My young brother in law works in Cebu City and we are very proud of him. At 19 he moved there almost a year ago and is now in the middle of his 2nd working contract. Lots of work in the Philippines is on a 5-month contract basis, no doubt so that the employers can avoid shelling out benefits that we Americans would consider essential to the basics of life. My BIL works in a mall, 6-days a week, for what is, by American standards, shockingly low pay. Apparently the Philippines needs Bernie Sanders 🙂
Janet and I hear from him regularly but it is obvious that life in the big city is difficult, work is hard, and fame and fortune are far away. But this Christmas made it even harder.
Christmas Eve my BIL called home and told his mother he missed the family. Because of his work schedule he could not take the 3-hour bus ride home to the provinces in Alcoy and asked her whether she could send his father to come spend Christmas with him. Drama ensued but father was convinced and the next day he and his youngest son were on the bus heading for Cebu City.
Upon arrival, my BIL was working and encouraged his father and brother to stay in his tiny room, where he would join them later that night. His father turned down that suggestion, saying he would go see his brother who also lives in Cebu City. In all likelihood, even by provincial Philippines standards, my BIL’s room left something to be desired. As you will see this turned out to be literally a life and death decision.
The youngest son accompanying his father, was ecstatic to be in Cebu City. No matter what culture you live in, the big city offers kids delights and distractions that no small town, with its “take it for granted” vistas and beaches, can rival. But that night, from his brother’s home, my FIL noticed a large fire in Lahug, the area of Cebu City my BIL lives in.
My BIL’s rooming house, as well and between 60-100 other homes were burned to the ground. Janet and I got bits and pieces of details over the next couple of days. Here’s a few links to the news stories showing the extent of the disaster:
Because of the nature of the very poor Lahug neighborhood, where streets are just alleys and fire trucks cannot pass, the fire department was incapable of controlling, or even getting to, the inferno.
And how did the blaze begin? A lit candle unattended, used at night by a household with no working electricity. Interestingly, the newspaper literally named the offender.
My BIL was devastated. At 19 he had little, but all his clothes were gone, except for the work uniform he was wearing. His few possessions, such as a rice cooker and fan, were gone. And perhaps most importantly to him, his important documents were gone; documents such as his high school diploma, which in the Philippines are hard, if not impossible to replace – all gone. In addition, with what little money he earns he had bought Christmas presents for the kids which he intended to send home with his father; all gone. His loss was just as devastating to him as the loss of our homes (and all the stuff in them) would be to you and I.
Of course the good news, which was repeated over and over, is that he was safe. His father and brother had not gone to his room and so they too were safe. And in fact, despite the devastation to the neighborhood, apparently no one died in the fire.
Now the Cebu City government, which is just as effective as our own FEMA, set up temporary shelter and food at a school, and promised victims a small payout, which my BIL is hoping to be able to take advantage of – maybe. BTW, if you look at the article and see talk of 5000-10000 pesos to the victims, that’s the equivalent of between a little over $100-$200. And let’s face it, these folks aren’t calling State Farm or Allstate to make a claim.
Fortunately the family, as generally happens in the Philippines, has chipped in. Janet’s cousin, living in a nicer area of Cebu City offered a room, not only to my BIL but to his two roommates. Oh, did I forget to mention that BIL lived in that room with two friends, who also lost everything.
I have no funny or wry conclusions here. We are very sad for BIL, but like most Filipinos he will survive, the smile will return to his face, but he will have learned a life lesson no one should have to learn.