FIELD NOTES: OF WHAT ONCE WAS

“Covid-19 updates…”

As clear as the skies were that morning, was the voice of the person on the radio giving updates on the pandemic. I nod to the old man sitting by the sari-sari store listening to the radio. Right beside the sari-sari store was an old house. The scene felt like I was in the old Buenos Aires, Carmen. It felt like I was transported back to the time when my grandparents were still alive. But the voice on the radio pulled me back.

“This is still happening. This pandemic, it’s still happening.” I thought.

I knew I was witnessing a very profound moment.

I do not know how much of this place has changed. After all, I did not grow up here. Before moving here, I have only been to this place twice. My memories of this place are few; an old Mansanitas tree that we used to climb, a pink rabbit story, a turkey I refused to eat after seeing it getting slaughtered, and the smell of freshly rolled tobacco by Lola. The memories of this place linger around. Despite the changes in house structures, the concrete road, and the now grown-up kids that used to play the streets of this Sitio, there’s still something about this place that makes one nostalgic, that transports one to the old days. Young adults that once chose to raise their family in this community now walk around with canes, on their way to their monthly Senior Citizen meeting. Catch up with any one of them and they’d be glad to tell you about the old days. Sundays are my favorite. It’s when you hear them blasting songs from the past like Paul Anka’s Diana and of course the Bisaya songs from the past decades. But aside from all that, there’s something about this place that’s rooted. When coming here, one of the things that struck me was how close-knitted the families are in this place. I have known the Filipino culture to be family-oriented; how we’ve always put weight on our families; family first. But I have slowly realized that the family dynamics have changed in the city compared to this place. I have watched my Aunt’s family go to church on Sunday riding a tiny car, trying to fit everyone in. Something that my family used to do when I was little. I guess that’s one of the things that makes this place nostalgic. Things that my family once used to do when I was little, the culture that I grew up in, the culture that once was, now remains in the memory of those that lived through it.

If you look around the place, you will still see the traces of what once was; in the old houses, the grains on the wood, the names carved on the trees by young lovers promising tomorrow together, the trees that stood the test of time. It has seen it all. And now, it’s seeing this. This pandemic.

As I write this entry, the pandemic has already surpassed its one-year mark. We have been with this ever-evolving disease for over a year now.

Mask.

Social Distance.

Wash your hand.

Don’t touch your face.

If you could count how many times these words came up in conversation or in writing, I bet the count will reach a million.

Not in my wildest dreams have I thought that I would be alive in a time such as this. I have always thought that events as drastic as this happen in isolated cases; usually in places far away. Never have I thought that a life-altering event happening in places such as Tokyo would happen simultaneously in a place like Buenos Aires. I never thought that things like this can ravage both a bustling advanced city such as New York and a quiet slow-paced place such as this town all at the same time.

As unprecedented as this event is, the feeling of hopelessness, grief or fear is not. It just comes in another costume. The way it has been handled shows the way of thinking that we either formed or has been planted in our subconscious as a community. Armed with our thought patterns, we went out there and tried to battle this pandemic. We tried battling it with what we’ve known, what we have been taught, what our Lolas and Lolos have always done in the past. After all, they’ve survived the war and Martial Law. The decisions we do individually and as a community have been informed by our past. The way we determine our priorities in a time such as this hints at the culture we grew up in. In this place specifically, family plays a huge if not the biggest role in determining small and life-altering decisions. People rushed to go home as the news of lockdowns erupted; trying to make it before the borders close to be with their families. In the face of uncertainty and in the midst of fear, for some people, there’s no other way to face it but together with family.

The value of community stood out during these times as well. When everything was closed, and businesses were shut down, there were those who stepped out and filled the lack of others. Don’t have rice? We can exchange ours for your backyard vegetables! Barter, which once was a thing of the past, became the main source for some to get necessities. When a lot of jobs got affected, the community got through filling the lack with exchanging goods or services for some. I have never imagined living in a world like this, where money was not the main thing. It is when you realize that money, like any resource, is just a tool; that it’s not the end goal.

Countless heart-moving stories of the good things that came out of this nightmare were told. The good things that were planted from the past gave shade and became fruitful in the present. But not all seeds that were planted became fruitful. On the contrary, some worked to our disadvantage. There are mindsets or thought patterns that we were accustomed to that did damage to us during this time. Quite the opposite of the filling of each other’s lack is the scarcity mindset. It’s not something new. It just got amplified because of so much uncertainty. Understandably, some people who went through hardship and days with no resources do not see these things as something they can easily replenish. The haunting memory of the days of lack pushes people to grip on the resources.

“Who’s going to help us now?”

Questions of where to get the next resources filled the air. Yeah, who’s going to help us? The government? Our workplace? Some superhero? So we take it upon ourselves to grab hold of what’s left. Growing up in a country with rampant poverty, this is not something new. We have been conditioned to grip on our belongings, safeguard them, and not give too much.

There’s going to be the good, the bad, and the ugly in each situation. But even in the face of what seems like a novel situation, there’s nothing new.

What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

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