My feet smelt badly as I took off my socks on the night of my first day in Tacloban City.
“But my socks are new,” I told myself.
I bought them upon the urgings of Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao.
“Walang himulmol,” he said in the ad.
I hung the socks to dry near the bed of the room we rented from a businessman in Anibong village.
The stench remained even after an hour. Even after I have doused my feet with alcohol mixed with tawas.
For good measure.
My feet got wet after I took photos at Village 88 where aid packs were distributed to people.
The village or what remained of it, was still semi-flooded. I stepped gingerly on the debris and rubble – beds, concrete, doors, refrigerators.
Sometimes a head or an arm of a saint’s statuette.
Above another house’s skeleton, a wooden sign was posted in Filipino: “This used to be the house of the (surname) family” then a mobile phone number.
Beside it another skeletal house, an electric post lying on what used to be its roof.
A man holding a Santo Nino statuette glared at me from what remains of the sala, his brows furrowed as I took photos.
I stopped, raised my right hand and mouthed “maayong hapon (good afternoon),” and placed the hand on my chest and bowed a bit.
I meant “sorry” and moved away.
That night, the dogs howled furiously in Anibong where ships anchored for the storm were lifted by the storm surge or giamt waves.
Many people were killed.
From the house’s second floor, I saw people burning garbage in steel drums to provide light in the pitch-black, cold darkness.
Like a scene straight out of Mad Max except Mel Gibson wasn’t there.
In the morning, I asked the owner, an engineer, about the howling of the dogs.
“I heard it, too,” he said.
Stupid of me to ask, I thought.
He told me in Filipino: “A lot of bodies are still under the ships, yet to be recovered.”
“Like in Village 88.”
I was 19 when I became a reporter.
I used to think covering wars and disasters was a reporter’s dream. I was young then.
As if reporting on the nightmare of others is a dream.
I was 39 when I covered death and destruction in Tacloban City.
It was not a dream.