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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, December 07, 2012

entry arrow12:14 PM | Missives From Pablo

It was late Monday and Signal No. 2 had just been declared over most of southern Negros Oriental, and elsewhere. But what made it scarier than usual was the perfect ordinariness of the day. There was no rain, there was no wind. The sun was up, though—at the time the knowledge of Pablo first came to me like the inevitability of a flying fist—it was about to set, and dreaded Tuesday was suddenly looming around the corner.

And yet we were deep in “disaster prep” mode in Dumaguete, Monday night. I was earnestly thinking of the supplies (candles, batteries...) and the groceries I needed to buy before the storm hit. I was thinking of the relief efforts we needed to coordinate with Rock Ed Dumaguete—if the worst occurred and Sendong happened again. Pablo was supposedly three times more furious than the last storm that ravaged my part of the world.

Monday felt like the dread of knowing there is a bogeyman lurking right behind a dark corner, and yet you nevertheless feel yourself moving forward, knowing full well you are about to face a monster. It all seemed inescapable, inevitable.

By Monday night, the dogs stopped barking. It was so quiet outside, it was almost creepy. But the night air felt unbearably muggy, which was enough to make you doubt whether a storm was indeed coming. Monday night, I found myself in Qyosko, a 24-hour diner, which became a respite of house music and air-conditioning. My skin was feeling the storm coming.

Tuesday afternoon, the storm crept up on Dumaguete—a sudden fury that seemed surprising, even with all our preparations considered. For some reason, this storm was making me think of the typhoon that ravages Palawan in the beginning of Dean Francis Alfar’s novel Salamanca—when not even the fictional storm’s fury could sway the novel’s hero Gaudencio from writing with such obsession for the beautiful Jacinta. And yet, novelistic comparisons aside, I knew there was no romanticizing the rain that preceded the eye of Pablo’s storm.

Ensconced in the relative comfort of The Bean, I waited out the rain. I was in the café to do my social media updates for the typhoon, releasing relevant information in behalf of Rock Ed Dumaguete. For some reason, I also couldn’t bring myself to go my wifi-less home, to the safety of the familiar. (As Warlito quipped to me that Monday: “Home is where the wifi is.”) I felt drawn to downtown, even when one by one the establishments in the stretch along Perdices Street were closing down for the afternoon’s expected onslaught—save for the fastfood chains. Soon, the café where I was in was about to close, too. “We’re closing at 4 PM,” a busgirl intoned. And so those of us inside slowly picked up our things, and made preparations to transfer to nearby McDonald’s Café. In the knowledge of the impending blackout, I hoped there was electricity somewhere else so I could keep up with the updates for Pablo. I wished then that I could just curl up in bed and read a book or watch a movie and romanticize the rain—but not while there were families out there devastated over their houses being pulled apart by the floods. In Twitter, I chastised a good friend for a tasteless Pablo joke. He apologized, and deleted the tweet. The impending storm was doing something to our heads.

“Whoa. The wind is strong. This is crazy. And I’m stuck inside a McDonald’s Café,” I tweeted when the worst finally hit around 5 PM, Tuesday. Outside, the wind howled like madness itself, and you could hear the bangs and scrapings of flying debris. I posted again: “Whoa. The frontage of Ever Mall is coming down like peeled onion skin...” And it was. It looked scary, this building right across the street from McDonald’s looking like it was being shredded by invisible hands.

It seemed like an eternity, being inside McDonald’s while the storm raged. But soon, a few hours later, I was safely back in my apartment. I had texted the family driver in a kind of panic to pick me up from McDonald’s—there were no more tricycles to be had, and I thought myself foolish for not having gone home when I could have.

On the way home, Dumaguete was all of darkness itself. The lights were out. They had closed down Hibbard Avenue because of the fallen trees. Rizal Boulevard was also closed because of the surging waves. The road had become a part of the sea. The glass windows of Bo’s Café had reportedly fallen in, and the trees along that stretch were falling one by one. The streets of the city were littered with flying debris and broken things.

And the wind. I’d never heard the wind howl with such high frequency before. I thought this sound only existed in movies. I thought the sight I’d see on the road only existed in movies: families from the shanties along the shoreline staggering together in the rain towards the Capitol Area, where relief workers were on standby. While we drove, I saw a crying child being carried by his father on his shoulders as sirens of emergency vehicles blazed by. It felt like a scene from War of the Worlds. I thought: “This storm is serious. There is no romanticizing this rain.”

At home, finally, I waited out the rain. There is something strange in the unfolding of a disaster: interspersed in those scary moments are episodes of utter boredom. But the juice of my laptop and my iPod was out, and my phone was running low as well. So this is what I did while waiting out the storm in the middle of a blackout: Fruit Ninja in the iPad, which was also running low. Then, also bored with that, I cleaned the apartment. While the storm raged outside, I thought: “Amazing what one can do fast without the distraction of Facebook and Twitter.”

And then, around 10 PM, a pervasive quiet. I slept. Kuya Moe’s text came around 3 AM, announcing he was walking around Silliman Farm, beholding the devastation. I, too, decided to get up. Outside, after the storm, the stars were out. They shone with such fierce brilliance. And the dark streets were bathed in an eerie moonshine. The outlines of the city at 4:30 AM looked ravaged.

And just like that, soon it was a sun-kissed Wednesday. It was golden. From my sleepless corner of my office in Silliman University, where I began the painful process of charging all my dead gadgets, I thought I liked the way the soft morning light glistened off the fallen green leaves that blanketed everything else. Even in devastation, a terrible kind of beauty.

Later, in the rolling blackouts that followed, I thought I’d check in some hotel for the night as power was still out in Dumaguete. But the rest of the city apparently had the same idea. All hotels in the city were booked. Except the new Essentia, which couldn’t check in anybody because they lacked generators. I thought: “They missed out on a rare goldmine. And all those wasted rooms!” I sighed.

Soon the city was a mob of electricity-hungry population. The endless search for juice for our gadgets felt exceedingly strange. I was back in another cafe, together with everybody else in the city, looking for space among the busy demands for an outlet. In the blackout that Wednesday night, Dumaguete was a dark ocean with scattered bright islands of generator havens of cafes and restaurants. They were all packed, like the hotels everywhere else.
And I thought: What kind of society have we become where our lives simply can’t unfold anymore without our fully-charged gizmos?

Elsewhere, people were dead and dying.

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