Words and photos by Jessa Suganob
Two days before the official implementation of the lockdown in Metro Manila, I was eating dinner with a friend at Dhenzmer’s. The streets were deserted and most of the stores and eateries were closed but it was only 9 PM. That day, thousands of students living nearby Elbi had departed for their homes, and thousands who lived faraway were stuck in Elbi.
A few minutes before that dinner I received a phone call from my mother. She scolded me for not going home to Cagayan de Oro at an earlier date, though underneath the stern voice I could hear worry. A few months had passed since then, but it did not quite sink into me yet that I am stranded two islands away from my home amidst a worldwide pandemic.
Two things that were at the forefront of my mind during this pandemic: time and commotion. Bereft of usual schedules and the looming danger of going out of the apartment, time seemed to stop at a stand-still. The first few weeks started with me and a friend occasionally eating take-outs from Lomihan (it was the cheapest eatery that we could get our hands into).
Eventually, spending 120 pesos per every meal of the day became costly for both of us and so we rummaged through my roommate’s leftover resources for sustenance. My roommate left for her home in Batangas upon the declaration of the Metro Manila lockdown and we figured that there was no one else who would consume her food, so it was either we eat it or we let it spoil.
Unlike me, my friend had nowhere else to turn to. Her mother works as an English teacher in Singapore (who just recently got laid off due to stroke) and her father lives alone in Calamba. She scoured through pages after pages in Craigslist for job opportunities to keep herself afloat. We struck a deal for this pandemic—I take care of the resources; she takes care of the cooking. Aside from that, she was forced to work as an online English tutor whose salary was 2 dollars at most per hour.
On the other hand, things were relatively easier for me. I struck a deal with my mother—she would provide for my financial expenses while I finish my remaining units for my thesis for my entire stay in Los Banos for the pandemic. Although this was the only thing that was left for me to do, I still felt like I was on the verge of panic.
Two things—time and commotion. When you’re left to yourself at a time when self-isolation was the rule, time does not pass; it stands still. Days cease to be discernible from the other, you are stuck in a time loop. Before the quarantine, the passage of time is discernible for every finished subject we have for the day. During quarantine, nothing happens. You wake up, you eat, then you sleep. The next day, repeat. The only semblance of time passing by takes shape when I go out to buy our groceries for the week.
Else, commotion: sometime in June, while we were out getting groceries on the intersection of Grove and Demarces, there was an explosion. Apparently, a crow flew directly to the electric lines near Papu’s Siomai. The ate from the fruit stand mistook it for a bomb explosion. “Akala ko may giyera na,” she remarked.
Another commotion: UPLB students going to the streets to protest the Anti-Terrorism Bill. Almost forty people showed up. Then, another: the region-wide protests held during Independence Day in the guise of a Mañanita. With the arrests of the 8 UP Cebu students during an Anti-Terror Bill protest, the franchise renewal controversy with ABS-CBN, the arrest of Piston 6, the violent dispersal of Sitio San Roque residents, among many others, the state isn’t joking around with their threats. Some people from UPLB came to Pala-pala, some people started becoming afraid and opted to stay and support by donating to the political prisoners’ bails.
Before the Mañanita, a friend tried to reconcile her fears—aside from protesting against the Anti-Terrorism bill, she wanted to hear out the pleas of the marginalized sectors who would come to Pala-pala. It wasn’t hard to deduce which option won the next day.
Another commotion, albeit one that resembles more of an omen: sometime last May, water started to leak into my room amidst the Signal no. 2 storm brought about by Typhoon Ambo in Los Baños. I hunted for where the water may be coming from but try as I might, I couldn’t find the source. Now after every storm, I am only left to mop the puddles of water whenever they arrive.
Aside from the sold-out surgical masks, tissues, liquid soap, and rubbing alcohol, other things were sold out in the pharmacies as well: antidepressants and antipsychotics. Medications such as Clozapine, Quetiapine, Escitalopram, and Paroxetine are taken by people afflicted with depression, anxiety, and sleeping disorders. Every other week as I fall in line in Mercury Drug, I would find out that they already ran out of stock of Serotia and Xet—the cheaper brands of Quetiapine and Paroxetine, respectively. On these times, I am left with no choice but to buy the pricey brands (Seroquel and Xerosat) and adjust our budget for the groceries for the month. When all else fails, I would take no medications for a few days and end up not sleeping for almost two days with a terrible headache due to the kickback of the medicines being out of my system.
“What are alternative ways to cope with depression?”: a question that I would frequently stumble upon on Twitter. A few answers that I could recall from people: taking long walks, smoking, doing menial chores, journaling, socializing, using a pen to mark one’s skin instead of a sharp object, watching your comfort films, and getting out of social media.
Another thought on commotion: how do you keep track of something invisible to the naked eye? You look at its aftermath. When you’re mandated to stay at home, you turn to social media to kill time. Microblogging platforms such as Twitter hosts a myriad of information, be it news about who was recently detained with the Anti-Terror Law, the latest corruption scandal by institutions, the sectors slighted by the government’s mishandling of this crisis, or the existential dreads and musings of other people who are stuck at home alone or with their family. In my situation, the pandemic seems to unfold through social media. I would not be in various states of dread and panic if I was not scrolling (and participating) through its angry echo chambers. Although the very idea that a pandemic had subdued the world is enough to conjure fearful images of panic, on a minute-level, there is only silence. There is only the twittering of the birds outside the windows, the steady hum of the electric fan, the occasional yowls of stray cats, the flitting of the leaves, the occasional chatters from next-door neighbors.
The pandemic unfolds virtually and in real-time, but I think that the only thing that we truly have control over is our involvement with these worlds. These days I resign to cooking, reading, writing, taking care of myself, helping the advocacies and movements that I support, and making my social media usage as intentional as possible. At this moment when the pandemic seems to unfold endlessly and time itself seems to be warped out of our coherence, I am reminded of a certain passage from the Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s letter to filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke about this pandemic:
When we were young on a road trip, our restless mind prompted us to repeat: ‘Are we there yet?’, ‘When are we going to arrive?’ As we grew older we paid more attention to the passing scenery. We observed the trees, the houses, the signs, the other vehicles. We trained ourselves to be calm on a journey. We knew there was a destination.
And so I bide my time alone with my recently-adopted cat, and from time-to-time with some friends, both waiting and waiting for waiting itself to feel better.