In the Philippines, we jump over puddles after a typhoon.
We gather clay from volcanic ash, making shapes that make sense.
After the earth rumbles, we run to the wreckage, make do with the broken and assemble something whole.
I was born in an archipelago that spells disaster. Its 7,100 islands born out of wedlock between 59 volcanoes and 1200 kilometers of fault line, weaving, concepting, intersecting like friction between lovers who loved too much. When the earth is not shaking or spewing rocks, rain comes down hard
Cleansing the country, lives, and livestocks, and livelihood washed away the seas, the oceans to points of no return.
Before I learned how to memorized names of my classmates, I learned how to memorized names of typhoons: Asiang, Biring, Konsing, Ditang. And before I fully understood the mechanics of how storms would come and go,
I understood that we have brownouts so we could have fun. The adults made sure that the storm is silenced by the joy that is happening inside the house.
My cousins and I would race to see who could light the most candles.
We would play with shadows and lights and rabbits and dogs and eagles and spaceships and when the light comes back on each of us would run to get a candle, each of us would sing, “happy birthday to you” even if it is nobody’s birthday just so we could make a wish before blowing the candles out.
We wished for less damaged homes. We wished for less flood. We wished for less deaths. But we never wished for less rain because we connect as a family when it rains.
With candles and photo albums we learned how both of our grandfathers fought Japanese men during the second world war. With candles and instant noodles we learned how our grandma was able to fit three eggs, half a spoon of salt and one kilo of rice to feed a family of eleven.
With candles while doing homework we learned how our mother and her siblings would climb three mountains everyday just to get to school. With candles, while storm is raging outside, we learned how to listen.
And when the sun comes back on, each of us would run outside and play; we would jump over puddles, as if to say “it is over” as if to say “look, we have won.” 1991 I was then six when Mount Pinatubo produced the second largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century.
It was the only event that was able to reduce temperature at a global scale. Of course we didn’t understand what was happening back then.
All I knew was relatives from abroad were calling on a daily basis. All I knew was the roads were gray, the streets were gray; the houses were gray; the clouds were gray; the sky was gray; the rains were gray; the rainbows were gray.
Adults cautioned us that there was something toxic in the air; That we should carry an umbrellas whenever we needed to step out;
But children need to be children. We saw colors in the colorless. We gathered clay from volcanic ash making shapes that make sense. And we haven’t fully understood yet the difference between squares and rectangles or circles and oblongs; those afternoons we were making complex prisms and detailed pyramids and perfect spheres. One hot August afternoon, the adults called us outside.
There were sightings of blue moons a few days back but it was barely dusk so it shouldn’t be that. When we stepped out we saw the most beautiful sunset that we’ve ever seen. A burning bursts of maroon, magenta, lavender, and all the other colors that I couldn’t even pronounce or identify back then.
The heavens were electrified, and while the dust hasn’t settled yet, while the smoke hasn’t cleared, we all found peace.
When the great Luzon earthquake hit us, the other kids and I, we were dancing. Our two left feet zigzagging across the floor, while our arms were flailing about in graceless abandon. It wasn’t until the adults screamed at us to take cover that we realized, this isn’t supposed to be fun. For a month, Baguio was all that is being discussed in the news.
That there is no way to send in help. Convinced that there were no more survivors, international rescue operations have pulled out barely a week after the disaster. But we were all too stubborn to accept defeat.
We believed that there were no dead ends, only people who have given up. After the earth rumbles, we run to the wreckage, make do with the broken and assemble something whole. Our knees haven’t even stopped shaking yet, but with trembling hands and steady hearts we picked up the shovels and started digging for what was lost.
Those two weeks, there were no miners, no carpenters, no teachers, no students, no farmers, no mothers or fathers or brothers or sisters; there were only rescuers. And brick by brick, rubble by rubble, we started looking for what was lost.
Under one destroyed building , they were able to recover two girls from the eleventh day. And under the same pile, one man fought hunger and darkness and death for fourteen days. Worldwide, their stories are still being used as barometers for hope.
We, the sun-kissed, the windswept, the weather-beaten, our stories are still being used as barometers for hope. I was born in an Archipelago that spells disasters. Its 7100 islands born out of wedlock between 59 volcanoes and 1200 km of fault lines.
But we are also 100 million people strong; 100 million people surviving and 100 million people ready for more. In the Philippines, we jump over puddles after a typhoon.
We gather clay from volcanic ash, making shapes that make sense. After the earth rumbles, we run to the wreckage, make do with the broken and assemble something whole.