Friday, November 13, 2015


After 20 hours of travel we arrive back in Tacloban at a rebuilt Daniel Romualdez airport! Greeted by our hosts Rebecca and Rufino Pacanan, Daughters of Mary Immaculate and the Rotary Club of San Juanico. We almost didn't get here.

The APEC summit, a meeting of the heads of states that border the Pacific Ocean, will be held in Manila in a couple of days. We were warned by our contacts, just days before leaving Canada, that many domestic flights had been cancelled due to security preparations for the arrival of the APEC Presidents and Prime Ministers, Obama and Trudeau among them.

Added to that anxiety was another, an email from The Commission on Filipinos Overseas apologizing that they could not extend port courtesies to us at this time as all their personnel were to focus on the APEC heads of state.  Port courtesies are important to a small organization like TWECS when we come into a country with 20 people and 30-40 boxes of eyeglasses and equipment.  So we need to spend a lot of time cultivating relationships that can help us navigate customs. An eye project and the thousands of volunteer hours preparing eyeglasses and the necessary documents, is ALWAYS at the mercy of the customs officials.  Despite having all the proper paper work your boxes can still be held at customs, just because they can.  If you're lucky the eyeglasses and equipment will only be held for an hour, other times you are not so lucky and the eyeglasses are held for days or indefinitely.  They can open and inspect all 32 boxes; they can ask for a cash bond equal to 1.5% of the ascertained value of hand carried medical equipment; they can ask for a Value Added Tax or insist on more unnecessary documents.

So, when we were greeted by a neatly dressed lady holding a small sign with our name on it, a representative from the International Airport Public Affairs department, I was absolutely thrilled!   She spoke to the customs officer on our behalf in Tagalog and informed him of our charity work and that we were going back to Leyte to help survivors of the storm. The customs official asked if we had all the proper documents.  I said yes and began to pull the papers out of the envelope for his inspection but he touched my hand and said he didn't need to see them.  He smiled at me and said "you may go." I couldn't believe it.  that's all? That was it? I was over the moon! Months of anxiety washed away with a kind word, I could have hugged and kissed him.

Four hours later, we boarded our plane to Tacloban and waited.  When an APEC plane is flying into or out of Manila there is a NO FLY ZONE, so we sat and waited to see if they will let us fly or cancel the flight. Sixty minutes later we are rumbling down the runway.
Flying over Tacloban was surreal.  The last time I flew over it was just after Typhoon Haiyan and I still see those indelible images of denuded flattened palm trees.  What we saw now was a blanket of green rolling over the coastal jungle and life begins it should.

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