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Cruising to the Aftermath

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BATANGAS, Philippines –– Batangueños were just starting to bounce back from the Taal Volcano eruption when an even bigger challenge struck at the most inconvenient time. From taking countless lives to crushing dreams, the COVID-19 pandemic took more than what people–including Batangueños–were prepared to give. Now, more than three years since the virus turned everyone’s life upside down, a question still warrants an answer: Will the end ever be in sight?

Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic forced people from all walks of life to swallow life’s bitter pills. It brought everyone face-to-face with the hard-hitting realities of life, death, and uncertainty of what comes next. What was first thought of as a temporary lockdown lasted for months, establishments closed, and all of a sudden, everyone was mandated to stay at home. Fate dealt the cards and people had to make do with what they were given.

To people who were already struggling to make ends meet even before the pandemic hit, the onslaught of COVID-19 added weight to the already heavy cross on their shoulders. For instance, Mang Ricky, a 49-year-old street vendor from Lipa City said that the pandemic made the task of providing for his family even more difficult especially since he is the only one working in their household.

“Sa sobrang tumal [ng benta] nga noon ay naisipan na naming magsangla [ng] tricycle, makasurvive lang kami…Kasi nga talagang walang tao, walang namimili [ng paninda ko],” the father of five recalled, adding that he is thankful that he is starting to have customers again now that people are starting to ease up.

For Mang Ricky, while he thinks that it is probably impossible to completely go back to normal, he remains positive and hopes that this is indeed the end of the pandemic. “Dapat matapos na talaga [ang pandemic] para mabalik naman [‘yun bang] halos lahat ng tao ay pwedeng lumabas,” he said.

Similar to Mang Ricky’s struggles, the 36-year-old security guard Rizaldy said that it became more difficult to earn money during the pandemic because despite being given a minimal increase in salary, the price of basic commodities also became higher.

“Ang masama kasi ngayon, ang bilihin [ay] biglang taas [ang presyo] tapos ang sweldo ay ganoon pa rin. Kung lumaki man [ang sweldo] parang ‘di na rin namin ramdam…Parang pag ipinambili mo ang isang libo ngayon, parang wala na ring kwenta, wala na ring [mabibili],” he commented, adding that life was definitely better before pandemic.

Meanwhile, as the pandemic threatened the sustainability of lots of livelihoods, some had to make drastic career changes in order to survive. Michael, a 30-year-old who now works as a food delivery rider in Lipa City said that he used to be a freelance computer technician. Since he could not land clients at the height of the pandemic, he decided to work as a delivery rider instead because this job is in-demand. But although his life was full of challenges–from being locked down in Manila during the first wave of the pandemic to letting go of his previous work–Michael said that he was lucky enough to be part of a tight-knit community.

“Ngayong pandemic, tulungan eh. Kasi ‘di ba, hindi makalabas? Ako lang ‘yung may motor sa area namin [kaya] ako ang bumibili ng mga kailangan nila [tulad ng] mga gamot. ‘Yan ‘yung nakita ko nakita ko lang, nagtutulungan…kung sino ‘yung walang pagkain ‘dun sa area namin, mayroong nagbibigay. Iyon ang nakita ko sa [experience ko],” he shared.

Aside from workers, Gen Zs also have something to say about the pandemic and the things that they experienced.

For Lance, a student from Mabini, the pandemic will inevitably leave an irreversible impact in everyone’s lives especially since people were caught off-guard when the first wave of the virus. He said that above all, COVID-19 robbed people of time, time that could have been dedicated to other pursuits had the pandemic not happened.

“Para sa akin, pinakamalaking binawi sa atin ng pandemic ay ang oras ng bawat isa dahil kaya naman halos bawiin ang kahit ano, oras lang ang hindi. Nagulo [ang] timeline ng buhay natin kumbaga. Ang daming napatigil sa trabaho, sa pag-aaral…marami ang nawalang oras,” Lance said.

For Shaughn, a 22-year-old from Batangas City, his experience during the pandemic made him realize the importance of making his health a priority. Since most of his relatives work in the medical field, he knows the sacrifices that come with being in the front lines of battle against COVID-19. This made him treasure his health and family even more.

When asked about if he thinks that people are ready to go back to their way of life before pandemic, he answered: “Nakakabalik na tayo halos [sa dati] kasi syempre nasasanay na tayo sa mga bagay-bagay pero syempre, hindi na mawawala ‘yung takot at pag-iingat. Nandiyan na ‘yan palagi.”

While background and current role in the society affect the way people perceive the pandemic and the lessons that they got from it, it goes without saying that everyone is hoping for the best, whatever the “best” may be. But as far as these Batangueños are concerned–from Mang Ricky to Shaughn–while they are hoping that this year will finally mark the end of the exhausting fight against COVID-19, it will never be possible to carry on as if the pandemic never happened. After all, COVID-19 altered and continues to alter the course of people’s lives up to this day.

 So, will the end ever be in sight? Only time will tell. One thing is certain though: the remnants of the pandemic will always linger and the scars sustained will serve as a reminder of the irreparable damage that COVID-19 brought to people’s lives.| – BNN

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