Typhoon Haiyan – part 2

Posted: November 29, 2013 in ADVENTURE STORIES!, Hope
Tags: , , , , , ,

NOTE: I’m a freelance volunteer. I have no affiliation. Which means that I can write and be totally open about everything I’ve seen. (HORRAY FOR NON-EXISTENT NDAS!) Being a “rogue volunteer” gives me a lot of pros and cons.

PROS:

-I was invited to stay/sleep at the mayor’s house.
-I meet a bunch of random people of the town that “are important”
-Ride a bus with a bunch of musicians
-Be interviewed by Channel 5 (at least 3 times).

CONS:

-I have to figure out where my meals come from
-I have to figure out where I’m going to sleep, my transportation, etc.
-I have to find jobs/tasks to do/help with.

I think if I ever do disaster relief again (and I’d like to) I want to be with an org of some sort. Just someone with a mission/purpose that is already established.

With all that said, however, I’ve been super busy helping a city (Bogo) and it’s surrounding “barangays” (villages) this past week. Before this I was helping in the food shelters packing (and repacking) food. I grew tired of this because of various reasons- mostly political. There has been a bunch of news stories (here in the Philippines) about “Repacking” and how it’s terribly inefficient. There are actually a few news stories on the topic that I’ll translate for you:

1) Organizations (Like DSWD. Department of Social Welfare) receive packs from donors. Then they repack them “to make them equal/all the same” and then mark the packs with “DSWD” on them, so it makes DSWD look good. (I help out with the DSWD and while I can’t verify that this happens- the second point DOES…. ALL THE TIME.)

2) Communities (disaster relief centers– like the complex I’ve been helping at) will receive packs from various locations and repack them to make them all the same (same amount of noodles/cans/etc) for when they get distributed. While this  is ok, it’s extremely time consuming. (A pack will be re-packed 3-4 times and every re-pack will add a day delay from that pack of food getting to a house/belly.

So- when I am lacking in work, I help at the complex, even though it’s inefficient and drives me crazy. It’s labor intensive and allows me to ignore the world for a while and just haul stuff and make all the Filipino men wish they knew what crossfit was.

When I’m not helping at the complex I’m helping Mayor Martinez and his army organize things. An example is that the Israeli army wanted to help rebuild a school. It was my job to talk to the mayor of that town, get materials bought (so the town has ownership… Not just a charity case) for the Israelis to rebuild the school. Another day I chartered a city bus from one town (Medellin) to Bogo (where the Israelis have a hospital set up) so everyone could have a chance to see a doctor. Another day, an NGO with Sawyer Water Filtrations came with a bunch of 55-gal drums, needed a team of volunteers to do work. (so I was basically the foreman telling people what to do). Not to toot my own horn, but I’m actually really good at “bossing” people around (read: making decisions, figuring out priorities, thinking creatively) and getting shit done. I guess this is why I’m helping the Mayor(???).
The next week, because I don’t have political or family ties here, the Mayor had me to go to damaged houses in each barangay to verify the reports that were filed. (Basically an insurance claims for the government). I was supposed to visit 18,454 houses, with a team of 4, in 3 days. With no helicopter. This was impossible. We did our best, but we only ended up seeing 28% of the houses. The reports from the barangay captains were pretty accurate- except the terminology. What they called “Majorly Damaged” I would consider “Totally Devastated”. (see pics). So currently the barangay captains are getting sheets to fill out of each person in their village who’s house needs assistance and I will go to each “address” and verify what they claim.

Major damage

Minor Damage

The term “address” is hilarious because the houses were (are?) built on the sides of mountains. No roads go to their house- and the “path” that is there is now a muddy trail littered with banana trees and palm-tree trunks. My brother made a great suggestion that I ask the US government for a drone and just use that to go around and verify all these houses. It’s not a bad idea.

While on the subject, I’m a little disappointed in the lack of response that I’ve seen from America being physically here, to be honest. Hell, I’ve seen more French here than Americans. (That’s just embarrassing…) To be fair, I guess I should say that I’m not in Tachloban or Leyte. Maybe that’s where they all are? Who knows. No one really seems to know- not even the news people. (“You’re American?! You’re the first one we’ve met!”) Until yesterday (Thanksgiving) I was the only American volunteer here in Bogo. Then the NGOs and another rogue volunteer came to help. Sad to say, this (American handshakes and accents) was the GREATEST thing I could ask for for Thanksgiving. 🙂

Sorry for the tangent…

The government has 3 phases here in place:

1) Food relief and assessment.
2) work for food, work for cash, work for materials. (A lot of their jobs (read reason for living) is gone, so work gives them purpose and HOPE.)
3) Rebuilding. (where they relocate people and/or rebuild their houses… This is where my assessment is coming in handy, apparently).

Speaking of hope/faith, it’s something they have a lot of. People will take time to write signs that say “roofless but not hopeless”. People are getting excited for christmas (xmas is huge here…. They put up the decorations in october) because all electricity will be restored by then (or so the estimates say. What they really mean is “if you live in a big city, it’ll be restored by Xmas. If you live in the sticks, you’ll have to wait until March.”).

The range of emotions is… drastic to say simply. It’s not enough that:

– no one is getting good sleep or
-drinking enough water or
-those working are over-worked… those not are underworked.
-still don’t have electric in their houses (so they can do stuff, like clean/fix their homes when they get home)

I so rarely see people cry, and when I do see it, it just breaks my heart. Because I’m crying every night (a waste of water, I realize) and I have a bed that I’m sleeping in. AND A MOSQUITO NET!

But some people don’t have that… They have nothing. They have less than a dog-house. (see pics) And they don’t get mad! Strike that. They get passive-aggressive. But in the games industry- you work for egotistical men who over-compensate so maybe I’m used to it. Actually, I think the only way that I’m actually helping is being a punching bag for people. They are stressed and frustrated and it’s easier to yell at me (someone who will leave) than it is to yell at fellow filipinos who they will see every Sunday at church. Not to say that I’m being treated poorly. I find the hospitality to be excellent. I’m fed 11 times a day (at least!). I get told, every day- by the women, how people appreciate my help. On the flip side I also get asked for money at every street corner. I get frustrated sometimes that people aren’t more willing to help clean up/do work-that I have to “con” them with money or hugs or high-fives. Some would call filipinos lazy, but I think they are mentally and physically exhausted. Chalk this up to another missed business opportunity: Psych students should flock to natural disasters and see PTSD at the source.

Speaking of PTSD— here’s a story: 

One morning I was being dragged around to useless/pointless errands of the Israelis (I didn’t need to be part of any of it… but they invited me. I thought it was important. It wasn’t. It was just dropping off water tanks to an island and taking a lot of pictures…. Useless mission for me, IMO.) Then I go to the sports complex. Channel 5 is there. They flock to me (because a) I’m white and b) I’m carrying sacks of rice. This never fails to impress people here. It’s like a free circus show) and invite me to help deliver food relief to a neighboring barangay. I agree and we load up a truck, jump in the back (redneck style) and head out.

Once the truck got to the barangay and slowed down, people flocked and screamed. At first it was children coming after us like we were an ice-cream truck.

Then it was adults and it got more ravage that just reminded me of zombie movies… Or India. (Pick one. Both are bad situations.) The truck stops and (after taking the picture below) I jump out and count them. 215… Not including kids.

215 hungry head-of-households. Everyone is smiling at me. Kids are running up, poking my butt and running off. I chase them for a bit. I don’t know why the news crew is taking their sweet ass time in getting out of their truck so we can unload– but they are. I play with the kids some more (yea. shutup. I play with kids now.)

And then someone yells at me to get back on the truck. We’re leaving… For whatever reason we aren’t stopping here. This was just a big fucking giant cock-tease. The people in line stare at me. Wondering what they did wrong. Did they not pray enough? Did they not say thank you enough? Did they not have cute enough children? They had the look of abandonment that can only be compared to the old dogs in the ASPCA shelters. The only hope I had was that we had 300 sacks and someone else was going to get them.

So then we stop up the road to a smaller part of the barangay. We actually had to knock on doors to get the people to come out. We give away 121 sacks, even though there are 135 households. When there weren’t enough takers, we went to another barangay where people lined up again. More of them this time. I was instructed to get out of the truck and hand people the relief sacks while being interviewed by channel 5.

To be honest, this was the only time in all my time in the Philippines I was terrified for my safety. I always tend to have “an escape plan”. Whenever I sit in a restaurant I sit with my back against a wall so I can see the door (or escape route). I am constantly making escape plan routes- mostly for the Zombie Apocalypse. Even when drunk (which ends up being really creative and hilarious, actually. It’s probably all for nothing, but it entertains me and isn’t hurting you, so stop judging!) Anyway- when I got out of the truck, I was pinned against the back of the truck with hundreds of hungry people’s hands reaching towards me from all angles. All the while I was being interviewed by Channel 5. After we gave 150 sacks (even though there are 130 households) I had the unfortunate job of telling a toothless woman (with an infected eye) that she couldn’t have food. That even though our truck was full, it wasn’t for her. She turned away and sobbed so loudly that I had to cover my ears, climb back into the truck and cry for myself. Someone eventually gave her a sack, but it was enough to shoot my nerves. All I wanted to do was drink a beer and lay in the fetal position for a few hours. I tried to meditate on the way back, taking puffs of a cigarette that someone else lit up to try to calm myself. Nothing seemed to help.

We get back to the complex and unload all the “unused” food sacks. There were litters of children who didn’t want to help. “I’m not strong enough” is what they all said. I told them that I bet they can- and handed them a sack. One girl said “hey. I bet I can carry more than you!” and they made a game. #AchievementUnlocked: Got kids to help even when they didn’t want to. This, apparently is my speciality. I usually promise high-fives, hugs or my phone number. (even though they don’t have houses, they all have cell phones. I get more daily texts from kids than from twitter telling me that The baby prince took a shit.) So the kids started to help. When we finished, we had a make-shift “talent show” on the gym floor. Kids were tumbling, kart-wheeling, doing handstands, playing hand-games, and jump-rope. This is when I split my pants because I was showing off…. Embarrassing. But every one just laughed and shrugged it off. I appreciated this. And hey! If I can make people laugh during this time, power to me.

I called my driver (yes. I have a driver… I’ll let you think it’s fancy- when really, it’s a hassle and I plan on renting a motorbike when I get back) and had him take me to my host family’s house (about an hour away). My plans were to just sit, read, answer Facebook* messages… You know… Relax. But instead I was hassled on why I’m doing myself a disservice by not believing in (the Muslim) God, how I should study the Quran, how even though I’m doing good work, I’ll still go to Hell unless I accept God into my life. blah blah blah. I tried my best to argue, but how do you argue with people like that? The ones giving you a roof, couch and food? The ones who are ignorant to how the rest of the world is, thinks, lives and believes that their way of life is applicable and valid for all?
I slept on an off that night. Going between anger, frustration, hope and sorrow. I tried all my yoga-relaxation techniques that I learned just over a month ago. I took sleeping pills. I swatted mosquitos. I thought of sex with Han Solo. Nothing seemed to help except the thought that when I die, it’ll be fine. And when I get home, I’m going to eat 3 pounds of streaky bacon. And it’s going to be the definition of glorious.
*fun fact: with most sim card plans, Facebook is free- but you have to pay for everything else…. why? No idea. Why didn’t Globe message EVERYONE in the Philippines “DANGER! TYPHOON COMING! EVACUATE IF YOU LIVE IN ___ AREAS!”??? I don’t know. There’s a missed business opportunity (or at least a life-saving opportunity) here.
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