I feel a very unusual sensation – if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude. ~Benjamin Disraeli
Over two months ago, I had the privilege of leading a number of small relief operations teams to go to and from Tacloban City and other storm-hit areas during the early days of the supertyphoon #Haiyan. We prioritized delivering boxes of critical care medicine, body bags, equipment needed for proper identification of the dead bodies, hygiene packs, food, and water to the two barely operating hospitals and other areas in the flattened city. While there are a myriad of other things that I would like to discuss: the learning, and the unlearning of things, the decisions on-the-fly, the trivial discomfort, the lighthearted endurance of my team, the heartbreak, frustration, hope, numbness, despair, then hope again of many – but today I only want to discuss my gratitude for the very many people who helped us.
I understand that many countries sent in aid in many forms. One of which is by lending us their cargo planes, their C130s. As we ferried to as many areas as possible, we got to ride the C130s of the Royal Indonesian Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Republic of Korea’s Air Force, the Royal Air Force of the British – all soldiers on duty snappily getting us into the vessel, assisting us with our cargo, making sure we are all safe, some supplying us with earplugs to make sure we comfortably withstand the roar of the planes. It was as exciting as it was humbling. When we landed in Negros, we encountered soldiers from the Canadian Forces, and while on standby in Cebu’s Mactan Air Base – we were assisted by soldiers from Jordan, Spain, the United States of America, the gentlemen from the Italian Air Force as well as the young men from the Royal New Zealand Defence Force. It was a tough time, a strange and spirited time- but we carried on – literally on the wings of other nations. Nations who decided that the devastation left behind by the super typhoon was their problem, too.
When doing urgent first-wave relief work, there is a need to focus sharply on the task at hand. Get the resources where it’s needed the most, as swiftly as one can. Our teams had to double-time on the inventories, make note of the refrigeration needs of some medicine boxes, we had to be physically strong enough to carry literal heavy loads, and we needed to move fast enough for when the soldiers with all sorts of accents efficiently barked directions at us as we piled into other countries’ planes. Sometimes, during the flight, I get to staring at them – and I wonder what they’re thinking, how they feel being here in the Philippines close to Christmas time, overlapping, in fact, with holidays like Thanksgiving for the Americans, and for those from the temperate zone countries, well, they were missing a lot of the glorious Autumn blaze in their homes just to help us out.
They were here at a time we needed them most. When transport was key – especially for an archipelago like the Philippines. I tried awkwardly to take every chance to thank them at every pause I had. Like while waiting at the airport, I offered a chewing gum pack to a female soldier from I’m-not-sure-now-where, she refused at first then I assured her I had more, she grinned and took it. Another time I thrust a ziploc of sliced guavas onto the lap of a soldier sitting on the tarmac and ran away fast so he couldn’t give it back to me. It was the only way I could balance out what I was feeling. It was my way of proclaiming my debt and clumsily attempt to repay it right then and there. There is a restlessness, I believe, in many Filipinos. A restlessness, a profound urge to thank the nations who have helped us – but, really, how does one begin to thank the world?
February 8, 2014 is exactly three months after typhoon Haiyan made landfall and our country – even our literal coastlines will never be the same again. We are here at the cusp of possibilities, chances to rebuild better or at least make a definitive go at it. But before we do that – perhaps we should pause and say thank you. A thunderous thank you. A thank you that will ring around the world. Desperation starts to fade when gratitude begins. It is the furthest province from grief. Three months after, I invite every Filipino, online or otherwise, to express their thank yous to the nations who have helped, are still helping, or will begin to help us rebuild our cities, our dignities, and lives. Right now is as good a time as any. Here’s mine. #PHThankYou
Rock Ed Philippines
28 Jan 2014