“OKAY RA jud mawala among mga balay,” says fisherman, Virgilio Jemina.
“Basta dili lang unta among baroto.” He says this in the middle of an islet called Dawis, passable only by a narrow footbridge. What the footbridge actually is, is the right wall of a salt bed. Walking on it is tantamount to walking on wire, placing one foot in front of the other, with just enough space for a tread at a time.
But children walking with us find this an easy cross. They run and flitter, going ahead easily. They tell their parents of our coming.
Not too far in the distance is a newly-ruined sabongan. The octagon is hollow. The roof and walls are paper-thin, its creases blown by gusts of wind. It is the same wind, more amiable now perhaps, that robbed it of its form. The fighting cocks, in their individual tents, have lived, and are oblivious of destruction.
How to tell these roosters, for instance, so well-shaded in their insulated roofs, that only 10 out of 100 houses here are left.
And that even their caretakers, whose houses are now in shambles, are forced to stay outside in monoblock chairs, metal beams sticking out of their homes’ tops.
But never mind those that fight and fly.
In Dawis, it seems, boats, more than houses, are the way of life.
Talk drifted to the ease of living here once, where in the evenings, fresh catch would arrive in motorboats, ready to be eaten, so sweet only vinegar is needed, white fish flesh stripped and enjoyed along the beachfront, the lights of Malapascua a reachable escape in the near distance. There are small squids too if lucky, and occasionally small octopus.
It is harder always for those who can compare what once was to what is.
Balik sa pangisda
Zal and Ivy Benatiro spend their weekends here in Tapilon. Their rest house faces the white sand beach. It has a talisay tree in the middle, and on the side, a nipa hut just the right size for six-year old, Zamea, to play in.
Zamea, their youngest, wants to spend most of her time here as well. On her birthday, a week before the storm, she celebrated with the local kids instead of in school. She left her balloons and other party props, and a banner with her name, thinking she would still find it when she returned.
When she came back, it was a day after Yolanda, and in Ivy’s words, she did not know how to start. Trees and electricity wires had fallen. Glass shattered. The banner was gone.
Banks were closed in Cebu city that weekend. So Zal and Ivy, unsure of what to bring, trying to bring everything, pawned their wedding rings.
“O, unsa man inyong ikasulti ni Yolanda?,” Ivy speaks through a megaphone in Dawis as she organizes adults from children, the aged from the young.
“Salbahis!,” they shout.
“Gihurot among atop.” Metal sheets have gotten stuck on coconuts, still waiting to be brought down. It is the same coconuts that have sustained them for over two days.
According to Virgilio, the fisherman, linubi kasagaran gipangkaon. Children are starting to get stomachaches with no access to pain relievers. Rice is harder to come by, with most of the supplies in Daanbantayan, soaked from the storm.
So, we give them rice and barbecue.
Only to find out most are Seventh Day Adventists.
“Nikaon man lagi ka ana, bai?,” a local asks his neighbor.
“Gutom na kaayo. “ He will just think of it as chicken, he says.
By the roadside, the Catholic Chapel is in shambles with only the cement altar holding its ground. Just meters beside, the Seventh Day Adventist Chapel is equally damaged.
Virgilio says this is trivial, compared to the fact that Dawis had no fatalities. But his companions, roofless and looking for temporary shelter, are quiet.
It was not too long ago when the force of the earth moved church walls, grinding them down to almost nothing but shrapnel in Bohol.
Simple living, it was shouted. For structures to be flexible enough to sway with the wind and withstand the movement of the ground that seemed undecided of where it wanted to go -left, right, up, down.
This time it was the force of the wind that tore down whatever stood in its path, roofs more than anything else, boats, livelihood, lives.
Now, stability is asked. For houses with enough strength to withstand ever-changing wind and rain patterns that are as unpredictable as a woman’s thoughts.
Two disasters that stir up such confusion on how to build and rebuild what’s left.
“Aw, balik sa pangisda,” Virgilio tells me, cutting through my confusion. “Lisod baya sige sad ug pangayo.”
Mura jud ug limbo bah
In another part of Daanbantayan, Lantay, locals call it, the dirt roads are starting to end and still, there are no people in sight.
Unlike coastal Dawis, mountainous Lantay is quiet at dusk. People are called several times before, finally, they come out of their tents or makeshift metal sheet houses like hermits out of isolation.
Officially, the name is San Miguel. But Lantay has stuck more because of the craftsmen who make beds and other furniture here.
The same bed is also what saved Rochelle Jaril and her family’s life at the height of Typhoon Frank, a bad dream she had to relive with Yolanda. With their roof blown off, Rochelle shoved her then four children under the wooden frame until the weather settled.
With this typhoon, there was no escape from the coldness, even when she bundled seven-month-old, Relvan, with two blankets and two jackets while the rest of the children huddled by the side of the house.
They remained wet from 7 a.m. until 10 a.m., like other children, until Yolanda was at its strongest.
“Mura jud ug limbo bah, o bati nga damgo,” she explains. What would’ve been plain Timog winds combined with Kanaway and Amihan, or so it felt like, to them. They couldn’t really tell where it was coming from anymore.
While talking with Rochelle, Relvan relieves himself in his mother’s lap. She is nonchalant about this, knowing she has left most of the things, diapers perhaps, or cloth, in their grounded house. Later, she is busy trying to barter something from her relief goods with someone who received infant’s milk in theirs.
Walking to Daanbantayan’s Poblacion, about 30 minutes away, is too much of a hassle.
They have learned, through their isolation, to rely on each other instead.
Amidst the relief distribution, a couple of men, drunk and garbling, are starting to cut through the line. The municipal councilor explains, these are the very same men who worked up until late afternoon just to clear the roads and make it passable again.
Their neighbors merely smile.
They understand, most of all, that escape from reality is needed once in a while.
Night now in Daanbantayan
Night seems to transform destruction into forms of art - silhouettes of toppled mango trees like miniatures repositioned in a board game, coconuts with only half of their hairs shaved and lampposts like dropped toothpicks on the ground.
Children are learning to adapt through play. Electricity wires are used as swings. And even in total darkness, they have somehow made it a pastime, to stand by the roadside with “Help” signs, shouting out to every passing car, headlights beamed on their small heads.
“English-speaking diri sa North.” a companion comments with most of the signs saying, “We need food and water.” A boy sits in the middle of the road, oblivious to all the passing trucks.
In Poblacion, a relief group is still handing out goods, and some lucky enough to have generator sets, can keep their businesses open past the limitations of daylight.
Bonfires have been lit up as early as 5 p.m., making use of now a surplus of wood and whatever matchsticks they can find.
Even as early as before dinnertime, beds, the only necessary furniture left on now-open houses, give passersby an unrequited view of a neighbor’s rituals, once so guarded by the privacy of walls and windows. Some are already asleep, while some, perhaps looking at the stars, that have now become as easily accessible as a point of a finger.
There will be six more months of this, of darkness, so they’ve been told.
But as storms have clearly taught, this too is transient.