I spent some time outside the house yesterday, sitting in the driveway to get some sun. I have not done that for a long time. It was pleasant to enjoy a slight breeze, and hear birds chirping. And from where I sat, which was about 50 meters from the main road just outside our community’s main gate, I could see a few cars and motorcycles, and pedestrians passing by.
It was not something I would normally expect on a Wednesday, at mid-morning. Living in Makati City, and just beyond the central business district, I have grown accustomed to the hustle and bustle of city life. It should have been a mess out there by that time. But, in the last two days, it was unusually quiet in our place and around it. Pleasant, but unusual.
On Monday morning, many people still reported for work at the Makati CBD. Traffic was lighter, as school was already out, but there were still a lot of people moving about. By Tuesday, however, many office employees had started to work from home. Commercial establishments started shutting down, and the streets began to empty.
The hustle and bustle had moved indoors. A lot of homes had transformed into home schools and work places. For those who have them, computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones and most other gadgets were all fired up. For those with work and studying to do, and with the technical capabilities to do them, the day was spent catching up and moving forward.
Life went on, but in a new, temporary environment. I had to squeeze a large desk into our living room, moving aside most everything else, just so my wife and I would have a suitable work station, and my son would have somewhere to do online study. It was all about making the home more conducive for what would be the norm during quarantined living. With the structure already in place, the mindset was expected to follow.
This, of course, is just one side of the situation. I cannot pretend to know how the other side is coping. I can only imagine their stress and concern arising from being cooped up in small urban poor spaces, the lack of public transportation, the loss of daily wage, and the limitations on their access to food and services — which require some form of transportation and payment.
They do not have the luxury of knowing the joys of staying home, of telecommuting, or going back to unfinished home projects, or taking up new hobbies. But they are forced to exercise creativity and ingenuity in providing for meals and sustenance for their households. The joy of cooking is replaced by the urgency of surviving.
COVID-19 and the community quarantine, and everything else that came along with them are game-changers for many of us who have survived, and perhaps thrived, on the routine of home-work/school-home, repeat. Even daily wage earners had their own routines not unlike this. Daily life, as we knew it, is now life interrupted. And for how long, no one really knows.
I previously wrote that it was perhaps the loneliest, and not the fittest, that were most likely to avoid COVID-19 since “lockdowns,” social distancing, and “independent” living are nothing new to people who live isolated, hermit-like lives. They already live off-grid, away from crowds, and keep to themselves. Other than perhaps access to food and services, a quarantined life is nothing new to them.
Social distancing, or temporarily keeping away from other people, appears to be an effective way of limiting transmission of COVID-19. But it is also among the most difficult initiatives to take as people, by nature, are social beings. More than this, just to continue on living in the metropolis requires leaving the comforts of home and engaging in some form of interaction with other people. Contact is inevitable.
The way we live our lives has been temporarily changed by government and personal initiatives deemed urgent and necessary because of present circumstances. I guess we just need to make the best of this very difficult situation. A lockdown, whether just for days or for a month, will always be difficult to manage in a situation where people have different economic standings.
But what I find most ironic is that the very thing many of us parents complain about, particularly our children’s dependence on computers, gadgets, mobile devices, and the internet, and the amount of time they spend on social media and Netflix, are now the very things that are sustaining not just them but also many of us in our disrupted urban lives.
Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council.