What a crazy time. I follow America’s turmoil as I live in an alternate reality, literally half a world away.
I watched portions of news reports on the protests about George Floyd back home, and honestly, it’s about time people got mad enough to hit the streets. As Tedly says: just imagine what happens to black Americans when there are no cameras recording.
It sucks this is happening during a pandemic that is disproportionately killing black Americans. Hopefully the virus doesn’t spread any more. Hopefully protestors will be driven to vote. And hopefully, there will be an election in November.)
There are no protests sparked by blatant racism here in Malay, Aklan, Philippines. Just the virus. And that’s enough. ‘Rona doesn’t care i you’re black, brown, white, yellow or purple with green ears.
So while turmoil back home is not found here, things are not exactly smooth sailing on this side of Earth.
Pandemic status update
The short version
- Quarantine restrictions around the Philippines continue to ease
- There are no known COVID-19 cases around us
- The Western Visayas (where we are) lost 31.3 billion pesos in tourism money due to the coronavirus and travel bans
That last point is huge.
In American dollars, 31 billion pesos is $614 million. That is a staggering amount of money lost for this country in less than three months.
We are in Aklan Province, across from the famous Boracay Island, which has the White Beach – the most visited beach in the Philippines.
More than $223 million was lost from Boracay’s economy and Aklan Province. Ouch.
The flow of tourism money dried up here 2.5 months ago. By now, people are down to their last pesos.
That’s the short version – all about the numbers.
The rest of this post is about people.
Pandemic status update: longer version
I met a former waiter who used to make a good living in Boracay. Now, he has all day free. The restaurant where he worked for years is closed indefinitely.
On sunny, windy days like we had this week, this man races toy sailboats with this son, but he’d rather be working.
“There’s no work at all,” he said. “I’ve tried everything.”
One recent headline was ominous: Boracay sinks in pandemic.
The story included an interview with a former head chef from Boracay. Out of work thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, the man considered himself lucky to make the equivalent of $3 to $4 a day selling barbecue skewers on the sidewalk.
The article also had an honest quote from the president of Boracay’s Chamber of Commerce. “We don’t know if travel will normalize in 12 months, two years, or more,” she said. (Emphasis mine.)
We are renting an apartment across the channel from Boracay on the larger island of Panay. Many of the people I’ve met in this area had jobs on Boracay. Dive masters, tour operators, waiters. They either commuted to Boracay, or they lived there. Now, many people live back on this side of the channel with extended family.
These are people who never had to fish to survive. Now, they make nets and swim with spears. Families plant more gardens. Survival calls for creativity.
I’ve met some Filipinos an entrepreneurial spirit. For example, Beverly – the seamstress I met this week. She patched our blue bag – the one I’ve been traveling with since August 2015.
While waiting for the repair, I saw her display of masks. She sells them for the equivalent of 80 cents each, and she said she sold up to 50 a day on her best day. That’s the equivalent of $40 – that is a lot.
Of course, I bought one! It’s a comfortable design, and much nicer than the one Tedly bought me. Don’t you agree?
When will tourists come back?
Boracay appears ready to open to domestic tourists starting on June 1, according to news reports and many local people. International tourists will come sometime later, once the new coronavirus testing facility is complete in Kalibo, the provincial capital about 40 miles from us. I have not seen an official date yet.
Tourists from Manila are more likely to return to Boracay this year than Australians or Chinese. But there are new spikes in COVID-19 cases in pockets of Manila.
Whenever tourism does boot up, there won’t be as many visitors to Aklan Province. The struggle is real, and it’s likely to be long lasting. As in America, Filipinos with less suffer more.
I walked to Malay the other day for supplies and when I passed the town center I saw people sitting in chairs several feet apart. Curious, I asked a young lady wearing an official-looking badge what was going on.
The government was distributing subsidies to rice farmers. “All these people are rice farmers from the area,” she said. “This is to help them plant more.”
There are more than 10,000 rice farmers in Aklan. They each get a one-time cash payment of $100. That is a lot of money here.
Just like in America and other countries, the Philippine government has passed stimulus packages. And, just like America, the government cannot hand out money to everyone forever.
Rice is a staple here. That, along with food from the sea, and coconuts on the trees, and vegetables and fruits in gardens, should be enough to prevent too many Filipinos from going too hungry. Hopefully.
Thanks for reading, “Pandemic status update from paradise.”
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