I got this message not too long ago from one of my first friend’s in The Philippines.
When I arrived in The Philippines, a friend who served an LDS mission there arranged for a local LDS church member to pick me up from my hotel (as mentioned in my earlier post, her name was Doris). She took me to the Sikatuna Mormon chapel in Cebu City, where the refugees who were lucky enough to get off the island of Leyte (where typhoon Yolanda hit hardest), --some of which waited in line for 5 days without food after having walked several days to find any help and to eventually get in line--were being housed. This is where I spent my first few days in The Philippines. When I got to the chapel they had a Filipina nurse who had spent long, long days there caring for the refugees. She was nine months pregnant and happy to give me a quick run down of how things were going and headed home to take a nap. She later came back that night to sleep on the floor next to me so I wouldn’t be alone. (Although I am plenty used to being alone and may have been more comfortable that way because I can’t handle the sweetness of such gestures without getting teary.)
Her message is as follows:
We're good. All the survivors went back to their homes except for 2 families which we adopted. The one with the wheel chair's family and the one who lost his family is with us. They are our adopted families.
I would like to ask: Where can we find the organic rice that you brought because there is none here and we need it.
I remember the story of every single person she is talking about. I remember their kindness and strength in the midst of their greatest sorrow.
The “one with the wheelchair was a woman in her 70’s who had been paralyzed for (I think) 13 ish years. Somehow, out of all the people who survived this awful storm, she and her 7 year old grandson made it through. This is the woman whom I bought a camping sleeping pad to sleep on with the $15 my friend Jobetta Hedelman sent me (even the littlest bit changes/saves lives y’all), because she was getting bed sores from being wet for so many days and from sleeping on the hard tile floor of the chapel.
Their story of survival is not all glorious and is not over yet. They, of course, lost many friends and family in the storm. And after the frightful hours and hours of horrendous flooding and 300 mile an hour winds, they emerged only to witness horrible looting and violence. The seven year old boy, watched a gunman kill several people shortly after stepping out in the world after the storm. He hadn’t spoken since. And I never saw him smile. He was numb. I don’t think it was the storm that broke his heart, I think it was seeing how ugly people can be even after the miracle of living through a storm like that. I’m glad to hear they have been adopted. I hope and pray that now being “adopted” by the saints of Sikatuna he can feel hope and peace again. If anyone can heal someone with love it is the wonderful Filipino people, specifically the enormous love generously given by the people who cared for these refugees in Cebu.
The other man, the one “who lost his family”. Was a very new father. A sweet, sweet gentle, now very quiet man, who still managed to smile and thank us every time he saw us. He was running from the storm carrying his three month old baby when it was swept from his arms by the ugly forces of typhoon Yolanda. He also relates the story of watching his wife get carried off in a giant wave created by the torrential rains and combining winds while running next to him. I’m glad to hear that he to has found a family in Cebu with the kind souls there. And that everyone else was able to return home.
The “organic rice” she is asking about is the quinoa I brought from the states (with generous help from Janelle Bentz, her Costco card, and her family). I had enough food for me and probably 3 other people for two weeks and left some of it Sikatuna when I bought other food to take with me into the disaster zone. (I brought it thinking it was much more nutritional and substantial than the white rice they traditionally eat and that was being handed out...and even what was being handed out was pathetically and shamefully very little and to very, very few people.) Needless to say, they loved it :).
I’ll tell you more about the kids, and how looking back now, I can see how perhaps I meant more to them than I realized as a mother figure. It’s odd for me to say that because I don’t see myself as very motherly. A weirdo aunt, sure, but not so motherly. The only evidence against this is the monstrous pain I feel when thinking of how any of them could be hurting so much and how I want to take it all away.
The children you'll see in the pictures are mostly all siblings. Nine of
them, being raised by a father in the rural parts of Leyte Province.
Their mother works in the United Arab Emirates I believe as “house
help,” earning money and sending it home to The Philippines. The
children were very rambunctious.
Apparently they weren’t so
playful before my arrival. “The children are so much happier now that
you are here,” one woman commented to me.
Initially I thought it was because they were likely in shock from the storm-which I’m sure was part of it-and because they were bored living in a chapel and I had brought silliness and games. As I look at the pictures now and think back to their reactions and affections for me, I realize I may have been a somewhat of a short term mother. Hugs and play was always available to them from me. Open heart and a bit of discipline and we were instant besties. I think leaving them hurt me a bit too much, so as to prevent me from being so open the rest of the trip if I’m honest. How could I possibly love that like again and leave...yet again. I still hurt for my babies in Ecuador, who I can’t adopt, or change the direction of their lives or protect them from a world without a mother. And here it was happening again. How cruel love is some times.
It often leaves me to lament with the line from the movie Nacho Libre, “I hate all the orphans in the whole world!” Although, I clearly am using it out of context, it is what I try to tell myself to stop from hurting so much for all the children I’ve fallen in love with.
Regardless, and back to the story at hand. I am so grateful for people with bigger hearts than mine, who’s capacity to love and welcome with open arms those who are hurting and who’s stories can hurt them. I am thankful for Agnes and Doris and all the other wonderful people of Cebu City who are taking it upon themselves to love those whom I have loved and could not help more than the little I was able in those short few days I spent there.
I aspire to have that kind of depth and compassion, although as I rummage through this world on my own, I find that I often instead come across as cold and distant because I love too much and know I cannot stay and cannot take away their pains or alter their paths. Not at this time at least. I only hope I become more like these people, the survivors and the saints I worked along side. The are the salt of the earth.
Perhaps one day I’ll fulfill my dream of going around the world and collecting all the people I love so much and building a family of those of us stretched across the continents.
*the stories told here are as I remember them and as I was able to understand them through the language and emotional barriers. I hope to have gotten them as correct as possible.