My memories of Tacloban begin with a childhood spent enjoying the sea.
The center of my tightknit provincial hometown is surrounded by deep blue water. It has a long stretch of seaside park lined with trees where our families would go for late afternoon strolls. Like many of my childhood friends, I collected and played with seashells washed ashore by the waves.
Big cargo ships, transport ferries and wooden fishing boats sit anchored placidly by the port – the center of everyday life in Tacloban.
Adjacent was the public market, always bustling with people buying up the freshest catch brought in fishermen from nearby coastal communities.
Local family-run stores filled the downtown area attracting shoppers from nearby municipalities. Colorful jeepneys shuttle people to and from the residential outskirts of the city.
With a population of about 200,000, a walk downtown meant running into friends, colleagues, and relatives. Relationships were widespread, genuine and meaningful. They continue to shape my life and character in the most profound ways.
Taclobanos — like most Filipinos — are quick to smile and offer guests the seat of honor at the dinner table.
During my most recent trip home, I enjoyed a sunny day with my family at one of the beaches lining the coastal barangay San Jose. As with any Filipino beach picnic, everyone brought massive amounts of food and sang karaoke songs. Everyone was welcome. Everyone was family.
A few days later, and in the matter of just a few hours, Tacloban was changed forever. Our homes, schools, churches destroyed by one of the most powerful storms in history. A lifetime of collective memories threatened by the same sea I adored.
Many Taclobanos are Waray, not Tagalogs nor Cebuanos. We speak a different language, and our identity is captured in a pre-colonial phrase we learned from our grandmothers: “Ang Waray, mag-isog”. The Waray are brave.
Taclobanos continue to draw strength from this shared character in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. This is proven by the countless firsthand stories I’ve heard of courage, compassion, and community. Tacloban survivors — themselves thirsty, hungry, devastated — helping others cope and rebuild. Greeting relief workers and cameramen with smiles instead of self-pity.
The entire Philippines and international community has rallied behind us in an astounding show of support and solidarity, giving Taclobanos another reason to believe that our city by the sea will come back stronger than ever.
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