edited by Suresh Nanwani and William Loxley
Covid-19 was a gut-wrenching experience from the first-day confinements began. Where were you when the lockdowns were first announced: at work, shopping, dining? I was working from home on the day shutdowns were officially announced in the U.S.
The Covid-19 pandemic was a rough period for the entire world. From one day to the next, we woke up to lockdowns, sudden closures, panic, and more uncertainty. For many of us, it felt like we were stuck in our cars waiting at a red light permanently. Everything else around us seemed to be confined at home with family. All this was a haven for the introverts, but for the remainder of us extroverts who enjoyed all things social, we spent our time on the phone while driven insane by so much household noise!
The pandemic was a moment in our lives all around the world where we had to find structure from chaos. It was a gray period. It was a time that forced us to grow from within. We had no choice but to take a moment to self-reflect, hang out with our family, and eventually think about what we really wanted out of life. It was a time that provided space for us to think, reflect again, and ponder yet again. In their book, Covid-19 in the Philippines: Personal Stories, coeditors Suresh Nanwani and William Loxley bring together personal narratives from forty-one storytellers that depict life during the first few months of the pandemic in early 2020. The narrators, like us, knew nothing or little about the catastrophe and witnessed how events unfolded in their lives.
Each story is interesting, to say the least! Specifically, as I read the narratives, I often asked myself about the different worlds we reside in. Living in the U.S. along with many across the world, our experiences were similar in so many ways. There are forty narratives in this captivating book, with one story told by a married couple sharing experiences of their lives together with their two young children who could not understand why they could not go outdoors to play with friends or simply go back to school. The stories illustrate the fluidity of similar emotions felt during 2020, which existed both individually and collectively. The sentiments of fear, stress, and anxiety were felt mostly at the onset. But as time passed, the months brought families together, allowing others to reflect with themselves. The book offers first-hand accounts and insights into humanity and diversity from March to December 2020, the first year of the pandemic. Specifically, we begin to see how cultural intelligence affects behavior regardless of where one lives in the world.
The Filipino culture is modern, with a distinct Asian background with distinct Arab, Chinese, Spanish, and American influences. Today, the humanity expressed by the narrators truly shows how communities were brought together during these times of turmoil and death. There are stories with family members who lost loved ones due to the pandemic, while others who share how they survived the viral infection.
The most important element for me was the empathy neighbors and community members bestowed upon one another during these unknown times. One story struck a chord with me. The caring and loving mother, who worked as a security guard in a housing condominium, gave birth to her baby in the first month of the pandemic in a lying-in health clinic rather than in a hospital where she feared her baby might get infected in the crowded hospital. Both mother and child were supported in different ways by many – doctor, husband, extended family members, and neighbors in the community. My eyes light up when I read about her experiences on how she overcame obstacles and managed well. While the pandemic was very much a sad time, the stories recount the joys of families and neighbors coming together, allowing bygones to be bygones as notions of ill will towards one another changed to empathy and consideration.
Another important element of the stories told is the emphasis on spirituality. During the pandemic, we were forced to look inward and find the strength to control our hidden emotions. Socially, the trend of spirituality and all things spiritual gained vigor through various channels. And in this book, spirituality was emphasized by positivity and gratefulness. “All of a sudden, strangers all over the globe were placed on the same level, pantay-pantay, walang mahirap, walang mayaman, lahat pedeng mahawa ng Covid 19 virus (all are equal, no rich no poor, everyone becomes vulnerable to Covid 19 virus)” (Nanwani & Loxley, 2021, from the story “Moving on with heart”). The personal stories chronicle for us and future generations the varied stories and narratives portrayed by the writers (teenagers to senior citizens in their 70s). Resilience is the golden thread running through their heartfelt accounts. What each of us felt and experienced is very similar to the human experiences felt in the Philippines. This book is a legacy for all of us and our future generations to remember what we went through in the early days of the pandemic.
As you read the stories in the book, would you want to relive and share your experience? As I read these narratives, I felt compelled to share my experiences as if they had happened yesterday!