I usually walk to the next door mall to pick up my take away lunch. Even during the sweltering mid-day sun, with those darn face shields glaring back at you and your breath warm because of the hot summer weather, I pick up my lunch from the mall to eat back at the clinic.
I rarely make conversation with anyone I meet along the way. A nod. A smile (under my mask). That is all the mechanical greeting I can spare for now. The pandemic has kept us all conscious on how we deal with people we meet, even under casual circumstances.
But this pandemic has changed more than just the way we meet and greet. It has upended lives completely and todays short story is about the very short conversation between the waiter and I. As I stopped to pick up lunch (and give him tip – God knows he needed it more than I did), he asked me discreetly, “sir, may alam ba kayo may opening na trabaho? Kahit na ano. Maglinis o mautusan ninyo?” That sentence alone took me by surprise. I had that shocked look in my eyes and told myself “damn, it’s really worse than we think”. Unfortunately, while I would like to help him more (aside from the tips I give to those who work in restaurants), all I could muster was, “sorry wala akong alam na puede ka. Mahirap talaga ngayon ano?” And he just nodded, gave me my salad, and I gave him his usual tip.
As I was walking back to the office, I noticed how many of the struggling stores had closed. How tepid the mobility was. The casualty of this pandemic were not only lives but livelihood as well. And for developing countries like ours, the daily wage earners were at the core of the nuclear bomb on our economy.
The rich would always have their ivory towers to look down from. There would be those who would blog, or vlog, their life stories on how they got COVID-19 and survived it. How they were able to isolate and swab families and friends after their gathering. How they were able to get hospital beds or have relatives who are doctors who are able to scavenge for rooms for them when there was no more room at the inn. How they were able to separate their families into various houses they own, with one family heading off to their 2 bedroom condominium and the other family to their rest house near the sea. At the end of the day, with all that moolah splashing around, they would tell you stories of how they became blessed with the distinction of being “covid survivors”.
And then there are those who have absolutely nothing left in life. Like the waiter in my encounter today, whose daily life is a battle in itself between the virus and putting food on the table. Between buying a face shield or spending for two eggs.
The decisions that the rich and poor make everyday are no-brainers. One decides on what vaccines to get or how to get them, the other decides on how to feed his family or even making ends meet. One decides on how many rooms the children can play in with the air-condition on during this scorching weather, the other decides on where to get the payment so that they can keep that single electric fan shared by the whole family running to stave off the heat. One decides on when can they go out of town to enjoy the warm waters on the beach, the other decides on when they can even go home to the provinces so that they can start life anew, away from the madding urban life. One decides on what Telehealth platform they can access to get in touch with their private physicians, the other will need to make do with whatever medicines they can access for now.
Life is never fair. Even during prepandemic days, the disparity of those who have versus those who don’t, has already been obvious. But the poor just strive harder to make ends meet, and are able to get by day to day. The pandemic, however, revealed the more obvious and uglier side of this great divide. The government’s response was sadly one that was discombobulated. Egos came ahead of logic and critical thinking. Experts were flying left and right and everyone had an opinion. While some gave more than they could, some stole more than what they could morally account for.
The community pantries will die a natural death. Resources will deplete itself. The “ayudas” will come to a stop and eventually haunt us. Vaccination roll out isn’t quick enough and how to get a jab is proving difficult for those belonging to class D and E especially when you need to book a slot online.
Over a year into the pandemic and the great divide between the rich and poor is more glaring than ever.