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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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Sunday, December 07, 2014

entry arrow7:00 AM | Waiting for the Storm

As I write this, Thursday is edging close to sunset, and by all accounts, it is a beautiful day. In the café I am in, students are poring over their books and the baristas are busy making a pyramid approximating a Christmas tree, which they assemble from the plastic tumblers they use for frappes, each cup containing an ornamental ball with its glistening sheen set off by the incessant twinkling of Christmas lights. The place itself is bustling with bodies energized by the taste and smell of expensive coffee, and outside, life continues. The pedicabs, the pedestrians stream on.

And yet my friend Ginny writes with some trepidation in her Facebook timeline: “It feels very much like the calm before the storm,” and it very well may be. I know this deceptive calmness—it is a devilish silence I do not trust. All I know is, this week began quite fine—and then for some reason that defies explaining, it “unraveled”—like there was an invisible static in the air quickly surrounding us, a suffocating warning of dire days. Ron tells me over chat that it must be a kind of premonition—“They don’t call it being ‘under the weather’ for nothing,” he writes. Still I tell him: “I feel fine—physically. I don’t feel sick. But everything else feels off.” Does anyone else get that feeling? I can be very sensitive to these things. What I don’t tell Ron is that the sensation felt familiar—it was the same “off-ness” I felt when the earthquake of three years ago came, the one that devastated Bohol, the one that created panic in Cebu, the one that sent hapless Dumagueteños running to the foothills of Valencia thinking that a tsunami was coming and the world was coming to an end.

And so the day goes, all of us pinging this and that in the comfortable blanket of Facebook. Offline, the city bustles on.

Behind me, the sea beyond Dumaguete’s Rizal Boulevard has the look of pristine bluish sameness, the waves rippling gently under the glare of the afternoon sun, while kilometers away, farther farther east, Ruby barrels straight towards us from the Pacific with the ferocity of a super typhoon. That’s what the meteorologists tell us. We have seen the projection maps. We have read the warnings from media people about having to be on standby, “to be vigilant,” while others still decry the need to filter out misinformation, to tap down the fear-mongering. The proper agencies are on guard, we are told. The emergency contact numbers have been posted, the evacuation plans in place. And all we can do now is to wait out the next few hours, to endure what remains of the deceptive calmness, or to do our last-minute shopping for provisions—the candles, the batteries, the bottles of water, the loaves of bread.

All we can acknowledge is that we do not know what future holds in the coming days. That is one of only two certainties, the other one being the memories of recent painful devastations—last year’s Yolanda and the ruin in its wake. We know for sure how super typhoons wreck havoc. We muse painfully that we have not yet erased the brokenness of that devastation and that we have not yet fully recovered from it—“we are still rebuilding, for God’s sake!” we say—and yet here we are once more contemplating another climate emergency.

How prepared are we? Perhaps as much as we can prepare for the regularity of disasters, given all our recent history of flooding and typhoons from Ondoy to Pablo to Sendong to Yolanda. Many of us have since gone on to try to make our world environmentally-invested. We have fought our battles—because problems still continue to rear their ugly heads despite everything—and sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. But often I think: can we really do anything about climate change anymore? The extremities in weather are only going to get worse, and perhaps all our efforts to turn back the clock are in vain. The climate deniers hold sway still, governments and businesses continue to turn a blind eye to the causes, and the rest are still living in the fog of ignorance. I remember last August, I was buying some ukay-ukay for a concert we were going to stage at the Luce, and I found myself at the cashier where a customer before me was complaining about the fact that the clothes she was buying were being wrapped in newspaper sheets.

“Don’t you have a plastic bag?” she complained.

The attendant said, “We’re not allowed to use plastic bags per city ordinance.”

“But Lee Plaza is still using plastic bags.”

“Well, we paid a huge fine once when we continued to use plastic bags.”

“Why are you not allowed to use plastic bags?”

“I have no idea. I hate having to wrap things in newspapers, too.”

And I realized these people were the ordinary majority. The message is not getting to them. We are all doomed. And perhaps we all deserve to be.

When you read this piece on Sunday morning—if Sunday comes at all—you will have already known what Friday and Saturday were like, and what the projected rainfall and wind speed turned out to be. Perhaps the storm veered away—let’s hope this was the case—and there was nothing.

But perhaps it was the nightmare you thought it could become, and the memory of the gale howling down the deserted city streets is still fresh, and you can still recall your house creaking and quivering uncertainly against the ballast of debris and the wind-swept uprootings of relics from the vanished normalcy.

On the other hand, perhaps you are also thanking some divinity for having been spared the worst. You always wake up in the aftermath of these devastations thanking the fates that you have lived through the bad, and thanking even the higher powers for how the worst of the storm have missed the city where you live in by pure accident of geography or by the pure whim of a typhoon’s trajectory. Know that it is wrong to do even the slightest sort of thanksgiving: there are other people in other places who are living through the nightmares you have been miraculously spared from. Did your divinity play dice with the storm? What do you thank for really? Silence is the only appropriate response.

So perhaps you are now turning on the television or the radio or the Internet, and are beholding the full horror of what has happened during the weekend—a mounting flow of information in graphic news clips and sound bites and social media links. The statistics and the pictures do not lie, and perhaps you are now left to ponder once more the incessant questions about the fleeting nature of life and the helplessness you feel in the glare of natural monstrosities.

How do you deal? How do you escape the glare of deaths and destruction everywhere and still remain human?

How do you help?

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