Lockdown Day 29: Age 35

I’ve read somewhere that during a pandemic, one must document his/her daily life. Even the most mundane day should be immortalized. With all those grand narratives of how Isaac Newton powered through the Black Plague, discovering some of the most important scientific discoveries known to man, we are made to believe that we have to be productive amidst this pandemic.

Today is day 29 since the lockdown was imposed over Metro Manila, and subsequently over the island of Luzon. I am also 35.

Panic buying before the Enhanced Community Quarantine. Photo taken at S&R on March 16.

When the first case of COVID-19 (then called as nCOV) in the Philippines was announced on January 30, 2020, I had already asked Mon to stock on a couple of boxes of masks from Bambang. I had been monitoring the situation for the past weeks. I knew that it’ll only be a matter of time before it blew up, and it won’t hurt to have masks stocked for our families.

To say that most people took the virus lightly was an understatement. My then-boss even scoffed at the virus as just a strong virus. I, on the hand, felt this was something else.

Come March 13 (Friday), there was already an announcement of putting Metro Manila under community quarantine (euphemism for a lockdown) effective on March 15 (Sunday). This was eventually escalated to an enhanced community quarantine, meaning that the whole island of Luzon will be on lockdown to hopefully contain the virus.

The public’s response was, of course, one of uncertainty. It was unprecedented in our lifetime that such a pandemic was taking place. We had been almost unaffected by SARS, H1N1 and MERS-CoV, but COVID-19 was something else. Life as we know it was turned upside down.

I recall that I had my family visit me before the lockdown took effect. That was the last time I have seen them in person. You see, my parents are senior citizens and, while the virus does not discriminate age groups, the older ones are most affected. We went to the grocery to buy supplies and all I could give them were air hugs before they went home.

Weekly groceries bound for home

For the past couple of weeks, I had been largely sending groceries via Grab Express, so as to minimize any of my family members leaving the house.

Only about 10 days into the lockdown, and I also could no longer ignore my haircut. I always make it a point to have a haircut every 5 to 7 days because I get weird allergies if they grow out a bit longer. Despite restrictions on the use of these delivery service for food and medicine, we managed to buy a razor from Marikina and had it all the way delivered to Makati. Mon and I now take turns to have our hair taken care of.

DIY haircut under quarantine

At work, it had been also challenging. You see, I took on a new job as the second in command, only to find myself taking the helm only after three months. It was unprecedented, and something I did not anticipate. But we have to move along, business as usual, and carry on with this multimillion peso project.

In March 2015, I took on what I thought as a job of a lifetime, finally leaving my corporate job of almost 8 years more than 2 years after finishing graduate school, and joined my first international organization. Only four months in, I left in July. I was heartbroken.

I always questioned myself why I was willing to subject myself to the precarious politics of working in the development and humanitarian sector. But I had to move along and hoped for the best as I was at the point where turning back was not too much of an option.

I could always go back to the corporate world and just use my French. I knew, however, that it will not make me feel fulfilled. Fully cognizant that I had to work my way up, I took on a short stint at WHO (which brought me to Guam), and at ICRC (where I stayed for weeks in Thailand). These two roles taught me the value of working on humble tasks. I had to pack boxes, print and stapler reams upon reams of papers, make lists, call contacts, order food/coffee, and even buy candies just because — which some of my colleagues think to be beneath me with “my skills and credentials”. I was full on Andy Sachs for more than 2 years.

Yes, I did complain at times to my confidants, but out of frustration and impatience to do more. But, looking back, that experience was necessary.

I then took my first managing role at a business school. I also hope it to turn out well. But, a couple of months in, I was wrong. Nevertheless, I stayed just enough to complete almost 2 years, and with the knowledge that I could manage without any job in sight. I did it back in 2015, I could do it again in 2019.

So with my new role to head the whole country operations, it was intimidating. Granted that I always pictured myself to be the head of something, I always ask myself when in doubt or if I have those lingering thoughts in my head: What would Anna do? #WWAD

Anna Wintour’s Masterclass

After all that has been said about her, I really admire Anna Wintour. Two thing that got stuck in my head listening to her interviews:

  1. Be unapologetic about your leadership, and
  2. Be decisive

I have the tendency to self-criticize i.e. call out myself on my position, especially during my first managerial role. I had a lot of things in mind I know I should have blurted out. But, on the other hand, the inner dialogue to silence myself because of the doubt planted in my brain that I will never measure up sabotaged me.

This is a work in progress. I begin to accept that there’s a reason I was put in a role, whether by chance or by choice. I am already there and I have the duty to stand up especially for my colleagues put in a tight spot. Not everyone will like me, it’s okay, but we should get things done.

That’s why I should also be decisive on things. I had the unfortunate experience(s) before where I had to wait for a superior’s decisions before I could move forward with something. That decision, on the other hand, would not take long to arrive at. It’s just a form of disrespect having people wait on something trivial. Again, I’m a work in progress, but I hope I won’t be the cause of delay.

I am delighted and lucky to be working with such a good team. I hope to not disappoint them, though. I had an interview with ADB less than two weeks ago, for a position I have applied for back in August or September 2019. Based from the people I know, I had positive feedback. Only drawback was I turned it down because I made a commitment to finish the project with the team.

Yes, the role will probably be paying about thrice I am getting now, but there are things bigger than that. I have no regrets over my decision, but of course, sometimes I think about the money. But I have to keep my word!

The weeks that Mon and I were stuck in our place had taught me a lot of things and had given us opportunities. With the pressure of my new role, Mon had transitioned to having a greater hand at our website, which had been steadily gaining traction since last year despite the COVID-19 scare. It was something we had hoped for since 2017.

Yue and Nolan looking out

We also have two babies with us: Nolan and Yue! Since my last post at the start of the year, we only have one cat. We got Yue from the plant box in a mall a day after. The quarantine, however, got them more excited than usual. So far, they have broken a glass, my United Nations mug, a little ceramic vase, a lampshade, and the coffee maker pitcher.

My 35th birthday

The past 29 days under this quarantine had put things to perspective, especially on my birthday. I am used to spending my birthdays with them, taking a leave if it were to fall on a weekday. I just ordered KFC for lunch for my family, while we had also Shakey’s delivered to us here in Makati. Mon celebrated his birthday last March in the early days of the quarantine, while Faye will celebrates hers a day after mine.

The lockdown will be in place for 13 more days. As of the time of this writing, here are the official numbers:

Official COVID-19 statistics as of April 12, 2020

How morbid is it to post about this on my birthday? But these numbers, especially the deaths are more than a number. Two of the 297 deaths in the Philippines were professors from university, who succumbed to the complications of COVID-19 more than a week ago. In other countries, healthcare workers are also under the ethical dilemma of deciding who gets to be hooked in the lifesaving ventilator or not.

The ventilator, and the intubation before that is something I will NEVER wish even to my worst enemy. I lived to tell the tale of how unpleasant that experience was. For those fighting the battle, we are with you. For those who lost the fight, you are not mere numbers.

COVID-19 is changing history and our lives as we know it. As much as it was touted as the great equalizer, it also further highlights the divide to those with the means and not. I am fortunate to be working from home, with a decent hustle on the side. This was not, however, the case for most workers who lost their source of income because of the disease.

It might not be much but we are also doing our best within our means to provide support to those who’ll otherwise have a hard time coping.

To end this post, perhaps I could share what my wish was when I blew (i.e. fan the cake with my hands so as not to produce aerosol droplets): I wish for our families to be safe and healthy throughout all of these, and for the pandemic to stop so there will be no more people risking their lives at the frontlines nor succumbing to the disease. A tall order, but every prayer and whisper count at this point.

This too shall pass.


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