But there is another Tacloban: Six months on after Yolanda, downtown Tacloban is bustling, with efficient roads and transport, and the occasional gridlock to indicate just a healthy amount of activity. Hotels and restaurants are particularly busy. Five times a week from 10 pm, a "booze truck" parks outside Burgos Street near posh Hotel Alejandro, local headquarters for the United Nations, and attracts an odd assortment of foreign aid workers, religious volunteers, and curious locals toasting to Heinekens and Red Horses.
One French aid worker introduced himself half-jokingly as having come straight from building toilets in the slums. One dressed-up local opened up to me casually, if eerily, how she misses a friend she had lost from the typhoon. Both said they were there just because they badly needed a drink. This is the Tacloban that is easier to see and write about: But there is also another Tacloban.
Her name was Yolanda. This is the motionless Tacloban of bunkhouses and tent cities, of refugee camps straight out of the sci-fi of District 9, the Tacloban of mundane poverty made exceptional by Yolanda. Together with academics from the University of London, Ateneo de Manila and University of the Philippines, we are conducting fieldwork in Tacloban and other affected areas to study the process of disaster recovery. Over the next 18 months, we will interview aid agencies and government officials and will compare their perspectives with what affected communities themselves have to say.
Families make do with cramped houses for now. Perhaps most affecting is the story of Oxfam officers who told us how their SMS hotline intended for people to text in urgent community concerns was eventually overwhelmed with heartfelt messages of thanks from the communities they have visited. In the Oxfam office, these messages are printed and displayed on a bulletin board as encouragement to their volunteers.
Money not reaching LGUs. But our own fieldwork in slum communities revealed that people from Tacloban are as equally expressive of resentment and anger just as they are generous with their thanks. How is this pittance justified when the effort required to avail of this gift involved riding a garbage truck at night along with an entire hakot of tent city residents, made to endure an 8-hour ceremony the following day? Lorna sees in news and social media evidence in the form of photos and videos of donations and pledges from all over the world: Yet she is dejected rather than hopeful: Di naman yan makakarating dito.
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That won't get here. Survivors wait in line for relief assistance. Listening to the stories in this second Tacloban, we slowly realize that their happiness and gratitude are not at all the general mood or spirit of the city — as we might be persuaded to believe — but are fleeting moments and fading emotions. This is where Bajen lives. It's a tiny structure with a dirt floor and a wooden loft where they sleep.
It is hot and humid inside and it smells of salt and rotting fish. Fishing in Basey hasn't been the same since Yolanda, Bajen says.
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We would catch much bigger fish there before the typhoon. The artificial reef, designed to increase fish yields, was destroyed during Yolanda. The storm scraped the seabed like a deep sea trawler, disrupting the fragile ecosystem and wiping out fish stocks. After four hours on the water, Bajen returns with a small basket of assorted fish. When the wind picks up and he can't take the boat out, he resorts to working for the larger, motorised fishing boats, or takes out credit with the local store to buy rice so his family can eat. Fishing is a way of life in coastal Philippines and a key source of food and income.
In Basey, one of the country's poorest areas, work is hard to come by. For the uneducated, fishing and farming are common ways to make a living.
Louiela Masocol, 10, still lives in a temporary relocation centre two years after Typhoon Yolanda. His family is on a list of those living in the government-imposed no-build zone, within 40 metres of the coast. They have been told they will receive permanent housing further inland. After two years, the government's permanent housing development, about five kilometres from the sea, was nothing more than a muddy mound of dirt and clay. A mass grave in Basey, November 8th, , the two year anniversairy of Typhoon Yolanda.
A man lights the candles at the mass grave in Basey ahead of the memorial service. A candlelit journey from Basey to Tacloban, November 8th, , the two year anniversairy of Typhoon Yolanda. Hundreds of candles are lit near the sea wall in Basey at nightfall. There is a commonly held belief in Basey that the government has misused money that was allocated to the Yolanda recovery efforts. The Philippines has a long history of corruption. A political scandal, known as the Pork Barrel Scam, in which members of congress allegedly misused funds for priority development projects, was unravelling when Yolanda hit.
Victims of Yolanda are remembered during a service at the mass grave in Basey, Samar. Coconut farmer Aniano Gaditano, from the town of Marabut, near Basey, laughs when asked about the government's handling of the recovery efforts. The year-old says those who are responsible for distributing the government funds and aid money, are the ones who are lining their pockets with it. They are the ones getting the money, the aid, that is supposed to be given to us," he says.
It goes to the municipal level, again deducted. Gaditano says he has not been visited by government officials, aid organisation representatives or journalists in the two years since the typhoon. Hundreds of coconut trees used to grow on his one-hectare property overlooking the turquoise water and rocky islands of San Pedro Bay, he says. But the wind and waves of Yolanda breached the golden sand beach and swamped the farm, snapping tree trunks, ripping roots from the earth, spoiling the fruit and land.
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He says that 80 per cent of his coconut trees were destroyed or damaged by Yolanda. He resorted to growing sweet potatoes, bananas and melons. We don't make it as a problem," he says. The names of the dead are read out in Basey during a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of Yolanda. He says fish stocks have been depleted since aid organisations donated thousands of boats, motors and nets after Yolanda. More fishermen, so less catch. We don't have enough income. We are trying our best to cope.
It's a kitset hut made from traditional materials - weaved bamboo and coconut lumber - and designed to withstand typhoons. There are hundreds of the Red Cross shelters in villages near Basey. They stand out against the lush greens of the tropical rainforest as beacons of progress in an otherwise stagnant land.
The mayor of Basey, Junji Ponferrada, says the government is "doing its best to help us recover". Each family has complex and unique needs and resources are limited. A lone white Unicef tent by the sea is evidence of what was. Caritas Czech Republic, a catholic non-profit, is the last international aid organisation based in the town.
The small team occupies a cramped, stuffy office two blocks from the coast. We try to upskill them, to train them, to apply more resilient techniques, also more resilient seeds and seedlings. On the outskirts of Basey, a safe distance from the sea, is a small community of people who have received some help from the government.
The residents of the temporary housing project live in cramped wooden shacks with iron roofs. Up to six people live in each shelter. They are sturdy and dry with fresh water and electricity, but far from town and the sea where many of them used to work. It's difficult sometimes," a woman says of living in the temporary shelters. Before Yolanda, we were poor. But now, we're poorer. According to media reports, only 10 per cent of the , government housing units in six regions had been constructed two years on from Yolanda. In Basey, the most significant housing projects have been completed by international non-government organisations, including the Red Cross, Caritas and the Sovereign Order of Malta.
The government's recovery efforts seem to have focussed on Tacloban, the main city affected by the disaster. On the morning of November 8, - the second anniversary of Yolanda - Basey wakes to the singing of hymns from the church on the hill and roosters crowing. Close to people make their way through the streets that were once strewn with debris and death to the mass grave located on the edge of town, up a nondescript path of tawny earth and stones.
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The grave is marked by a tall white cross atop a mound of dirt and grass encircled by stones, painted white. There are white candles and yellow, pink and white flowers. The people - survivors of the storm, all of whom knew or loved someone who died - shelter from the sun beneath a white marquee. As the service starts, the rain comes. It puts out the flames on all of the candles but one.
The last flame continues to burn as the priest honours the dead.
It burns as the rain gets heavier - thick, tropical droplets. The flame flickers and fights as the people sing hymns, offer prayers and rub their eyes. At the end of the ceremony, the rain stops. People fall to their knees at the mass grave and light candles and cry. Like the priest said, we have to accept what happened and move on.
The service is simple, reserved. There are no cameras or special government guests. It is the people of Basey, largely forgotten, joining together to remember. The memories of Yolanda, of his children, are as vivid today as they were then. Robin, 47, and his family were in their house near the coast in San Antonio Village, Basey, when Yolanda hit. The two-storey house was made of concrete so he thought they would be safe.
He remembers a grapefruit tree being uprooted by the storm surge. Then I saw the water coming into our house. Holding tight to his daughter Fritzy Jane, he jumped into the rushing water and started swimming. He clung to a tamarind tree as the sea swallowed the village.
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He was trying to push the roof away when a second wave struck, washing his daughter away. All three of his children died that day. He found their bodies further inland. Robin says he still sees his children's clothes, which were swept away by the waves and collected from the debris, being worn by other children in the village. He still hears the songs that they were dancing to the day before they died.
They light candles, one for each person who died here. The names of the dead are read - surname, then first name - in monotone over a loudspeaker.