The giants walked in a line, swaying to the blaring marching band’s trumpets and drums. Tiny feet popped out from the under the flowing ends of the bottom of their garments. My camera was poised to shoot. I watched as the kids looked on in amazement, and looked at this one in particular, who, without a care in the world, threw his balloon into the parade and chased after it, over and over. Tireless. Angono, Rizal is alive today. Today is the day of the Higantes Festival parade.
I came here with friends. Although this date had been on the books for a few months now, I almost did not join them. I had weighed this decision carefully for the past few days. Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) had just hit my home province, Leyte, nine days ago. It was all over the news. Thousands dead. People displaced. My Facebook feed had exploded with a mixture of sympathy, empathy, and anger. The government was not moving fast enough. And while my family has now been all accounted for and are safe, supplies are scarce, and some of our relatives’ houses were badly damaged.
I wanted to jump into whatever vehicle that would go to Leyte to help, but my aunt, who worked for the health department and was in ground zero, discouraged us to go. With no viable skills, my aunt thought that we may end up being a burden to the relief operations. Help where you are. My cousins and I have been planning evacuations. My dad will be on his way to Manila from Leyte. Members of the family are evacuating to Mindanao. Donations have been given. Volunteering has been done, but it seems it is not enough. A cloud of guilt loomed over my head.
That’s the thing, you see. There is a guilt associated with going to a happy event. It is as if you are not allowed to have any fun while a huge part of the population is down and out. And there is grief. Grief from the people who were lost to the huge torrent of water htat gushed through the city. Grief for the city that had once served as my home for eight years; A place that is now unrecognizable, judging from the images flashed through the news. One cannot help but cry when watching the news. Even from the afar, the heavy weight of loss and frustration pressed down on my shoulders, eliciting a heart in throat reaction and a steady stream of tears.
The day before the festival, I spent a day with a good friend, one of the survivors from the storm, who has made his way to Manila. We went to Komikon that day, and as I watched him–thin and incredibly sunburnt–with his peers, I realized that he was there to seek relief too. Relief not just from the storm that damaged their home and flooded their street, but from the sadness and trauma that came with it.
After he told me the horror stories, the uncertainty, the death, and loss, I managed to ask him, quite selfishly, of what he thought about me going through with my plans–not just this one, but of others as well. I felt like I needed to ask permission from someone–anyone–who has been through it. He told me that I should still go, that it wasn’t going to offend anyone, that I should still go on living. And so, that day, the day of the festival, I did.
The advantage of being in your late twenties is you tend to have friends who have started having families. Three of my good friends that were with me that day had kids. Two of them brought them along to see the parade. These kids, with their curiosity and energy, are like tiny balls of infectious sunshine. They, unknowingly, buoy you up. Their innocent smiles make you smile, and you find yourself feeling instantly better.
We stood on the side of the a small road in Angono and watched the giants go by. The children’s eyes were big with wonder. We looked on as several marching bands played their way through the street. Majorettes marched on, twirling their batons, smiling despite the heat.
We visited the Blanco Family Museum after, and were impressed by the art that run through the family’s blood, amazed at the skill of each member even in their youth, and saw the progression as they went into adulthood. The kids ran through the place, with their boundless energy, asking curious questions every now and then. Blank stares resulted when we couldn’t answer, proving that adults really didn’t know everything.
The kids fed the fish in the small koi pond inside the museum’s garden. They marveled, as the fish made their way to the surface to gobble up the pellets that they threw in the water.
After the museum, we headed to Balaw-Balaw, a famous restaurant-slash-museum in Angono. The food was so-so, the service was nothing to write home about, but the beautiful interiors that they encourage you to explore while you wait to be seated–and it is a long wait–is eerie and interesting at the same time.
Wood carvings and sculptures littered the second and third floors of the building. Giant heads used in previous Higantes festival parades were scattered about, staring at you with their big, unblinking eyes. There is a room on the third floor that served as a workshop, where the giant papier mache heads were being made. It was definitely a fascinating place to explore.
At the end of that afternoon, we made our way back to Manila. The kids were conked out, tired from the day’s activities. The adults, a little spent too. It had been a good day. It’s a nice reminder that while there is so much sadness and loss in other parts of the country, there is also happiness and contentment and luck. In the center of the Philippines, in the Visayas–in Leyte, especially–recovery is a long ways away. There will always be help. It doesn’t have to stop. But there is nothing wrong with celebrating life and living.