Mitos Suson spent her childhood surrounded by threats and deprived of her father, who was a political prisoner in one of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos's infamous prisons. Her once privileged family lost most of their wealth, and she grew up in a prolonged crisis. She didn't know it then, but that traumatic period of childhood and adolescence not only left scars but also embedded a resiliency that became the foundation of her life – with highs and lows that might have sent many of us into permanent hiding.
Her journey to a better life landed her in Northern California, where she explored her talents, met her husband, and moved to the Sierra foothills to work, write, and caretake 25 acres of rolling hills and pine trees. Quiet, serene, and isolated. But she kept in touch with her close-knit network of siblings and a large extended family of relatives on the islands of her birth, where kinship is sacred. Throughout Mitos's world travels, her heart remained in the Philippines with its timeless culture and traditions.
In 2017, Mitos and her husband Darwin made the move back to her home country. They settled on the island of Cebu – in a charming home on a cliff overlooking the ocean and nightly sunsets too spectacular to adequately capture in photographs. Their three little Yorkie dogs made the 7000 mile trip with them, and it seemed her circle was finally unbroken. Darwin painted murals for local businesses and played guitar at small cafes. Home again, Mitos worked her magic online, helping businesses in faraway places and writing a memoir of her life under the thumb of the Marcos regime.
But on December 26, 2021, the island was blasted by a force of nature more powerful than politics and less discriminating than a dictator. Typhoon Rai (Odette) hit the country's archipelago of 7000-plus islands, and Cebu was in the bullseye. The power of the wind was nearly incomprehensible. Protecting their treasured dogs, Mitos and Darwin tried at first to tough it out and remained inside their well-built cottage on the cliff. Here is how Mitos remembered the experience in her recent blog:
"Our home was like a ship being buffeted. This went on for hours until gradually we noticed everything was becoming eerily still. It was a thick silence that stifled every sound."
The calm was pierced by sirens that signaled evacuation, but they remained, hoping the worse was over. But Odette had other plans, and soon the next front moved in. It felt as if her home was alive and screaming, Mitos recalls. The wind blew with violent gusts up to 168 mph "…whistling through sheet metal like the fever-pitched squeals of babies, or the Sirens torturing brave Ulysses while lashed to the mast of his ship."
Mitos grabbed her computer and other devices she uses in her remote work and secured them in a heavy cabinet. They closed doors and huddled together until the pitch of the storm was too great to endure. "… we heard a terrible wrenching of metal and a huge crash in the rooms upstairs. Darwin went to check it out. He gingerly went up the wet stairs and said he could barely open the door to the rooms because of the force of the wind." Coming back down the stairs, Darwin shouted, "Our roof just blew away!"
They quickly moved to a small laundry room for safety, cuddling the tiny dogs in their arms. "I felt like we were cast in the epic disaster film called ‘Twister’ and wished in my heart that this was really just a bad dream. Still hugging my puppies tightly, feeling their heartbeats in sync with mine, I blurted out to Darwin, 'I just hope that if we die tonight, someone will take good care of them.' "
They sheltered together, and Mitos thought that there, at that moment and in that place, she had all she needed, except for her daughter, Tifani, who was half a world away in Munich, Germany. "I struggled hard to contain my tears and regret. The moment was as cutting as a knife. Tifani's face was so vivid in my mind, and I thought, Will I ever see you again? I whispered … 'I am so sorry. Believe me; I was not planning on dying today."
After Odette had done her damage, they cautiously went outdoors. "I could see that all the local fishermen's boats were wreckage or disappeared entirely. Almost immediately, people started coming over. Everyone was worried about us because the destruction to our house was so obvious and was visible from both land and sea."
After more than a month some electricity and water service has been restored. Knowing their rental home in Cebu was beyond repair, Mitos, Darwin, and the pups found a basic rental on a nearby island. With a roof over their heads, they busy themselves with bare survival and helping others who also continue to struggle. There is little hope for rapid recovery in a country that survives on tourist dollars – now on indefinite hold.
And though they've landed on their feet (and paws), every day remains a challenge. Their family savings were swept away by the storm. For Mitos, whose work-life is online, earning a meager living remains a challenge with badly damaged communication systems.
So, if you've got a few dollars to spare, Mitos has set up a personal fund to help her family and her neighbors. The biggest problem is all the roofs that were ripped off in the storm. "I've been providing tarps for a temporary solution," she says," and helping support a dog shelter with more than 40 dogs, that was seriously damaged and needs rebuilding." Never mind that her dream of returning to the homeland of her heart now lies in rubble and ruins.
It's stories like this one, my friends, that can put our own trials in perspective.
Here’s a link to Mitos Fundraiser. Ten U.S. dollars translates to 510 Philippine equivalents on the international exchange. A few dollars make a big impact. Rebuild & Recover Cebu HERE.
It is with enormous gratitude for the lightness of burdens so many of us bear, that I thank you for reading my blog and being in touch with your thoughts and responses. I await you at email@example.com
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