Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Luck Of The Draw

As the days passed and the toll in terms of lives lost and property damaged has risen as a result of the series of typhoons that has hit Metro Manila and much of northern Luzon, the residents of Lianga and its surrounding communities have tried to keep up with the latest news and developments in the unfolding tragedy of what is fast becoming one of the worst series of natural calamities to hit this country in recent memory. Taking in what many of them are saying about the disastrous events happening in the north has, inadvertently, become my avocation the past week or so.

"It's the wrath of God," asserts B., a senior member of the Catholic laity. "He has seen our wickedness and has sent in the waters to cleanse the world of evil." "Mark my words," he added with one finger wagging in the air. "It's the bitter lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah once again." His pronouncements, to my surprise, caused some listeners to nod their heads in agreement.

I wondered, knowing the man personally, if he would be brave enough to say the same words aloud in front of the hundreds of families in Metro Manila and Rizal, for example, who had lost not only their homes and valuables but more importantly many of their loved ones in the rampaging floods just a week or so ago. Perhaps it was the fact that he knows that his close relatives in the nation's capital are all safe and unaffected by the onslaught of Ondoy and Peping that has given him the courage and the temerity to be so callously judgmental about the suffering of a multitude of others.

B., a more compassionate colleague, is more circumspect. "We need to pray to the Lord more," he interjects. "We need to pray for faith and strength in these times of trials and challenges. Surely, God in his infinite mercy will come to our aid if we, His children, ask for His help and deliverance."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wind Struck

If there is one ailment that always gets the goat of anyone minding my mother's small drugstore in Lianga, the dreaded "panuhot" is definitely at the top of the list.

"Can you please recommend to me a medicine for panuhot?," asks one elderly woman just the other day. She had one of those tattered, wide-brimmed buli hats that marked her as coming from one of the town's more remote, farming villages.

The sales clerk shrugged, suppressed a sigh of exasperation and headed immediately for the section displaying painkillers and muscle relaxants. It's the only thing she can do and has, in fact, been instructed to do. For in the whole of modern Western pharmacopoeia, there is no specific drug cure for a disorder that, as far as modern medicine is concerned, does not officially exist.

The panuhot is considered, in the traditional belief systems of the rural folk, to be the primary cause of a wide variety of symptoms which may include muscular aches and pains, swelling of the affected areas and sometimes fever, general body weakness and malaise. It is explained by practitioners of folk medicine as the negative effects of the entrance of hangin or wind and cold temperatures or bugnaw into specific body tissues or nerves where it accumulates and causes pain and discomfort.

The concept of the panuhot is intrinsically connected to the idea of the piang which like the latter has been known to bedevil rural doctors who have tried to disabuse the rural folk of such persistent traditional beliefs in favor of modern advances in scientific and medical knowledge. The piang (as differentiated from actual bone and skeletal fractures) refers to a supposed "fracture or dislocation" (whatever that means) in body tissues or nerves particularly in the back and chest area and is often cited by rural mothers as the main cause of coughing and other respiratory ailments in their children.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Moths To The Flame

When national television began broadcasting news reports and videos of the massive floods Typhoon Ondoy was causing in Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces last Saturday afternoon and evening, Lianga residents, like their fellow countrymen in the Visayas and the other parts of Mindanao, were caught by surprise and simply aghast at the scenes of wanton destruction and human suffering depicted live and in full color on their television screens.

The genuine outpouring of local sympathy and empathy for the victims of Ondoy's wrath was a consequence not only of the obvious fact that fellow Filipinos were at peril and in harm's way in the north of the country. There is also a more selfish and practical reason.

Lianga, despite the often insular and provincial outlook of its residents, is in reality a rather "cosmopolitan" town. When I borrow that term I generously use it to refer to the fact that there is nary a house or home here that has no immediate member of the family or, at the very least, a close relative who is either studying, living or working elsewhere in the country or outside of it. Metro Manila and its environs happens to be where most of the town's diaspora initially go and where, in most cases, ultimately end up.

It is a town that sadly reflects the national reality, where the restless and productive young are driven, like the proverbial lemmings of Norway facing population and food supply pressures, to leave their homes en masse and seek social advancement or economic and financial security somewhere else. To them Lianga is a dead end, a tropical paradise maybe for the young and the elderly but a stultifying prison for those eager to break free and make their own mark on life.