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Wading Through Flood Waters

We who live in Lipa have so many things that we just take so for granted, not least of which is the fact that we have a very pleasant climate practically the whole year round. The city is – give or take a few mounds of earth – about a thousand feet above sea level. We never get as hot and humid as Metro Manila or Batangas City just 15 minutes away by STAR toll way; neither do we get as cold as Baguio nor Tagaytay.

Perhaps another of the major benefits of being in elevation is the fact that we also do not get the sort of floods that periodically inundate low-lying areas like Metro Manila and Central Luzon. In the sixties, I used to have a lolo from Pasay who would remark whenever he came to visit, “Kapag bumahâ dito ng kahit one inch lang, walâ na ang Maynilâ…”

That was a bit of an exaggeration, of course; and indeed, there are natural water catchments in the contour of the land here and there which tend to flood every now and again, particularly after a prolonged and heavy downpour. Being in generally elevated land, of course, means that floods never linger; and water being what it is, you cannot stop it from seeking lower ground.

Now that we have decent colleges and universities in this province, many families no longer see the need to send their children to the big city for higher education. Not only is it expensive and impractical in the big city; it is also almost always unbearably hot and humid outdoors – not to mention it being so, so congested!

Then there is, of course, the scourge of all urban centers that are close to the sea and do not have adequate drainage systems: floods! When I was in college, we used to say that floods were part and parcel of one’s university education. That would be tongue-in-cheek, of course.

I used to praise God all the time that Taft Avenue – at least in the seventies – hardly ever got flooded the way España and UST periodically became extensions of the Manila Bay. Occasionally, a heavy downpour would flood portions of Vito Cruz leading to the Cultural Center. If I got caught whilst malling at Harrison Plaza, I would have to wade through some flood waters to get to Taft for my ride home.

That was seldom much of a hassle. I would simply hitch up my bell-bottomed pants and wade in ankle-deep waters. It was uncomfortable; but not life-threatening. Since I plied that route to HP often enough, I knew where the manholes were.

A word about these manholes: among Mom’s endless list of bilins before I went off to college was that if ever I had to wade through a flooded street, that I should bring a stick and poke the road ahead of me with its forward end like I was one of the three blind mice. Kasi daw, you could not tell if there was a manhole somewhere in front and she did not want to have to fish me from out of Manila Bay.

That was sound advice; and indeed, one of my former students, who had to suffer the ignominy like countless others of wading through flood waters on the streets of Metro Manila, found himself falling right smack into one such manhole. But for his two skinny arms, with which he anchored his weight to the edges of the manhole, he would have been sucked down and given free passage to the bay courtesy of the rushing waters.

There was this one time when I had no recourse but to walk all the way to Palanan from Taft. Vehicles were stalling on the streets because of waist-deep waters. Traffic drew to a standstill. Since classes had been called off, I had no choice but to hike like everyone else did.

So, I went about my way, making sure I found a long stick to do what Mom advised. The hike was laboriously slow. I felt my way forward step by step, careful not to go where water seemed to be swirling down into an unseen hole in the ground. Other hikers learned from my example and tried to look for sticks with which to feel their way forward like I was doing.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally turned a corner into a street where my boarding house was. Since the manholes were along the sidewalks, and the streets were completely free of vehicles, I thought it would be a smart idea to walk right in the middle of it.

About half a kilometer from where I lived, I noticed that there was a gang of half-naked kids in front of a sarî-sarî store and everyone was staring at me in utter silence as I walked right in the middle of the street. I did not have to wait long to find out why they were staring at me.

As I put my weight on my right foot, it went in deeper than where the road ought to have been! There was, apparently, a large puddle almost a foot deep hidden under the water where I was walking. The kids knew it was there and knew I would stumble – hence the silent stares were of eager anticipation.

When I did stumble, everyone burst into joyous laughter. What they did not count on was my being an active athlete. Though I lost my balance momentarily, I quickly righted myself and let loose a barrage of the vilest invectives at the kids in the most undeniable of Batangueño accents. Ah-ah… Warî ko’y nagkaripasan ng mapalakatan ko ng malutong-lutong na tungayaw!

Jesus! I remember that hike to this very day! To say the flood waters were murky would be putting it lightly. I must have encountered every possible floating thingy in that five kilometer hike: dead rats, plastic bags, syringes, condoms, cockroaches…

Even though I scrubbed repeatedly with bath soap and detergent – not to mention lavish doses of alcohol – I would still feel itches between my toes three weeks after the hike. Remember, in some parts, the flood waters were waist-deep. There were some bodily parts that should never be subjected to the utter humiliation of flood waters but were, nonetheless. Suffice it to say that the itching was not limited to the toes alone.

Anyone who studied in Manila would know what this story is all about. This, ladies and gentlemen, was part and parcel of the university education I was cheekily referring earlier to in this story. No, you do not get this in Lipa…

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