By Karla Quintero Mahoney
Sweet, juicy mangoes; swaying coconut trees; warm, salty air; splashing waves. Children laughing, hammocks swaying, my papa singing.
Church bells ringing, colorful balloons dancing, families playing. Dogs barking, pedicabs honking, fragrant plumerias waiting on the ground. Piano lessons, roller skating, lighting candles at night. Lechon, halo-halo, Chippy.
I was born in Tacloban, the Philippines, 44 years ago. These are my childhood memories for the first 15 years of my life. My house was next to my grandmother’s house; around the corner were my relatives: cousins, aunts, uncles, friends. Everyone was within easy reach. On any given day you could hear a little girl calling: “GingGing, time to play! Come outside!” The little girl is me. GingGing is my cousin. Together we were superheroes — Darna and Wonder Woman.
On any given Sunday, my parents, my three brothers and I would crowd together in my papa’s Jeep Wrangler. It was a good 20-minute ride to our beach house. Along the way we would stop to buy food from the street vendors: boiled plantains, crunchy lechon, purple taro and mangoes. As we got closer to the beach, I could smell the salty air, hear the splash of the waves, and see the tall coconut trees.
Tacloban is just a small dot on the map. Last week it became world-renowned when a strong typhoon passed directly over it.
“Do you have family there?” I get asked frequently. Although my immediate family is in the States and my mom is in Vancouver, yes I do have family there: cousins, aunts, uncles, classmates, teachers, friends, neighbors, GingGing. So far, most of my relatives have been accounted for — except GingGing. I wait for news. I wait.
“How can I help?” my friends ask. Currently, they are asking people to give money to charities such as the American Red Cross, the Philippine Red Cross, United Nations, UNICEF, Catholic Relief Service. Any amount will help.
Thank you for helping my family.
Post script: After I wrote this, my brother called to say GingGing is alive! I talked to her on the phone. She is on her way to another city to buy food and water. She said Tacloban is a ghost town: decomposing bodies on the streets, no food, no water, no electricity. Hospitals are closed because there are no supplies or medications.
There is martial law; no one is allowed outside after 8 p.m. Looters are to be shot and killed. Gasoline is scarce. And on, and on… I listen to her voice and I am glad she is alive.
— Karla Quintero Mahoney is a nurse at Birch Lane Elementary School and a parent of students at North Davis and César Chávez elementary schools.