Being the “alay” or tribute of the family

Queueing during the pandemic lockdown by CC Lozano

It was mid-March of 2020 when the first lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic was announced in Metro Manila. Days prior to the announcement I was nervously busy going out and about to prep up for the stay-at-home restrictions. Aside from ensuring we have enough supply of alcohol, disinfectant, and face masks, which by then were hard to find and with unbelievably high prices, I went out to stock up on food and a mix of things I thought we’ll need while locked down. I bought a new laptop, a printer, paper supplies, four walkie-talkies, a digital blood pressure monitor, extension cords, and sacks of dog food.

Much like in the movie The Hunger Games, being the head of the family, I was the “alay” or tribute. At the time, most barangays were closed or barricaded from outsiders to prevent the alarming spread of the virus. Entry and exit points were guarded and strictly monitored. And there’s only one in each household to be issued an all-day quarantine pass, which will allow you to go out either for work if you’re a frontliner or to get essentials. In my case I was the latter going out to buy my family’s day-to-day needs.

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My job search during the pandemic

Walking in solitude at the mall during the pandemic by CC Lozano

I was on an auto walkway minding my own business when out of the blue my mind sort of went on a throwback of how my job search journey was at the height of the pandemic. It wasn’t exactly a walk in the park but it sure was an unforgettable misadventure. February 2020 would have been the usual love month celebration but turned out to be a prelude to the scariest months of quarantine and lockdown. I recall people already wearing face masks that at the time were already becoming scarce and expensive coming from January that saw the Taal Volcano eruption lasting several days, with the ashfall even reaching cities in Metro Manila including Caloocan where we live. I was already rendering my final weeks at my former job of almost 15 years, both excited and apprehensive. Back then I thought I was ready, thankful for the many years of professional experience, curious and hopeful that I was seasoned enough to move to a new and relevant role. Like me and so many others praying for better days, nothing could have prepared us for COVID-19 finally being declared a global pandemic and changing our career prospects forever.

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Kindled to going back to reading

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite by CC Lozano

Hey kiddos, look what I got myself last Christmas. This is one of two Amazon gadgets I bought from local sellers. Been wanting to get an e-book reader since the first Sony model came out but never really got the chance of scoring one. I’ve been pushing myself to go back to book reading, but aside from frequently forgetting to dog-ear the page, I’d forget the book entirely. And I guess age plays a big role now as I couldn’t last an hour reading without falling asleep, lols.

Of course, nothing beats printed books either old or new, the smell and the adventures of having to turn every page of each story, but the Kindle will allow me to bring as many titles as the device’s storage can handle, in my daily commute to work or during my free time.

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Presence, more than the presents

Who could’ve imagined that that scary virus outbreak we’ve been hearing about in China as early as January last year will turn out to be a global pandemic that affected millions of lives everywhere. COVID-19 may have infected and killed numbers unimaginable, but it’s as if the fluctuating stats and the discovery of a new strain weren’t enough to scare people away from celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Eve, especially here in the Philippines, where we have the earliest and longest holiday celebration.

Last December, people must have thought the pandemic is about to come to an end. The year’s last stretch saw the malls packed and with long queues of shoppers on a holiday rush forgetting to observe social distancing. Traffic went really bad leading to the holidays you’d think “what health crisis?” Churches were overflowing with catholic devotees both early mornings and nights not wanting to break the “Simbang Gabi” tradition. The only striking difference is that people were sporting face masks and face shields.

And if there’s anything that this deadly virus has changed in the most celebrated season of the year, is that we’ve come to really appreciate the presence — of being surrounded by family and friends, more than the presents — the gifts or stuff that we’ve been wanting to receive.

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Happy to be ghosted and rejected

My friends didn’t know, my relatives won’t believe it, but I was jobless for almost five months or during most of the lockdown period brought about by the pandemic. It was a personal struggle that kept me off the grid. And it would have been a terribly depressing situation, except I thought this can be an opportune time to finally get it rolling with starting our own business, which we did. And thankfully Camia Eats is doing well and kept me busy and my mind off my personal worries.

When the community quarantine became less stringent and companies started opening their doors to work opportunities again, that’s when I started sending out applications. I would almost always intro myself as having 25 years of professional experience but that didn’t prepare me for the onslaught of nonreplies. LinkedIn at the time was fraught with posts from budding and seasoned professionals being let go then getting frustrated from recruiters that ghosted them. Devastating to a candidate especially when one thought it was a promising lead. That’s several months of job hunting and some, if not most, are beginning to doubt they’ll get their careers back on track given the gloomy prospects of the health crisis that have yet to end.

Perhaps due to the global pandemic, there are a lot of companies that couldn’t do business anymore and too many people lost their jobs as a result and are now all looking, and recruiters are simply overwhelmed – I was trying to convince myself with this reasoning but the more I realized it was the same case for me as those frustrated posts on LinkedIn. I thought my 25-year career is already impressive but that ain’t a guarantee. It tested my faith and I was starting to lose my confidence. Until recently, I didn’t know job hunting was this tough and frustrating. Thing is, what if the job ghosting and rejections are actually pointing you in the right direction?

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Out of crisis comes opportunity

“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity,” said Albert Einstein. And this was my first thought when I was faced with a very difficult situation at the height of home quarantines and lockdowns due to the pandemic. The timing was as bad as the growing number of people getting the virus. I wanted to move on from my longest career stint to the next, but there seem to be not that many opportunities available back then as more and more companies struggle to keep the business going or just end up quitting the fight and close shop. It sure is no good not to be able to earn a living at a bad time such as this global health crisis.

The crisis that made it even more difficult to get essentials – food, medicine, day-to-day needs, during the first few days of the first lockdown – that extended to weeks and even months. As the head of the family and the one issued with a quarantine pass, I was the one braving the long queues at the nearby supermarket to secure essentials for our household. I dreaded going out every single time, for fear of picking up the virus and putting my family at risk. That’s when I realized I needed to start what my wife and I have been wanting to do but really didn’t have the time. We’ve been planning to turn our garage into a small food park of sorts; no longer a workable and practical idea given the restrictions in the new normal.

So with what’s left of my savings, I instead converted a small space of our house fronting the street into a tindahan or sari-sari store and called it Camia Eats. While the original idea is to make it easy for our community to get access to essentials, we wanted it to be the go-to place for anything needed for home – from combo or paluto meals, tube ice, and purified water to prepaid loads, cash-in to electronic wallets, and printing services. And as if awakening a long lost passion for food (me being an HRM degree holder), I started baking – initially with Ube Cheese Pandesal, then later other flavors and baked goodies. After several recipe trials and oven fails, we sold bags of our flavored pandesal to our very supportive neighbors and friends and relatives from as far as QC and Novaliches.

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How have you been?

If you haven’t been asked or is not asking this question lately, perhaps this is the best time to talk or get in touch with someone who’ll most likely need interaction, especially now that we have yet to see the global pandemic crisis ending pretty really soon, and given the prospects of having to deal with the “new normal.” I know it’s been a while and the past two months weren’t exactly easy, but how have you been? Hope all’s well with you, I pray that you’re safe at home with your family and loved ones.

I have been mostly inactive online because like most of you, I was silently struggling with life’s many tricky things big and small. It was a first quarter storm for me – my car was a total wreck after the holidays thankfully no one was badly hurt, few weeks after that I lost the job I kept for almost 15 years, then a heavy downpour of what seems to be a streak of bad luck – that, while having to deal with the news of the virus infection being widespread and later becoming a pandemic. It was the lowest of low for me that later turned into something that concerns not just myself but my family and as scary as what the world makes of the health crisis, panicky as it affects people from all walks of life, even the wealthiest and most especially the poor.

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Not forgetting

I grew up in a household that doesn’t celebrate Halloween. It’s not exactly a big childhood thing I missed, the idea of decorating your house and dressing up to look scary and buying buckets full of sweet candies for kids sounded too foreign to me. Though as an adult, and especially at work, I softened to this tradition, I would’ve been an obvious killjoy if I was the only one not in costume or pitching in for trick or treats.

On the occasion of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day, what I do recall is this recurring and constant talk of the sacred rule of “not forgetting.” Our elders, my mother back then included, will remind us to find time, no give time actually, to our loved ones who passed away. That means going to the cemetery, no matter the distance or the unforgiving crowd, and spend a day or two, even overnight, with all family members in attendance, to remember the dearly departed. Perhaps, the reason why the first two days of November are always a holiday off.

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