In the Shadow of the Typhoon, Humans and Mahiwaga Cooperate for Survival

I cannot stop writing about Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan). To date, I have written three short stories inspired by one of the world’s most powerful storms ever recorded.

At the time it made landfall in the Philippines, I was a young journalist on weekend duty, happily eating lunch with my co-workers. We did not yet learn to fear the word “supertyphoon,” though some of us knew to fear floods—I lived through Typhoon Ondoy as well, on tenterhooks for news about friends and loved ones in the path of the neverending rain. But the TV news feed began to show currents of dirty water filling buildings, severed limbs floating in the flood, a man—one of many—walking for six hours while carrying his dead little daughter. A deep fear took root in me then, but also a kind of desperate drive to do something as I watched the army tanks loaded with relief goods roll past the office that night. They were headed for Leyte and beyond.

My mother and I had a massive argument because she refused to let me go on a trip my bosses wanted to send me on—to Tacloban, one of the most affected cities, on a C130 plane—for fear of the looters and escaped prisoners. In the end, I could not go, but I have never stopped thinking about what I would have seen, heard, felt, touched, and smelled if I had gone. I did not want to be sending relief goods from the safety of Manila; I wanted to be there, wherever there was, where I could help the most.

This story marks a more mature, more nuanced treatment of my subject matter, written six years after Yolanda. I’ve had enough time to grapple with my feelings over the creeping effects of climate change, over the disgusting lack of political will to help those suffering the most, over even the limits and futility of journalism, over youthful wishful thinking about what I could have done to help those people if I had just disobeyed my mother and gotten on the plane (though in the end, I was told, that trip was either canceled or the offer rescinded for the journos it was given). Fitting, then, that I wrote it as part of the Archipelago Daily series.

The drive to finish the story came from an invitation by my friend Marian Womack to submit to An Invite to Eternity: Tales of Nature Disrupted published by her outfit, Calque Press. “In the Shadow of the Typhoon” was eventually longlisted for the 2019 Bristish Fantasy Award.