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WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL Christmas break for the bagyo boys of New Bataan

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/31 Dec) — Sweet Sevilla mounted a toy drive just before school went on Christmas break. She wanted the loot to be part of COPERS’ (Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services of the Ateneo de Davao University) Christmas activities for New Bataan.

We would have gone bearing gifts to New Bataan last December 20, except that we never got a reply from Fr. Edgar Tuling. Fr. Ed usually gets his altar boys ready to help us out when we come to the ground. Turns out the good father’s cell phone got stolen while he was holding the first dawn mass!

Now, who would do that?

We didn’t plan to be in New Bataan today. We had set out a little past noon with the intention to check the road conditions after Typhoon Seniang battered parts of Northern Mindanao last night. Vaguely, we entertained the idea of going as far as Butuan.

All through the Authors’ Night festivities held by the Blue Patriarch Publishing House Monday night at Seda Hotel, I was getting funny text messages from my soul sister Joey Jegonia in Cagayan de Oro. As the wind howled and rain poured down with a vengeance, Joey was worrying that her roof seemed to have a mind to go AWOL.

The roof held.

At 10 p.m, Sendong’s sister took her fury elsewhere, but the CDO radio cautioned that the wind could still change. CDO residents were warned that Senyang could turn around by midnight and have another go at the roofs. Didn’t happen. Joey must have gone to bed around 3 a.m.

Setting out today, I polled people who were still out there. Nelly said she was still stranded in Cebu and figuring out her options, factoring in her chances of making it across downed bridges somewhere in Carcar. Choef was about to come down from Maragusan (Compostela Valley), having gotten word that buses were running again.

Lyra, on the other hand, knew she would miss her flight for Manila. Just the same, she wanted to get to the Tacloban airport. She texted:

“…walked across three damaged bridges, survived a road landslide that took four hours to clear; waded through 500 meters of knee-deep floodwaters and twice boarded bamboo rafts along the highway; finally hitched a ride on a 10-wheeler cement truck owned by an NGO called the GOOD SAMARITAN with 25 other commuters. Naiwan man ng eroplano, naka-survive pa rin, Pero ipinagdadasal ko nang bawasan ang excitement and adventure sa susunod kong birthday!”

Ah, that’s Lyra, who has been spending her birthday in disaster areas (Sendong, 2011; Pablo, 2012; Yolanda, 2013; and Ruby, 2014). She’s the one who made it Borongan within 36 hours of my asking if she was free to deliver on a request for psychosocial support of community workers in Eastern Samar.  These were our NGO partners who worked to prepare villages for Typhoon Ruby and help them recover after taking quite a battering a few weeks before Christmas.

Trust Lyra to get to the airport, come downed bridges and floodwaters in Leyte.

Past lunch Tuesday, we found the road to Tagum clear, if a bit bedraggled.  Reaching Montevista, we decided to go see Fr. Tuling since his “number cannot be completed as dialed.” He was out. The altar boys at the convent filled us in on his missing cell phone.

We headed down to Purok 4 to find our playmates. Two years ago, Purok 4 was a deserted wasteland of boulders and ruined houses. There were two cars half-buried by the debris.

Today, banana and cherisa trees have pushed their way above the boulders that have sprouted weeds and tall grasses. The boulderline slows down rushing water from flashfloods. Purok 4 residents have rebuilt their houses. Since Pablo’s devastating onslaught which left many among them dead, the occasional times when the river broke its banks never took the waters to their doorstep.

The boys shyly came to meet us as we walked past the carabao tethered to the gate. They readily took my hand and pressed it against their forehead in a gesture of respect. I was the “ate na nagdala daghan briefs”. They led us to sit together on a fallen tree trunk. Soon, the other boys came over to talk.

We had interrupted them at play. It was Christmas break after all and neighborhood kids were playing at a grassy expanse out there where the adults could watch them. They tried to outdo each other at doing cartwheels and standing on their head.

Carol asked about the tent cities in New Bataan. Well, I did know of one a few kilometers off the road going to Andap. But that neighborhood had changed a bit since I was up there last. It took some effort for us to find what is now officially Sitio Plateau. This is where the entire population of Purok 7 in Taytayan had been temporarily relocated after Pablo. It is where 19 families still remain. The others had gone back across the river to Taytayan to wait out the granting of their permanent relocation.

Two years after the big storm, the tents had sprung leaks or had torn apart in hopeless tatters.

But no matter how desolate and forsaken it looks to an outsider, a home community is where young boys will always find somewhere to play.

Up on the knoll, a lone slender tree shot up to the sky. I wondered at the effort it would take to climb it, but someone had obviously did. He had also secured a rope five meters up. Young lads gathered at the base of the tree to take turns swinging from the lower end.

The makeshift basketball court nearby looked neglected.  The kids told me that the balls we brought last year could not be repaired any more.

I guess Sweet was on the money with her toy drive. We really should get the toys down here soon.

Meanwhile, the bagyo boys of New Bataan aren’t letting the problem of lack get in the way of them enjoying every day of the Christmas break. They’re just around out there where their elders can watch them, showing each other who could run faster, stand on his head longer, or swing farther. Or sometimes, it could also be about who could laugh harder.

(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan chairs the Department of Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University. You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says.)

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