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The way home

Is he more lost than I am?

The human being is an alien spaceship piloted by a crew who have lost all their maps or suffered collective amnesia to the extent that they have absolutely no idea where they are, where they come from, or where they are going. And so they peer through little portholes and drive as best as they can, recording their journey as they go, for future use, or perhaps just out of a nervous instinct. Is there anything to this thesis? The best proof would be my husband.

I am watching him drive the car. And there in front of us, a long stretch of uphill road, unpaved, two gutters indicating where truck-tires clawed their way up the muck. And then as he is wont to do he begins to explain himself: I’m sorry I have to drive the car this way, but unless we drive very fast we are going to sink into the mud.

And with that, they hopped, skipped and jumped over mounds and potholes, half flying, half slipping through the mud. And all through this, him, giving a running commentary of what was happening and what he was doing as if speaking to himself or someone inside him, his God perhaps: Go left! Bad hole! Stay away from that! Does he know he is only multiplying our terror? He has no idea. Finally, my mother in the back seat declares: Stop talking, you two!

It is not entirely his fault. He is driving a car with three half-Waray passengers telling him what to do, what road to take. Until now he has been quite silent. They were trying to make the 1 p.m. barge back to Danao, Cebu, from Isabel, Southern Leyte. They were looking for the shortest route. They found it. Unfortunately, it was an unfinished road cutting through lonely hills and boondocks, sections of it unpaved and partially washed away by the storm. The car is not 4X4. It was not designed for this road. If they bogged down here, it would take days to pull the car out. They might have to walk.

I have my own way of dealing with stress. My mind returns to Bingbing, the last friend we visited the previous day in Tacloban. She is a cultural leader. Leyte is half Waray and half Cebuano. The Waray have roots in Samar and Northern Leyte. They speak mostly Waray in Tacloban but many speak Cebuano as well. Is there a fundamental difference between the Cebuano and the Waray? There is. But it is a nuanced difference difficult to put down into words unless  reduced to its most fundamental: We talk differently.

And yet, the Cebuano and Waray are also fundamentally similar. They have gone through centuries of travel and migration. They are a mix, not only of the local but also of the foreign, the alien. In Tacloban, they have something quite similar to the traditional Cebuano breakfast fare, puto-maya. They call it puto-rice. It was in Tacloban where the American armed forces landed in World War II. Tacloban, just like Cebu is heavily Americanized. And just like Cebu, its cultural roots have been marginalized by centuries of colonialism.

And so both the Cebuano and the Waray hark back to the archives of culture to find their roots. Most of the living archives have disappeared from the middle-class culture. They are reemerging in the works of writers, poets and artists most of them marginalized from the national mainstream. And so there are cultural gaps which need to be filled, something like a wound that has yet to form a protective scab. A bit perhaps like the devastation Yolanda left in her wake, a bit like this road in front of us.

Bingbing looks at the rehabilitation effort after Yolanda as a cultural problem. And it is, if we think of culture as the store of a people’s beliefs, the things they hold dear and sacred, the stories they tell each other, the future they envision for themselves, their narratives. And Yolanda will be the long chapter of the story of the Waray. It is a chapter which ought to get into the national and global consciousness in the keenest way. Because it is important and precious as the indeterminate number of un-named lives which were lost here.

We make it through mud back to the concrete highway, back to a civilization at best tenuous as the next storm will prove. We, four of us, make it back home. This is where our journey ends. But of Tacloban, who can tell? Not I who cannot even tell if there are aliens in my husband’s head. Where will this story go? In what language will it be told? Who gets to tell it?

However it plays out, the stories of the truest beauty will be told by “ordinary” Waray who braved winds and waves such as no human being has ever seen on this planet. This is their story. The world will do well to sit back and listen. She is not Haiyan. She is what the Waray call her. She is Yolanda.

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