Phillipino, Maria Leon went home to Manila to visit her parents at Christmas and is now stranded in her hometown thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. At the same time, her husband is stuck on a Greek island, and her university student children are trapped in the UK.
The family who usually lives in Bahrain are now juggling a seven-hour time difference to keep in touch as the virus rages around the world.
Explains Maria: “I came to Manila to visit my parents for Christmas. Unfortunately, my father was admitted to the hospital in January and then again in March. I stayed to look after him, and then the lockdown started. My husband, on the other hand, spent Christmas in Samos Island. Our kids are in the UK for their studies. Our daughter in London and our son in Sheffield.”
Maria, her French architect husband and their son and daughter, are now resigned to it being June at the earliest before they can be reunited back in Bahrain where they have lived for the past 23 years.
With no end in sight for the lockdown being lifted in any of the family’s present locations, Maria has resolved to keep herself busy and stay positive.
She told welovestornoway.com: “At this point, I don’t see a solution any time soon. If only people around the world would be cooperative, sensitive and sensible with the present situation, I believe the spread can be reduced until we find a vaccine.
“Life goes on for us at home. We circulate around the house like we normally do. We still continue our daily routine except for a limited freedom to go out. As long as we don’t violate the lockdown and respect the law, the threat is not worrying. Unfortunately, an incident of shooting has been reported. A man believed to be drunk was threatening a village official with a scythe. The incident happened in the region of Mindanao.”
With the Philippines president, Rodrigo Roa Duterte evidently making good on his threat to have curfew breakers shot, all but a minority of the population are heeding the rules introduced to stop the spread of the virus.
But Maria points out: “Everywhere, you’ll find unruly people who are unhappy about the present situation and don’t understand why rules have to be followed. Here in the Philippines, we have a lot of that kind; people who still wish to continue working, especially low-income families.”
The Philippines government, via its Department of Social Welfare and Development, is, however, trying to alleviate the hardship by distributing emergency cash subsidies to low-income families nationwide affected by the Covid19 pandemic. Unable to leave the house for most of the day, Maria is keeping herself busy with household chores and looking after her father.
“I’m always busy, never idle. Being with the whole family keeps me occupied without noticing the time passing by,” an upbeat Maria remarks.
This is a positive as each household is given a single permit to leave the house. When the church bells toll at 8 pm this is the sign that curfew has begun and no one is allowed to leave their premises.
To minimise mass gatherings and practice social distancing, a mobile market goes around each district while the main public markets operate a schedule for residents to shop twice a week.
As of April 30, the Philippines had reported 8,212 Covid-19 infections. Over a thousand people have recovered, but 568 people have perished due to the respiratory disease. The Philippines, with a population of around 105 million, has 11 locations accredited for Covid-19 testing. A drive-through Covid19 testing station has also recently opened in a car park in the capital Manila.
For now, Maria can only wait out the Covid-19 pandemic in Manila. And hope that she and her immediate family, now thousands of miles apart, can be reunited later this year at home in Bahrain.
Comments Maria: “It’s a busy life being back here at home and with my father being unwell. I don’t usually stay this long in Manila when I come to visit. This is the longest time that I have been separated from my husband and children. I’m most likely to travel back to Bahrain sometime in June. But my travel agent just called me to say that no flight was available until further notice.”
Meantime, the pandemic has put Maria on her guard when being around other people. Says Maria: “The only change that can happen is being more cautious of the people around me, more vigilant against the contagion. I’ll probably miss the ‘besos’, the kisses, hugs and handshakes.”
But no one will grudge her any of that when she and her family finally get together in Bahrain where they belong.