Strangers. Not Anymore.

Monday, November 18th:

After a failed attempt at what could be a graceful exit from my team at work, which is by all accounts, will be another garment I don’t have the heart to thow away, but kept in that emotional baggage I carry with me through life, I volunteered, following a friend’s advice to help out, in  something I used to do incognito. Packed a couple of shirts, my water bottle, bought some ready mix coffee, some styro cups, plastic utensils, and boarded a white-knuckle bus ride to Magallanes, a stop necessary to switch rides to Villamor, one of those jam-packed commutes.

At the stop, it’s like I hardly knew the place, with all the construction made in the last 7 years or so. Still, I know my way around the place and found Villamor Airbase Gate without a glitch. Surely, I was confident there wouldn’t be that much change with the airforce base entrances. I went in, remembering military bases are different from civilian places and I have to abide by their rules, something the average person might want to consider before barging in.

Cool. Villamor Airbase has a small fleet of e-Cars, those nifty, electric-powered shuttle vehicles that remind me of San Pedro buses that used to ply Laguna towns, with open sides and no need for a door. And eventually I arrived at the Grandstand, buzzing with activity and easily found them:

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Introduced myself as a volunteer, somewhat awkwardly, as things go, and looked around to see what I could do. Located at the back of the grandstand, it was a row of open tents filled with people all doing one thing or another – a real kitchen functioning with skilled chefs and cooks, knives slicing away, the coffee commandos giving out hot beverages, and there was Ted, jovial fellow who I took for as the person in charge for the night. Farther on I could see clothes, donations for the survivors, being sorted out so that people can find their sizes easily, and beyond that, bigger tent that served as the dispatch spot, where a group of volunteer drivers, taxis and private vehicles wait for their turn to transport people to their destinations. There, a small group of organizers are tirelessly speaking on PA system, asking takers for fares as far as Nueva Ecija, social workers assisting their charges, a couple of people taking turns at the mic coordinating, nudging, cajoling, something that continued, I surmised ,  24 hours. Good people.

As I took it all in, it was automatic, right then and there, helping out where needed, usually carrying stuff , spot clean ups, anything that need extra hands. The kitchen, as it really is, is literally a cauldron of activity,  and these are people who are really into culinary art. I know, I used to be a waiter at a golf course, and the people there are expertly cooking, stirring, slicing, all volunteers. And the smell of food just fills the air. There were times me and Adrian, a  seaman by trade exchanged stories, in between puffs of smoke.  And so it was that the whole night – sandwiches, rice in volumes, meat, vegetables , all from donors, prepared by volunteers, and we gave them out readily.

Some 200 to 300 survivors arrive with every C130 plane that land. The whole process was handled by people from the government. Not going to comment on that. It deserves a different post. And I could say a lot about THAT.

2am, Tuesday, November 19th:

By this time, I got the groove sustained. Stocks are stacked, coffee is flowing, our numbers increased by two, sisters, who lived nearby. Lugaw is prepared for breakfast, sandwiches from a good volume of sliced bread donations, meat dishes all the way from Batangas or Cavite, I hardly remember, and anyone can ask for it.

Everyone. Soldiers. Marshals. Social workers. Volunteers. Survivors.

Not strangers anymore.

As the sun rises, and the Lugaw nearly empty, the Adobo and rice also almost gone, eggs, the rest of us night ghouls are also just waiting for the next batch of volunteers, and I failed to mention earlier, these band of brothers and sisters are cooks, chefs, doctors, lawyers, photographers, nurses, artists, students and new grads, you know, ordinary people who just want to help.

I left Villamor Airbase at 8am or thereabouts, took the long route by bus, and slept like a log at the apartment here in Novaliches.

at 7pm, Tuesday, November 19th:

Found myself already on another white knuckle bus ride to Villamor. Arrived at the site at 9pm past. It was a different group of people I found there manning the front. There was a young lady there taking stock and inventories and doing the social media posting for ArtRelief, whom I mistook for Kyra,

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or Alexa Davalos, you know,  from the movie Riddick, because that what Alexa will look like if she had been a Filipina,but that’s all the familiar face I know.

It didn’t matter.

We. All of us.

We are not strangers anymore.

Gratitudes galore to Isi, (it was her fault I got into this) Ted, Alex, Chef, UP, Indios, Kuya Bodjie and all volunteers. This old man maybe taking time for some rest tonight, but will be back for more tomorrow, November 21st. And I appeal to others, this is the long haul, please click the image above and know what to do with donations and volunteer duties.

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