It was my son’s wedding in January and so I had flown home to Baguio City in the Philippines from Hong Kong to attend it. My employers had given me the time off for two weeks, but little did I know that two months would go past without me being able to travel back to Hong Kong to resume working.
I’m a domestic helper in Hong Kong, so obviously my job is not one that you can ‘do from home’. Just as I was trying to get back after enjoying my son’s wedding, Hong Kong went into lockdown. All the airlines cancelled their flights, and us domestic helpers were told that we would not be able to make it back anytime soon. I didn’t know what to do— this was my livelihood that was at stake. I was overjoyed with the prospect of being able to spend time with my husband and all my children— my youngest is 15, my oldest is 24 and my grandchild is 3— but I was also terrified of losing my job or not being paid in the near future.
Stuck in the Philippines, I spent my time looking after my grandchild and taking care of my uncle who was recently diagnosed with a lung disease. This diagnosis became even more worrying as the coronavirus began to get more serious in the Philippines, but I try not to worry too much about it, as I am no longer there to be able to help him. I tried to keep busy and do as much as I possibly could to support my family, to make myself useful, and to also just enjoy the time that I had with them. Luckily, my employers understood the situation I was in and they knew that there was little any of us could do. All we could do was wait.
When flights finally became available again, my employer booked me a flight so I would be able to get back to Hong Kong in order to start working again— at this point, it was already March. Soon after I arrived in Hong Kong, lockdown began in the Philippines. This meant that the rest of my family were no longer able to continue their jobs, as they worked in the construction, car rental and restaurant businesses. Suddenly, I became their only source of income.
Now is not a time you wish to be separated from your family, but I am doing what I have to do so that we are all able to survive. I worry about their health because if anything were to happen, I would not be able to be there with them. I don't think I will be able to return home anytime soon due to COVID-19 but I also have COVID-19 to thank for the extra time I got to spend with them.
When people ask me how COVID-19 has impacted me, I have bittersweet feelings. In one sense, it gave me more time with my family— time I wasn't expecting to have— but in another sense, it separated me from them even more.
Written by: Abi Brooke