“City of Ormoc. #1 for FUN!” The brochure’s cover promised us an exciting adventure. The national tourist slogan even boasted that “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”
Interestingly enough, it was an Israeli aid worker handing us those cheery rainbow infused brochures with cute, overly simplified tourist maps inside. Brochures that provided the only glimpse of life pre havoc wreaking visit by what was undoubtedly Ormoc’s most unwelcome one night stand— Typhoon Yolanda, as stated on her registration card.
Guest check-in date: Friday/November 8, 2013
Check-in time: Noon
Room number: Ground zero
Instead of happy holiday makers, the new city hall visitor’s center was overrun by hurried aid workers, bewildered residents and relief goods from myriad nations standing awkwardly in corridors and occupying every available space. Crates and boxes lined up politely and patiently as if waiting their turn to buy tickets on a distribution carousel: Australia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Canada. It didn’t take much to imagine a ride operator gesturing towards an open seat while gruffly saying to the supplies-in-waiting, “Next. Next please. Next in line.”
Ormoc, the irony in your bold bubbly “#1 for FUN!” declaration is hard to miss!
We visited city hall that day specifically to register our organization and get the latest briefing reports on relief efforts in the city and surrounding areas. After filling out all applicable registry forms we promptly explained that we were in Ormoc to bring band-aids of assorted shapes and sizes. Lots and lots of band-aids.
Sufficiently satisfied with our credentials and details about work we’d done thus far (relief goods distribution and medical missions to unreached areas in and around the city) the Israeli and her co-worker pulled out the “other” maps. The ones that look nothing like the traditional friendly maps with delightful suggestions on places to eat, sleep and play— all the good stuff that makes tourist brochures infamous. No, we wanted the black & white maps containing charts designed specifically to highlight casualty numbers, disease outbreaks, injuries and ailments systematically and unemotionally broken down by percentage points in clearly marked out zones on the city grid.
Impetigo, pulmonary infections, chronic coughing, severe allergies, lacerations, infections, bruising and pain from flying debris, headaches, back and joint pain from stress, trauma and fatigue, insomnia, vitamin deficiency, etcetera, etcetera. Yolanda’s dust was settling exactly as expected.
We left the new city hall armed with instructions to report back as soon as possible with our team’s records so that they too, can be added to the area mapping database. All of it. Including the number of people we’d seen, localities visited, list of chief complaints including injuries, ailments & treatments provided and other pertinent details.
Objective of the day accomplished, we decided a walk back to basecamp was in order. Largely on account of an unspoken vibe screeching ever so loudly that it was time to take a moment and dial down. To stop moving so fast for the sake of grinding away getting organizational business done and spend a few minutes taking a good look around at what was happening in real time; a “scene size up” in responder speak.
It wasn’t long before the dusty, tired and beat up streets took us past a lonely stop sign, under which an Ormoc City resident had hung a cardboard placard. It read, “Help! We need food. Medicine.”
No, Ormoc, it wasn’t #1 for fun. It was #1 for irony.
*This was my chapter 1 writing assignment for MatadorU.