I’ll start with what is happening at the moment. There. A beginning of trying to describe the most tortuous two weeks of my entire life.
People are gathering outside the gate, parking is limited. There will soon be a funeral service for the father of my (sometimes) driver Christopher. His father passed away about the same day I got here. From the description, I’d say either emphysema or congestive heart failure. He was a heavy smoker and drinker, I think the family was expecting his passing. Chris, while upset, did not seem to distressed as he drove me around Cebu the other day. The little chapel is less than 100 feet from where I’m sitting.
Egad, I’ve been readjusting my Teva sandals. They got rather odoriferous. That is a kind word. They were beginning to smell like sweat and rotting meat. I caught them early, I know better than to wait. I was going to clean them first thing in the morning, but Linden was washing them as I emerged from my room at 5:30am. He and Jean are SURE taking good care of me. To the point I can’t do any work around the house at all. Now on to that second sandal……….grrrr……..Ok, got it. Now I’ll walk out and take a picture of the crowd that is starting to gather…
And there they go, with a bus available for the people that are unable to walk. My mistake, they are going to walk to the church for the service, about 1/2 mile away. Then on to the cemetery. The little chapel is more of a shrine that a working church. Some services are held there, though. I decide not to take a picture of the grieving family out of respect for their loss.
It could have been me with my hands on the hearse.
The assortment of jeepneys and tricycles about choked me with fumes as they left. But now, it is peaceful. Again.
Words are coming very slowly. My emotional strength is nearly spent. My writing will reflect that. I hope the reflection is positive.
Four days of agony and finally one of joy. A typical one follows.
I’d wake up and 4 in the morning after perhaps 4 hours of sleep. Lay in bed until I couldn’t stand it, maybe 5:30. Get up. Write the daily update you saw on Facebook. Force myself to eat breakfast. The food was tasty but it always seemed like an effort to eat. Afterwards, off to the internet. For the first two days I went to the Gaisano mall. It was a long and expensive trip by cab, so I had Linden find me a local internet café. The owner of that café, Jeanna, has adopted me. We talked and she was so shocked and concerned about my plight that she allows me access any time I wish. All I have to do is knock on the door. Bless her. For instance. On Sunday morning I was in over an hour earlier than her other customers.
After two-three hours of fruitless searching, I’d go back to the house for lunch. Then came the worst. Long afternoons of exchanging texts and phone calls with friends and relatives as we pooled our resources. Looking. Searching. Praying. At four O’clock, back to the internet café for one more hour of checking leads and stories. Much of this work was done by my step-son, Scott. He is an expert at searching for things on the web. With my limited access, I couldn’t be very thorough.
Last of all dinner. After dinner I would buy a tall Red Horse beer and sit outside drinking, waiting for the pain to subside. Into bed at 7:30. Asleep maybe by 8:30. Wake up at 10:30. Maybe fall back to sleep around 2 or so and back up at 4. To start it all over again.
Fortunately for me, two of the days involved time helping Presco and Paul prepare for their trip to Tacloban and Salcedo/Asgad. More on this later, I promise. For their protection, perhaps unwarranted, I will stay mum at this time. We’ll talk about it after they get back.
(Break here. I got tired of writing and started playing video games to relax. I awoke at 4am and laid in bed waiting for 5:30. Suddenly, it hit me. It is cool and quiet right now. Time to get up and enjoy the early morning at 4:30. Sleep during the hot evening hours. I am exhausted by the heat by dinner time. I will now plan my sleep time from 8-4 or so. Most of the time)
The first day I did the usual. Getting money. Getting my bearings. We stopped in Lapu-Lapu to exchange dollars, then to Gaisano and the internet café. From there, to the Philippine Red Cross to register my search for Praxy. Amazingly enough, Martin’s hospital was a short three block walk from the Red Cross. So we walked over there and I got to chat with my old friend, lolo-Martin (“Lolo” means grandfather, I believe. Chona, Mimi, and Maravic’s father for people in my home area). It was such a pleasure and honor to “bless” him, shake his hand, and chat with him. While his body is starting to fail after 80 years, his mind is still quite sharp. The only sign of mental aging I could detect was a slight tendency to repeat himself. That could be from the language barrier. He is fluent in English, but has an accent I find a little difficult sometimes. I have to repeat myself as well .
Martin told me he is having trouble breathing, it hurts. They checked his heart, it seems to be fine. May be his lungs are wearing out. There is a lot of dust and smoke in this city, and we all know that those contaminants are not good for you. I find myself coughing more frequently here. At any rate, he is now out of the hospital and home. I will go see him again, soon. Besides, I want to check out the progress of the new SM (Shoe Mart) mall going up nearby. Martin’s house will be very close to the edge of the parking lot when the mall is completed. I can’t even imagine how bad the traffic will be in front of the house!
Afterwards, we returned to Gaisano to check in. Check in on any word from Praxy. By this time 6 days had passed without a word from her or anyone in Guiuan. It would be six more days before I knew she was alive.
The second day I hired Chris to take me around town. $12 dollars for him to drive me. $12 dollars to rent a small, yellow flatbed jeepney. Plus $10 for gas. The jeepney was old and worn out, but reliable. The fenders had rusted out to the point that…whenever we went through a puddle I would get showered with dirty water through the floorboards and under the door. Some people would be miffed, but I found it novel and amusing. Chris was aware of the problem and I only got wet once. If it had been raining, we would have had to stop and get some sort of cover to keep the water out. Linden rode in the back on a small stool. We went to Gaisano for internet. Then off to a charity site at Osema Fuente to drop off donations. Donations of money from Connie and medicines and tarps from me. Also, I donated the first aid kit that we had laying around the house. I figured a doctor could really use it and I will start on another when I get back. Items in it were getting close to expiration, they needed to be used. I wished now I’d put my name in it to see where it went. Some doctor is probably ecstatic to own it.
Back to Gaisano for an update. Nothing of course. But Chona called and suggested, since I wanted to volunteer, why not go to the airbase? OK, off we went. A sympathetic guard let me in after close inspection of my passport, but he never checked Linden and Chris. I find that odd. But, anyway…After a few false turns and many questions, we found ourselves at the evacuation center next to the runway. Linden and I were the ONLY non-volunteers there other than a lone TV cameraman. How I stumble into places like this is beyond me. Must be from my ability to think outside the box. With a little kick in the butt from Chona on this one.
This is TRULY Visiting a Place You Will Never be Likely to See. I carefully kept the pictures generic out of respect for the evacuees.
The sign in table. All evacuees sign in here so messages can be relayed to friends and loved ones. Behind was a table with free cell service and simms from SMART. A kind gesture from a large corporation to the people that had lost their phones or loads. At first they thought I was an evacuee and rushed me over, but I explained to them I wanted to volunteer. When pressed for a “why?”, I told them my wife had been in Guiuan during the typhoon and I had no idea if she was alive. They were sympathetic and very concerned. So they set me down to scan the evac sheets from both Cebu and Manila; that is how I found out that the “Williams” and “Ogatias” from Salcedo that had been evacuated to Manila. Which started the search by Byrd and Norhs to see if this was Praxy and Catharine or someone they might know. False lead, but a great one. Just HOW many people with a last name “Williams” and “Ogatia” can there possibly be in the Guiuan/Salcedo area chumming around together?
Some of these people hadn’t eaten for two days. You can see from the relaxed posture that they are grateful to be here.
There was another flight from Guiuan coming in, so I wandered around and talked with people. It soon became clear I had no business being here. There was a ton of physical labor there and I couldn’t speak but three words of tagalog. Had this been an evac center with a lot of foreigners, say Boracay or Panglao, that would have been different. Those tourists would have been comforted by the presence of a concerned American asking for their names, handing out food, and helping them connect with the outside world. I would have gladly come every day to help. Still would, even after knowing Praxy is safe. I would drop my writing and go somewhere instantly if I thought I could help.
But I was (am) smart enough to know that, even though I was desperate to find my wife, I would find her quicker if I let people do their jobs and keep myself out of the way. The flight from Guiuan, no Praxy. Sigh. Chris had to turn in the jeepney at 5pm, so it was time to leave anyway.
It was the next day that Scott and I teamed up for the search. Scott did most of the internet work. I helped here. But this is for a later post. Toodles, for now.