Losing Track of Time . . . .

As I grudgingly sit in one of those white-knuckle bus ride to Novaliches earlier today, at least the driver and conductor felt the need to play some music in their nightly plights of EDSA.

“..It’s three o’clock in the morning and it’s starting to get light . . “

Don’t get me wrong. I said “grudgingly” not because I am angry or anything, but rather, disappointed I had to leave Villamor earlier than I had anticipated. In one of those clean up and wash runs for the kitchen, my right index finger got hurt and I can’t scrape the large rice cooker pan clean enough. I guess I’m not that young anymore. I remember moving heavy tabletops, chairs and dinner stuff up and down Capitol Hills Golf Clubhouse years ago without my legs nor bones staging a protest, vehemently, I should add.

Still, time passes.

And being with the volunteers, with the smiles back in our faces at Villamor, time, really does fly. Like those Ospreys we saw lifting off like space ships from off the runway.

I’m distracted.

As we give out food prepared by volunteer cooks and chefs, sandwiches lovingly made by other volunteers at the tent, we have a good gig running – a coffee commando stand, the long table for hot meals, the kitchen all a buzz, the sandwich pantry busy like any bee hive , it had to wonder what will the survivors be doing in Camp Aguinaldo.  We tried to talk to some of the survivors as they wait patiently, although as of 4:30pm yesterday, the survivors were already in buses but were still waiting to be transported  for 3 hours already.

Imagine that.

In Tacloban Airstrip, they had to wait 3 days, or at least 48 hours to be on a flight to Manila. The flight is about an hour and a half, and at Villamor, they have to be grouped and processed, some for immediate medical attention, the rest mostly documentation and records, so give a an hour or so.

And I complain about a 3 hour bus ride to Magallanes just to switch buses bound for FTI to alight at Villamor.

But at the site, time passes, like rain drenching me when I was at Camp Aguinaldo meeting another volunteer who’s doing psychological support for the survivors – Ms. Tetchie of Gold’s Gym ,whom, by the time I got to ArtRelief at Villamor sent a group of young ones to help out – the rain poured and  fell and washed the streets I walked to EDSA.

The rain went quickly, and these weather mood swings seem to be the norm nowadays.

Arrived at the site, buzzing.

And I began to lose track of time.

Maybe because I lost my Casio watch while enjoying the camaraderie. It was a 10-year battery , and about to die on me. That was a long time to own a watch, even for me. Goodbye, old watch, hope the person who found you can use the time to appreciate, even with the dilapidated state.

Maybe because  doing volunteer work does wonders for the soul.  And if auras are visible to the naked eye, the whole setup will be glowing bright colors, should you see the faces cooking, stirring, slicing, chopping, packing food, giving out water, minding the discarded stuff , cleaning up and then messing the place again with a new set of food preparation. By 1am this morning, Oplan Hatid was back in form, adding to the radiance of people and smiles.

And I lose track of time.

Maybe because I really don’t have to.

Photo stolen from Juan Benedicto’s FB

Photo stolen from Teddy Arellano’s FB

[Apologies to Teddy Arellano and Juan Benedicto. Sorry guys, I gave up on photography long time ago, so I steal from Indios and you guys. Thank you!]

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.

Soul Food Midnights

As I am still in a dark slump, the details I’ll probably write here at some point, but not just now, my thoughts turn to one of those rituals I seem to have unwittingly forsaken for convenience – preparation and cooking meals – even for just one – me.

But I was craving for something not as fancy as an entrée on a restaurant menu, nor some costly exotic dish, though the thought of hunting for some tasty morsels of  slow cooked Bulalo sends shivers to my salivary glands, I contented myself with a pack of chicken noodle soup, some onions, and garlic. Some finely ground imitation white pepper might have been great , but alas, here in Quezon city, the only establishments open at midnight are beer joints with girls hanging out just outside, a few Tapsilog ,  Internet cafes and a Balut vendor that’s always asleep every time I pass by.

There is a small Lugawan along Seminary Road, but I don’t dare ask if it was good. Also, just to be on the safe side, the place is almost always filled with gay bystanders. Not that it matters, but they I don’t feel the need to squeeze myself among the throng of loud guffaws and choking face powder smell just to see what the lugaw looks like.

Lugaw , if you must know, is not as plain nor as simple. I have come to know lugaw at Inang Luning’s . And boy, the mere mention of it brings me home: white, well cooked lugaw, with small chunks of pork, pork fat, just a hint of ginger, black pepper and maybe just a drop of patis, for good measure. The lugaw of my youth.

Of course there is Arroz caldo, yellow from the Asubha fronds, chicken meat, my Ina’s own recipe includes potatoes, but basically the same methods of cooking. But then Goto came along, which is also, lugaw with beef meat, or innards, stronger tasting and more flavorful, and the ginger seem to have increased in portions, but  also another form of delight.

So I settled for something doable.

Chicken Noodle Soup, despite what it says on the package, should be cooked with love. I have learned to add some veggies, or what’s available in my pantry, in this case it was lotsa onions and garlic. Dissolved the contents into water, stirring so that everything that needs to be dissolved get it’s way, done right, while setting the fire on low. Sliced the onions and garlic and added them to the pot, still constantly stirring so as not to leave any lumps and clumps. I love soup, specially at night, when I work on something. And I may have measured the water too much so a pinch or two of rock salt takes care of that.  I Put on Greg Howe‘s Introspection CD to further enhance this almost ceremonial like preparation.

Does it bother you to eat on styrofoam plates and bowls, plastic spoon and forks? it bothers me. A lot. I have this distaste for convenient food packaging stuff, makes food look, feel and taste less.  That’s why even if it was just sardines straight from a can, or something I bought at a canteen, I would want to eat with proper utensils and heavy ceramic plates, and bowls. makes up for the utter blandness of store-bought meals.

Frugal though it may seem, soup’s ready and I turn off the stove, letting the pot cool a bit, while cleaning up the sink, guitar music fills the room, and I can’t help but feel a bit more languid and calm. And in about 5 more minutes I have my bowl in front of my workstation, Desiderata played and the food and music warmed me up, and soothed me down.

Life’s simple pleasures.

A moment of solace from the day’s instabilities, the daily grind, the complications of interacting with people, the loneliness, frustrations, the gripes – all seem to have some vestige of getting better – as I savor the broth, chew on the noodles, listen to the music and settle down.

The night is darkest just before the dawn, and even with the rain clouds hovering, the sun is sure to come up in a little while.

Life is good.