We load up our goods onto the back of several jeeps, driven by locals who agree to take us to the Cebu ZEDRU office. After all the bags are loaded, Mace, Preston, Walter, and I climb on top of the tailgate, and the jeep takes off.
We cruise down the road, and while we're waiting to turn onto the main street, a giant bus is charging straight towards us. The bus comes closer and closer, not slowing it's pace, though the jeep isn't budging. We stare open-mouthed at the bus headed right for us, and just at the last second, the jeep pulls out onto the street, and the bus comes to a screeching halt on the corner.
We speed down the main road, opposing traffic whizzing by right at my elbows. It's so exhilarating. Each time the jeep speeds up, I grab the edge of the tailgate and push on Mace's leg to keep from sliding off. Like a ride at the theme park, but no seatbelts.
We arrive at the office, finally able to breathe after our wild ride. The ZEDRU team is waiting for us, and Preston introduces us one by one. Fortunately for me, most of them are fluent in English.
After our goods our unloaded into the small room, with a little bathroom off to the side, we sit down and chat, while the two leaders of ZEDRU decide on the best travel arrangements. Mace and I whisper to each other that we feel like we're in a movie, as each member of ZEDRU is physically distinct, and we can pick out their personality and role on the team.
Beth, referred to as "Mom Beth," is the only woman on the team, somewhere in her late 40's, and distinctly the team leader. She holds all the information and is able to make decisions quickly. She is the one who arranges cost and transportation. Her hair is always kept in a tight bun, except for at night when she lets it down and it's so long and beautiful.
Willy, a father in probably his mid 30's, appears to be second in command. He has a very playful and sarcastic side - the loud and always laughing type - and has a very big, distinct smile. As soon as Mom Beth gives an instruction, Willy takes the lead and motivates the rest of the team to follow. As one of the older men in the group, the younger men clearly respect him and follow his lead. I like watching the two of them work together and note how they make a good pair for planning and executing.
Then there is Brylle. Brylle is the son of Mom Beth. He is 23 and the jokester of the group, always goofing around and quoting American phrases that he learned from one of his American missionary companions, like "oh freak!" Basically any phrase that endsin "freak." I laugh every time he says it. Brylle is a shorter member of the team, but he is notable for his hair. Somehow he always keeps it styled in a perfect fohawk, ready for a photo at any time.
Then TJ. TJ seems to be the bronze of the group. He is a larger man, about Willy's size, and 28 years old. I suspect he is the Filipino version of tall, dark, and handsome. He speaks mostly only Tagalog, so it takes me awhile to catch onto his personality. Mace keeps telling me that TJ is the witty one-liner man of the group. Though he doesn't speak much, but when he does, everyone laughs. Additionally, the more I observe TJ, the more I realize he has the biggest heart of gold.
Arch is the next Filipino I meet in the group. Arch is 25, right between Brylle and TJ. Arch is a bit more reserved than the rest of the guys, as far as playful energy goes. Arch seems a bit more introspective and observant. Of all the group members, I become closest to him. We talk a lot as he is curious about more of the world. I learn he is raising a 5 year-old daughter on his own, as the mother was taken away to Australia by her father .
And finally, Jabar. Jabar is 26, and he is about the height of Arch and Brylle, except a lot rounder. He has small eyes and looks somewhat Asian. Like TJ, he does not speak much English, so I don't get to know him as well either, but his personality is evident to me. He is the easygoing, happy-go-lucky one of the group. He seems to be the brunt of a lot of jokes, as the others always repeat his name in jest, "Jabar Jabar." But Jabar just laughs. He seems a bit like the kid outside of the "cool group." Yet later in our trip, Jabar comes to pick up Mace, Preston, and I from the airport, and he pulls up in a low-rider, tinted window car. To have your own car in the Philippines means you are doing very well for yourself. His music is pumping, and he hops out of the car wearing sleek sunglasses. He tells us that he earned his living as a former street racer. Mace and I look at each other with raised eyebrows. We were all taken aback at his "coolness."
Anyway, after Mom Beth and Willy had made some plans, she announces that we are going to buy our boat passes and head over to Tacloban tonight!
However, as Mace and I are calculating the time of transportation to the island and back, we'd only have less than a day to work before I have to return for my flight home. As half of the team walks to the boat ticket office, Mace and I discuss what I should do. Going to the island will not be possible for me, yet staying alone in Cebu hardly seems safe. However, missing Leslie's wedding isn't an option.
We reach the ticket office at 4 in the afternoon. Mom Beth, Brylle, and Walter go inside the office to negotiate prices. Preston stands under the shade of the roof, wiping the sweat from his forehead. And Mace and I stand on the curb of the street, in the beating sun, discussing what to do.
Walter peers his head out of office and suggests we come inside until the pricing negotiation is done. Only the bottom part of the door is open, so Preston, Mace, and I bend over and crawl inside. Mom Beth and Brylle are on the other side of the counter, still discussing prices. Mace informs the team of my dilemma, and Mom Beth secures a boat pass for me anyways and says I have until 9 pm, when we dock the boat, to decide. Preston, Walter, Mace and I scrunch together on the other side of the counter and wait.
We are standing in front of a reflective glass. I look at myself with Mace on one side, and Preston on the other. Tall, white Americans. Our determination is evident in our faces, we each look strong, confident, and ready to serve. We came here on a mission and are ready to fulfill it.
We begin to discuss our miraculous day while we wait. How each of our decisions to come had impacted the others - Mace wouldn't be here if I hadn't funded the trip. If Mace hadn't come then Preston and Walter wouldn't have come. If they hadn't come, we never would have met ZEDRU. If we had never met ZEDRU, they would be unable to go to the island without any relief goods. We talked about how all of our decisions to even come happened just days ago. How people were so surprised in our haste to leave on this trip, how so many people were willing to donate, how the entire purpose and meaning behind our trip seemed far bigger than we were yet able to understand.
However, I just couldn't miss Leslie's wedding. Leslie and I met our last year of graduate school when we moved into the same apartment without knowing each other beforehand. I think we had exchanged one email prior to moving in, simply to introduce ourselves. We lived with two other girls, and Leslie and I shared the back of the apartment, so we got to know each other really well when we stayed up late talking on the weekends. However, after 8 months, we both graduated and moved away. I moved to a city just north and got my own apartment, and she moved to Las Vegas for an internship. After a year, she had been offered a job back at our university and contacted me to say she was moving back! She told me that if I knew of any housing options to let her know. I told her that my place had an extra bedroom, so she was welcome with me! Within a couple months, she had moved in, and from there, we became inseparable. We were there for each other through the hard, and we stayed up far too late on so many nights laughing ourselves to stomach pains. We bought each other flowers whenever one went out of town. We wrote notes on the mirror, made dinners together, and saw each other in and out of several relationships. She became the greatest friend and roommate I had ever known. We became closer to each other then we were to anyone else. So missing wedding just wouldn’t happen.
Finally the tickets are purchased, and we leave the office, back into the beating sun. As we wait for a jeepney to take us back to the rest of the team, I put my hands around my eyes to block the sun and look up at Mace. He looks at me, smiling kindly, knowing the weight of my decision.
"I'm going to call Leslie tonight." I say. "I'm not making a choice yet; I just need to talk with her."
He nods, and my eyes well up with tears.
Upward and onward,
Preston is found! And the goods are loaded up.
Mace playing with the children outside ZEDRU's office.
The ZEDRU team. Arch, TJ, Jabar, Willy, and Mom Beth (Brylle not featured)