While walking down the barrio road doing photo documentation, a smiling old woman approaches. I am disarmed by her smile but immediately became sheepish when she says her gentle reproach.
“I wasn’t on the list,” she says.
She is referring to the beneficiary list for shelter kits that are at that moment being distributed in Barangay Catanusan, in the town of Minalabac, Camarines Sur. Each kit consisted of a large sheet of tarp, a sleeping mat, and a blanket.
Catanusan is a remote barrio. We navigate through very narrow roads to get there. Many are uncleared of fallen tree branches. One grazes the side of our van with a scratch long enough to give our driver nightmares. On each side of the road are rice fields submerged in water. Our hearts sink with the rice stalks and the hopes of the farmers to harvest them.
Arriving at the barrio hall, we see that it was wrecked. The inside is flooded and the glass windows blown out. We carefully avoid stepping on the shards strewn on the floor. It doesn’t take long for the community to come to us, staring at the truck bearing our humble tokens after supertyphoon Nina came blowing through the region on Christmas Day.
Almost two hundred houses are wrecked by Nina. Half are totally damaged; roofs blown off, walls tumbled down. Many families are living in tents from recycled plastic and tarp.
“My house wasn’t totally damaged,” Nanay explains, “but I could use the tarp for the kitchen. It was destroyed. At my age, it gets cold too easily. Especially at night.” She gestures to her knees.
“How old are you, Nay?” I ask her.
She preens and says briskly, “Me? I am 72 years old! And I have raised 15 children!”
Nanay doesn’t sound like 72. Though thin, with hollow cheeks, she speaks like a much younger woman. Formidable. Indeed, she does look like someone who took care of more than a dozen offspring. The sad part though is that her children have all left to fend off for themselves with their families. She is now a widow.
“Are you a member of the women’s organization here in Catanusan, Nay?”
“Of course! I was nominated to be leader, you know!” she says.
“That’s good, Nay. At your age, it would be a challenge to lead, but I think…you can still do it!”
She smiles again, acknowledging the compliment.
“I take care of myself,” she says. She shares to me with glee that she plants some corn and vegetables in a small plot by herself.
“Now they’re all gone in the flood. But what else to do? I will just plant again.”
She makes it sound so easy. When will the next harvest season be, March? Next summer? Such positivity must only come from a life of surviving storms. Oh, Nay, would that you could teach me such wisdom. Or will life take care of that?
I respond like a chastened child. “So sorry that you weren’t on the list, Nay. We just follow the list of the barangay hall staff who did the survey.…”
“It’s okay. But thank you for coming to our barrio. It’s the first time we have received relief in a long, long time. I hope this won’t be the last time.”
“Hopefully, Nay, there will be more donors…” I say, perhaps too enthusiastically. Then, with a start, I tell her, “Oh, Nay, I forgot to ask your name!”
She beams proudly. “My name is Adelina Papa.”
Adelina Papa. What a beautiful name. Perfect for a woman who could be mother and father at the same time to fifteen children and a whole community.