Without a doubt, the Covid-19 pandemic has been the single most traumatic and life changing crisis most of the people of this generation have ever experienced. All across the world, this pandemic has had consequences of varying degrees, not only to of mankind, but to each of us all on more personal basis. The Dumaguete City area has so far, for the most part, gotten through the pandemic relatively unscathed,and I think it is important to note that we have done so without the the access to resources and tools available in places hit so much harder, like The USA and Europe.
Why is that so? I believe it has to do in large part because of its people. The only tools in the arsenal locally are lock-downs, social distancing, personal hygiene and the use of face masks. The governments here, whether provincial or municipal, appear to have been smart in how and when to use these tools, and more importantly, the people have made personal sacrifices for the greater good which have paid off. We watch the news of people in the U.S. complaining about the financial hardships of an economy tanking and simple mitigation protocols as mask wearing being an infringement on their human rights, while here we have the vast majority of the population living at or below the poverty level, accepting that this is just another chapter in the Filipino challenge and adapting to it in ways that Americans and Europeans would not even remotely consider.
Putting aside the statistics, I believe it is important to focus on some personal experiences of Expats living through the pandemic in the Dumaguete City area. After reading them myself, I feel extremely fortunate that I somehow ended up here.
Some Personal Stories from Dumaguete Expats
Continued uncertainty leads to an unhealthy state of mind for us humans. The word pandemic sounds relatively harmless doesn’t it, perhaps even suggestive of something benign? How untrue the reality is. This pandemic has most nations in our world in a state of constant fear. Fear of an unknown future leads to an unhealthy emotional state from which people are inclined to act unwisely.
Primarily because of my age, I’ve avoided most of the challenges presently facing many others. The primary one is financial. The impact has been horrific for so many families and communities not only in Dumaguete but worldwide. There are many good people in our Dumaguete community who don’t ask for much from life but now find themselves struggling to feed their families. I’m grateful to be at a time of life when I focus on preservation rather than accumulation of capital. Otherwise, I’d be justifiably concerned about my ability to generate sufficient income to pay bills and adequately provide for my family. The impact must be horrendous on the quality of life in the homes of those less fortunate than me.
So how specifically has the pandemic impacted me? After significant thought, I’ve come to the conclusion the impact has generally been positive rather than negative. One of the few negatives has been the loss of income from my fiancees’ business. Prior to March of this year, she was away two weeks of each month meeting with her clients in Cebu and Manila. Being apart for half of each month helped our relationship by allowing us time apart then appreciating when we were together. But, it’s only a temporary setback because her business can, and will, prosper when the pandemic inevitably ends.
Perhaps the only other measurable negative is my partner, our daughter and I are consistently in each others presence. That has created an issue only for me. In typical Filipino fashion, my partner and our daughter delight in closer contact. As usual, I’m the problem. After living alone for twenty years, its been a challenge for me to adjust to family life even before the current issue arrived. Constant daily, often minute by minute interaction, has added to that challenge.
Our daughter usually attends a school located five minutes from our house, but has not had classes since March. She won’t be physically in school for the foreseeable future. President Duterte wants a vaccine in place before allowing students to return to school, so it could be 2021 or 2022 before that happens. In August, Sunshine will begin a new school year, but all work will be done from home with parents being required to participate in the process. I welcome that and see it as an excellent opportunity to be more involved in my daughter’s educational development. I’ve set challenging, but achievable targets for her. She needs to be in the top three in class throughout the upcoming academic year. The C19 situation will allow me to be involved with her education on a daily basis. That should help her achieve her goals. If she doesn’t, I’ll be partially responsible.
My work as a faculty member and teacher at a local university has been substantially cut back. We are now working online with a significantly reduced number of students. That’s required a lot of retraining and adaption. I’d be dishonest if I was to say that has been easy. I’m beyond hopeless at any technical matter, so I’ve struggled with this new form of teaching.
I believe the measure of the person I am is directly proportionate to how I respond when faced with unexpected life challenges such as those presented by the pandemic. I have the option of choosing to put my head in my hands and be weak, or instead seek opportunities to instead create a positive outcome.
In order to offset the claustrophobia I sometimes feel at home, I’ve taken up cycling and golf. I now cycle five days a week. Since I’d no idea what my capabilities were, I started with a leisurely ride from Talay up to Valencia Proper. I then extended the ride by going up to Bong Bong elementary school. The highlight of the experiment was, after several failed attempts, finally making it up to Camp Lookout. By any standards, that’s an interesting and challenging ride.
And golf! If ever a sport represented an accurate metaphor for life, golf is it. One beautiful shot, followed by a rubbish one, then an average one, after which a good put, then a silly one. It’s hilarious. Surprising those who know me well, I never become upset, or angry when golfing. How could I when, in my seventies, I’m privileged to be enthusiastically walking the fairways on beautiful days, wind refreshingly blowing in my hair, while chatting lightly with a friend or three? Every moment is a privilege.
I’ve used the restrictions of mobility caused by C19 to increase my creative output. I’m writing more and working presently on two books, rather than the one prior to C19. And I’ve created a new cartoon series called XPATS. That’s been a lot of fun. One cartoon will soon be published on a weekly basis.
Perhaps most importantly, I realize how fortunate I am to be living in the Dumaguete area during this challenging time. I met foreigners, mainly good Americans, but also some Australians who had been confined to Negros Oriental because of quarantine restrictions. They finally got sweeper flights that repatriated them. My American friends now tell me that living in America is very difficult for many reasons. They look back fondly on their time here in Dumaguete where people were friendly, relaxed, and cheerful. I heartily endorse their sentiments and am grateful I‘m living here. After a lifetime of world traveling spent sailing across oceans, and living on all but one continent, in Dumaguete, I’ve finally found my home!
When I first learned that Dumaguete was imposing quarantine, I thought it would be over in a few weeks. My husband and I stocked up on rice, pasta, canned goods, and household products to last for the month. On the day before the quarantine went into effect, I picked up a few last minute items, met friends for a final coffee, and wondered how I would survive being “locked” in my house! I even remember telling my husband that I hoped the restrictions would be lifted in 2-3 weeks so I would not suffer from isolation and deprivation. Boy was I wrong!
As April started, I planned to use my at home time to complete unfinished projects. It was satisfying be able to remove items from my “to do list” and I felt a huge sense of accomplishment as I crossed through my final chore on the list. It was a great way to survive the first 2 weeks of quarantine…but now what? By the end of the 3rd week my house and garden where in the best shape ever! Hmmmm, speaking about best shape ever, maybe I could begin a different exercise program since I had to abandon my morning runs due to stay at home orders. The realization that the quarantine would not be lifted at the end of April took root and I knew that I needed a new strategy to survive my daily imprisonment. That is when everything changed!
The pause in my “normal” busy routine has gifted me with a new perspective. Each morning I awake to a uniquely beautiful sunrise over Tanon Strait, really appreciating the different moods and colors that are displayed across the sky. My early morning run at day break has been replaced by an online work out that has enabled me to focus on all areas of wellness, helping me to lose weight and to feel the best I have in ages. Since we are trying to stick to only shopping one time per week, we have tried new recipes, including baking our own bread and cakes as well as making jams and smoothies; and we are enjoying the fabulous kitchen we designed for the house. Since we are “forced” to stay at home, my husband and I are taking full advantage of our patio that overlooks the Tanon Strait.
As I said, my perspective of being quarantined has radically changed. No longer am I counting the days until I resume my “normal” routine; I have a “new normal”. I do miss face to face interactions, but with internet and more time to connect to others, I am able to “chat” with friends and family virtually. I am happy to stay at home during this quarantine, and I hope that when a cure is found, I will not rush back to the days when I did not pause long enough to look at morning sky to see the beautiful daily painting.
I pray that you, your family, and your friends are safe and healthy during this pandemic; and that you too find a “new normal”.
Having lived in the Philippines for a few years I’ve been regularly reminded of the ingenuity, resourcefulness and tenacious abilities of the Philippine people in face of adversity. For me personally COVID-19 has been another shining example of why I would rather live here than anywhere else in the world. As I watch the world squabbling over the wearing of masks, travel restrictions and other petty topics, the Philippines has all but entirely adapted to the regularly changing restrictions and they have worked together as a team to make the most of them.
Of course, travel restrictions and other efforts to thwart the spread of this disease have been inconvenient at times but as part of the Philippine way, they have accepted this reality and pulled together to make life as easy from everyone else as possible – with the cooperation of neighbors, friends and family I have seen little change throughout the ongoing pandemic restrictions and I thoroughly expect that to continue to the conclusion of this world crisis. If anything, the time away from school my children have experienced has provided an overall net benefit to our family unit. Spending more time with the children and connecting with them on a more personal level than while they were in school has been truly splendid.
There have been times when the manpower (mainly womanpower) required to care for our children has been lacking but without a peso changing hands we have shared that blessing with friends and neighbors. In essence the Philippines is a place where cooperation comes naturally and the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced my understanding of this even further. As an additional bonus, the impact of COVID-19 in terms of infection rates is 8 times lower in the Philippines than my birth country of England and almost 20 times less than that of the US – that may not all be a result of better management but I certainly consider the public reaction to those restrictions have helped.
Early on in the pandemic, my wife Shirley got sick, and it was definitely the worst illness she has had in the 7+ years we had been together. She is a tough young woman and usually a day or two is the length of time she ever feels bad.She suffered from bad headaches, muscle pains, a continual fever and congestion. It took her over 3 weeks to get better, and not a week after she was once again feeling herself, I myself starting feeling bad. Over the course of the next few weeks, my illness pretty well followed the typical path that it seems other people who have contracted Covid 19 describe. To be honest, during that time, I never felt any worse than I typically would experience if I had a bad cold or flu, however Psychologically, it was a nightmare.
Keeping abreast of the news reporting, what could only be described as worldwide panic, of a disease no one fully understood, I was faced not only with the prospect of my own mortality, but also one in which my the way in which I could potentially die would be exceedingly scary. I went to bed each night not knowing whether I would wake up considerably worse, descending into a tight spiral which would quickly lead to hospitalization, and a battle for every single breath. Knowing full well that the medical care in Dumaguete for serious illness does not compare to most other countries who themselves had little success treating Covid 19, I was faced with the realization that I had to accept and plan for the worst.
At times like these, as is human nature, one tends to get introspective and this is certainly what happened to me. My main two tracks of self reflection centered on what would happen to those I loved and who depended on me financially, and also whether I was happy with the life I had led so far. To be honest, the picture was not a pretty one.
To begin with, though I am a planner, for the most part the goals I set and the vision I have for my life center around mid to long term time-frames. I have worked hard to provide for my family and though I have come a long way, if I were to die today, I am highly doubtful that it would be a fairly easy and painless transition for the people around me. This not only includes my wife, but also her family members and other employees who work for our company, as well as my business partners. I believe that they would get through and come out the other side fairly well off, but it would probably be a hard time with different opposing interests potentially clashing and causing sleepless nights and damaged relationships.
Not less important was realization that I had fallen into the trap most other people do, and that is getting too wrapped up in a vision of what I wanted life to be in the future at the expense of living life to the fullest today. Though I don’t believe it is prudent not to plan for the future, the fallacy tipping the scales too far in that direction at the expense of enjoying life now, is clearly evident when you come to the realization that you could not be around for that future.
In the end, I survived, my wife survived and it appears that life will go on for us into the foreseeable future, however I believe I would be a fool to quickly forget the hard lessons that I have been forced to learn through my own personal Covid 19 experience. I have been graced with the opportunity to live a dream in a wonderful tropical paradise where if I just open my senses I can see not only great natural beauty, but also human beauty of soul, culture and character. I am surrounded by people who I love and who love me, who will be with mine through thick and thin, at a time in history when in most places, these relationships are almost impossible to find.
Dumaguete is my home, I love it and would not trade my life here for one anywhere else in the world. All I really need to do to make it better is to wake up every morning and realize how good I have it here and let myself experience all to its fullest
We are very blessed living in Dauin during this very difficult times. We are not locked in an apartment but enjoying our home, garden beach and pool and have the option to riding our bikes or go on a hikes. We Are able to purchase our groceries on assigned days without problem.
We do miss however visiting family in Occidental and of course our journeys to other parts of the world, so we are pretending being far away by driving a few miles north or south and enjoying a good meal or even an over night stay at one of the resorts .
But to be honest we can’t wait till the gates are open again
For more information on Dumaguete, please visit our Dumaguete Info Website
Shortly after arriving into Dumaguete, Michael intuitively knew it was the right place for him. Everything seemed to be right. It was and is. In addition to enjoying the way of life, he also met a special Pinay, and is living contentedly with her near the city.
Michael now operates Veritas Consulting Group, a company dedicated to helping other expats and Returning Filipinos with their transition to life in Dumaguete City and surrounding areas
Title: The Effects of Covid 19 on Dumaguete Expats