Rain. Buckets and buckets of rain from angry skies.
That was one of my earliest memories as a child growing up in the Philippines. I was probably four. We lived in a two-story house in the capital city of Manila. It had smooth concrete floors and a square cut out of the wall so you could see visitors from the stairwell.
From the little square window and through the open door, I could see river currents on what had been, just hours before, a street with cars honking and pedestrians walking. Now there were little eddies as the water went around poles and stranded cars.
My brother, sister and I kept our flip flops on higher ground and waded barefoot into the street, the cold, murky water reaching our knees. We laughed as we splashed. And in our hands, we held little paper boats. I put mine on the surface of the water and watched it list a little lopsided but it floated anyway.
Thunder rumbled in the distance. We kept a wary eye but stayed out and kept playing.
This memory was nothing like the recent super typhoon devastation in Tacloban. But it underscores a characteristic of Filipinos that I remember from living there the first 15 years of my life.
The ability to smile and play basketball and float paper boats, even when your house is submerged and your precious belongings are getting ruined. Driving to church in water so deep that your headlights create an underwater light show. Sitting in a power outage called “black-out,” and forming sculptures out of melted candle wax while thunder, wind and torrential rains rage outside.
Seeing the light in the darkness.
To Filipinos, typhoons are just a part of life. And nothing— rain, wind, lightning, death—will break their indomitable spirit.
Living here in Tooele County, where we pray for moisture with regularity, where the soil can get so dry that it just blows like powder in the wind, typhoons could be hard for us to grasp. You’d think perhaps, we wouldn’t have empathy for typhoon victims clear across the world.
On a Saturday afternoon, two weeks after Typhoon Haiyan reduced to rubble everything in its path, I sat in a house in Stansbury Park with teenagers from Tooele, Stansbury and Grantsville Interact clubs. They wanted to put on a fundraiser for the Philippines and I had come to help in whatever way I could.
I mostly listened, even though every so often, my heart felt so full of gratitude for these teenagers. Despite all that the county and their families have been through, and are still going through with our own economic typhoon pummeling us the last few years —layoffs, food bank shortages, unemployment, belt-tightening— they were thinking of others.
It underscored a characteristic of Tooele County residents that I have appreciated while living here the past 12 years.
Generosity in the form of donating to different causes, attending dinners, supporting events, buying crates of oranges or pointsettias or boutique items. Spending a bitter cold morning participating in a service project. Forgetting our own near-empty larders for a minute and bringing a meal to a mourning family. Helping someone and refusing payment.
I’ve never been prouder of being both a Filipina and a Tooele County resident.
Jewel Punzalan Allen grew up in the Philippines and moved to Grantsville in 2001. Visit her website at www.TreasuredStories.net