From the eyes of a refugee

Avatar Writer, VOY Climate and Environment Blogging Intern, Climate Advocate
Juana S.
Member since March 2, 2017
  • 9 Posts
  • Age 26

photo courtesy of Reuters

photo courtesy of Reuters

On November 11, 2013 my elder brother and I stood at the tarmac of the city’s airport under the sweltering heat of the sun with a bottle of water on one hand and a bag of used clothes on the other. Surrounded with hundreds of people dazed- with a distinct expression of helplessness and desolation on their faces, I overhear their conversations.

“How many left in your family?”

“How did you survive?”

“Which plane are you taking? To Manila? Or Cebu?”

These questions played on repeat as people talked amongst themselves- it became like a form of greeting between strangers and acquaintances. It has been three days since people waited at the airport, hoping for a plane to arrive that will take them out of the city.

Three days down- how many more to go? No one knew.

But in spite of everyone’s fear for their safety and security, a rare occurrence transpired. People who were nothing but strangers to each other were sharing food to feed their hunger, water to quench their thirst, clothes to keep themselves warm, and stories of their own traumatic experiences. They cried and grieved over each other’s losses. No comforting words were spoken, but it was in a stranger’s tears, a stranger’s tap on a shoulder, and a stranger’s will to share what little he had, that they found a consoling friend in the hell on earth that was the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan.

Along with hundreds of people, my brother and I boarded the military plane that took us to Cebu- a place far from the harrowing scenes of houses and buildings flattened, bare-naked mountains, uprooted trees like leafless carcasses, roads filled with mounds of debris and rotting cadavers of humans and animals surrounding the whole city. With nothing left in the place we once called home, an exodus began.

As I entered the aircraft, I asked myself if leaving was the right decision. We were not only leaving the city- we were leaving home, we were leaving without knowing how the rest of our relatives were, we were leaving the possibility of finding our missing father and nephew, and we were leaving the remains of our mom, brother and sister-in-law on the sidewalks just wrapped in tarpaulins. I couldn’t get those heartbreaking thoughts out of my mind and I couldn’t forgive myself for having no choice but to leave them that way.

The loading ramp of the aircraft was lifted to close and the engine started running. I glanced at my brother bearing the pain of his severely injured leg and thought to myself- he needs immediate medical attention, this is the right decision- for now. When the plane gained altitude, I sat on a corner with people living the same nightmare as mine- the same doubts, fears and uncertainties, for us and for the future. It was in the island of Leyte that we proved how climate change is the great equalizer. We witnessed how the most affluent of families struggled with its impacts when their palatial houses, expensive cars and rich businesses were destroyed, ransacked and looted; when wealthy businessmen walked all over the city with their families to search for food and water; when even the most prominent of families shared a bottle of water with a poor stranger. The day Haiyan struck Leyte was the day we proved that ramifications of climate change have no jurisdiction- it knows no bounds.

For a moment, there were no rich or poor, young or old- for a moment, we were all equal- we were all refugees.

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