Waves and spells
In the Beginning
My name is Belen. My family is from the Badjao tribe in the Philippines; we live near the sea. I love my home. Without it, I would lose who I am. My life is quite simple. My father is the head of a sustainable fishing group. Many people in my tribe purchase his fish and use it to feed their families. It is the only meat available in my area seeing as there is little to no cattle. My mother does housework and instructs yoga. She doesn’t make much money doing it, but she says that she enjoys making people’s lives a little calmer.
There is quite a bit of rainfall throughout the year, mostly from June to September. Unfortunately, the effects of the climate crises have found their way to my tribe. Every year, the country as a whole experiences around 25 storms and typhoons, but last year, we received around 50. The government has set aside 5% of their revenue to combat and deal with these storms and typhoons, but with the increase of these events, the government has had to consider revising the allocation of funds.
Today is February 23rd, a year from the day that Wutip, a typhoon, intensified to become a super typhoon. It was the strongest February typhoon that we have ever had and the strongest tropical cyclone recorded in February in the Northern Hemisphere. Although Wutip did not directly hit us, it gave us a warning - you may be next. The hard part of it all is that our island doesn’t have the resources to deal with horrible storms or torrential rain spells. But, we cannot harness the wind; we cannot control the weather.
~ · ~
At around four o’clock in the afternoon, Farah, one of my neighbors, tells me that my father is calling me. I unhook a boat from the dock and start rowing to the other side of the village. I begin to see him. I maneuver around some mangroves and then start to hear my father yelling at me.
“Come help me!” he calls to me. I can see that he needs help hauling fish out of his boat and into a cart for selling.
“Right now!” I reply. I secure the boat to the dock and hoist myself up.
“We had to catch a lot of fish today because people say that there will be a lot of rain coming soon,” he explains. I pray that the rain doesn’t come down too hard.
~ · ~
Shortly after we finish selling the freshly-caught fish, rain begins to pour down without any intention of stopping. My mom fetches several old cloths and puts them under the windows to collect any water that comes in.
“Wow, what heavy rain for February!” my mother remarks while putting the last cloth under the kitchen window. It rains quite a bit, but less in February since it is not in the wet season.
“Yes, it’s not common,” my brother replies, looking up from his sewing project. Since it is raining heavily, my family stays inside for the rest of the day. My brother sews, my mom cooks, my father prepares fish, and I sleep and read.
Today is March 1st, but it is still raining. My father and brother have gone out a few times, when the rain has been lighter, to catch fish and sell them since we still need to make money to put food on the table. My brother was able to sell a shirt that he sewed, but not much else because it takes him a while to complete each sewing project.
Ms. Yamka, a friend and neighbor, asked if I could go over to her house to help her out with taking care of her children, but it is raining even more heavily today than yesterday, so I will wait a while until I go over.
~ · ~
It’s March 8th and it hasn’t stopped raining yet. Farah says that it should be clearer tomorrow, but there is no promise that the rain will simmer down.
I wake up early on March 9th to the sound of several Philippine Cockatoos and the smell of eggs frying and fresh Pandesal baking. My father must be cooking; my mother cannot cook as well as he can. I hear the rain pattering on my window, which means that the rain is lighter and today we will get to do more than we have gotten to do for the past few weeks. I rise from my slumber and head to the kitchen. I start heating water to make coffee, because who eats Pandesal without coffee?
“Good morning,” my father says.
“Good morning,” I reply while grinding the coffee beans. His grin makes me smile. He must have woken up earlier today because the weather is better and he wants to go fishing.
After eating the fresh food, drinking the rich coffee, and saying goodbye to my father, who is now on the fishing boat, ready to catch fish, I leave to help Ms. Yamka make food for her large family, taking a bottle containing coffee with me to serve to her family. Light shines on me from the morning sun as I continue to walk across the squeaking wooden boards on the dock.
“Belen, Belen!” little Amihan calls out to me, her small, calloused feet galloping across the boards to embrace me. James, Amihan’s older brother, comes out to join her.
As I approach, Ms. Yamka apologies, “I’m sorry for their behavior. They haven’t seen you for so long and they love when you come and cook. The rest of the children are inside. Akira is still sleeping, but she should be up soon. Thank you again for coming.” The fluency of her English shows that she has spent quite a bit of time on the mainland.
My shoes are soon taken off and placed on the mat inside. The children race around the board house, showing me their rooms and the things that they have been working on. Laughter echoes throughout the house. Akira is soon drawn from her sleep by the many noises and aroma of Ms. Yamka’s sweet champorado and my coffee. We heat up some fish tapa that her oldest son caught yesterday and place it along with the champorado on mismatched plates and in smooth bowls. Since I have already eaten, I stand by the washbasin, cleaning dishes when their use is over while listening to James and Amihan fill the room with laughter. After what felt like half a day, I grab my bottle, say goodbye to Ms. Yamka, and hug little Amihan as she pleads for me to stay.
As I head home, the sky gets darker and heavy clouds start to form. I don’t pay them much mind, though. As I enter my house, my brother is coming out with his fishing equipment.
“Come fishing with me, manggugulo,” my brother says. “Father has come back from fishing, but I want to fish so that we have more to sell. Father didn’t catch much today.” Although I am tired from my morning activities, I decide to join him. After we untie the boat, get in, and start heading into the water, I begin to feel raindrops on my skin like miniature capsules of cool water. We are about 60 yards away from my house when the wind picks up. The rain that was light earlier today starts to intensify.
“We should probably go back,” I suggest.
“That sounds good,” he replies. He starts to pack up the fishing equipment when the rain gets even heavier. It nearly pierces our skin with its sharpness.
“Belen, Hernando, come back now!” my mother yells from the dock, looking both angry and concerned and motioning with her hands for us to head in her direction.
“We’re coming!” I yell, trying to help my brother with the equipment. We manage to get everything out of the water, but hail starts coming down. The wind continues to pick up and begins to rock the boat.
“We need to get back - now!” I yell to my brother. We try to row back, but it is hard to get the boat to head in the right direction with all of the rocking. I look around and see shaking trees and mangroves, stormy, dark clouds, and rickety houses. People in my tribe are running around, collecting goods and heading to the mainland. We finally begin to get closer to the dock when an extremely strong wind hits us and knocks my brother off of the boat.
“Hernando!” I scream, hoping that somebody can help me. Almost everyone is preoccupied with ensuring their own safety. I see my father untying a boat from the dock to come and help us, even though the waters are dangerous. If anyone can help us, it’s him. He has been roaming these waters forever. I hold out a paddle for my brother to grasp, but the waves are taking him away from me. While doing this, I attempt to control the boat so that the same thing doesn’t happen to me. What seems like a thousand memories of my brother surge into my mind. I cannot lose him. I continue to paddle over to where he is, but the boat is unsteady and my efforts are fruitless. Salty tears run down my already soaked cheeks and I begin to recite a prayer of hope that my mother taught me as a child.
“Love and hope prevails. Through all else it remains. To you, I pray for the future, for the safety of those I love, for the efficacy of my endeavors in your name…” I am interrupted by my father, who is shouting something that I cannot understand over the deafening sound of the wind. Whatever he is saying doesn’t matter though because he is nearing with his boat and an outstretched paddle. He will save my brother. Within seconds, he throws the rope to my almost drowned brother and rescues him. He quickly pulls him into his boat and throws the rope to me so that we do not get separated. I catch it, hold on, and hold the boat so that it doesn’t topple over. I yell to my brother while wiping tears off of my face.
When we reach the dock and get out of the boats, my mother comes out, hugs us while crying, gives us cloths to put over our heads to protect us from the hail, and directs us to head to the mainland. My father quickly ties the boats to the dock and joins us. We briskly walk on the dock along with many others. I turn my head back and see board houses crumbling down; I think of Ms. Yamka and her six children and wonder where they are and if they are safe.
In the End
As we reach the mainland, I hear people screaming, crying, and talking over each other. We all are bundled under a shelter made of rock. Many of us look out onto our neighborhood that has become a wreck. Wooden panels and slats that once stood as the walls of families’ houses are piled messily on top of each other. Hard-earned belongings are being thrown into the water and toss in the waves. Individuals that have any kind of medical experience help out those who have been injured.
I thought this could be bad, but not this detrimental. Everything I knew - gone. And for what? Another statistic in an argument for action against climate change. From where I am, I can’t do much, but somewhere in this big world there must be someone who can do something. Maybe they remain inactive because climate change isn’t affecting them directly. However, it is affecting me. We never had something this bad on my island and it seems like it will only get worse.
All I know is that one day, this horror that came into my life and island will spread across the world and reach every living soul. Perhaps then they will realize that this was serious - is serious - and all that’s left are droughts and fires or waves and spells.
Nia Beane is a rising senior at Episcopal High School, VA.