Sunday, July 05, 2020
The “new normal,” a vague horrible name for the way we live now, is full of ghosts.
The streets are fuller now with sizable traffic—nothing like the old days, but the bustle is back. The tricycles are on the move, sporting new features of clear plastic separations between driver and between passengers—strictly following the mandated capacity of two to a ride, and for that I do my part by paying double my usual fare. The driver doesn’t ask, it certainly is not new policy, but the hard times can accommodate our little charities.
The cafes and restaurants are back in operation, and the new protocols feel strange and important—which is to say, our entries require our masks checked, our body temperature determined by the now ubiquitous thermometer gun, our signing-in necessary. There are now pieces of paper demanding our information for the purposes of contact tracing: blanks to be filled for our names, our addresses, our mobile numbers, and our latest temperature readings, and checks for the following screening questions:
Are you experiencing sore throat, body pain, headache, fever for the past few days? No, no, no, no
Have you worked together or stayed in the close environment of a confirmed COVID-19 case? No
Have you had any contact with anyone with fever, cough, colds, and sore throat in the past two days? No
Have you traveled outside of the Philippines in the last 14 days? No
Have you traveled to any area in the NCR? No
Nonetheless, we feel some eagerness for this slight return to old form after being locked down for days on end and developing eventual disdain for canned corned beef and sardines. [I am sure people will not be eating these in the months to come.] We’ve been nourished too long by Jollibee and Chowking deliveries. Food Panda has probably made a fortune from our collective commiseration—and wasn’t it so provident of them to just happen to start operations locally just when the pandemic started? In the doldrums of our lost summer months, their pink presence on our roads was the only surest thing.
The governor has ordered the borders reopened. I shudder at the thought. Just across the narrow sea, Cebu reels from the burden of increased local transmissions of COVID-19—perhaps because it relaxed a little too early, which proved deadly for a transit province. Dumaguete is also a transit city, and Tañon Strait is no buffer for enterprising humans desperate to jump borders.
And so we have come to this, an attempt at forging a return to the old ordinary. But there is now a tentative bite in the air—that’s the ghost I’ve mentioned—and for many of us, this is enough of a horror to push us back to the confines of our houses, away from people. Foolishly it feels like the world is cartwheeling into opening up a little too early.
And so, when I see people in Dumaguete going about unmasked or thronging around without physical distancing of at least a meter, I feel like recoiling. Today, while doing my early morning walk, I hastily crossed the street upon encountering a bunch of men jogging in a group, sans masks! At this day and age? With all that concentrated heavy breathing expelling droplets? I marveled angrily at the impudence, the complacency.
By midday, I tried an experiment: I spent a few hours in Bo’s Café along the Rizal Boulevard, like I used to, to do some work. And I found out the proximity of other people was giving me anxiety. I bolted to the quiet of Caña next door.
I find true what Sophie Atkinson, writing for The New York Times Magazine, has to say about this tentative step forward, which feels like a step back: “It has been tempting, months into self-isolation, to abandon ship and try to snap my old life back into place… The restrictions have been eased, and during this sudden surge of optimism, I’ve had to resist old comforts: hugging a friend, sharing a cigarette. Life reassuming its old shape overnight, my long-held wish, seems increasingly unlikely. I can no longer use the outside world—the outdoors, other people, public spaces—for magic.”
There is no magic.
There is no new normal, only challenges we have not learned to weather.
My friend, the biologist Richard Pavia, tries to divine the current conundrum: “These are the mental issues that the pandemic will leave us with. I, for one, am always asking myself, even if a vaccine is already available and dispensed to everyone, how would I react if I were in a crowded train and someone beside me coughed? Would I still be wearing a mask months after the last COVID case? Would I even be comfortable riding a packed train? A lot of people will be needing therapy after this.”
Then there’s the business of making a living. People I know are now being retrenched, the old job security now a myth. Somebody from the local chamber of commerce also messaged me that the worst has yet to come, the roll of bankruptcies still to happen next year.
Our lives have indeed been upended—and there is no predicting the ripples and repercussions. The coronavirus is the enemy, but it is invisible, and so I vented my frustrations at the most viable visible target, and cursed China
. [And its ugly local minion, too, who has done absolutely nothing righta.] My curse was even more colorful when I posted it on Twitter, to which somebody replied: “Not right. People in China had their lives upended too because of the virus. Nor did China want the virus in the first place.” I replied right back: “I’m talking about the government, not the people. A lot of its obfuscations led to all these—and I won’t swallow Chinese propaganda about its lack of culpability.”
And with that, I was done for the day, exhausted by the world.
So here’s godspeed to all our journeys, tentative and otherwise.
And may we wake up to a better tomorrow.
Labels: coronavirus, dumaguete, life
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