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A guest from Tacloban

/ 10:34 AM November 24, 2013

He was much privileged to receive into his home a guest from Tacloban. The visitor was on his way to Manila. He needed a place to stay for the night. He was a young poet-writer, a friend of and among a community of friends, and so he invited him to sleep over. All the better to concretize for his family the reality of the events of the past days, which even now seem like visions caught in a daze.

And of course, they talked about the storm; who was okay, who was not, who had lost someone, who had not and what it looked like from Tacloban itself. It dawned on him in due course that he could never really look at this event from the same perspective of his guest who had actually been there. Their views would inevitably be different even if not necessarily contradictory.

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His view is constructed of information derived from accounts of media, ABS-CBN, GMA, CNN, etc. Even Facebook has something to do with it. And of course he accepted the limitations of that view compared to the view of one who was actually there surviving the wind and the flood and their aftermath. His was an account that rang with a particular immediacy, a singular credibility. The host did not pester his guest for a detailed account of this. This would be his guest’s own story. He would have plenty of time to render this account himself.

And so he presumed, this story will work its way into his guest’s poetry and the stories he will write from hereon. For now, he simply marvelled at how special his perspective is. He would have to summon the patience to wait.

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But at another level, the host began also to realize the uniqueness of his own view. Constructed as it was from media accounts, he recognized also that his was a perspective his guest did not have. As his guest recounted, electric power turned off at the beginning of the storm. With this, the phone service and every manner of communication beyond the limits of voice and hearing were also turned off. They were cut off from the rest of the world.

He could only imagine how isolated he must have felt. How strange his world would have been. He imagined in his head the wreckage all about him, dead people in the streets, the breakdown of the predictability of everything. This must have seemed like an alien world, a strange planet.

Only his guest could actually describe this “un-reality.” And yet, it was impossible for his guest to have seen how the same event transpired from the far distance. How, hours after the storm, news footage showing the onslaught of the typhoon were already being broadcast to a world-audience. How the world immediately reacted readying relief and then trying to move them to where they were needed. Everyone knew this would not be easy. This was also a story in itself. And it would be equally laden, like all stories, with its expected condiments of passion and emotion, its rightful share of truth.

This conversation with his guest reminded him that the complete account of Yolanda will have to incorporate many views and many perspectives. It will take some time to form, bouncing from voice to voice, from one pair of ears to the next, from page to page and, not to forget, one digital screen to another, never at any point becoming complete. But it would be an important narrative striving to be as big and encompassing as Yolanda herself; and leading to many insights and lessons we must all have to learn. Especially because storms may visit us more often now. And they seem to be growing bigger, angrier and more dangerous.

Typhoon Yolanda is holding a mirror to us that we might better see ourselves as a people, a government and a nation among many nations stuck on the surface of a changing planet. We cannot seem to agree exactly why the planet is changing this way. But we, more than anyone else, can speak exactly of the effects of this change. Yolanda in her passing left for all of us a very special voice.

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