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Pandemic reflection: Arlene

What’s your name and what role do you have at Arcus?

My name is Arlene and I am one of the Program Coordinators.

March 8 - arrive - Manila

What were the first few weeks of the Pandemic like for you?

I will try to make this short – it’s one of those “you can’t make this stuff up” stories! So grab some popcorn.....

When the Pandemic was declared, my husband, my son and I were halfway across the world and my daughter was halfway across Canada at the University of Toronto.

March 8 - My husband, son and myself landed in Manila, Philippines (where I was born) for a planned month long vacation. My family usually visits my home country every 6 years, it had been 7 years this time around (it takes that long to save for a trip like this!). A relative’s wedding and a family reunion was planned so we delayed the trip by a few months (nope! we didn’t get to go to either of them). We had planned to do a side trip to Indonesia and Japan aside from the usual Island hopping in the most beautiful beaches of the Philippines.

March10 - short boat ride - pre-pandemic

On March 11, WHO declared the Covid-19 a Pandemic. Just like that, the whole world changed. Countries like the Philippines who did not have a lot of cases reported just weeks before we arrived all of a sudden is declaring lock down. During the Philippine president’s address to the nation, he stated that the virus was brought in by “foreigners”.

March 11 - wishing to be back here

Just overnight, the usual friendly, hospitable people of this country became aloof and afraid of people like us..”foreigners”, although I was born there, I was looked upon as one of “them” with my foreigner husband and my son beside me, my people would not look at us with their usual delight, instead there was fear in their eyes.

Our journey to try and get back home to Canada began on the day of the wedding that we didn’t get to attend-a very tough decision that needed to be made.. The fear of Covid-19 in a crowded church and reception on top of the looming lock down of the city on the same night was too much to ignore.

So, at 2AM on March 14, with the help of friends and families-we quickly had to repack and hop on 2 vans that we were able to secure last minute which will take us outside of Manila to a nearby Province. Together with my mom (who has been there for a month) and 4 other relatives who arrived in Manila from Vancouver only a couple of days before the declaration, made our way to my aunt’s house (she and her husband were also from Canada and spends a few months in the Philippines during the winter time), who happened to be flying back to Vancouver that day. We hoped we can regroup and make our plans to return home away from the crowded, locked down city, there has hardly been any case reported in this Province. We hoped to salvage what few days we have while we're looking for new flights home, but that quickly changed too. Town by town, lock down is being enforced.

March 14 - refuge - away from the city

March 14 - no one around

While visiting a relative nearby, the local folks showed their fear of us as they cover their mouth and nose with their hands when we walk passed them (he ended up getting into a confrontation with his neighbors for “allowing” us in their neighborhood after we left!). There were temperature checks at every town entry, some checkpoint are quick to dismiss us when they see the “foreigner” in the vehicle, they couldn’t make the thermometer read our temperature fast enough so they can let us go in fear of transmitting the virus to them. I quickly realized that Covid-19 isn’t the only threat anymore, for the first time after so many visits in my home country, we didn’t feel safe from its people, FEAR is overcoming both sides.

On March 16 at 1AM Manila time, we were all woken up by a message from my brother in Canada telling us to listen to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he makes a plea to all Canadians to return home from wherever they are in the world. The Philippine President announced that the airport will close to incoming flights, and possibly all travels in and out will be suspended. At that moment, all three families got on our phones, darn be the roaming fee and got on the internet to look for ANY flight back home (Fido - our service provider - announced they’re waiving roaming fees the next day!).

March 16 - soak up the sun-wherever you can get it

By 4AM, we are all booked on a March 18 flight back to Vancouver via Taipei (all the seats quickly disappeared by sunrise!).

To pass the rest of this day + 1 full day to spare, we tried to look for a local beach to relax at but all were closed except one, a private beach who was willing to let us use it for the day and not allow anybody else in, guarded by an armed security (not because of us, but a standard security for the property due to squatters as we’re told), we had the beach all to ourselves for a day. It was hot, but then a big dark cloud rolled in and poured down on us....of course! But that is not a deterrent it’s the only beach with warm water to swim in on this trip, rain or shine. The workers stayed distant but pleasant.

March 17 - pretend for a day - no covid - isolated beach

March 17, our last day, we packed and planned to celebrate my husband’s birthday that evening, then the news came on of military personnel being deployed to major highways to and from Manila to prevent people who were not following the lock down order and curfew. This is a major problem if we are stuck and not able to get back into Manila to get to the airport for our flight back home. Once again, our wits and nerves were tested. By 8PM on March 17, we are again loading our bags, dinner and birthday cake into 2 vans to take us back to Manila and hope there’s enough time for the drivers of the vans to get back to their town before midnight when the highway toll entry is supposed to be closed. Traffic at that time was light and by 10PM, we were checking in at a motel near the Manila airport, the drivers will make it back in time to our relief.

March18 - Homebound - Manila Airport is deserted

Through all these, we were also worrying about my daughter in Toronto. The University closed and all students are leaving to return home, both her roommates have left for home, she’ll be alone - the virus is infecting a lot of people in Toronto. We managed to book her a flight home arriving Vancouver the same as us.

Late, late night of March 18, our family reunited at Vancouver Airport and spent 14 days of quarantine together. Friends and family dropping off groceries/cooked food at our doorsteps.. I never felt better to be at home! All of us together.

What was the summer like?

Summer 2020..did we have one? Oh right! We were renovating on weekends and evenings after a flooded basement! The day job was hectic and I was elbow deep in developing covid safety protocols with the covid committee, virtual meetings, stressing out about PPE supply and how to keep everyone safe, while learning how to continue to operate in the new normal. The best part of summer though is finally getting to see some of our clients and

staff at the homes, albeit outside and masked up. Seeing everyone’s dedication to their clients by being there and putting up with the barriers to hold the line and keep covid out of their clients homes was heart-warming and inspiring.

What does your new routine look like?

I wake up the same time as always, pay attention to how I feel this day (ha! Screening myself for symptoms, sometimes I check my temperature too!), check my phone and slack! (a bad habit I developed!, I’m trying to change that to at least after coffee), decide how to look decent from my neck up. The dogs are very confused but also got used us to invading their peace all day..I make coffee, maybe breakfast, log on to my devices and before I know it – it's dark and my husband is home from work! And no dinner yet! I work a lot from home but all my chores are still done on the weekends, cleaning, groceries, laundry. My husband commented that I put in 16 hours work everyday! (maybe when dinner is not ready in time....haha!)

How would you describe how you’re feeling now?

There’s a saying that goes “don’t wish your life away”.. but this year, I think we are all wishing it away! Another day that I hope I do not get a call, or see a pop up message of any home needing elevated protocol. As we wish it away, we are really asking for the day closer to the light at the end of the’s been a very long journey so far..

What’s been the hardest for you?

Knowing that many families are separated, or people suffering from the illness. It's also hard to hear and see the lack of care from some people. Everything is hard! I think whatever your belief is – we are all having a different kind of suffering, but suffering nonetheless. It’s hard to keep convincing others to “Keep it up” so sometimes, that feeling of defeat (it passes quickly!) until you talk yourself into...keep going, there is no choice.

We believe that we are all in leadership positions here at Arcus, what qualities do you think have been most important in leading at this time?

Unwavering dedication to what we do. Staying on task, keeping focus, resourcefulness, learning from every opportunity, attention to details, and most importantly, by being genuine (kindness, thoughtfulness) and trustworthiness. Our front line needs to know we got them!, that we are holding the back of the line so they can be steadfast in holding the frontline.

How have you been taking care of yourself?

Hmmm, the past 8 months, staying at home as much as possible is taking care of not just myself but of everyone around me. Also – I recently bought a spin bike! We’ll see how that goes. When my brain is tired, all I really want or need is a good movie and to cuddle with my dogs, hearing my kids and hubby at home safe, a hot cup of tea or this time of the year, a hot cup of truffle cocoa..

The rest is history - still being made

We get by with a little help from our friends...who would you credit as helping you through this time?

From the Philippines to here – Family was there for us!

Do you have any life experiences that have helped you get through this time?

Beating cancer!

What are you looking forward to the most?

Peace, unity, hugs xoxo! VACCINE and VACATION DO OVER!

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