Trials of the Flood and a Side of Fried Chicken

Nonfiction by | March 11, 2024

Reeling in Hunger

Reels on Facebook really know how to test me when I’m at my lowest point: scrolling through food shorts at 2 AM while my gut punches my brain for craving food that won’t be available until later. But among these food clips, fried chicken is the frequent visitor to my phone-bleached eyes. I let these reels torment my dinnerless soul while rain relentlessly pounds the metal roof outside. And the only thing I can do is imagine that I was the content creator dipping that drumstick in gravy.

Everyone on social media is in search of the Holy Grail recipe of perfectly cooked fried chicken. Some say wet and dry batter is the secret; others, buttermilk and brine. Use a variety of spices, and double fry it for that “extra crunch.” There’s also the simplicity of the Kanto fried chicken: big pieces deep-fried and sold in batches that pack street stalls with hungry customers regardless of the weather. Each recipe boasts quality with these adjectives: tender, crispy, juicy, sarap to the bones. Chicken, hot fried chicken, was man’s friend amidst life’s woes. I had to bring these recipes to life, but little did I know that the pitter-patter outside brewed something else.

From Prison to Prison

As the university finally granted us a much-needed escape after grinding and floating throughout the first semester, my focus shifted from studying to spending hours laughing and craving on whatever reel that appears on my feed. I scrolled on Facebook away from the readings, away from the recitations, and away from the academic pressure cooker. Additionally, due to my dormitory’s prohibitions on using cooking appliances for safety concerns, I longed for the taste of home-cooked meals and fried dishes that I would prepare myself. Upon returning to Tagum for a twenty-day escape, I relished the opportunity to cook meals by myself and serve them to my family. Frying chicken was more than just satisfying my mother and younger brother’s cravings. It was a closure I sorely needed and a refuge.

However, my stay was plagued with persistent rain . We’re used to searing temperatures from 9 AM to 12 noon, with the sky becoming dark and cloudy as early as 3:45 in the afternoon. Around 5:30 PM came the rain shower that persisted until midnight. We found ourselves trapped indoors as the water levels gradually rose, encroaching on our doorstep with ill intent. Who knew rain could be a prison? Fortunately, my mother and I had secured a week’s worth of groceries—including the chicken pieces I’d been planning to cook—by going to the mall early. What’s more, the clouds had spared us from their weeping. Otherwise, the fares would have doubled or added twenty pesos more, and we’d be left stranded at the mall’s entrance waiting for a ride.

Recipe for Disaster

There are areas in Tagum City with low elevation, and these are vulnerable to flooding even with the slightest drizzle. During the night, when it rains for an extended period, people would hastily pack their essentials and evacuate to the nearest gym or school to seek shelter for the night. Then they’d go back home the next day to check for the things they left, even if it meant wading through the muddy waters once again and facing possible health risks. This practice, and the deluge that necessitated it, has existed across generations; even my mother once braved these conditions before finally moving downtown.

But this time was different. What began as brief showers and small puddles escalated to nightlong downpours and stagnant waters. These floods not only swallowed roads but also crawled into and engulfed house floors in some areas. This time, it spared no corner of the city, reaching even the previously untouched neighborhoods and causing city-wide blackouts that plunged barangays into darkness. Because of this, evacuation efforts became increasingly hazardous, with residents navigating solely by the faint light of LED flashlights. Widespread class suspensions were declared, and many students and their families were displaced. Worse yet, the water buildup due to days of heavy rainfall further exacerbated the crisis by rendering crucial entry points inaccessible and causing soil instability in some areas.

I was back on the kitchen, preparing lunch by placing the ingredients and mentally seasoning the chicken by scrolling on Facebook when suddenly the city government’s page issued a road advisory:
“NOT PASSABLE TO ALL TYPES OF VEHICLES: Tagum to Carmen via Guadalupe”

The reported Low-Pressure Area (LPA) hovering over Southern Mindanao created an impact that was anything but low. All travelers to and from Davao City and nearby areas were cut off. We were trapped, and my father, who was planning to go home, was stranded on the other side of the flooded fence.

Marinating in Uncertainty

We spent the following days glued to updates on the flood situation, watching the road status fluctuate from “NOT PASSABLE TO ALL VEHICLES” to “PASSABLE TO HEAVY TRUCKS AND LIGHT VEHICLES” and vice versa. Large crowds sought refuge at evacuation centers as their homes were inundated with the flood. And there were no signs of it subsiding anytime soon due to intermittent showers. Students and employees who had classes and work were in a state of limbo: anxiously waiting for the Guadalupe bridge to become passable.

Luckily, there was an alternative route people could use; albeit a lengthy slog that cuts through many towns before arriving at Panabo — one more city before Davao. However, even this detour offered no guarantee as the roads became impassable once the Pagsabangan River overflowed. I, on the other hand, chose to wait for the bridge’s water to recede so that my father could finally go home. My mother and I would get elated whenever the road advisory said that the bridge was passable for heavy vehicles like trucks as it meant that the water was starting to ebb; and worried when it rose again.

Meanwhile, I saw some individuals force themselves to take the route despite the treacherous currents. A motorcycle driver almost got swept away if it weren’t for the people who jumped out of their vehicles and dragged him to safety. Families waited on the other side, while it was work and school for others. No deluge can simply overturn the unwavering demands of life.

Serve Hope (and Sensitivity) on a Platter

Despite the relentless downpour and turmoil the LPA brought to the city, it did not completely submerge its spirit. There were institutions and concerned citizens that led donation drives toward flood-driven barangays and puroks and offered essentials such as food, water, and clothes. Volunteers and rescue teams spent nights tirelessly wading through the waters to help evacuate those who were still trapped and stranded. A prominent social media influencer even posted a video on Facebook cooking adobong manok and showing dozens of packed meals ready to be delivered. Unlike the hapless chicken thigh, the people did not succumb to the prospect of being fried in its own predicament. Instead, what I saw were struggling citizens offering aid to other struggling citizens without any second thoughts. People helping other people without the need of national broadcast, although it would certainly help boost awareness. A celebrity breakup hounded the headlines at the time.

While excessive promotion of resilience risks romanticizing disaster, we were fortunate that the city government wasted no time in spearheading relief efforts. We did, however, expect someone from the upper echelons of government to express a tinge of sympathy and compassion on Mindanao’s situation. But he was busy, for reasons I couldn’t fathom, and it wasn’t the time to look for someone who wasn’t there.

We continued to chat with my father via video call to check on each other, waiting for the flood to subside. I then left my mother and younger brother to the conversation and headed back into the kitchen to take out a Crispy Fry packet. There were still some drumsticks left over, and I needed to cook supper before the flood cuts the power out.

Clint Jovial Delima is currently a first-year BA English (Creative Writing) student at the University of the Philippines Mindanao.

Raindrops falling on

Poetry by | March 4, 2024

Rusty metal sheets
Pitter-patter, run down
The banana leaves
Droplets group
On red cement floor
Shower, splatter, surge;
The television floats.

Clint Jovial Delima is currently a first-year BA English (Creative Writing) student at the University of the Philippines Mindanao.