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Of Floods and Covenants

BY PROF. NENET GALANG-PERENA

ONE OF my most vivid early childhood memories is sitting by the wooden stairs of our old house with capiz windows in Calumpit, built by my paternal grandfather (who died after Kuya was born), my feet soaked in flood waters. I was wearing a blue dress that got stained by merthiolate, which I was trying to wash out in the brackish water. My parents, uncle and relatives were going to and fro, lifting and moving things from the merciless inundation. I can smell the yellow camote frying in my grandmother’s clay stove, with the fallen branches of the acacia as fuel.

The floods became a regular fixture of our lives, and periodically, the monotonous rhythm of our pastoral was interrupted by these waters draining from other provinces to our low lying town, on their way to the bay. In my young mind, the flood meant no classes, tasty gurami from the Quingwa river, talangka from the Apalit fish ponds and frogs from the bana (fields). Until when I was in my teens,  the Central Luzon floods of the 70s came,  painfully teaching me that deluge brought two other d’s: death and destruction. Two barrio mates were washed away by the rampaging waters near the monument of Gregorio del Pilar, while two houses of close neighbors were lifted by the surging waters, one colliding with the other—humans and homes swallowed whole and buried in watery graves somewhere in Palapat, Hagonoy. Our piano became the village woe, as eight strong men had to carry it to the apex of the barrio chapel’s altar for safety.

Thus, when my parents built a new house in 1979, my father asked the architect (my cousin’s wife), to elevate the bungalow seven feet from the ground, as that was the highest flood recorded in his time. How could he know that in his 83rd year, Pedring would bring even higher floods that would engulf his house to the granolithic flooring and he would have to problematize the piano’s safety once again, just like in 1976? My youngest sister diligently texts me how the flood continues to threaten what little joy and faltering faith the barrio people clutches on to save themselves from drowning in self pity and hopelessness.

The deluge is a recurring archetype in man’s history. From the Near East, there is the Story of the Great Flood from the region between the two great rivers of  the Tigris and Euphrates, Sumeria’s Epic of Gilgamesh, where its hero receives the disappointing news that “there is no permanence. The ancient religion of Mesopotamia, which reflected the insecurities of life in a region threatened by flood and invaders, gave the epic’s narrative its central theme: the search for immortality. From the Far East, the ancient civilizations of China, Japan and India also have their own story of the flood, testing the viability of creation.

Christians grew up with the Story of the Flood from Genesis, sent as punishment by God for the wickedness of man.   It reprises the theme of the covenant, or solemn agreement, between God and humankind. The story states that God chose Noah because he was a righteous man, and bade him construct an ark with his sons before he caused it to rain upon the earth 40 days and 40 nights. When the rainbow appeared, the flood has ceased, and  Noah built an altar and offered burnt offerings to the Lord, who, smelling its sweet aroma, made a solemn promise: “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” Noah did not live forever, but remained on earth 350 years after the deluge, 950 years of age when he finally died.

To the people of my town, these stories may bring little consolation, much like the fb and twitter messages posted by its expatriate sons and daughters, promising prayers for their safety, when what they need right now are food, drinking water, clothes and blankets, medicines and a dry bed to rest their weary bodies in. Our young mayor, Engineer James P. De Jesus, who built our house in Better Living to withstand storms and high waters, is pleading for rescue teams to pluck his constituents from roof tops where they have been roosting like hens for days. His municipal hall, built in an art deco style by the contemporaries of my grandfather who was a councilman in the 50’s, is waist deep in water. His brother, my kababata, Dr.Jessie,  who has abandoned his private dental practice,  has not slept for days, going to the far flung barrios to distribute relief goods. The water has not receded as I write, yet there is the new typhoon, Quiel, threatening to submerge our town in further gloom and doom.

But as we survived the cataclysms of the 70s, we will overcome this flood. We may lose vehicles, appliances, furnitures, gadgets, and other creature comforts, but we certainly will not lose our hardiness and hope. Armed with eskoba, walis ting-ting, kalaykay and other cleaning implements, we will pick up the pieces of our soaked lives just like what the rest of the country did in the most recent devastation that was Ondoy. Just like what we did from my childhood days, when we awaited the motor boats at day break to take us to the safety of San Marcos, where Ka Ruthie, our piano teacher lived, and where the dike will protect us from the merciless flood. Then, as now, we remember God’s covenant and wait for the rainbow to appear by the tramo, where the old PNR trains lumbered by, on their way to far off places where the land is dry and children chased dragonflies.

(Prof. Nenet Galang-Pereña finished her Bacherlor of Arts degree, major in Journalism at the Faculty of Arts and Letters, University of Sto. Tomas in 1978, magna cum laude.  She also pursued a Masters in Special Education from the Philippine Normal University and completed her Masters in Literature from the University of Sto. Tomas Graduate School. At present, she is finishing her course work for her Doctor of Education degree in Curriculum Development and Instruction, also at the UST Graduate School.  She teaches Literature and Journalism at the premiere liberal arts institution of the University of Sto. Tomas– the Faculty of Arts and Letters, founded in 1964 by its forebear, the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, founded in 1896. She writes feature articles regularly for two Manila publications.)

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