Typhoon destruction fails to drown Filipino spirit
Lourdes Villaflor is a barrel of laughs.
The 76-year-old sits on the couch in Anne Bacale-Cahayon's Hamilton East home recalling being stuck in the eye of Typhoon Haiyan.
"People are smiling."
"They lost their house but they are smiling." More laughter.
It's incomprehensible how anyone could laugh in the aftermath of such devastation, but it's just how everyone is, Mrs Bacale-Cahayon said. It's the Filipino spirit.
"It's the normal thing - to smile."
When the Waikato Times last spoke with Mrs Bacale-Cahayon, she was preparing to leave for the Philippines, on a mission to find 60 missing family members.
Two weeks of staring at the death and destruction left by the typhoon could have broken her, but the "infectious" Filipino spirit carried her through.
"Before I left I was totally broken, but when I got there and saw all these people . . . they've been through a lot but they're still alive and smiling and joking and singing."
Across the room, Mrs Villaflor giggles again. It's therapeutic.
The mother of nine flew to New Zealand this week with her son, Dr Winston Villaflor.
They are here to visit her two daughters who live in Rotorua and had originally booked flights to New Zealand for November 17.
But nine days before their flight Haiyan hit, taking everything from them but their lives.
The feeling when they got to New Zealand? Relief, of course.
The family were stranded atop the garage of their home near Tacloban City airport.
The house is still standing, just, but everything inside is gone.
Mrs Villaflor was upset at first. The photos, the memories, everything she and her husband had ever worked for was gone in a matter of minutes.
But it's like her daughter, Kharen Ortega, said: "Forget it. I know we have lost a lot of things, but we still have the memories in our hearts and we still have our family."
Mrs Villaflor laughs. Her host slips in and out of laughter and tears.
The tears come when Mrs Bacale-Cahayon thinks of Christmas.
"We have celebrations and we have good food every day, but our people cannot eat. They're spending Christmas in the dark."
A tear falls. But she wipes it aside and smiles again.
They're still here, and they will rebuild.
"You can see in their eyes their hope."
It has been six weeks since the typhoon, and still there is complete devastation.
There's progress being made, but it's slow.
There's no electricity yet, other than a couple of generators keeping a few of the streets of Tacloban lit.
But where do you begin with such destruction? One step at a time.
Dr Villaflor will return home on New Year's Eve.
He will go back to the Tacloban hospital where he works as a general surgeon and he will start again.
It would be easy for him and his mother to cut their losses and set up with family in New Zealand, but Mrs Villaflor won't have a bar of it.
"There is no place like home. We will clean it up."
Donations can be made through the New Zealand Red Cross or Oxfam NZ.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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