My Quarantine Story: Honorary Mention winner Almina Cunanan

Fall 2020 | By Almina Cunanan.

Editor's note: More than 70 students in the Cornerstone Integrated Liberal Arts program submitted entries into the "My Quarantine Story" contest this spring. This essay by Almina Cunanan was selected as an Honorary Mention winner.

How does one reach out while staying still? Throughout the semester, my SCLA 101 class revolved itself around the theme of journey, which seems quite ironic given the directive for an enhanced community quarantine. COVID-19, the invisible enemy, has seeped its way into everyone’s lives and made each person its prisoner whether they have the virus or not. Nevertheless, despite the consequence of having to indefinitely confine myself to my home, I feel as though there has never been an event that opened my eyes so blindingly to the social realities of my country, the Philippines.

While some may find this period an opportunity to relax, to meditate, to spend time with family, and the like, there are thousands struggling to put food on the table, to pay their utility bills, to survive. And though those struggles may have been a reality long before quarantine occurred, isolation seemed to only heighten the challenges people have had to face in order to sustain themselves and their families. It seems like we are the people of Uruk at the beginning of the tale of Gilgamesh. Just as Gilgamesh seemed to be a source of protection for society, he also  seemed to produce his own type of terror that circulated within the walls of Ururk. He himself caused problems for the people, such as fighting men and raping women, despite the benefit of his protection against foreign enemies. Though he was necessary for the survival of their community, that did not mean he was entirely kind to its people.

The same goes for quarantine. I can see how this procedure may assist in minimizing cases around the world, but that does not make it entirely kind to the people. A lot of struggles people faced required them venturing to the outside world and doing something to alleviate their issues. They had jobs to go to and safe havens to mitigate their difficulties. Nowadays, all many can do is sit and watch as their problems grow.

I am grateful to be part of a family that has all of its basic needs taken cared for. And for a while, it made me feel relieved. It made me feel safe. I would sit around at home without a care in the world while binge watching TV shows and scrolling through social media. I would snack on different types of food all day. In my boredom, I would use up resources simply because I could. In my ignorance, however, I failed to realize the true impact this situation has on the outside world. It took a president ordering his military and police while on national television to shoot people dead if they were not following quarantine rules to open my eyes. He may or may not have entirely meant it, but it did instill more fear in the people of the Philippines during a time when there was more than enough frightfulness going around. Many protested online. “Brute force is not the solution,” the youth would say. As they were typing away, there were Filipinos suffering in the streets, experiencing the said brute force as they were forced to leave their homes in search for government assistance. The world as I knew it was in chaos. Others said to count our blessings, stay at home, and just avoid contributing to the mayhem.

However, in this time of enhanced community quarantine, feeling blessed is not enough when one has the capacity to do more. In addition to the valuable financial support and donations for necessary supplies, there is a variety of other ways people within a community can help one another in making the circumstances we are all in more bearable. One is to speak up, especially for those who cannot. Voicing out opinions and issues increases chances of being heard, but in addition to the volume in which people speak, consistency matter too. Each word is like a hammer meant to break the walls of ignorance down, especially when such walls are placed up and used by authoritative figures to mask corruption and inefficiencies that have no place in a time of crisis. Acknowledging problems is key to knowing what to do and continue doing so in the face of challenges. Another way is to boost morale. Some may not think of it as much, but I have seen friends confined in hospitals on social media that shared the spirits of people in the hospital being lifted up when they received artworks of encouragement from little kids. It helped give them hope for a better tomorrow. Others help their neighbors buy supplies from the market when they realize their neighbors cannot or when their neighbors have to stay at home as they may have been in contact with someone affected by the virus. Neighbors gather online to check in on one another and make sure everyone is alright. Some, if their houses are close by, check in on one another at a distance. People update each other on the local news. People speak up when there may be a problem. People discuss solutions. Nowadays, they even look at the little things because those matter too.

This situation reminds me of another scene in Gilgamesh that particularly stands out. It is the scene where he loses the plant that can give him youth. Nearly every page of the book that I could remember reading felt either action-packed or poetic. This scene was neither. Gilgamesh losing the plant was anticlimactic; a snake just slithered off with it as Gilgamesh bathed. For such an important and impactful moment in the tale, the way it was presented seemed so small in the grand scale of events in the story. It made me realize how major outcomes can result from small gestures. With that in mind, I can say that there is value in any form of service for others. As long as there is the genuine intention to help, the scale of the method in which one aims to assist another does not matter. Ultimately, a difference is created, and that is what makes it significant. We are fighting a virus together. Our actions are no longer ours alone but belong to the community as a whole. And after this pandemic is over, I have come to realize that the things I do will continue to intertwine with the lives of other members of society later on. I came to Purdue last Fall semester with the intention of graduating with a job that earns me a more than substantial sized salary. With everything that has happened these past couple of weeks, my prime concern has shifted to discovering a future that can assist in alleviating peoples’ struggles. I am not sure what that may be yet, but I know that will be the life I can be proud of and feel fulfillment.

For now, I can focus on doing my part by staying at home while educating myself in preparation for a better future for myself and for others. Online classes are an invaluable asset at the moment. There is also a multitude of online resources that I may make use of in my interest. All I have to really do is search for it. There is the time and capability to do so. It seems the most life-changing journey for me happened while at home. Until now, I have been acting as though my life is a right when in reality it is a privilege. In this time of crisis, thousands have been displaced from their homes. People are dying alone. Essential workers are braving fears of being infected by the virus every day to save lives. There is a plethora of situations that could have happened to me personally, but did not, so for the sake of those who have no choice, those who have to be more courageous in these times, I owe it to them to positively contribute to society in any way I can.