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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

STIB #2 : Hurricane Waters

A song by Citizen Cope I happen to love, and also happen to have a story that fits nicely. The first time I came to the Philippines was three years ago for my dad’s wedding and we all went to Borocay for a few days after.

We stayed at a hotel I’ll never forget called Niggi Niggi Nous Nous. I never asked what it meant, but the place was magical. It had a twisty maze of a courtyard overloaded with jungle and my little wood hut was tucked right in back corner, overlooking it all. I had a stupendously drunk two days, made a game of haggling with the local shopkeepers as low as I could possibly get, then paying more anyways. I ate crab for dinner two nights in a row and drank only vodka on the rocks – in the hopes that I could wake up early and hit the beach. There were these little yellow and blue fishes that only come out in the early morning. They feed on the algae build up in the sand as your footsteps kick it up… so if you can find them, they’ll follow you around fearlessly all morning. I found them the first two days and felt excessively proud.

On what was supposed to be our last night there, a typhoon warning came in. It wasn’t serious and only the edge was going to hit us. The rain started a few hours later and everything was drenched… but the winds were mild and the bars were open. I danced in the rain and broke my vodka rule when offered a tequila shot - which turned into a few more shots very quickly. (I was on an all expense paid vacation *thanks dad*, on what must be one of the most beautiful islands in the world and it was raining. The tequila just seemed to fit right in.)

I went to sleep around 1 in the morning and a few hours later the storm got intensely worse. I could hear trees being ripped down all around and was never so thankful that my little hut was between two thick cement walls. At around 6am I woke up again to darkness and a full-blown typhoon. The second I opened the door I was effectively deaf from the howling winds and rain. I didn’t dare leave my deck but was completely entranced by being right there, in the midst of Mother Nature’s fury. My cell phone rang. I could barely hear my dad from the main hotel lobby telling me the roof of his hut had been torn off. He had been watching the news and the eye of the storm was said to be passing directly overhead in just a few minutes and to get outside so I could see it.

I can’t even begin to describe the feeling I had ten minutes later. It’s something you have to experience for yourself to understand. At the center of a hurricane, surrounded by chaos… there is complete calm. No rain, very little wind and the lowest surface pressures. It was like watching the world stop. The sun came out and the roaring storm became a faint, eerie echo.I have no idea how long it lasted, but when it was over, the ferociously loud winds picked up… but had changed direction, and all the debris and wreckage that had built up one way was thrust the other. I went back inside and back to sleep, feeling at peace. Feeling like I had just witnessed something miraculous.

It was 9am when my little hut reached an almost unbearable temperature. The power was out, my air conditioner rendered useless, my cellphone battery had died, and when I ventured outside, I took one good look around and said one word that best describes my predicament.


The narrow twisty paths of that jungle courtyard I had loved so much the day before had been expertly transformed into my very own mission impossible. There was at least four inches of stagnant water overflowing up to my deck. Sand covered everything from tree branches to beach chairs, all of which had created the great wall of crap, effectively cutting me off from the rest of the world. Suddenly I was no longer thankful of my tucked in corner. It was the furthest away from the main building as I could possibly get, and there were no other huts along the same path. I contemplated trying to climb one of the cement walls, tossing out that idea upon the realization that I had no clue what was even on the other side.

And so, begins one girls sweaty, dirty, painful journey through hurricane wreckage, which turned out to be not as bad as I thought. I could hear a lot of distant hustle and bustle, and then out of nowhere, someone was singing nearby. I was almost all the way through to the main path, trying to lift a branch off another branch off another branch so I could lift the branch underneath that one out of my way… and a gloriously beautiful man beat me too it. My knight in shining amour turned out to be a local Filipino man whose voice called out through the wall, “back, back!” Then a giant machete appeared, ripping through the remaining debris, and I started laughing. At the time it seemed the appropriate response, although perhaps I was just a little manic from thinking I was trapped for the last hour and a half. He held out a strong callused hand with a big smile and helped me through the hole he had created. I could see the ocean again and jumped around a little, said thank you a hundred times and gave the random magnificent man a hug that either shocked him, or simply scared him. It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes. Thinking about it now…I realize I was probably coated with mud, smelled like dirty tourist, and had a ever growing amount of blood running from cuts along my legs, arms and hands. He was most likely neither shocked nor scared, but perhaps disgusted.

At the time however, it was irrelevant. I barely noticed my hygienic state as I watched my hero continue clearing the rest of the courtyard like he had done it a million times before, smiling and singing along the way. I could finally see the entire jungle maze and it was destroyed beyond belief. The only plants that remained in their original places were the palm trees, stripped of most of their leaves, but still standing tall. I made it to the beach and saw first hand what happens when Mother Nature gets pissed off. Everything was destroyed, and I mean… everything. The bar I had left last night fully intact, was now scattered along the sand. I found my parents and joined them by the makeshift restaurant, where I was immediately given antiseptic, a handful of band-aids, a thermos of hot coffee and a bagel with some questionable butter. There were people wandering everywhere… but the most amazing, exhilarating thing about it all… was the amount of joy still seen on the face of each and every local resident. They were singing, and playing games, and putting things back together with smiles all around. The tourists were the only ones who seemed uncomfortable. I couldn’t believe how efficient everything ran considering the circumstances. With no power and everything in shambles, with their lives literally thrown upside down, the people around me acted as though it was just another happy day. The hotel owner, a withering Australian man explained that it was simple because to them… it was just another day. Typhoons ravage the Philippines every year, in every season, and the people know to rely on no one but themselves. There is no government support, no hurricane Katrina relief team. These people, in the face of a disaster the western civilization would cry and complain and bitch and moan about for years, moved on to reconstruction before I even had time to fully comprehend what happened.

It was a dangerously crowded frenzy to get any sort of boat to the island with the airport, so my family decided to relax and wait it out. I spent the next few days helping people rebuild things wherever they would let me. It was always an argument, as the locals acted as though it was not my responsibility. Maybe they were right, and maybe it wasn’t my home, but I refused to walk around pointing and taking pictures like every other foreigner while these people worked so hard all around me. I received the worst sunburn of my entire life, and lost at least ten pounds while I was there, but came home with a great story that I’d like to believe very few people have ever experienced, and one I’m very happy to have finally finished immortalizing in print.

The next time your feeling sorry for yourself, think about this blog, and the reality that if an entire island can be singing the morning after a natural disaster, you have no right to be feeling so sad over your own, much less destructive life events.


Angieanything said...

You really have a talent for writing. I'm sure that you've heard that before.

This was touching, I realized at the end that I tear had run down my face. I can only dream of having a fraction of the resilience that those locals have.

Much love!!

LupineLooPine said...

Third time lucky me hopes!

Yeah, I wanted to say how I loved the ending.. particularly now since I'm not feeling my finest. Self doubt is a nagging beast that I usually have sufficiently trapped with my regular activities aimed at improvement, except when society through her wonderful constructs finds a way to make me feel completely inadequate. Of course I know the truth that this is a distortion of reality, and everything has a reason.... but that still doesn't mean I feel like singing. So the story hasn't completely worked for me .. since I'm apparently a hideously selfish bastard. I'm not exactly optimistic right now; more tired and numb I guess. But back to the Philippines. I can understand the reconstruction effort, even being optimistic (since it couldn't get any worse)... but singing when things are completely rotten requires coconut balls. Say what you will about their penises.. but them balls would makes Atlas think thrice about holding one of them two boulders over his shoulders.

I'm glad you turned out fine. Sort of saw that coming I guess... but still, I was gripped and was rootin for ye! Woman against Mother Nature! One is gritty, the other has titties! It's a battle to the death where the winner takes ball.. Filipino high density coconut balls that is! Coconut balls flying all over the place due to the sinister typhoon, destroying houses and the spinsters room. Typhoon! Coming to a theater on the moon!

Yeah... I'm rusty. I'll get into the swing of things once I get some rest. I kinda get nervous mentioning "titties" around you anymore after your last video (as of this typing).. but like you and all people, the truth about each person exists independent of whether or not it is appreciated. If one were to take an objective look of my actions and expressed thoughts, then only will one know who I am... though understanding is still a fairly long way off.

krumbine said...

Hm. I read this in pieces and was effectively interrupted from the commenting mojo jinidad ... or something like that.

At any rate ... this story is obviously the best ever. Not only for how it was written but the content. I love natural disasters and the hurricanes are truly the best part of living in Florida. They're the great equalizer and every time season comes around, I'm eagerly awaiting the big one. I'm just weird that way.

krumbine said...

Hm. I read this in pieces and was effectively interrupted from the commenting mojo jinidad ... or something like that.

At any rate ... this story is obviously the best ever. Not only for how it was written but the content. I love natural disasters and the hurricanes are truly the best part of living in Florida. They're the great equalizer and every time season comes around, I'm eagerly awaiting the big one. I'm just weird that way.

RayInHI said...

great story, reminded me that during my 1992 visit to Boracay there was quite a hurricane ... at my home in Hawaii. now i know what a wonderful opportunity i missed by not suffering through those days without power or water.

Unrepentant said...

I actually stayed at the same hotel, with the same twisty maze, and possibly the same room, from what you described, in 2007. I still have the humorous little pink business card in my wallet as a souvenir... The reason I bother to mention this fact is that your story not only added a new perspective towards one of my own personal memories, but the context of it in-itself being at all familiar. by that, I mean that although the place is a major tourist resort, there are tons of those little hotel deals all around the island, which is itself pretty remote from the rest of the world, especially USA, where I am from. So remote that I have yet to meet another human being who has ever heard of it, no less vacationed there. By reading this I have become aware of a subconscious pride taken in just this such experience of participating in the perceived obscure. This pride, upon encountering an 'other' who is previously unknown, and then proceeds to describe a scene as I once thought only I (relatively) knew, becomes naked, revealed, wounded, cheated, and driven to the surface in a moment of absurd confusion and revelation as a brief existential hiccup. Shocking, meaningless, brief, and alienating. But, just as soon as these feelings occur they are replaced by the warmth of a new prideful obscurity, that of a near-exclusive empathy of this alienating experience. I no longer have the island memory to myself, as unconsciously naive as that is, but I do have the true imagery of the scene, the trees, the creepy little statues, the awkward net-cafe thing at the front desk, the tribal shield things on the walls of the restaurant, and the knowledge of extreme weather in the region, such to have an interpretation of this story that is likely far more accurate, and less story-like than that of most readers. I apologize if this comes of as trite, given the nature of your post, but you seem to have an interest in new thoughts as much as relevant ones. That said, even though my biggest problem there was fending off the pushy sales people trying to sell me boat rides, I'm glad that you posted this, and I hope more people read things like this and realize that the world is far smaller than they think it is.

if you happen to be a billionaire...