TACLOBAN CITY, Leyte: Jovelyn Luana and Joel Aradana plan to light candles at a mass grave to mark one year since Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) stole both their families but they will do it hand-in-hand, sharing a new love that promises fresh dreams.
Luana lost all of her six children and her husband of 13 years when Yolanda, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, thundered across her coastal town in central Philippines.
About one kilometer away, the same immense storm surges that savaged Luana’s future also destroyed Aradana’s shanty fishing home as they carried his wife and two of his children to oblivion.
The storm on November 8 killed or left missing more than 7,350 people, the world’s deadliest natural disaster last year, as it laid to waste dozens of already poor farming and fishing communities.
For the next few months, Luana and Aradana endured with hundreds of thousands of other typhoon survivors tormenting grief.
Luana would have killed herself except she could not find anywhere high enough to tie a rope that had been scavenged from rubble.
Then they found each other.
They met at a cash-for-work program run by a foreign aid group six months ago, with a joke from the incomprehensibly effervescent Luana borne from their similar first names and shared tragedies an unlikely icebreaker.
“I told him: ‘I am a Jo, you are a Jo. I am a widow and you are also a widower. So we were meant for each other’,” Luana said with a big smile as they stood outside their shanty hut recently just a few meters from the sea on the outskirts of Tacloban, one of the worst hit cities.
Luana, 31, said she unexpectedly felt hope after meeting Aradana, nine years her senior.
“I realized we both had similar values… and he is loving, he is caring, he is responsible,” she added, pointing out that Aradana worked hard as a fisherman and construction worker, yet also helped do the laundry and cook.
“He would make a good father.”
Aradana cited companionship and the power of two over one as initial attractions.
“Since she likes me and I like her, I told her it is much better that we live together so we can move on with our lives together, rather than doing it alone,” said Aradana, who speaks much more quietly than Luana and is seemingly less able to mask sadness.
Their shared experiences have indeed proved a vital adhesive in the early months of their relationship.
“We talk to each other about our losses,” Luana said. “There is a lot of sharing. We share both happiness and loneliness.”
Luana’s lost children were aged from 19 months to 12 years. Her mother, a sister, three nieces and nephews, as well as her best friend, also died in the storm.
Most of the bodies of Luana’s dead family members were found in the days and weeks after the typhoon, discoveries which she said helped her heal.
Aradana’s pain has been exacerbated by not finding the bodies of his wife, his only son, aged 7, and a 13-year-old daughter.
He still has two younger daughters, living then and now with grandparents in another province, and an elder daughter who is working elsewhere.
“I would have wanted to kill myself, too, if it wasn’t for them,” Aradana said.
Haiyan also crippled Aradana and Luana financially.
Luana could not return to her job as an appliance sales woman and a year later the only work she can find is giving pedicures, manicures or massages to neighbors in their slum community for the equivalent of about one dollar a session.
Aradana occasionally gets construction work for about eight dollars a day, or if not, goes fishing using a boat donated by an aid group then sells his meager catches at the local market.
“It is really hard for us to rebuild again, we lost everything… it is as if we are back to zero,” Luana said.
But the rebuilding has begun.
They are planning to get married, and Luana is expecting their first child in May next year.
“I am so happy I am pregnant,” Luana said as she stood holding hands with Aradana on the concrete slab of a typhoon-destroyed house next to their shanty.
“I am longing for a big family. Just like before… I miss the noise of the children.”
When asked his thoughts on Luana’s pregnancy, Aradana expressed another form of haunted joy.
“I am hoping it will be a boy because I lost my only son,” he said.