After the Storm: Stories on Ondoy

After the Storm: Stories on OndoyAfter the Storm: Stories on Ondoy by Various Authors, edited by Elbert Or
Anvil, 128 pages

The pieces in After the Storm were mostly written in the midst of and immediately after the typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009. The writers share their experiences of the typhoon, their insights and reflections, their hopes and aspirations. Long after the news media has moved on to the next big headline, After the Storm hopes to stand as written record to remind everyone that this happened. We were there. We are still here.

Two years ago, on this day, I woke up and found it was raining hard. It was a normal occurrence, of course, since it was the rainy season at that time. I was all ready to snuggle down into bed and enjoy a rainy bed weather, thanking that I was safe and sound with my family, at home.

Then this happened:

September 26, 2009

It was two years ago today that Typhoon Ketsana, locally own as Ondoy, hit our country, submerging Metro Manila underwater. It should have been a normal day, especially for us since it has never flooded in the 20 years that I lived where I lived. But that day changed everything, and in a span of hours, we found ourselves trying to secure all the important things we own away from the rising waters of a flood that got into our house, and eventually evacuating to our neighbor’s house where we stayed the next two nights.

Typhoon Ketsana/Ondoy changed my life, and while I think I have pretty much moved on from this flood, it’s still one of the things that I will never be able to forget.

So that’s why I felt that this collection of essays edited by Elbert Or, After the Storm, is pretty much a required reading for me. When you survive a disaster like this, it’s either you completely turn away and try to forget about it, or move on and remember it every now and then, using it to make you a little bit stronger. I choose the latter.

After the Storm is filled with essays from different people sharing their various experiences that happened before, during and after the typhoon. These essays range from a creative piece told from the point of view of a floating hardbound book, to a senator’s reflections on the effects of the typhoon and the resiliency of the Filipino spirit, to a person’s thoughts on volunteering and even a firsthand account of a survivor from Provident Village in Marikina, one of the hardest hits of the flood. Needless to say, this was one of the books that I should not have read in public, because I found my eyes filling with tears every now and then. It’s hard to forget the fear, the disbelief, the wondering if things will ever be the same again after this, and if we will ever even recover from this.

To be honest, I wasn’t really feeling the first part of the book. It felt like some of the entries were written just to impress people, or to pat their egos about volunteering. I couldn’t relate, and I felt like it lacked the proper empathy that victims survivors would look for. I felt exasperated at the truth that shows just how unprepared we are, and how much the government lacked, and how some people pointed fingers at that. Some talked so much about volunteering that it almost didn’t sound sincere. On the other side of the spectrum, there was one essay that talked about how it is better not to volunteer and instead go back to work and donate money because it would be more helpful. As much as it made sense, I was kind of miffed. Are you just trying to comfort yourself with the fact that you didn’t take time off from work to help out? Come on. Tell that to the people who’s on the receiving end of the help.

But then somewhere in the end, I realized that maybe, just like grieving, there is never really a single way in moving on from calamities such as this. Maybe people cope differently. Maybe some people get so moved that they have to move physically, that they have to do something about it, such as organize a sandwich drive or volunteer for various relief efforts. Maybe some people get so shocked that they can’t do anything, except maybe find a way to spread the word. Maybe some people get moved to write. Maybe, some victims start off with shock, sadness, disbelief until they find the strength in themselves and in other people to help them become survivors instead.

There are people who suffered much more than I did, but it wouldn’t change the fact that Typhoon Ketsana/Ondoy changed my life. I think and I hope it changed everyone’s lives, with it has tested us. Anthologies such as this may not be perfect, it may not contain a very accurate account of everything that happened in those dark and stormy days, but I must agree that it’s a way of reminding us that it happened. And while we must move on, we must not forget.

Two years ago today, Ondoy surprised all of us.

We were there.

Yes, we are still here.

And yes, we are still standing.

And maybe, that’s really the point of this book.


My copy: paperback from National Bookstore

Cover & blurb: Goodreads

Other reviews:
taking a break

The Best of This is a Crazy Planets

The Best of This is a Crazy Planets by Lourd de VeyraThe Best of This is a Crazy Planets by Lourd Ernest H. De Veyra
Publisher: Summit Books
Number of pages:  116
My copy: paperback, review copy from publisher

Lourd Ernest Hanopol de Veyra is many things at once: front man of the band Radioactive Sago Project, TV personality, poet, award-winning writer, blogger, and now, author. His two-year-old blog This is a Crazy Planets has gained a large following on, and his best works are now compiled in a book of the same title.

With Lourd’s various entries on everyday life’s absurdities, This is a Crazy Planets mirrors Filipino pop culture in a way that is both humorous and endearing.

* * *

I’ve only heard about Lourd De Veyra through friends, because most of my friends are big fans of him. I’ve seen him every now and then on his TV5 segment, Word of the Lourd, and I have read some of his articles in his blog. But I was never really one who followed his stuff regularly. I wasn’t really 100% excited to attend his book launch when I was invited, except that I can’t really say no to a free, local book. Unfortunately, the launch happened on the night that tropical storm Falcon made an ocean of Manila.

I was glad when the publisher still sent me a book for review because despite my being a not-so-much-of-a-fan, I was curious about the book. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw how nice the book looked. Okay, it wasn’t just nice, it was quite beautiful for a local publication. My fellow bloggers and I often complain about the print quality of the local books here, but The Best of This is a Crazy Planets is far superior than the others. The paper quality is nice, the cover design is pretty and illustrations/artwork were there for every article. I am delighted to see that it was affordable for its quality, too – P195 (less than 4 USD) is a pretty good price to pay for a book that looks this pretty.

That price is even more justified once you read what’s inside. Like I said, I’ve only read a few of Lourd’s articles online, so I was pretty new to his writing. Lourd De Veyra offers a funny, oftentimes sarcastic but very real commentaries on Philippine current events, people, culture and even showbiz. I found myself giggling and having to hold it back whenever I’m reading this in a public place. Some of them, I can’t really relate to, some of them, I agree with, some of them, I just find really, really funny. Underneath its wit and sarcasm, Lourd’s articles show a lot of truth in the current state of our country. It’s not always pretty, and sometimes I feel bad when I realize that it is the ugly truth about the Philippines. But even so, Lourd never ever showed a hint of not liking his home country despite this truth (at least, that’s the impression on me). It’s like he writes it all out, shrugs and then says, “This is a crazy planet.” Or planets.

Why buy this book when you can read it online? Well, if you’re not enticed by the beautiful quality of this book and its relatively cheap price, think of it this way: you can read his articles even without Internet, even if you’re in the remotest areas in this crazy planet we live in. And I think that’s pretty much worth it, right?

The Best of This is a Crazy Planets is now available for Php195 in local bookstores nationwide.


Other reviews:
taking a break

A Grief Observed

A Grief Observed by C.S. LewisA Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
Harper, 112 pages

Written after his wife’s tragic death as a way of surviving the “mad midnight moment,” A Grief Observed is C.S. Lewis’s honest reflection on the fundamental issues of life, death, and faith in the midst of loss. This work contains his concise, genuine reflections on that period: “Nothing will shake a man — or at any rate a man like me — out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.” This is a beautiful and unflinchingly homest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.

Just yesterday, I was chatting with one of my best friends who is also my old household head in Youth for Christ (YFC). She was telling me about her latest Kindle purchase (if you’re curious, it’s Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel). I told her about how I was reading A Grief Observed in my Kindle, and added that I wanted to buy other C.S. Lewis books there, too, because I realized that his books are a bit too expensive if I buy it here in full price, and I don’t really have the patience to dig for them in bargain bookstores. My friend laughed (as much as you can online, anyway) and she said she’s not ready for C.S. Lewis, at least not yet now. This is coming from my friend who would spend her spare time watching Hillsong United worship videos, mind you.

Today I realized that I’ve read so many Christian books but I’ve never really read any of C.S. Lewis. It’s not that I don’t have his books, too. I have Mere Christianity and the boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia but I haven’t finished any of them. Strange? In a way, yes. But thinking about that and my conversation with my friend yesterday, I think it may not be that strange, because I realize that I may have not been ready to read C.S. Lewis’ books back when I first got them.

Truth be told, I wouldn’t have gotten A Grief Observed if it wasn’t one of the books for discussion in our Goodreads group. It’s been a long time since I actually cracked open a non-fiction book, and whenever I do, I never finish them. Another reason why I would not have gotten this by myself is because I can’t relate to grief, at least, not yet.

I am a stranger to grief. Sure, I know some people who have passed away and I have shed tears for them, but I have never really felt the same kind of grief that I know other people have felt. The last closest relative I know who passed away was my maternal grandmother, and that’s ten years ago, and all the other deaths I’ve heard about is not close enough to me for me to actually grieve the way other people do.

But I’m not taking this one lightly. I still feel afraid, because I know that as I grow older, the closer I am and everyone I know and love and care for is to death. It’s a fact of life. And then I remember: it’s not a matter of growing older. Everyone is close to death, myself included. No one can escape it, and the only question we can ask (and will probably never get the answer until we are right there at that moment) is When?

A Grief Observed doesn’t have an answer to any of what I said, unfortunately. I knew C.S. Lewis was a great writer, but this book is not like any book I’ve read before. I can’t empathize because like I said, I haven’t lost anyone very close to me to death just yet (and I’m very grateful for that of course), so I read this as if I was a spectator. It almost feels like I was intruding into something very private, as if I wasn’t supposed to be reading them. These are the thoughts of a man who has lost the love of his life to something he can’t fight. These are the ramblings of a man who has a solid foundation for his faith yet he couldn’t find foothold now that he experienced this big blow. This is a man who is grieving, period.

I don’t think anyone can ever explain how it is to grieve. I believe, like falling in love (yes, I have to connect it to that), everyone has their own process of grieving. Crying, writing, hiding yourself — what works for you. Like death, no one is exempt from grief, but I think we do have a choice on what to believe while we grieve. Do we believe that the other person is already in a better place? Do we believe that he/she is at peace? Do we believe that God has them? Do we believe that death actually exists? What would you believe in?

I’ve written so much, but I think this is one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever written. There’s so much in A Grief Observed that can be said, that can be quoted, that can be criticized, even, but not so much words to write on what it is really about.  It’s unlike any other non-fiction book I read, and maybe this is because it’s raw, and it really comes from the author’s heart. This is probably the first book that I couldn’t really relate to, yet I also could at the same time. Perhaps C.S. Lewis wasn’t just grieving about his wife, but maybe he is also grieving about his faith, and his primitive notions of how he sees God and His love? I’m just speculating. But if that is right, then I also grieve with him for the same reasons.

Kuya Doni is right: this book is heartwrenching. I’m glad I read it.


2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 77 out of 100 for 2010

My copy: Kindle version from Amazon Kindle store

Cover & Blurb: Goodreads