What getting stuck abroad during a pandemic taught me about privilege and political dissent

What getting stuck abroad during a pandemic taught me about privilege and political dissent

Number one: there will be chaotic family group chats.

Art by Gianne Encarnacion

 

During my flight to Dubai, I realized I was seated next to a fidgety man. I didn’t mind, although I felt a bit sorry for him. After all, he was seated next to someone who changes seating positions every three minutes (me), and then there was my mom by the aisle who sleeps like a log and with a face that’d make you think twice about excusing yourself to use the lavatory. It wasn’t going to be a comfortable flight for any of us.

At first it was the seatbelt. When he finally found the other strap, he asked me if he clasped it right. First time ko kasi,” he said with a sheepish smile. He was maybe in his mid-30s, clutching his envelope stuffed with travel documents. 

I said it was okay, and tried to make small talk. It might make him feel more at ease, I thought. “Magbabakasyon ka po?” I asked.

Ah, oo,” he said, turning away. “Magbabakasyon lang.

He was already facing away from me, but the hesitance in his voice was loud. When we were about to take off, I saw him typing away on his phone — an old Nokia unit, the kind that would last you days without a recharge. Maybe he wanted to send one last message before we’d be too high up for a phone signal.

It’s been more than a month since we got here. The City of Gold, as they call it, and it’s clear why. We got to explore a bit on our first few days, but even then it felt different.

A far-away spectator to my homeland’s war against COVID-19

Back home, shit was starting to hit the fan as people slowly realized the gravity of this pandemic. When President Duterte banned domestic travel, we knew we couldn’t cut our trip short and go home even if we wanted to. 

And so I became a far-away spectator to my homeland’s war against COVID-19. 

Getting information and updates was easy. The most challenging part was dealing with the consequences of expressing my dissent, disbelief, endless disappointment, and most of all — rage. I talked and demanded better governance as if I was there, as if I was one of the people who will be starved to death if the government fails to deliver. 

 

Debating with your jaded and apolitical family members
is an altogether different battle.

 

I was asked to tone it down, multiple times from different people. Mostly in the family group chat. They said what I’m doing online only compromises my safety and that of my family, and it won’t matter much anyway because the government won’t listen. I said, well, are we just going to sit back and make dalgona coffee while the poor suffer? I even quoted Kourtney K., I think. Tito, there’s people that are dying!

“That’s not our problem anymore. Just let the government do their job.” That was what I got. Oh, and also the classics: “Puro kayo reklamo. Kahit sinong presidente naman, ayaw niyo.” And: “Ikaw na lang kaya mag-presidente?” Not to mention: “Puro reklamo, walang ambag?”

Until now, I couldn’t find the right words to describe the level of frustration that I felt at that moment. Engaging with the government’s die-hard supporters is one thing. Debating with your jaded and apolitical family members is an altogether different battle.

I see the same discussion on other people’s posts, too. It can be quite disheartening, to be honest, but seeing other people — especially the younger generation —  fight for the same causes despite the backlash and possible disownment can be empowering too.

The P word

When I was a kid in Pangasinan, I used to sprinkle salt on my rice and call it a meal. Sometimes I’d add a few drops of toyo for more flavor, if I was feeling fancy.

And yet, I also used to believe that people are poor because they’re lazy. I was, in simple words, a shithead.

I’ve come to realize that it’s not just about hard work. Because if it were the case, we’d all be put to shame with our “hustle” and “productivity porn.” Systemic oppression is what prevents the marginalized to have the same opportunities that are oftentimes just handed to us — not laziness. And it’s not always because they can’t afford to go to school. For them, it’s also a matter of choosing education or putting food on the table.

It wasn’t surprising that the discussion around privilege began popping up again during the crisis. Our survival, after all, can be a matter of privilege. You don’t have to worry about your next meal? Cool, lucky you. Just don’t shit on those who have to go out and demand for government aid so they can survive. Your boss gave you an advance pay to ease your finances during this difficult time? Awesome. Please avoid shouting at your 50” TV about how Filipinos are so hard headed because they insist on going to work despite the lockdown. 

I often wonder how the guy on the plane is doing. Did he get to go back to the Philippines before the lockdown or is he also stuck here? If he is, I hope he’s getting by okay. 

 

It wasn’t surprising that the discussion around privilege began popping up again during the crisis. Our survival, after all, can be a matter of privilege.

 

A part of me thinks he flew here for a job, and that just makes it worse. Because that means he has a dependent family back home, and he’s stuck here while businesses are closing down. But maybe that’s just my biases. Maybe he really just wanted to enjoy a few days or weeks in Dubai. But even then, it’s a terrible time to be stuck abroad. 

Well, unless you know someone who can let you stay at their place for free until you’re allowed to fly back. Or unless you have enough income to sustain you until all of this is over.

See? Privilege.

Experts are saying that this crisis might take a while, and that we won’t be going back to normal any time soon. How about we make sure not to go back to what was normal? While we’re all stuck at home, let’s all use our privilege to build a better society to go back to, one reklamo at a time. Who cares if they gang up on you in the family group chat?

Tags:
#health #opinion #politics #self

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