Stories of sturdiness from Bohol
“Waaa. Ang ginaw,” shivered Hazel in the dead of the night. Her bed since the October 15 quake was three dining chairs she connected while her son, Elizer, and Elmer (her civil partner) and Mark (a relative) occupied the single katri—a bamboo bed. They positioned their tolda (a makeshift tent) by the wall of Sagbayan Public Market. A tall pile of packed bread fenced one side of their makeshift house. To somewhat protect themselves from intruders at night, they barricaded their tent with several market tables turned on one side. Before darkness descended, Hazel went across the street and entered a collapsing house and came out with a bed sheet she used to cover a similar market table they used as a barricade. She whisked fruit cologne on the sheet and pillow.
“Pasensya na, ma’am, ’to lang talaga ang makayanan,” she said, slightly embarrassed. I was the one who should be embarrassed. Here they were displaced and yet had to adopt a woman for a night. I got stranded at the epicenter of the quake, the strongest in the past 23 years. All modest lodges shared the same fate with the rest, including the Sagbayan Municipal Hall. The quake left them either crippled, tilted like a drunk, or gutted like a slaughtered pig; while others collapsed to a final solitude.
Hazel sold bread baked from a pogon (a wood- or charcoal-fed oven) for twenty-five pesos a pack that she got for twenty.
“More than one week na ring walang kuryente, siyempre ’yong mga tawo, hinahanap na ’yong tinapay.” With the expected months-long power outage, established bakery franchises collapsed with their rented infra. As the day progressed, the wall of bread gradually shrank. Construction workers passed by her store and brought a pack or two before heading to their own quake-shaken or tattered houses. At the end of the day, there would be only a few left out of five hundred packs.
With a sciatic back, the unanticipated loudness of the jolts, and the chilliness at Sagbayan, it became a struggle to have a sound sleep. Here, the aftershocks felt like rhinos running amok deep in the bowels of the earth. Each tremor was tailed with an explosion deep within like a series of pak, pak, pak, boom!
“Kaya ang mga tao dito nagkakanerbyos,” confided Hazel. Sleep, which is the true state of democracy according to the poet Simeon Dumdum Jr., suddenly became a myth to others after the October 15 quake. But others’ snores tremored in the market all night long.
On Saturdays, the squeal of the pigs about to be slaughtered pierced into the coldness of the Sagbayan dawn and marked the coming of the new day. It was barely five and yet the market was ready for its tabo—a twice-a-week gathering of traders of everything necessary and farmers from the highlands selling their harvest.
Old men and women spread the dried wrinkly tobacco leaves, inspected their veins, smelled them, exchanged critiques, and haggled with the price. Some sucked at their rolled tobacco while doing so. Two lads dislodged thatched nipa from the truck and piled them on one side of a hardware. Two pretty Boholanas were glued on “Forbidden Passion: Incubus,” an erotica serialized on the black-, white-, and red-inked Bohol Balita—the only news daily in Cebu’s sister island. Tatang contemplated buying a new machete and rope. On this side of Bohol, everyone needed ropes, both tangible and intangible.
It seems like everyone was done mourning and carried on with everything that the quake spared: a few pans, a cup or two, some plates, a table, a torn blanket, clothes, a basin. They thanked the presence of the unshaken: a living market. They held onto something that remained unshakeable: hope, love, faith, laughter, resourcefulness, the Filipino spirit.
By the partially collapsed Moalong Bridge, workers kidded the human bridge they built was earthquake-proof and asked for more photos every time they spotted cameras around. At Sagbayan, I bathed (Filipino style) by the only working water pump with Ate Chona while occasional males fetching water gazed at us. Municipal officials suggested making rubble and ruins as tourist attractions. Churchgoers sang “Si Kritso namatay, si Kritso nabanhaw” outside the cracked Sagbayan Parish Church. Angelo Avenido, 7, strategically piled wood scraps and blew on the dying embers until he created a stable fire his mother would need for cooking. His was one of the 27 families seeking refuge on the church grounds. At Loon, next to the hilly church rubble, a mother—among the thousands being displaced—admonished the kids to stop playing basketball and sepak takraw when the mass was about to start. I found it rather more religious and natural for an acacia tree to roof heads of the 3 o’clock mass goers. I heard the exact same words from different places, first at Sagbayan, then at Loon: A church reader narrated a passage that signals the beginning of the mass—honor does not spring from what you have, rather it comes from asking one’s self of who and what you are.
The Bohol I visited and the Bohol I gleaned from mass media differ. There were many stories remained unvoiced, unheard, untold. I know it is also the case with the places that the unforgiving Yolanda wrecked: the northern Central Visayas.
Yes, the numbers of the dead and the displaced were undeniably painful and sad perhaps because it is the duty of a journalist to seek the coldness of facts. But such coldness must not hinder us from travelling to the very places of displacements and heartaches. While it is the journalist’s task to document the coldness, it must be the traveller’s to seek warmth in the coldness of things. It must be the traveller’s to listen, listen, and listen. To seek the normal in time of desolation. To idle in places where the seeming ordinary passes one by. To eat where everybody eats. To understand that news—no matter how fresh—is yesterday’s event.
Like at Sagbayan Public Market, the fish vendor just stared at the headline: 201 na ang nakalas sa linog, 12 546 ang anaa sa evacuation centers. He flipped into the sports section and read “Marquez gusto’g rematch ni Bradley.” Right after reading, he put the paper away and hollered, “Isda, ’ki!”