Thursday, 12th March – I caught the evening bus bound for Quezon Province, five hours northeast of Manila. I hoped to reach before midnight. There were talks of a lockdown to be implemented the next day. I felt like a fugitive escaping from the prison that is Manila during a lockdown.
Truth is, I am on what they call a “Come and See” immersion experience with the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion to discern the possibility of entering religious life. People may think, “Really, religious life at this day and age? You’d be shutting yourself off from the world.” Yeah, I thought I would be the odd one. Little did I know that the whole world would be joining me.
In the last 21 days under lockdown, the world has started to resemble a convent, while life in the convent has made me more in touch with the world. Staying home has allowed people to pray more. I have had three Zoom virtual prayer sessions with my college buddies, one every Saturday, and there have been more of us present there than during our face-to-face meetings, on average. One friend whom we haven’t seen in ages has reappeared to join us in prayer. I have also seen an outpouring of generosity amongst family and friends to support those who are in need, as well as the COVID-19 frontliners. Funds flowed through calls for help in Viber chats and Messenger that got food, PPEs, and other basic needs delivered to hospitals and poor communities. Meanwhile, in the remote fishing village we’re in, the sisters and I were able to lend a hand to the local government, repacking rice and canned goods which were distributed to the 17 villages in the town. We were also able to accompany a neighbour’s family who was mourning the sudden loss of their 8-year old son. Being integrated in the local community has given me the opportunity to become involved in meaningful activities in the midst of a community quarantine—something that would have been more difficult for me to do in Manila.
God has also, in a sense, been putting on a show for this city girl here in the countryside. Every morning I wake up to the chirping of birds and the first rays of light bouncing off the coconut and banana leaves outside my window. After morning prayers and a 45-minute workout, we have our breakfast which can include a vegetable, fruit or herbs from the little vegetable patch the sisters have started (or the local market because honestly, a lot of the plants have yet to flower, ha-ha). After doing our morning chores and study, we enjoy lunch of yellowfin tuna or whatever the fishermen catch across the road. Afternoons are my favourite because we go for a swim in the sea (because really, it could be said that the Pacific Ocean is our front lawn). Then, after evening prayers the crickets and the crashing waves are what lull me to sleep.
Meanwhile, the atmosphere remains tense in Manila, the epicenter of the Philippine coronavirus crisis. My family decided to move my grandmother out of hospital and back into her home for fear that she would get infected when the hospital started admitting COVID-19 cases. They also worked together to raise funds and source protective gear for my surgeon sister and her colleagues who continue to work in the trenches during these very uncertain times. My dad and brother-in-law are the designated household runners, queueing up for their weekly grocery runs. Thankfully, everyone is safe and well albeit more confined to their homes. As we virtually hold hands/pray/encourage each other through this pandemic, here’s a little dose of warmth and positivity from the smiley Philippines 🙂