I began this project while my family was trying to locate and establish contact with our cousins and their children in Palo, Leyte. Before 10,000 Characters, I had written a small piece “Karibal ng mga ibon” (Hindi gagana kung mga kurot lamang ng pandesal. / Bato, maliliit at kilalang bato, ang tutungo sa bundok // Na babasag sa hangin . . .). That was last week, when we had next to nothing specific about the conditions of people in the places hardest-hit by Yolanda.
10,000 Characters began when the typhoon was exiting our “area of responsibility” and some drops of news came together and congealed into the 16-line poem “Unspecified” (Enter the person's name or parts of the name // A thousand words cannot describe the sheer / on cardboard and torn-up paper plates,). At the time, I was trying out the Person Finder and other online ways of “looking for someone.”
At the outset, the idea was to scavenge from reports, instructions and prohibitions, wikis, ads, statements, search engines—perhaps I was looting, taking advantage of whatever was at hand. These were then trimmed and sorted (processes that the growing mass and variety of relief items had to undergo) into the 313-line “Characters (with spaces) 10,000”—a poem mostly in Filipino.
10,000 Characters—originally a single poem titled “Characters (no spaces) 10,000”—was to repeat the same processes, likewise alphabetized (akin to lists of survivors, lists of missing, and lists of the dead), but this time in English.
After arriving at the 372-line poem, I thought to derive simple, uniform packages from it. Some relief collections came with suggestions to simplify operations and save on time. For example, instead of just saying “bottles of water,” an organization asked for 1L bottles for easy and uniform distribution. Perhaps anticipating disarray, one UP system-wide effort promoted a 1+2+3+1 scheme for relief items, that is, 1 kilo of rice, 2 canned goods, 3 packs of instant noodles, and 1L of water. Accordingly, I cut the 10,000-character poem into bundles. The 17-liners came first, and below are the links to the three of them:
Three of the resulting 10-liners:
Yesterday, my sister fetched our cousins from the airport. She took happy photos of them, of the children and their drawings. Then she posted them online. In the comments thread of one photo, I read sighs of relief, words of welcome, and someone there was asking, if we knew the whereabouts of either A— or M—. If we had any word from or of them.