I remember the Philippines. I have been there, not once but twice. I could return to the islands tomorrow should an opportunity avail itself. The Philippines with its collection of 7,107 islands is spectacularly beautiful. My travels from Mindanao in the south to Luzon in the north, was enlivening. The memories remain vivid as if I were there yesterday.
I remember last Friday. Typhoon Haiyan, I don’t know why it is named after a bird (petrel), hit the Philippines so badly. Its brunt has claimed over 1, 400 lives this far. Many have been left hungry, homeless and shocked. It is distressing to see the images of Tacloban, Bohol, Iloilo and Cebu, places I felt at home once. As I flip through CNN, BBC and Aljazeera picture galleries and raw video clips, my eyes wet in disbelief. The images weigh down the heart, and heavily so. Every sight of the dead, a traumatized toddler or a shaken grandmother is a contrast of what I saw during my trips not so long ago. I remember the Pinoys (Filipinos) I met. A people of warm embrace – full of life, wittiness and tranquility. Even those who seemingly struggled to make ends meet portrayed an enduring spirit not seen in many cultures. They shared generously with visitors, always entertaining. On the days of their festivals their songs often stirred deep emotions – stunning. Many Pinoys pray religiously. It’s a way of life.
I remember Bohol. The last place I savored during my first trip. White sand beaches stretching wide to reflect a conspicuous sunset every evening. It is in Bohol that I rode a tricycle uphill to glimpse scenic ‘sprouts’ of chocolate hills – brown and yummy to the eyes. Where I stood, a wooden beam extended vertically about 2 meters from the ground. On each of the four sides of the beam the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth” is inscribed. And peace I did feel. Peace that even the camera clicks and laughter of fellow tourists could not perturb. How I pray that that prevailing peace may return to the Philippines soon.
I remember the tricycle. The one I rode had the writings “My heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” The statement is attributed to St. Augustine of Asisi attempting to explain the inconsolable longing of a human heart. I recall Miguel, the owner of the tricycle, telling me that St. Augustine’s wisdom is assuring to his heart – he studied Catechism. In Miguel I had found a friend. We often cracked jokes as if we had known each other for decades. I loved his hilarity which served as a comma for every long sentence he made. I still keep his picture (but I regret losing his telephone number). Miguel’s was smart and thoughtful. He reasonably critiqued his beloved country and decried its socio-economic status. He disappointedly talked of the wasted potential of his country. I did share my disappointment about Kenya as we compared South Korea and our countries. During the reign of Ramon Magsaysay in 1950s, said Miguel, the Philippines was an Asian super power. “We gave food aid to South Korea”, he concluded as if to lament. I don’t remember if I told him that Kenya, whose economy was slightly better than Korea’s sent financial aid to the East Asian nation soon after the Korean War. As for what happened to our own countries later on is a chat for another day.
I remember my classmates. Oh, they were ever jolly and refreshing in their character and humor. I called them Ate (sisters) and Kuya (brothers). We went through culture shock as foreign students and shared much more that life had to offer. Some of them dated, wedded in colorful weddings and now with bouncing offsprings. Tonight, I am eager. I can’t wait to hear that they are all fine. That they endured the recent storm so they may tell their stories. Perhaps to declare the sufficiency of the heavenly grace in what they have been through in life.
I remember the Philippines. Nonetheless, these collection of memories deny my heart rest until I whisper a prayer and see things from a worldview I hold. Of course, like many, I ask myself, why? Why does the Philippines have endure typhoon after another? Deep inside, I know there is an answer somewhere. Nothing by chance. I may not know why now but God knows for sure. Meanwhile I find a recent CNN caption quite poignant: “At the end of the day, the Filipinos will just shake off the dirt from their clothes and go about their business… and smile. They do not complain much, the will bear as long as they can. May be this is why they were given the “privilege” of bearing the burden of the strongest typhoon ever recorded.” I remember you, the Philippines. I know the anchor holds on. Be comforted, Pinoys.