Book: After the Storm (Stories on Ondoy)

"After the Storm," edited by Elbert OrIn September of 2009, Typhoon Ondoy (International name: Ketsana) came to the Philippines–to the Luzon group of provinces, to be more specific. September 26 will be etched in the memories of many as a day of tragedy–and a day of heroism.

Ondoy wasn’t a super typhoon. It barely warranted the name typhoon when it hit the Philippines. But the destruction it left was massive.

My personal Ondoy story isn’t special. I was stuck inside a car for more than 12 hours. Big deal, right? Heck, I didn’t even know most of what was going on outside the confines of the car. I got a couple of friends asking me how I was during the time, because I live in the flood capital of Metro Manila, but that was it. For the most part, I thought it was just another storm, nothing extraordinary.

It wasn’t until eleven in the evening, when I finally got home, that the situation really hit me.

Though we live in the flood capital, we were also lucky enough to be in one of the higher parts of the city. In the two decades we’ve been living in our village, the worst flood we had reached our shins. And that was at the lowest part of our village. But the night of September 26, while our house was unscathed, the same couldn’t be said for our village. Fifty steps from my house, all you can see is water. And a raft carrying half-a-dozen people. Our village turned into a lake.

By Sunday morning, September 27, the water was gone. It felt like a bad dream. And while our village was lucky in that the water was quick to leave, the rest of the metro wasn’t as fortunate.

The pieces in ‘After the Storm’ were mostly written in the midst of and immediately after the typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009. The writers share their experiences of the typhoons, their insights and reflections, their hopes and aspirations. Long after the news media has moved on to the next big headline, ‘After the Storm’ hopes to stand as a written record to remind everyone that this happened. We were there. We are still here.

I admit that I bought After the Storm because of guilt. The only ‘help’ I was able to give was to use the Twitter account of the website I used to work for, to direct and redirect calls for volunteers and relief goods, answer questions I could answer, and to retweet pertinent information to the account’s followers. At the time, our website was operating with a skeleton crew, and as they say in the entertainment business, the show must go on. So that was my excuse.

The real reason I didn’t help was because I didn’t want to face the tragedy. Not then. I survived when so many didn’t. I lost hours, while other people lost their livelihood, their houses–everything. So instead, I logged on to Twitter every chance I could get to pass around calls for help. Calls I myself didn’t answer.

Seeing After the Storm in a bookstore, these words caught my eye: “The writers share their experiences of the typhoons, their insights and reflections, their hopes and aspirations.” Beautiful words. I was sold. But while actually reading the book, I mostly felt angry.

The introduction was beautiful. And a couple of the essays were poignant. One essay, “An Unpopular Opinion on Volunteerism” by Luis Buenaventura II was logical, and I actually thought his essay has a good point. But most of what was in the anthology infuriated me. Especially when I came to these gems: “Why volunteer? … You get a good workout. … You have something to write about in your blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.” Really? That’s a few of your reasons for volunteering?

And then there are the essays that do nothing but pontificate. There’s no other word for it.

I really wish I could end this post with a recommendation to buy this book. But I can’t. For me, this is a lesson I must learn: never let guilt decide when buying something. Especially a book.