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.