7:48am

Mon November 25, 2013
Parallels

After The Storm: Commerce Returns To Damaged Philippines City

Originally published on Mon November 25, 2013 12:11 pm

Commerce has returned to the storm-savaged streets of Tacloban in the past week. People sell bananas along the roads, and a bustling market has sprung up across several blocks downtown.

Jimbo Tampol, who works for a local Coca-Cola distributor, drives across Tacloban selling ice-cold sodas from coolers. In a city where there is no electricity and little refrigeration, a cold soda is a big deal, a symbol of normalcy.

Children crowd around Tampol's flat-bed truck to pay their 50 cents, as if buying ice cream on a hot summer day. They run their hands along the cool, wet bottles.

"It's just now that they've been able to taste cold soft drinks since Typhoon Haiyan," says Tampol, 39, as he hauls bottles out of the water.

To cool the drinks, workers drove 16 hours round-trip to pick up the ice from a factory on the neighboring island of Samar. Because nearly all of the stores here are damaged, Tampol decided to sell the drinks himself and at only a small markup.

"You feel bad for the people," explains Tampol, who wears a Philippines national basketball team jersey. "Some of them, they're even just asking us for it when they don't have money. We just go ahead and give it to them."

Florentino Duero, 67, is a cobbler whose tools were washed away in the storm surge. He gazes at the bottles longingly with his rheumy eyes. A young aid worker hands him a 20 peso note to buy a Coke. But Duero, who wears flip-flops and a plaid shirt, decides to put the cash to something more essential.

"I'll buy rice," he says. "Before I drink, rice first."

That won't be easy; rice has been in short supply.

Goods Of Questionable Provenance

An open-air market has emerged in Tacloban in the past week in front of gutted storefronts. Before the deluge, Mark Lakaba poured cement for building foundations. Now, he sells candles, energy drinks and shampoo from a tarp in the market.

Lakaba's route to street-corner entrepreneur is unconventional. Asked where he obtained these goods, he answers vaguely.

"We don't know. It's just getting brought here," says Lakaba, 29, who wears baggy plaid shorts, a Levi's T-shirt and a broad grin. "They're just selling it to us. I don't know where they are getting it. It's not like we can make any other kind of living here."

Eventually, Lakaba admits that up to 90 percent of the goods in the market were looted in the frenzy that followed the typhoon. Entire shopping malls were picked clean here.

"This is the first time I've ever sold things like this," says Lakaba, referring to looted goods. "I didn't expect that this is how it would be, but this is how it is. Well, I guess it is kind of bad."

'Taking Care Of Themselves Again'

Across the street, Ronald Vidan is making money the old-fashioned way.

He lost his barbershop in the flood. Last week, he grabbed a chair from the street and set up in the remains of a clothing store, where he charges about a dollar a cut. Vidan, 31, says the street market has grown exponentially over the past week.

In his old shop, not much more than a thatched roof, he made about $8 a day. Now he's making nearly $12 a day, because the competition was literally wiped out. As the sun fades, customers — including one particularly shaggy-headed one — continue to wait their turn.

"The way I see it is they've just let themselves go, their beauty, their handsomeness," says Vidan, as he snips away. "So, now that things are moving forward, people feel like it's time to start taking care of themselves again."

The road to recovery will be a long one for Tacloban, but Vidan already sees a path. He figures, if he keeps working this way for four months, he can rebuild his old business.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're covering that story throughout the program, and also following other news, such as this: In the past week, signs of commerce have returned to the streets of Tacloban, the city worst-hit by the Philippines typhoon. People are selling bananas along the roadsides, and a bustling market has sprung up across several blocks of downtown. NPR's Frank Langfitt brings us this report.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: We take cold sodas for granted. But in Tacloban, which has no electricity, it had been practically unheard of, until recently.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOTTLES RATTLING)

LANGFITT: Jimbo Tampol worked for a local distributor here. He drove around town selling ice-cold Cokes from coolers. On the streets, children lined up to pay their 50 cents, as if buying ice cream on a hot summer day. They ran their hands along the cool, wet bottles. Tampol explains.

JIMBO TAMPOL: (Through translator) It's just now that they've been able to taste cold soft drinks since Typhoon Haiyan. It's like the people are thirsty for the taste of cold soft drinks.

LANGFITT: To cool the bottles, workers drove 16 hours roundtrip to pick up the ice from a factory on the neighboring island of Samar. Since nearly all the stores here are damaged, Tampol decided to sell the drinks himself, and at only a small markup.

TAMPOL: (Through translator) Because you feel bad for the people. Some of them, they're even just asking us for it when they don't have money. We just go ahead and give it to them.

LANGFITT: Florentino Duero is a 67-year-old cobbler whose tools were washed away in the storm surge. He eyes the bottles longingly. A young aid worker hands him a 20-peso note to buy a Coke. But Duero, who wears flip-flops and a plaid shirt, decides to put the cash to something more sensible.

FLORENTINO DUERO: I buy rice.

LANGFITT: You're going to go buy rice with that?

(LAUGHTER)

DUERO: Before I drink, rice first.

LANGFITT: That won't be easy. Right now, rice is in very short supply.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Cigarettes, cigarettes, 60, 60, 60.

LANGFITT: An open-air market has emerged in Tacloban in the past week. Before the deluge, Mark Lakaba poured cement for building foundations. Now, he sells candles, energy drinks and shampoo from a tarp in the market. Lakaba's route to street corner entrepreneur is unconventional. So, where did you get this stuff? Lakaba answers vaguely.

MARK LAKABA: (Through translator) We don't know. It's just getting brought here. They're just selling it to us. I don't know where they're getting it. It's not like we can make any other kind of living here.

LANGFITT: Eventually, Lakaba admits that up to 90 percent of the goods in the market were looted in the frenzy that followed the typhoon. He finds the situation so absurd, he can only laugh and cover his face with his hands. How do you feel about the fact that people are selling so many looted products? Do you feel badly about it, or do you think it's acceptable?

LAKABA: (Through translator) I don't know. This is the first time I've ever sold things like this. I didn't expect that this is how it would be, but this is how it is. Well, I guess it is kind of bad.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCISSORS)

LANGFITT: Ronald Vidan is earning an honest day's wage. He lost his barber shop in the flood. Several days ago, he grabbed a chair from the street and set it up in this gutted clothing store on the edge of the market. He charges about a dollar a cut.

RONALD VIDAN: (Through translator) Three days ago, the market was about 30 percent of the size it was before the storm. Now, it's about 70 percent. At my old shop, at most, I made about $8 a day. Here, I make nearly $12 a day.

LANGFITT: That's because all the competition was wiped out. As the sun fades, customers, including one particularly shaggy headed one, continue to wait their turn.

VIDAN: (Through translator) The way I see it is they've just let themselves go - their beauty, their handsomeness. So, now that things are moving forward, people feel like it's time to start taking care of themselves again.

LANGFITT: The road to recovery will be a long one for Tacloban, but Vidan already sees a path. He figures if he keeps working this way for four months, he can rebuild his old business. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Tacloban. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.