By By Ramonfelipe A. Sarmiento
In the Eye of the Storm: The ties that bind
posted 8-Mar-2007  ·  
1,727 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

For people who live in storm-tossed islands, there are only two options – to stay or to go.

It is easy to choose the latter. You simply go; no "buts", no "ifs", no sentimentalities. You just leave everything behind you without regard for family, property or friends.

For what reasons would one opt to stay? There’s the ease of island living. There’s no traffic to beat, no pollution to fear, less muggers to watch for, more friends around, more relatives to run to, less expensive entertainment, less work pressures to handle.

In the metropolis, there’s always the mad rush for the better paying opportunities. You need to earn more. There’s the rent to pay, the daily fare, the temptations of night life, food, friends, er, connections to keep, and reputations to sustain.

One is actually torn between staying and going. Those who opt to answer the challenges of modern living go places. Many of them have already established themselves in their own fields. Catandunganons can boast of outstanding achievers in varied areas – engineering, education, law, nursing, business, entertainment – there would always be a Catandunganon to name holding a position of prestige.

But no matter how far a place or how high a position he has gone, he comes home. Always they would say they want to give back to the island what it has given them – a sense of self.

Or when he fails, he comes home to take refuge in its patience, in its resilience, in its simplicity.

This reaffirms what the old folks say. You always go back to where your umbilical cord was buried.


The bonus is the residual self that stays after each storm. It is like the shapeless iron subjected to fire and pounded to whatever one wants it to become. It may not be hammered to perfection but the fire lends it fluidity to attain the basic form aimed at. Refining comes later.

I am referring to what becomes of the island and its people as a result of these frequent exposures to natural occurrences. Thankfully, the islander is never reduced to a pitiful, sobbing heap. He learns to rise up and make do with whatever is left of things.

I remember our neighbor Tia Tita whose house was left roofless after Typhoon Loleng. The following morning, we found them laughingly crawling out of the roof where they slept the whole night, cramped, maybe, but dry and safe. No tears. No tales of woe.

Our relatives in Buyo would try to outdo each other’s heroic tales. Oe found it funny to have snatched nothing but pillows when they ran for the hills. The river had swollen to rise up the edge of the ridge where they lived. It never happened before, they said. Another one ran barefoot on the mud falling down several times, shrieking in sheer.. terror? No, must be some fear mixed with delight. I saw it in my cousin’s eyes. She was actually giggling.

Then there’s Caca Tibay and her family who had to climb to the safety of their rooftop when the water rose up to their walls. They had to stay there drenched to the skin and shivering the whole night.

My students would tell tales of stormy nights where they thankfully slept in peace on their papag (wooden bed), only to find ou the following morning when they stepped down of their papag that they were practically floating in floodwaters inside the bedroom. Some tilapia would be swimming under the bed. Some frogs would be croaking at their feet, or by some bad luck, a snake would be wound around their post.

One marvels at how matter-of-factly the stories are told.

As government vehicles pass by to survey the area, or as some private rides assess how bad things are, the folks smilingly wave to acknowledge their presence. The fathers would be putting back the posts or windows with the help of neighbors, while mothers would be picking up belongings strewn around. Those whose houses have been completely destroyed would be putting up makeshifts for the night. Others would be carrying their belongings to friends’ or relatives’ house.

The islanders have actually developed the kind of resilience of the bamboo that bends through every storm, only to rise up again afterwards.

Or like the abaca or the lasa that abound in the island, people’s efforts are reduced to the ground. We cry. We sigh. Sometimes we even curse. But we have developed the acceptance of things we cannot really change… like the coming of the storm… and the patience to wait for better things to come. The stolons of the lasa grow innumerable shoots; new suckers of the abaca peep out, always more than the plants felled by the might of winds.

And with them, new hopes.

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