There are times that I still can’t believe we were hit by a storm and a flood so vicious, over 100,000 people’s lives have been flipped upside down. I don’t know what stroke of luck, fate, blessings or coincidence it is that my house happened to be in an area that does not flood at all. On a day that saw raging waters rising over 20 feet in mere minutes, the worst it got in my area were waters rising as high as my ankles.
Forgive me for being naïve to all this at first. I honestly didn’t even know how bad it got ’til after it was all said and done. I was disconnected from the world as a blackout had cut off all links to the outside world and the heavy rains kept me from stepping outside of my home. So as many cried, suffered and perished, I sat blissfully ignorant at my house, complaining about the blackout.
The stories I’m now reading are horrendous. I just read about an 18-year-old son who saved 30 other people before finally being swept away in the currents and losing his own life, as his mother cried away and called him “brave.” I just read about a father who says “I don’t mind losing my business even though I’ve had it for 33 years. I’m used to a hard life. I don’t mind losing the house. I’d gladly exchange these for the life of my daughter,” as he mourns for his 12-year-old. Furthermore, I’m now hearing more stories from friends who just now found their grandparents (alive thankfully) whom have been missing for the past two days (yes, even through all that, they consider themselves the lucky ones).
One sad story after another as I sit here, still shaken by the whole thing.
So now, I thought, instead of more sad stories, I’d like to share with you an inspiring tale about my grandmother and how strong a mother’s / grandmother’s love can be. I’m not one for mushy stories but in light of all this tragedy, I’m starting to again count my blessings.
I’ve always looked up to my mom. She is one of the strongest people in the world and I’ve always been in awe of how resilient she can be (thought I rarely tell her this). I think I finally realized where she gets her strength from after spending an afternoon with my Grandma.
During typhoon Ketsana’s (locally named Typhoon Ondoy) rampage, I had two separate conversations with my grandmother. One was at around 9pm and another at around 1am. Both times, I asked her how she was, and both times she answered, “I ok Whinsent,” in her funny Chinese / Filipino accent. Yes, she pronounces my name, Vincent, as “Whinsent.” I continued to ask how bad the rain was at her house in Cavite, both times again she answered that it was ok and that it was not bad at all. I also asked if there was a power outage at her place and both times, yet again, she answered that she was ok and that there was no power outage.
Fast forward to the next day, I drive out to her place in Cavite (which is about 2 hours away from my place, but I got lost so it took me 3 and a half) to pick her up and drive her to the airport. She’s about to begin her chemo-therapy in the US because of a possible cancer cell the doctors have found again. The first time she went through the chemo sessions, she lost a lot of weight and a lot of her strength. It’s something that really takes a toll on her. So before she started this next session for the newly found possible cancer, she decided to fly here to the Philippines to visit us, and then to Australia to visit her other kids and grandkids. I was taking her to the airport so she could fly to Australia.
As I arrive at her place, she starts to make fun of me for getting lost and being a cocky guy for saying I would find her place with no problem. She then does what every Chinese / Filipino grandparent does best, she feeds me.
“You hungy Whinsent?” she asked in her funny accent.
“No, I’m good,” I respond.
But of course, her job as a grandma would not be complete if she doesn’t feed me, so she went on to cook me some noodles and get me some soda.
“Whinsent! Whe you woking woking now?” she asked.
“Oh, I’m starting a business here, it’s an internet thing.” I say.
“Ooo, so you hab prenty prenty money?”
“No, actually, I’m just starting out, so I’ve invested all my money and not really making much yet.”
“Ah, kawawa ikaw (Filipino for “poor you”), here I gib you some money”
I then try to convince her that I don’t need money nor do I want to take any of her money, but I never seem to win those debates, so I then just take the money she’s giving me. I remember being younger and always asking my grandparents for money so I could buy candies or other sweets. I think she still likes giving me money cause it makes her feel like my grandma more than anything.
So I finish my bowl of noodles she made me and again, she did what all Chinese / Filipino grandparents do best, she tries to feed me again.
“You want we go get chicken and crab?” she asked.
I then laugh and tell her that I just ate, but she persists on getting me more food. Eventually, we decide to grab another bite after we drive closer to the airport. So we headed off to catch her flight, and grab another bite.
On the way there, we get caught in some terrible traffic. I chit chat with her a bit about life and other small things, until she tells me that the traffic we’re in is just as bad as when it was raining really hard. I, dazed and confused, asked her how she knew this if she was home that whole time…
She then tells me the real story of how her night was during the Typhoon Ketsana / Ondoy.
My grandma says that she was on her way home from Manila. She was riding a bus with my grandpa when it rained. Eventually, their bus had to stop because the floods in front of them were too deep for the bus to pass on. She was waiting in the bus from around 3pm to 6pm when she decided to take another bus, going back to Manila, and just stay with us instead. So she crossed the street to catch a bus going the other way, where traffic was still moving. She got on a bus and started heading towards my place. Eventually, that bus stopped too because they too had reached a point where the water was too deep for them to cross. Being relatively close to my place, she decided to walk. She didn’t mind it at first, until the flood waters started coming up as high as her chest. This is about the time that she decided to turn around and just wait. So from there, soaking wet from the flood and rain, she walks all the way back to where her first bus was still waiting. She ended up sleeping on the bus and not getting home ’til the next morning.
Somewhere in between her switching buses and walking through chest deep water, was her talking to me on the phone, saying: “I ok Whinsent,” … twice. She didn’t want me or my sibling to worry about her.
Still in shock about her story, we finally arrive at the airport. I kiss her goodbye and wish her a safe trip. She tells me that we should go eat again and I just smile.
I love my grandma. I’m thankful that I still get to tell her that.
P.S. – Prayers and positive thoughts to all the victims and everyone affected by the typhoon.
“When life knocks you down, try to land on your back. Because if you can look up, you can get up. Let your reason get you back up.” – Les Brown