Return to Leyte Part 3: Tears and Joy

Read part one and part two.

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The tile floor that was all that remained of the old house and clinic building is still visible in front of the new clinic.

We got to the Cumpio’s place around 4:00 pm, where everything was set up for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception. I got a few photos while we still had daylight (sun sets early in the tropics!) and then we hung out on the beach while waiting for the festivities to start. (Naomi swam again.)

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The beach across from the newly rebuilt Cumpio Clinic.

It’s hard to express how much it meant to be able to be there for this celebration. When I arrived in Leyte in March and met Nerissa, the site of the Cumpio family home was still covered with debris from the typhoon and it was difficult to see how the clinic would ever be rebuilt. When I left Leyte in April, the debris had been cleared, funds for building materials had been secured and the first supplies had been purchased, and I had committed to finding the money to pay the laborers until the project was completed.

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This photo is from April. The white tiles under the cement blocks are the same ones in the photo above of the completed clinic in September.

As the rebuilding project picked up steam, more people became involved: last month, a new grant was secured to help finish the inside of the building so that it could pass the health department inspection, and an ambulance vehicle was donated as well. This was truly the work of many hands and hearts.

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With Nerissa beside one of several signs erected for the opening, thanking the many donors who helped in the rebuilding.

Looking around the clean, bright, spacious clinic building, I couldn’t help but remember the many nights Nerissa and I had spent attending births together in a hot, stuffy tent. What a contrast! What a significant step, not just for the Cumpio family but for the whole community, in recovery, rebuilding, and restoring local capacity! The first baby expected to be born in the new clinic is due this last week of September, with many more to come thereafter.

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Ribbon across the front door all ready to go!

By the time the celebration began, it was too dark to get good photographs. My heart was so full, it was hard to imagine how much more momentous this occasion must be for the Cumpio family. Lots of tears through the smiles. It is impossible to forget the loss and devastation that preceded this event, the lives that were shattered by Yolanda. I am in awe of the resilience and strength of the people of Leyte and so very, very blessed to be able to count Nerissa as a friend and colleague.

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Trying to put my heart into words.

Having learned our lesson on Monday, we left the party before it was really over to start driving back to San Ricardo ferry. I needed to be back in Davao on Thursday and could not afford to spend all day Wednesday waiting at the ferry terminal. So much for my original plan to avoid night driving! We arrived safely to the port a little after 1 am and were told that the scheduled 3 am sailing was full already but that we would be on the next boat at 8 am. Grabbed a few hours sleep in the car. The “8 am” boat finally left, with us on board, around 11:30, and we were home by 10 pm on Wednesday night. I’m already scheming about another visit, with a less tight timeline, when Matt and the kids have a school break. To quote the t-shirt depicting the MacArthur Landing Memorial which I brought home for Ezekiel, “Once you see Leyte, you will return!”

 

 

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Return to Leyte Part 2: In Imelda’s Bedroom

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Waiting for breakfast at the Haiyan Food Stop, refreshed after a good night’s sleep and ready for another day!

After our two long days of driving, we slept late on Tuesday morning. The grand opening of Cumpio Midwife Clinic was not taking place until evening. We ate a delicious breakfast and set out for Tacloban, about half an hour away. Our delays the previous day meant that we would not have time to see all the places that I’d hoped to visit with Naomi and Gabriela, but we meant to make the most of the time we had. Driving to Tacloban, I was amazed at how many changes there had been in the 5 months since I had left. It was so encouraging and heartwarming to see shiny new roofs where six months ago there were weather-beaten tarps. The recovery and rebuilding had clearly come a long way!

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Morning refreshment — fresh buko juice (coconut water) and tiny single-serving pineapples, eaten off the stem like a lollipop.

Naomi and Gabriela agreed that of the various landmarks that we could visit (the scenic Leyte-Samar bridge, the MacArthur Landing Monument, the several large ships that had been washed into town by typhoon Yolanda) they were most interested in the Sto. Nino Shrine and Heritage Museum, built as both a museum and one of the 29 residences of President Marcos and taken over by the Philippine government in the 1980s after Marcos was ousted. Tacloban is former first lady Imelda Marcos’ hometown, and the museum was built on her family’s property. The mansion suffered extensive flooding and damage during Yolanda (link goes to a news site photo slide show) but has since re-opened. Our tour guide, who told us she was already part of the staff in the days when the Marcos family still used the residence on their visits to Leyte, was clearly devoted to the building and grieved over the damage caused by the typhoon. Despite the storm damage, the girls were impressed by the grandeur and opulence.

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The ballroom with its enormous, octopus-like chandeliers.

Naomi was particularly fascinated by the dioramas depicting Imelda Marcos’ life, from her childhood in Leyte to her benevolent good works as First Lady of the Philippines, in each of the downstairs guest bedrooms.

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Example of one of the dioramas: a youthful Imelda is crowned beauty queen.

The second-floor rooms had sustained less damage than those on the ground floor, as they had not been flooded (apparently the mud was knee-deep after the waters receded.) These included the ballroom, the larger of the two dining rooms, and the family bedroom. Our guide insisted I take a picture of the girls sitting on Imelda’s bed:

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This picture does not do justice to the size of the room. The luxurious ensuite bath was quite a big larger than my bedroom.

Our tour complete, we left Tacloban and headed south to Dulag, where I had spent four weeks in the spring volunteering at Bumi Wadah’s “birth camp” clinic, which at the time was located in San Jose elementary school. We drove past the school, which is in session but still under construction (a Japanese NGO began repairs to the school shortly after I left Dulag.) Bumi Wadah has a lovely clinic building now which they share with the rural health unit. We visited there and were treated to a delicious lunch (eggplant salad, pumpkin soup, rice, vegetable lumpia, and fruit salad – yummy!) Because our lunch visit was a day later than planned, most of the midwives were attending a seminar and I would not get to see them until later that day at Nerissa’s opening, but it was great to see the new clinic building and see old friends again.

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Lunch at Bumi Wadah.

One of the things I enjoyed most about my time in Dulag was the beach right across the street, where I went walking almost every day unless it was pouring rain or we were extremely busy with patients. In Davao, it’s easy to forget we’re on a tropical island since the city is so built up and the water so polluted — to get to a beach from Davao we have to drive a long way down the coast, or first drive and then take a boat to Samal Island. So after lunch we walked across the street to enjoy the fresh ocean breezes and the lapping waves.

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Naomi enjoying the beach in Dulag.

On the beach, as well, signs of recovery were evident. Though the debris of ruined houses remained in many places, the surviving coconut trees, which had been almost bare of leaves in March, were green again and new fishing boats lined the beach. Naomi splashed in the waves while Gabriela and I visited with a new Bumi Wadah midwife volunteer who had just arrived from Australia. All too soon, it was time to head back toward Tanuan, for the most important event of our trip: the grand re-opening of Cumpio Midwife Clinic.

Return to Leyte

A few weeks ago, I got a message from Nerissa Cumpio. “Good morning Sora, the opening will be on September 16th, I hope you are available that day.” For several months, I’d been getting updated photos of the building project progress and finally, the date was set for the (re)opening celebration of Cumpio’s Midwife Clinic! I immediately started to plan my trip.

Rather than fly into Tacloban airport, I decided to make it a bit (more) of an adventure and drive to Leyte. I figured that the cost for gas and the ferry would be comparable to flying and that this plan would allow me to see more of the Philippines, and bring Naomi and Ezekiel with me. Unfortunately, I had a very tight schedule for when I needed to return to Davao, requiring some very long days of driving! Ezekiel decided the long days in the car did not appeal to him, and Matt had classes to teach in Davao, but Naomi came with me, along with Gabriela, one of our friends from Davao.

We set off on Sunday afternoon, well-provisioned with snacks and water bottles. The plan was to drive from Davao to Surigao City on the north-eastern tip of Mindanao, spend the night there, and take a morning ferry, reaching our final destination in Leyte in time for lunch. I had not been able to find a working phone number for the port or the ferry company in order to confirm schedules, but I had the all-important copy of my vehicle’s OR and CR and I had found what looked like a fairly recent ferry schedule on a travel website so I wasn’t too worried.

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Our route.

The drive from Davao City to the ferry terminal in Surigao City is estimated at just over 5 hours by the google maps app. All I can say, is, whoever created the algorithm for the google maps travel times must never have driven in the Philippines. Our trip was on the Pan-Philippine highway the entire way, but most of the Pan-Philippine highway (outside of the major cities) is only two lanes, and there are frequent landslides and bridge repairs requiring constant maintenance.

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Road works ahead.

When road construction limits the two lanes to one, there are never any flaggers directing traffic nor lights at night. And when passing through the numerous small towns the road becomes full of slow-moving tricycabs, bicycles, pedestrians, motorcycles laden with anywhere from four to six passengers plus cargo, dogs, chickens, carabao, etc. (Most of these also have no lights at night.)

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Small-town traffic!

Gabriela had been working day shift at the clinic so we did not depart Davao until 2:00 pm. We reached Surigao City around 10:00 pm, completely exhausted. I had planned to go to the ferry terminal before we slept to confirm the ferry schedule and find out how early we needed to show up to secure our place on the ferry, but we were so tired we by the time we were approaching Surigao City that we chose to just check into a hotel and set our alarm for 5:30 am, figuring the ticketing office was probably closed already and that getting to the ferry at 6:00 ought to be enough for an 8:00 am departure. (Rookie mistake!)

We slept well and arose bright and early, headed for the ferry about 10 minutes away. As we got closer, the lines of parked cargo trucks on both sides of the road led me to suspect I might have made a tactical error in not taking the time to visit the port the night before. My inquiries at the port quickly confirmed my suspicion. I was permitted to hand in a photocopy of my vehicle registration to secure my place in line, but not to buy a ticket yet. I was told the morning ferry was already full and the noon ferry was “probably” full as well. The driver of the first car in line to board informed me that he had arrived at the port a little after midnight. Ooops! I texted my friends at the birth camp in Dulag to let them know we would not be there for lunch after all (“Maybe supper, then?”) and we decided to make the best of it by driving around Surigao to see the sights and maybe finding a (more pleasant than the ferry terminal) place to relax for a few hours.

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The Surigao beach where we spent most of Monday morning.

We bought some pandesal at a local bakery and found a place where we could rent a beach cottage (picnic table with a roof) for 100 pesos. Naomi played in the water and Gabriela took a nap. We’d been told to check back in at the ferry terminal at 11:00 am, so right on time, we headed over. The ticketing agents were clearly overworked and stressed. When I finally got their attention, I was told my name had been called half an hour before! (I protested that I had left my cell phone number… but that was with a different agent, who had gone off duty in the meantime.) It was okay, we still had our place in line for the next ferry and were allowed to buy our tickets — a multi-step process involving no less than 5 different people all in different offices. I continued to hope for a lunchtime departure though there was no sight of a ferry yet, we parked our car where we were directed… and waited.

The ferry showed up around 2 pm and unloaded. Then the loading process began, and I realized this was going to take a while. The order of priority for ferries is passenger buses (which get on the next departing ferry after they show up), private vehicles (like mine, which apparently usually need to wait a while!) and finally cargo trucks, which explains the lines of trucks on the side of the road leading to the port. And all of these vehicles, crammed as tightly as possible in order to fit as many as possible, are required to back into their place on the ferry… the ramp only works on one side of the boat.

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Finally, the ferry’s here!

The crossing itself was pleasant and uneventful, taking a little over an hour. The sea was calm and by leaning over the side into the breeze we could avoid the smell from the large truck full of pigs directly below us. Though there was some nervousness in certain quarters due to the unfortunate ferry accident that had occurred just two days before, I saved all my anxiety for the night driving.

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Naomi, enjoying the fresh sea breeze and avoiding the smell (though not, alas, the sound) of the pig truck.

As the San Ricardo ferry terminal came into view, we enjoyed the beautiful views of the sunset over the mountains (the sun sets early near the equator!)

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The welcome sight of the Benit (San Ricardo) ferry terminal, late afternoon on Monday.

Unfortunately, we still had 170 km to drive, mostly in the dark, on winding mountain roads. Again, we pulled into our destination around 10:00 pm, tired from a long day of travel. Nerissa and her husband Alex were waiting to meet us at the Haiyan Foodstop, a restaurant built after (and named after) the typhoon. The Haiyan hotel is still under construction but two guestrooms are open, and that was where we were staying for the night. A joyful reunion and a good night’s sleep (with no 5:30 am alarm this time!) and we were ready for the next day’s adventures.

 

Everything Will Turn Out Alright

We have a black Toyota Revo, a sort of narrow, miniature SUV that is admirably adapted to the streets of Davao City. We bought it from another missionary leaving for furlough in February 2013, and since that time, it has helped us have many fine adventures.

Unfortunately, getting the right papers for it has also been an adventure. Right out of the gates, there was a scare when we tried to register the car. The Pentecostal missionary who sold it to us had transcribed the license plate wrong on the handwritten bill of sale. So when our insurance agent Miss L submitted it to her computer, it showed up as a Honda Civic. The clinic director, Matt M, broke the news to me: “You have a hot car.”

I am accustomed to associate “hot car” with Ferraris or Lamborghinis, but our Revo is dull black and won’t win any concourse prizes. How could it be “hot”? Matt M explained that this meant “stolen”. This seemed increasingly likely since (1) it was from outside Davao City, and (2) the previous owner had never bothered to register the car in Davao, choosing to leave it as a Manila vehicle. And now the plates did not match the car. Near as anyone could tell, we had just spent five thousand dollars on a stolen car that we would never be able to register or own.

A day later, resigned to the loss, I had a sudden inspiration to check the bill of sale against the physical plates, and discovered that an F had turned into an E by a stray stroke of the pen.

So it wasn’t a stolen vehicle after all. I texted this welcome discovery to Miss L. She went down to the LTO, and initiated the registration process. We had already insured the car so we could drive it. That was in February 2013.

16 months later (Sept 2014, last week), we still did not have the registration and title to the vehicle. But now there was a deadline: Sora wanted to take the car to Tanauan, Leyte, for the grand opening of the rebuilt Cumpio Midwife Clinic. This would involve a ferry, and ferries will not take vehicles without registration papers — because, after all, they might be “hot cars”.

So I put Miss L on notice that we needed to get the OR and CR (original receipt and certificate of registration) by Sunday 9/14, and she promised to try hard to make it happen. The LTO had to do a title search in Manila before they could register us in Davao City, she explained. Sometimes this takes two years.

Here, I must beg my wife’s pardon. She is pretty close to being Superwoman. She can read much faster than anyone I know; beats me at all games; and can even deliver babies. She is also marvelously adaptable, and loves being a missionary in a foreign culture. (“What’s your superpower?”) But she is human, and the prospect of her travel plans breaking down because of a failure of paperwork was too much for her to bear. Besides, I’m told it isn’t good for missionaries to publish only their triumphs and hide all their weaknesses, sin, and shortcomings. So here it is: Sora started to worry. I could tell she was worried because she wasn’t saying anything about it. On Thursday, I asked her, “What are you going to do if the OR and CR don’t come in time? Have you considered other transportation?” She replied grimly, “I’m not ready to think about that yet.”

Finally, Friday 9/12 rolled around. This was the day of reckoning: Sora was to leave on Sunday, and the LTO is closed on the weekend. It was now or never. I texted one last desperate reminder to Miss L, and hoped for the best. Sora went about her day, shopping for food to take on her trip. Just before noon, while eating lunch at ArmyNavy, she got a text from Miss L that the CR had been signed, and that we were only waiting for the LTO to print out the OR. At that moment, she heard, of all things, the restaurant’s piped-in music. It was the Beach Boys singing:

“Don’t worry baby
Don’t worry baby
Everything will turn out alright

“Don’t worry baby
Don’t worry baby
Don’t worry baby…”

Surely a providential sign, right?

But 4:00 came. Then 5:00. The LTO was closed. Still no word from Miss L.

Here, I come to another weak missionary confession: at this point, we had a good old-fashioned marital spat. I will pass over most of it, but it started with Sora looking for someone to blame for the failure of her plans — and there I was, in the bedroom, the man responsible for dealing with the car paperwork! The spat ended with me shouting, “Fine. I hope you can’t make the trip!” and Sora storming out of the room.

Half an hour later, Sora came back upstairs, lay down on the bed, and said, “I’m sorry for blaming you, honey.” I replied, “I’m sorry for lashing out at you.”

And then, at that very moment, my phone chirped, and a message from Miss L appeared: “My helper has the papers, and will deliver them tomorrow.”

I have said before that God wants us to get used to trusting him. He also wants us to be patient with the different pace of this culture, and to roll with the punches. I’m not sure what moral to draw from this story; perhaps all of them. But this much is certain: it wasn’t our planning or our “get-things-done” attitude that made the difference in this case. Rather, if I may paraphrase Proverbs 21:1, “The heart of a bureaucrat is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; He turneth it withersoever he wishes.”

Sora got the OR and CR, and I had a gas station attendant check the air pressure in all the tires, including the spare. She made her trip.

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(Some details of chronology and place have been corrected from the first appearance of this post.)