September 26, 2011

When the Muddy Water Gets High, JUST KEEP SWIMMING.

In past posts I have talked about Manila Bay; how it is really close to our house, how brown and dirty the water is, how the ocean breeze brings the  putrid sewer smell to our house, how trash just piles up where the waves crash, and how I would NEVER swim in it and cringe when I see other people in the water.

Well…never say never because today I did just that!

Not by choice of course. It was more a serious of events.

A typhoon is passing over the Philippines at the moment, and yes, most times the storms bring plenty of rain and some flooding, but within a few hours it is all over and the resilient Filipinos go on with their lives. We were released early yesterday because of the storm and told they would keep us posted about today. It rained all night, the power went out, and some trees fell over in the neighborhood—you know, just a normal day. In the morning no news from work, so I picked up a colleague and we went to work.

When we left the house there was no rain, but by the time we got halfway there, the rain and wind started again. The main road that runs parallel to the ocean had waves spilling over the retaining wall leaving water flooding into the streets (a common side effect having reclaimed land lower than the ocean level on the other side of a cement wall). We talked about wishing we had a camera to take photos of the lone man holding onto a yellow traffic pole facing the ocean in defiance as branches whipped past him and rain pelted his body or of the small buildings that were blown over and trees that were bending heavily to one side braving the wind. Of course, Boeing is big and strong, so we went through the water and made it to work. Many other colleagues did not make it in because as time went on the waves and wind just continued to increase in velocity and size.

The message that work was closed was not sent out until well after we had started working! We all finished what we were doing and headed out only to find that the two exits from the building are so flooded nobody can leave! Luckily, Boeing was parked close to the building, so on he was dry on higher ground; yet, each wave hitting the wall between us and the raging brown ocean was contesting the wave before to see whose splash was bigger, much like competitive children at a swimming pool. Gallons and gallons of muddy water and rubbish spilled onto land with each wave. At one point we stood in awe looking out of a second story window as powerful waves collided with the wall and the splash was higher than the coconut trees lining the bay.

It was then I realized this was not going to be getting better like other storms. We were told to leave the building, but many of us did not have anywhere to go. We huddled in the lobby watching the water levels rise around the building. The only way out was to wade through the ocean.  Again, I found myself wishing I had a camera. People dawned trash bags to shelter themselves, changed into clothes that could be ruined, and started to wade out.

I was torn, I did not want to leave Boeing there, but it was obviously not getting any better and Lady Hiva was home by herself. Ok, so I am going to go home, walk if I have to. As I was contemplating ruining my shoes or going barefoot a guy came back in the door with a huge gouge in his foot from something he stepped on in the water. As blood spurted every time he took a step, my decision was made—ruined shoes it is!

The water was shockingly cold. The wind, blowing vertical now was assaulting us with biting rain drops. It was hard to keep our eyes open, but wading through muddy water with floating debris demanded we had them open. Body and mind were revolting to this whole idea.

This is when having an overactive mind does NOT come in handy. As we walked, all holding on to each other for support my thoughts were on overdrive. ‘Why did they not close the work earlier?’ ‘I don’t even WANT to know what is hitting my legs right now.’ I have seen what kinds of things float in Manila bay when it is calm. Then as we walked over a sewer drain, I could feel pressure pushing water out of it, like a Jacuzzi would feel in a hot tub. Memories triggered of the floods in Hawaii during 2005 when it rained for 40 days and the sewers spilled out; people that went into the water contracted flesh eating viruses and had to have their limbs amputated one by one before they finally died. “STOP THINKING, just STOP THINKING…” Like Dori says on Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

Then they told us the only way out was through the construction site! Yeah, THAT is a bright idea! No wonder someone sliced his foot open! Not to mention we are all waist deep in water and if some kind of electricity comes through here we will have firsthand knowledge of how a lobster feels when there are boiled to death. Breathe deep…oh, not that deep, the heavy rain will choke you… ‘Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.’

We made it out to the main road again; there was nowhere to go from there. A few army trucks were driving along to pick up stragglers. About 50 or 60 people were huddled together under a cement bus stop. We decided to walk towards a shuttle they said was waiting for us. As we did the current was strong and more things were hitting our legs on the way. Others followed us out and I saw people, who had lost their slippers already, selecting slippers out of the water as they floated by (talk about recycling)!

Now I thought how this puts new meaning to the religious idiom, “Get to higher ground.” Because, truly if we would have seen the signs, left earlier, or been on higher ground from the beginning we would not have been required to wade through muddy water.

After a long ride—through more flooding—I made it home. Several of the large trees around the house have fallen and the rain is still constantly playing an intense rhythm on the windows, but I am here with My Lady and we are safe—for now. Hopefully Boeing is alright and the water does not get high enough to ruin him. I guess we will see, so Boeing, I only have one piece of advice for you: when the muddy water gets high, ‘Just keep swimming.’

(For those of you that want to see photos, here you go, BBC footage is right outside of work--literally)


  1. How deep was the water usually?
    How long did you have to walk in that?
    How many people were with you?
    I wish I could see pictures. Crazy! Good luck!

  2. I am SO glad you are okay! Amazing. I wish you had a camera too! Love you guys!

  3. Let's hope Boeing DOESN'T have to swim!

    Funny reading your account of exactly what Karl told me when he got home (ok, so it was after he made me put an old towel down on the floor, which he stepped on barefoot making his way to the bathroom while yelling "get Lily away, I'm covered in human waste!" and taking an hour long shower).

    I think it was irresponsible the embassy didn't shut down before 6am. It put the local staff, the officers and the applicants life in danger. The embassy is known for flooding, so it's not like this is any surprise. Some people are still there, and haven't found their way home...