Thinking back on our New Year’s celebration, I probably should have realized as early as then that the coming year wasn’t going to be an easy one. We flew to Germany, checked in to a hotel, bought tickets to a ship party on the Rhine River and… got rotavirus. We spent most of the next several days in the toilet rather than in the museums of ancient Cologne. Still, I’m proud to say we overcame the virus without too much trouble. After roughly a day and a half of no sleep and moving like our grandparents (while still holding hands), we somehow managed to amble our way to that New Year’s party. We could still barely move our bodies, however, so we spent the better part of the evening simply pretending to be having as much fun as everyone else.
As we overcame that New Year spell of misfortune, so too shall we overcome this virus – that much I’m sure of. Many people from back home still think that the situation here in the Philippines isn’t as serious as it is there due to a warmer climate. While there might be some truth to that, Metro Manila’s population density is a far cry from most of Europe’s, and things here have steadily deteriorated over the past couple of weeks. Every day, we get news about the increasing number of infections and deaths here.
The real turning point came more or less a week ago when we heard on the news that Metro Manila would be closed off from the rest of the country for an entire month. That meant movement would be restricted, work would be moved to the virtual space, and only select certified staff would be free to travel. People had two days to prepare.
Some of Robertas’s colleagues decided to fly back to Australia. The streets were flooded (even more than usual) with the cars of people hoping to “escape” to the provinces. Even we were considering moving somewhere closer to the ocean in the meantime, since the coast seemed like an ideal location to weather the storm, especially with all the fresh coconuts around.
Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out nearly as well as we’d hoped. Fear had already set in and no one was willing to rent us a temporary home. Homeowners were worried their provinces would be the next to be put under quarantine and wanted to have their own safe havens to retreat to in case things got even worse. Feeling disappointed at the lack of any other options, Robertas and I could do little else but stay put.
On the very first day of the quarantine, we decided to visit one of the larger supermarkets in the area. Surprisingly, everything seemed even more abundant than usual, and all the shelves were practically overflowing with goods. Even as bad as the situation already felt back then, Robertas and I couldn’t help joking about how it was nearly impossible to imagine a shortage of toilet paper or fresh produce here. For the moment, at least, such worries looked to be far removed from reality for Filipinos.
Even as bad as the situation already felt back then, Robertas and I couldn’t help joking about how it was nearly impossible to imagine a shortage of toilet paper or fresh produce here.
Despite the growing gravity of the situation, though, the people here somehow never failed to bring a smile to my face each day with their attempts to abide by the social distancing guidelines. I found the pictures of church pews divided into appropriately-sized seats with barricade tape particularly amusing, and the fact that people were sitting in them showed that attending mass far outweighed any self-consciousness they might feel at being kept away from each other like children in time-out. Jeepney drivers showed they could be creative as well and used cardboard boxes to ensure their passengers sat a respectable distance from each other. And seeing how they responded to the quarantine did more than just bring a smile to my face; It made me realize just how resilient Filipinos are.
A couple of days later, we learned that there would be even stricter restrictions. Shopping malls would be all but closed down, which didn’t seem like it mattered a whole lot since we were no longer allowed to go out into the streets at all. Luzon, the country’s northernmost island, was completely closed off – all traffic, whether by land, air, or sea was restricted. Some supermarkets and pharmacies stayed open, but most stores, restaurants, and even churches finally closed their doors to the public as well. And with public transportation suspended, we could only buy food from places that were close enough to reach on foot.
Luzon, the country’s northernmost island, was completely closed off – all traffic, whether by land, air, or sea was restricted.
With each passing day, it felt like it was getting more and more difficult to get the things we need. I told Erly she didn’t have to come in to clean for the next couple of weeks. She has two kids, though. How is she going to feed them? How are they going to survive? Robertas and I decided we would still pay her, so we told her to not worry about money and stay home with her children instead. As long as things still looked manageable for us, we wanted to do our best to help.
Still, I won’t lie; We’re starting to panic a little. If this goes on for too long, won’t Robertas’s company have to close the office here? Will we have enough money until then? Will the less fortunate around us resort to desperate measures to survive? Flying back to Lithuania is still on the table, at least for the moment, but tickets are extremely expensive, and there are only a few flights left. We’ll need to bring Paiko with us, too. But even if we do manage to make it back home, what would we do there without jobs? Right now, we have more questions than answers, so we’ve decided to stay and see what happens.
Will we have enough money until then? Will the less fortunate around us resort to desperate measures to survive?
Right now, things don’t look too bad. We bought enough food to last us a few weeks and are still managing to replenish our stores every day, so we won’t starve any time soon, at least. We’re also spending more time together, going out on evening walks and doing a lot of things we never got to do with each other before. We call our families a lot more often than we used to and I might actually have the time to finish a TV series for the first time in my life. I even noticed a picture hanging on the wall here at home, seemingly for the first time even though it’s been here since we moved in. Of course, the paranoia has given rise to several amusing incidents as well – I choked on a piece of apple earlier this week, and Robertas worriedly asked me if we should go to the hospital to see if I could get tested.