As of this month, I have been living for most of 9 years in the Philippines. There were some necessary trips back to the States early on, but nowadays, I am a permanent resident. Since the pandemic started, there is no chance of leaving if I wanted, so it’s a good thing I like where I am.
Before I moved here, everyone said, “Are you sure you can live in a third-world country?” First off, it’s a developing country, and except for an unpredictable infrastructure, it is much better than any place I have lived in my life.
Okay, I take that back, because I am a winter and fall person, and the brilliant-colored leaves followed by months of snow and delicious cold in New England are heavenly.
But, I digress.
Before the pandemic, I got my family set up reasonably well. Sure, we are always broke, but we have a house and access to transportation whenever we need it. I have an internet connection to write and publish, and we have air conditioning six of the seven days of the week when we have electricity.
I can genuinely say I love living here, not just for the beauty and fun beaches, but for the people who go out of their way to make my life better every day.
We always had food on the table, and we lived a comfortable life.
Then came COVID-19.
In February 2020, I had to leave the country to reset my tourist visa, so I went to Singapore and spent a day walking Changi airport. It was a scary time because we heard all the news about Coronavirus, but I still had to travel. I was one of the few who wore a mask the whole time, both in the airport and on the airplane.
I could see the writing on the wall.
Not long after I got home, the world imploded, and the government announced the Enhanced Community Quarantine. No one could leave their homes except for a solo trip to get food once a week. My wife bravely took on the duty of going to the grocery store, so she put our family quarantine pass in her name.
We fared well in the lockdown, mostly because all mortgages and bank payments stopped, and we had extra money to buy all the foods we wanted.
As far as the food and stimulus money the government was handing out, we either refused it or took it and gave it to some families that had it worse than we did.
And many families were not surviving. A lockdown meant no one could work, and in an economy where many people lived on only what they earned for that day, it soon got severe. Also, no tourists were coming in, and the Philippines relies heavily on tourism dollars.
All the businesses closed, and many could not stay afloat and shut down. Millions of jobs were lost, and people were struggling.
But something cool happened. As the lockdown became less strict, a new economy was born. Many people who couldn’t afford food were bartering possessions so they could eat. We couldn’t help everyone, but we always bought more than we needed (but not enough that we were hoarding). We traded bags of rice and diapers for plants and other things we could use. We got rid of everything we didn’t need or weren’t using.
Our consciences wouldn’t allow us to enjoy a surplus when our neighbors were barely surviving. Now we have many more plants than we will ever need, but we were able to coordinate with others and get supplies to many families who needed them.
I am not saying this to expand my ego and be the typical white savior; I say it because it was our experience. The thing is, if we needed help, our neighbors would not hesitate to help us. My family wanted to do the same for them, and we did.
It didn’t make it any more challenging for us to help others. But it made a difference to others, and I am glad my daughter got to see a society of people helping those in need.
After the lockdown changed to a General Community Quarantine, another development took place. All these families who lost jobs and income started little businesses in their homes. In our community forum, people began advertising different food dishes that could come right to our door.
We took this opportunity to cut back on our food shopping and started ordering most of our meals from the community. Not only did it help our neighbors get back on their feet, but it prevented us from wasting valuable time because of stress from having a baby in the house, working long hours from home, and all our meals to cook.
We got to sample all kinds of different foods. One day, we may have chicken Adobo for lunch, and the next, Lasagne. One night we may have 5 kilos of roasted pork Lechon delivered or giant lobsters fresh from the ocean.
We ate gourmet hamburgers and pizza, savory Filipino dishes, and baked goods. We had bread rolls fresh from the oven delivered in time to eat with our morning coffee.
My wife, Flora, could even indulge in her MilkTea obsession and have them deliver a cold cup any time of the day or night.
Eventually, we did start to buy more food to cook ourselves, but we still order from the community every day.
After all, I couldn’t get hot and fresh sugared donuts anywhere else.
Now, as travel starts to look like more of a possibility, I plan to do what I had intended to do before the pandemic. Besides my international trips, I want to travel around the Philippines. I want to see all the out-of-the-way little known places all over the archipelago.
Everyone has seen drone footage of Palawan, Surigao, and Boracay, but few people have seen all the beaches, resorts, and jungles between.
I want to continue to spread my dollars in the Philippines. Even though the locals are stepping up and keeping some of the smaller tourist businesses open, the people of the Philippines are still hurting without the tourist dollars from around the world.
There is no more lockdown, but travel is still restricted. The new COVID-19 cases and deaths are low, but they are still there, and we are always under the fear we will have a lock-down again.
The pandemic will eventually become less of a problem as vaccines get developed and released; I just hope the place I call home, the Philippines, will bounce back, and the people can thrive again.
I love the Philippines.