Aftermath

Mud

I watched people walk away from the flood. Their faces were tired, drawn. Their eyes staring straight ahead. The lady with one slipper on. The man carrying a plastic bag with only an empty water bottle inside. Caked mud on their feet, some up to their waist. Most carrying nothing. Thankful, maybe, to have their lives. I do not know why but my eyes well up with tears and I am so sad. So sad.

Noel

Our guard at Gentle Hands lost everything but the shirt on his back. His eyes are full of tears as he tells his story. He watched his cinder block house slide into the river. He saw his neighbours family seeking refuge on their roof. He couldn’t reach them. Their house was ripped away by the current of the raging waters. They were still on the roof. He watch them disappear downstream. He is exhausted, still unable to rest as there is not enough food for everyone taking refuge in the school rooms in his community. He is left with nothing. Nothing. 

Our cook and her children, though they only rent the house they lived in, lost all their earthly possessions. Everything was ripped out of their home by raging flood waters. 

One of our other staff members, had all her belongings destroyed. She has worked so hard to save and buy that little TV and her little fridge. Months of saving and sacrificing to have material things for the first time in her life. 

These people have no savings account, no back up plans, no insurance, nothing. Life here is day to day for most people, not just the for the poorest of the poor. 

We are doing what we can. Malabon is our focal point at the moment. The people who live on the very edge of our island, right beside the ocean, are used to flood waters. But they are stuck in the local school. They still cannot go back to their homes. The water is still waist deep. 

We grieve for those who have lost so much. We grieve for those used to having everything. They will be given help by the government for sure. But the poor. They are used to having nothing… does that mean they should not be given anything?

Help us provide food, water and blankets, for our people, please. Help us restore our staff. Help us be the hands and feet of Jesus. Please.

FLOOD

We went to Malabon despite the rain and the fact we suspected some flooding in the streets. There is flooding every week so we weren’t too worried. The rain didn’t stop and by the time we were done checking on our patients and handing out meds and feeding children, we were drenched. Soaked. (Don’t ask me why we NEVER have any umbrellas.)That didn’t bother us much. The flat tire that had to be changed was nothing. We have learned to be flexible with all things. HaHaHa.

On the way home we were shocked to see the water so high and flowing so far. Knee deep in some places we laughed and sang and didn’t think much. When we got to the main road, we knew we were in trouble. Traffic was crawling. The streets were totally flooded. A trip that normally takes 45 minutes, took 2 and ½ hours. Suddenly the streets became a parking lot. Through texting and calling, we found out that the Metro Manila Development Authority told everyone to abandon their vehicles and get on the LRT to get home as soon as they could. So EDSA was full of abandoned vehicles. 

Flood2

I was getting texts already from one of my staff, M’lou. Their whole first floor was underwater, just a block from GH. I called Evan. M’lou had 3 kids with her and the street was a raging river. Evan had gone to look and there was no way to get them out.

Meanwhile, some of the boys were really sick of being in the van and decided to walk home. I thought they were crazy. I had Kuya Al, a tuberculosis patient who was not doing very well, and little Patrick, too little to walk in the rain and in that distance. In groups of 4 and 5 they slowly piled out and began the trek home. Little did we know…

Minet, my social worker texted. “Our house is flooding. The streets are knee deep already. There is no way to get out. Ate, help.”

As we sat in the van, not moving, the texts came from the boys with panic. “The water is up to our waist. To our neck now. We’re scared. The roads are all flooded. There is no way to get home.”

Soon, we knew there was no choice. After 2 more hours of sitting, we needed to find a way to get out. The rain was pounding. It was cold, hard, relentless rain. We wrapped our cellphones in plastic, locked up the our van and off we went. Aries, in his muscle shirt and army pants, Ryan with my expensive guitar, I holding little Patrick’s hand, 6 ft tall Mark Anthony, who would prove to save me from the rapid waters, little Vincent, and Joed and poor sick skinny weak Kuya Al. 

Teeth chattering, and shaking limbs, we were shellshocked as the rain pelted us. It was only after about 5 minutes that I realized just how far we would have to walk. 

Hours of passing through knee deep, then chest deep, then finally neck deep water. 

The current had swept one woman away. They had put her body in a sack. 

Flood3

Mark carried Patrick on his shoulders. There were soldiers and barangay officials all along a long thick rope tied through the flood waters so people could pass. Cars were underwater. Just the tips of the roof peeking out. It was cold. We almost lost Al twice. He was white as a sheet. I screamed over and over for them to hang on to him. He was sick and weak. The men grabbed him on both sides. Vincent went under. Aries grabbed him by his shorts. Mark held my arm like a vice grip. For over a kilometre it went… on and on and on… by the end, I didn’t think I could go any more. “Mark, I’m tired”, I sighed. My legs were shaking. There, just one more block, I could see we would be through the water. We reached the end and Al collapsed on the ground. I wrapped my arms around him. He wasn’t breathing. Oh Jesus. “Al, you can make it. We’re almost there. Almost. Please.” Mark Anthony picked him up and put him on his back. I could have cried. 

Patrick gripped my hand and we picked up the pace. Almost home. Almost. The rain just wouldn’t let up. We weaved through stopped traffic. There. Our street. There. Our home. I sprinted the last half block. I needed to get into the ICU. Al was in hypothermic shock. I yelled for Ezekiel and Evan. Mark Anthony put him in a chair and he fell on the floor moaning. I threw blankets over him and yelled for someone with dry clothes to hug him. The boys had only just arrived too… in motley groups. Wet and traumatized, all.

Evan had been holding the fort, with our own children and Edu, and had been out every 30 minutes to check the raging flood by M’lou’s house, and was quick to send one of the boys to buy some brandy (a very old remedy for hypothermia). It did the trick. Al perked right up and given the circumstances, I’m sure God understood.

Slowly, we changed, showered, and sat down to our waiting lunch of freshly fried fish and rice which was now our supper. Believe it or not, wonderful comfort food. 

The rain still didn’t stop. Winner still couldn’t get home. We still hadn’t heard from Minet.

At 630pm, the river had gone down several feet and Evan and Aries went to rescue Mlou and Jenny’s kids. At least they were now safe.

Flood1

Our cook lost her entire home. All of Jenny’s possessions were destroyed. Our boys house was flooded and all their beds, and things were destroyed. Our guards house was washed away. Other staff didn’t show up for work. So many questions. Thankfully, the boys stepped into action. Nursery duty, toddler duty, kitchen cleaning.  We will just have to wait to hear from the others. 


Rose Arlene, September 6, 2009

Rose Arlene, just 2.1 kilos (4.5 pounds) was born on September 6, at 645pm, in our little guest room on the 2nd floor, (Used to be Ate E’s room).

Rose arlene 3

 I had had to be firm with her in the delivery. She was scared, she was tense, she was tired and alone. It’s hard work to give birth in ideal circumstances and this was anything but ideal. All things considered, it was a beautiful birth with no complications but for the emotions that held the room silently captive.

 

Arlene held the tiny baby close for a few minutes and seemed relieved she was whole and well. She looked at me, ever so tired, and said, “I’d like to sleep, now.” I knew it was her signal for me to take the baby.

 

I took her precious daughter and held her to my chest. My hands were trembling. Such a painful sacrifice. In another world, perhaps another life, perhaps even just another time, this little one would be able to stay with her mommy. But now, in this reality, there is not really another option. Arlene is an orphan from birth, raised by a neighbour who mothered her and loved her as her own. Arlene made some foolish decisions and at 17 found herself living with boy a year younger than her and their family. She had dropped out of high school and was pregnant with their first child. After the child was born, they were told to leave the house. Arlene’s “mother” had since died, and they were without anywhere to go. They have been sleeping on the street on cardboard, begging during the day for milk for their baby. The boy, now 17, works as a delivery boy, hardly making enough to buy rice and food for one meal. This is the harsh reality of their lives as street dwellers.

 

Somehow, I came to know Arlene through another family I was helping in Malabon. I was only too thankful to hear she had decided long ago to surrender her baby for adoption. So many children are sold or given away illegally because the poor are unaware of our laws and of their rights. I have rescued too many children off the streets who are suffering and dying because of their parents poor choices.

 

As Arlene slept peacefully, probably for the first time in a very long time, I realized how tense I had been too. I sighed. These are children having children. The mercy is they took a step of faith to give a chance of life to this new baby. We so often focus on the rescue of the child, we forget to look into the heart of the mother. Surely God sees the childlike faith Arlene has and He will keep his hand on this tiny, little girl and bless the sacrifice of her mother.

Ace and Jesus

We sat with Ace all afternoon, Others coming in and out to check, nervous, anxious, suffering along with this little boy in the last stages of brain cancer. The mother and I did not leave his side and took comfort in each other. We took turns talking to Ace and holding his little hands. Every so often, she would lean close to his ear and whisper, “Jesus is waiting for you. I love you.”

 

There were no tears at first. It was so long since we had seen his little body still and quiet, the seizures had seemed endless. I watched her touch him and rub his head. Still no tears. We moved his body to the bed so we could wrap him in a fresh blanket. His body would be cold quickly.

 

I knelt down quietly beside the bed and without meaning too, I began to weep. I wanted to hold the sobs back. I am always the last one to cry. But she looked at me and her own grief was suddenly released. She fell on the bed beside her son and began to wail. The sounds of mourning are like none other. The waves of emotion came and went for several hours, her groans filling the silence of the ICU. Then she quietly stood and said, “I’ll get ready now.”

 

We would take the body to the morgue yet tonight. It seems odd that we would suffer by his side, hold his hand until his last breath, and then be responsible for taking his lifeless body to the morgue. Maybe that is what makes death and the grieving process so raw and real for us in this culture.

 

We will have a service tomorrow night in our little yard. Then little Ace will be cremated. We are all thankful his suffering is over. The memories of his laugh, his little voice, the way his tiny fingers moved, will be on our minds for many days to come. 

I will never forget one day when I came in to check on Ace. It had been days since he

June 30 09 027

had spoke. He was having regular seizures and we were all struggling. The room was quiet but for a Hillsongs CD playing (Mighty to Save). I leaned close to Ace. He was humming the song, ‘Hosanna’ in perfect tune. “He knows the whole song and doesn’t want me to shut the CD off,” his mom told me.

 

“I see the king of glory Riding on a cloud of fire

Hosanna, hosanna, Hosanna in the highest.”

 

Ace knew he was going to see Jesus. Though it doesn’t stop our grieving, it somehow makes it all that much easier to bear. Oh, how happy he must have been to run into the arms of his Heavenly Father!

Update on Ace, September 12, 2009

I ache for her. A young mother, not quite 23 years old. A victim of a man who used her and then sent her away once he found out she was pregnant, she had called me when she was having her second son. She knew she couldn’t keep him and wanted him to have a better chance at life and so through adoption, he was adopted by a wonderful family in Australia.

 

034 This past April, she called me in panic as her first born son had suddenly stopped talking and walking. He was almost 3. After CAT scans and other exams, an aggressive cancerous brain tumor was found to be the culprit and the prognosis was very grim. After much discussion, we opted for palliative care.

 

It has been 6 months and we have watched Ace slowly deteriorate. The pain in his head has come and gone. Sometimes he has slept all day, and other days he has laughed and talked. Now we sit in our little ICU for the 2nd week. The past few days have been hard. His color has changed, his head has gotten bigger, and his eyes no longer focus. He is in the last stages of this brave battle and we are left to sit helpless beside him and wait.

 

How wrong it feels to be waiting for him to leave us, for him to fall asleep, as we say in our Filipino language. My mind plays the months June 30 09 023 over and over. How this mother must hurt. Her small hands shake as she wipes the sweat from Ace’s brow ever so gently.

 

Another seizure. Her hand reaches for mine. I whisper comfort to Ace, “It’s only for a few minutes. Hold on Ace. Just rest. Sleep. We’re here. It’s okay.” I pray. I hear his mother whisper, “Jesus, Jesus.”

 

I turn the lamp on and the CD that we have listened to over and over for the past few weeks and she finally lays down to sleep. I will watch her son for the night. She is exhausted.

 

Though I have been through this several times now, I have no answers to why, how, when. I feel bad for those around me that walk through this valley with Ace. Our caregivers, our boys, Ezekiel who have seen enough death to last the rest of his life, Amy, our Australian med student who has found a renewed hope in God after seeing miracles, Ross, our youngest American volunteer who has never seen anything like this, my own children, and Ace’s mother. So many have grown to love Ace and are now part of this whole experience. None of this is easy.

 

There are tears, there are questions- so many questions but sometimes there is singing and laughter too. There have been many nights we have all stayed up together knowing each other is hurting, struggling, and scared. We have talked long and hard about death and life. How real and raw it feels to sit here holding Ace’s hand just watching him breathe.

 

Sarah Joy asked me tonight, “What will you do if I die, mommy?” I knelt down and held her close. “I would hang up all my pictures of you and all your drawings and I would remember you and though I would miss you sooo much, I would be so happy that you were playing with Jesus in heaven.” Her little blue eyes look long into mine, “Oh. Okay, mommy.” And she smiled bravely.

 

I am humbled and honored to sit by Ace, to care for him and love him until his Heavenly Father calls him to come home. Soon Ace will run on streets of gold and jump into the lap of Jesus who loves Him so much. He will no longer hurt, he will no longer be scared, and he will no longer be sad. He will be whole and complete, the way he was always meant to be.

 

 

Tuesday. What a day.

155 I love my pink van. It was passed down to me from my mom. It never has run well. I think the week they drove it off the lot, it broke down. Faulty electrical system or something, but it always had some stalling problems. I left it sit for 2 years in front of our building because it was so unreliable. Finally, just this year, I decided to get it fixed and got it new tires, new seat covers and a new fuel pump. I even had the outside painted. So cute.

 

Now, though I love my pink van, (Evan calls it the pink hazard), it has a few quirks. The choke has to be just right when you start it. You can’t turn corners too fast or it goes on two wheels. The horn gives you an electric shock when you press it. The windshield wiper sticks every 3 or 4 strokes and you have to reach out and unhook it. The mirrors bounce out of place quite regularly so you learn to drive with the force. But I love how small it is and how it zips through the narrow gaps in traffic. And it’s fast. Not like these slow hauling diesels everyone drives.

 

Anyhow, all that saying, I had a meeting with Social Services in Malabon and though I had an idea the road would be flooded, I like to dare life sometimes. As we got to the main road where there is always some water on the road, I realized all too late that we were not going to make it. Sputter sputter. I steered us to the side of the road just in time.

 

So there we sat. In the pouring rain. Each time a jeepney drove by or a delivery truck, the waves washed over the front lights of my little pink van. I wondered silently if my pink van would float.

 

Our meeting was at 2. We were already perfectly on time. It was 2:15. We would have been just the right time late, true Filipino style. Now I wasn’t sure what we were going to do. I hadn’t brought my phone and I had very little money. (Yeah, I know I  know.)

 

My social worker was silent. I’m sure she was thinking the same thing. High heels, dress pants, blouse. No umbrella. Knee deep water. Not our area. Amy, our Australian volunteer, was in the back seat moaning that she didn’t have her camera.

 

After a few minutes of contemplation, I hollered at a passing by tricycle driver to call some boys and push us backwards to the gas station. They came and they pushed us through the water. What a sight we were. Well dressed women in a crazy pink van and 10 young shirtless troublemakers pushing us with shouts and hoorays. My social worker kept her window shut.

 

We got to the gas station and I parked. I paid the boys and they left. Now the problem of getting to city Hall was next. Every street was flooded. Taxi’s wouldn’t go. Tricylces couldn’t make it and we were in dress clothes. I stood scanning the crowd of waiting drivers and guys hanging out, hoping to see a familiar face. Suddenly I heard “Ate Charity”! My heart leaped. Someone knew me! I had no idea who he was but I could have hugged him. He quickly assessed our situation and found a high set tricycle and we climbed in. A price was set and away we went.

 

Through side streets, and main roads, where the trike could go, we sputtered and putted. Several times the water was over the tail pipe and I was sure we were going to stall. The water was filthy, full of floating garbage and I’m not sure what all but I was not getting down and walking in it. I made sure the driver knew that. The rain started and Minet and I exchanged glances. (She isn’t much for adventure, bless her heart.) We could see city hall, the tops of the building but the streets were several feet deep in water. Around and around the blocks we went. What a relief it was to be dropped off at the front of the building.

 

Our meeting went well. We dealt with the 6 cases we needed to. After we were done, we had coffee and crackers and talked about life. The office was unbelievably cramped and hot. You get a very different appreciation for social services after a visit like that. No space, no shelves, the director has a little private store where you can buy coffee and didn’t even acknowledge our presence but sat at her desk counting her money. It was unbelievable. Anyhow, we were sure we would get the help we needed from the social worker.

 

Now the problem of getting home. I knew Aries would be driving the young lady who had just given birth on Sunday, home to Catmon. We called him and sure enough he was able to pick us up and take us back to the pink van (which I would never leave unattended overnight.)

 

I tried to start her. She does have an attitude sometimes but I can usually get her to start. She just wouldn’t. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man walk by. Can’t get it started, he smiled? I had several retorts I would have loved to used but I smiled and said “She’ll start.” My pride was on the line now. I had already called my dad on one phone and the battery died. I had tried to call Evan on Amy’s phone and ran out of prepaid load. We were quite stuck in an area known for crime and we knew no one. The young man opened the door and stuck his head in. I had already leaned the seat back- I was determined to find the spark plugs that I knew should be dried out- (the motor is under the passenger seat). He poked his grease covered hands in and took something off of my motor and then said “now try.” I was taken aback and well, did what he said. After several failed attempts I suggested pushing it. He insisted he do the driving and I got out, now in bare feet having thrown my heels in the back seat, and stood by Minet, who was still silent. After several runs down the gas station parking lot, I raised my hands, looked to heaven and said “Hello, God? We need a little help.” I yelled at the guy that this was the last run. It was getting dark. Minet still had a long way to get home to her babies, I knew my own little ones were at home, and I was just about done having adventures for the day. Yes, the last run, it started. He got out of the van and my gratefulness tumbled out. “No problem, ma’am. Life is like that sometimes, isn’t it.” He smiled and was gone, refusing the money I offered.

 

We got in the van, relieved to say the least, and squealed off down the road. I was almost sick to my stomach when I realized I needed gas. Not a problem with most vehicles but with my lovely pink van, the key in the ignition opens the gas tank. That mean shutting off the van we just spent an hour trying to get running.

 

Well, no choice. I shut if off. Put my last 500 pesos gas in and of course, she wouldn’t start. Shouts of “Push! Push!” and the gas boys pushed me down the parking lot. It started. I did several donuts around the parking lot and at a break in traffic took off once again for home.

 

It was an uneventful 2 hour ride home in bumper to bumper traffic and drizzling rain. I was color coded (which means I’m not allowed to drive on Tuesdays and I can get stopped and hassled and all those lovely things and my license was stolen with my wallet two weeks ago). I had to drive sort of incognito, watching for the traffic enforcers and keeping behind other vehicles but Amy and I had wonderful conversation. Minet had opted to ride with Aries. I think she was adventured out.

 

As we turned the final corner home, I got stopped by the red light. As is the fad now, a teenage boy started washing my windows. I yelled and fussed “I really really don’t have any money! Stop. My windshield wipers don’t even work!” He poked his little head in my van. “I’m hungry.” I told him to go to Gentle Hands down the street and we would feed him. He smiled opened the side door and jumped in. “I’ll just come now.” The light was green and away we went. Somewhat tired, we pulled into our parking stall and I left the young boy with the guards and some boys to feed him.

 

Upstairs to do bedtime and get my kids tucked in. It was already 730pm! Once the kids were in bed, boys all greeted, state of the laundry and house assessed, I thought I might collapse into bed. But cries of chocolate chip cookies were heard because Ross, our dear American Volunteer, had had an equally long and difficult day. (just think baby poo and homeschooling 8 year olds.) I quickly whipped up a batch. We all needed them. I left the boys, Amy, and Ross, eating cookies and playing Wii, and went to bed, wondering if it was still only Tuesday.

 

On a side note, Ross had prayed in the afternoon that God would protect us and be with us in our meeting. He had opted not to come along because he wanted a quiet afternoon. He had prayed for God to send an angel to be with me. He had prayed at exactly 430 pm. Ever see an angel dressed as a mechanic?