Inside the tunnel-like tent, it was hot. So Nanay in her 70s chased the shade running scarce in the treeless lot at Cebu South Road Properties. She sat on a kid’s stool in the tent’s shade with her sunglasses on. The younger ones huddled at the big tent in the center of the city of temporariness and karaoked. A man announced there would be a mass later on. The altar, to my personal amusement, would be the very place where the TV and speakers were. A foreign visitor sang “Find light in the beautiful sea, I choose to be happy,” to the applause of the temporary residents.
About a kilometer away, Kasadya sa SRP, a carnival that opened mid-December, was preparing for another night of laughter and screams.
I found it rather rich in paradoxes for the displaced to redefine home in the very place under territorial disputes between Cebu and Talisay City, a place that once was owned by the sea and reclaimed by mankind.
On the last day of the year, the cities’ kitchens on either side of the tent city were clanging in preparation for the night’s feast. Here the mothers gathered near the common kitchen. They tore the chicken meat into strips. A basin of boiled macaroni was already in place, condensed and evaporated milk were opened, and a huge container of mayonnaise in place. One mother sliced onions and carrots. On Christmas, they received a lot of food from visitors who wanted them to feel the Yuletide spirit.
“This is for our midnight celebration,” one of the mothers shared.
Yes, it was the last afternoon of the year of collective tragedies in unprecedented proportions here in the Visayas. And it seems the adults were the keenest on putting an end to this year and welcoming a new year with a celebration of macaroni salad and other desserts that often flood our tables during the holidays: an annual delusion of endings and new beginnings.
But perhaps for the young ones, they marked closures and starts with dusks and dawns, with waking up and going to sleep. But they would know Cebu was up to something come midnight when the sky suddenly lit up with the explosions’ of varied colors and adults greeting everyone with “happy new year!”
For the schooled ones, the new year would mean domesticating their hands in writing “4” instead of “3” for “2014” like the way they familiarized the Cebuano language, new neighbors, classrooms, classmates, teachers, streets the moment they got transferred here to Cebu by the unforeseen circumstance named Yolanda. Yes, the new year would mean knowing who Jean, Hannah, or Kyle is. It would be a year of memorizing.
Here at the city of uniform tents, it would mean knowing their own based on the contents inside: a colorful pillow, a blue luggage, a crib filled with unfolded clothes, a stuffed Shin-chan and balls in one corner and a baby sleeping on the mattress, an unkempt blanket. Or it could be what was left outside: size-5 purple slippers, a blue umbrella, a basin of wet clothes, a pair of black shoes. Smalls things that would make each tent personally recognizable. Or recognizably personal.
Here, they are used to the fleetingness of strangers visiting with smiles and ears that are ready to listen to their stories. Sometimes, they bring food for everyone to share or toys like we did. On the last afternoon of 2013, an elderly woman in an SUV came with apples and oranges: round fruits that said to bring good luck. But it was said that it takes thirteen of them for luck to be benevolent.
But perhaps the displaced people from Samar and eastern Leyte do not need round fruits to feel the well-intentions and kindness of the strangers that came pouring to the hot tent city.
Here the kids seem well-adjusted and knowing with strangers. They know that the friendship they offer is abrupt. After seconds of coyness, they grab your arm and borrow your attention before another kid stole it away.
Kimberly Haow, 7, instantly eyed the camera I was holding. After a minute or two of teaching her the basics, she framed her fellow kids and my companions. She fully took control of the camera. Other kids followed soon. They wanted to touch a compact device that could freeze and control reality.
Control is something that a photographer has. It must be the reason the kids desired to hold the camera. Manipulated by tragedy at a young age, these kids found a way to be in control. Even for a few moments.
While it was hot and humid from 11 towards 2 in the afternoon, everything turned warm and soft as the last sunset of the year ran a carnival of colors on the horizon.
Everything became photographable. Keith and Kimberly borrowed my two cameras and kept on directing everyone, framing, clicking here and there.
But as the colors gradually faded and turned dark, our visit had to end.
Later on though as midnight struck, hues of varied spectrums would swarm towards the sky and burst that could leave them in awe. And perhaps in the back of their mind, they would ask, “Did Samar and Leyte have the same celebration?”
Jona Branzuela Bering scales mountains, treks rivers, combs beaches, hops towns, takes photographs, and saunters city streets for stories and poems. She blogs at https://backpackingwithabook.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org