Monday 2nd December
We have arrived. The flight to Hong Kong was long and noisy with groups making their way to holidays. But the second flight was packed with Filipinos. It seems that the last three weeks has seen every flight back to the Philippines full of concerned relatives and friends.
In one sense we have arrived but in another sense we are not where we are intending to be. Cebu City is the second biggest city in the Philippines and Cebu Island was directly in the path of the typhoon but the typhoon struck further north. So we have arrived in a bustling, modern city where there are really very few signs of the disaster at all. We arrived after dark and were met by Catherine (Cat) and Janet who are part of the CAFOD disaster response team here. They have been here since the early days after the typhoon and were able to update us on the work being done by CAFOD and its partners. They have been based at the Mandarin Hotel, where we are staying, although they now have an apartment rented nearby but use the hotel for an office. There are Caritas workers in the hotel. We met several this evening, from Coraid (Netherlands) Caritas New Zealand, Trocaire of Ireland. Among the group that travelled with us today is Alistair Dutton. He was formerly with CAFOD but now works in Rome for Caritas Internationalis as Director for Humanitarian Response.
It has been a long journey. We are now eight hours ahead of the UK and sleep patterns are a bit twisted to say the least. It is in the eighties here and very humid. Although we drove through Cebu in the dark, it is evidently a big and bustling place. On the one hand there are dramatic ultra-modern shopping malls, but there was all too much evidence of shanty town houses. We arrived at the hotel and agreed to have a light meal in a restaurant nearby. We walked into a magnificent Mall set around a generous sized park. There must be thousands of shops here. It is all very modern and very crowded for a Monday evening, at 9pm. Sadly, there are Christmas lights and decorations everywhere - I had hoped that a people of such faith awareness might have shown more overt signs of Advent, but commercialism and consumerism is here on a big scale. We went to a modest Filipino restaurant. I spoke about a sense of discomfort that we should be just a few hundred miles from a disaster zone but here we are eating a meal in a restaurant. But the truth is that it would serve no purpose for us to hide away as disaster relief teams. That would only damage the life of those in the city who need to have customers to make the money to employ the staff. To allow the cities to go into recession would only make further problems for more people.
We returned to the hotel at 10pm and I was asked to change my room - a matter of double booking. So I have moved from the tenth to the sixteenth floor and from the side of the hotel to the front. It is comfortable and clean and I am quietly pleased that we return here each evening so I am selfishly sure that no matter what we encounter during the day I will have a place to clean up and rest.
Also in our party now is Peter, the political assistant to Jim Murphy, and Morris, the Humanitarian Director for Trocaire (Ireland). We have slightly different schedules in the few days that we are here but the journey with them was good and interesting. Jim Murphy now has a portfolio for Overseas Development for the Labour Party. Some good conversations and thought-provoking ideas.
It is now 11.30pm here (which makes it 3.30pm at home). I must turn in as - you might have guessed it - we have an early start and I must be in the hotel lobby at 3am for a flight into the disaster area. I am not sure what to expect or how I might react but the mood here among the relief agencies is very positive and they say that the courage and determination among the worst affected is strong and hopeful.