Volcano eruption is experiencing the difficult side of waiting right now.
Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) reiterates the possibility of Taal’s phreatomagmatic eruptions, an eruption resulting from the interaction of new magma or lava with water and can be very explosive, despite the downward trend in the volcanic activity. Ordinary people like me may call it “a full blast eruption.” We pray that this won’t happen because it is more devastating. So the alert level remains at four and people are still strongly discouraged to go back home. Lockdown is still implemented in some affected areas though some displaced citizens are forcing their way back. The rest of the evacuees cannot do anything but to endure the tormenting characteristics of waiting. Phivolcs’ Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division Chief Mariton Bornas said “they will be the first one to say if it’s safe to go back.” The question echoing in the evacuation centers is a resounding when?
Waiting is difficult because of its ‘stressful’ nature. First, time is wasted. Since time is wasted, productivity is lessened. One just sits there and watch the watch tick tock. They can do things but they’re limited. Other time conscious individuals find things to do just to reduce the time being wasted. Self-help books advise people under these circumstances to do something such as reading, listening to inspirational talks and other similar productive deeds. Yet even ding these activities do not satisfy a person waiting because they have never planned of doing them. The focus is not there. The thought is somewhere far.
Second characteristic of waiting is the lack or absence of definite time of the waiting period. Sometimes, waiting takes a couple of minutes or hours, days or weeks, and even months or years. The statement of Phivolcs’ Baron on them who can only say when to go back makes it more distressing for the evacuees.
Third, since there is no timetable, the act of waiting prevents those who wait the ability set up fixed plans. The evacuees do not have the privilege to do long term plans because they do not have control of the situation. Right now, they can only rely and depend. Fourth, the minds of those who wait can never settle down. There is no peace of mind. They do lots and lots of thinking, imagining, and wishing. So the stress comes in, the worries pour in, and the future continues to remain bleak.
Waiting has also its stages. The stage of the evacuees due to volcanic eruption is not an ordinary type of waiting. This is not the kind of waiting where a friend is waiting for another friend after the agreed time of meeting has lapsed. Or a boyfriend waiting for his darling to appear in the distance. Or the type of waiting where participants of a seminar or training wait for the speaker to arrive. This is waiting that requires days and weeks to pass under a challenging condition. In one the eruptions of Mt. Hibok Hibok, a citizen said they stayed in the evacuation center for two years. We hope this will not be the case now. The displaced have to wake up every day with the hope that the next day they wake up, there is the announcement that they can leave. But until that day, they cannot do otherwise but endure the agony of waiting.
One thing that makes the waiting for the evacuees difficult is the thing that they cannot see sufficient reasons to wait. Talisay town Vice Mayor Charlie Natanauan has expressed the sentiments of many evacuees. Taal Volcano, for him, is no longer erupting. The ashes and smokes are slowly disappearing. The volcanic earthquakes are subsiding. These signs only tell one thing for him—the wait is over and it is time to go home. A person who does not see the sense of waiting because all systems indicate that there is no reason to wait makes them displeased and angry. Surely, he does not like Phivolcs now because it makes them wait for a day, that for him, it has already come.
The plight of the displaced is more than the challenges of survival and decency of life, it is the agony of waiting for that lucky and blessed day when the government could say that they can go back. The evacuees want to go back to their normal life where they have most control of it. I hope we can help them seek the virtue of patience because they need most of it now. Phivolcs has its scientific reasons why they do not allow the evacuees to return home. The long line of trucks in major roads in the country delivering relief goods, due to the strong support of fellow Filipinos all over the country, in the evacuation centers certainly lengthens the patience of the displaced. But for how long can the evacuees endure?