November 19, 2013

Signs of life amid misery reveal Filipinos’ spirit

Typhoon survivors are trying to move forward in the wake of disaster.

By Todd Pitman
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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A worker walks inside a damaged call center office in Palo town, Leyte province, central Philippines Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013. More than 4 million people have been displaced and need food, shelter and water after Typhoon Haiyan hit the country on Nov. 8.

The Associated Presss

Perhaps it has something to do with an expression Filipinos have: “Bahala Na.” It essentially means: Whatever happens, leave it to God.

Elizabeth Protacio de Castro, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Philippines in Manila, said her nation has grown accustomed to catastrophe. Some 20 typhoons barrel across the nation every year. Add to that earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, armed insurgencies and political upheaval.

“Dealing with disaster has become an art,” de Castro said. But Typhoon Haiyan “was quite different. It was immense, and no amount of preparation could have prepared us to cope with it.”

And yet, they must cope.

“So rather than screaming or staring at the wall in a psychiatric ward, you do everything you can. You do your best, then let it go,” said de Castro, who helped provide psychological aid to victims of the 2004 Asia tsunami during a previous job with the U.N. Children’s Fund.

People playing music or sports in the rubble, de Castro said, “is a way of saying, ‘Life goes on.’ This is what they used to do every day, and they’re going to keep doing it.”

“It’s not that Filipinos are some happy-go-lucky people and don’t care,” she added. “It’s a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. They’re saying: ‘I can deal with this. I’m at peace, and whatever happens tomorrow, happens.’ ... They need help, of course, but they’re also saying, they’re going to get by on their own if they have to.”

De Castro has been counseling students in Manila who lost parents and siblings to the storm, and said some have displayed incredible determination. “They’ve lost their entire families, and they’re telling me, ‘I have to finish my studies because my parents paid my tuition through the end of the year.”’

That sense of determination is literally written in the ruins of Tacloban.

One handwritten message painted on a board outside a destroyed shop said the “eyes of the world” are on the city. It added, “Don’t quit.”

Those who have gotten a chance to leave Tacloban have done so, of course, though many will no doubt return one day.

On Monday, I rode on a U.S. Air Force C-17 out of Tacloban to Manila, along with about 500 people displaced by the typhoon. There were babies and pregnant women. Some had tears in their eyes. One man held a doll with stuffed animal-like angel wings. He stared at it intensely, kissing it over and over.

As the plane neared Manila, an American crew member held her iPhone to her helmet’s microphone, which was linked the aircraft’s speaker system.

She hit play, and Earth, Wind and Fire’s 1978 hit “September” belted out. The sea of eyes squatting on the cargo plane immediately turned radiant.

Men twirled their arms. Women swayed back and forth, and the words echoed through the plane’s cargo hold:

“Do you remember ...

While chasing the clouds away,

Our hearts were ringing,

In the key that our souls were singing.

As we danced in the night. Remember,

How the stars stole the night away.”

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