Hoping that you are doing well in these trying times.
Let me share a small story with you.
It has been 470 days (and counting) since the start of the lengthiest lockdown in the world here in the Philippines.
I do recall that day in March when the world turned upside down for all of us. Even though the sky was a shining blue mirror, the trees were petrified in their places, as if terrified by a pestilence that was only visible to them.
There were no signs of life on the streets. It was a ghost town, except for the odd passersby who walked briskly, their terrified facial expressions hidden behind their face masks. At night, one could not mistake the seemingly endless sound of ambulance sirens rushing towards hospitals all over the metro.
When the city government of San Juan announced that there were no classes for that week, I felt happy at first. Since I worked as an English teacher at a nearby elementary school, I did not have to worry about preparing my lessons. In addition, I naively thought that the novel coronavirus was a one-time thing.
I thought that it was going to fade away.
I was wrong.
I remember watching the news via Facebook Live on the night of March 12. To put it shortly: No one was allowed to go around Metro Manila starting on March 15, let alone fly out of the Philippines.
The news broke my heart, for I was planning to marry my Turkish fiancee in Istanbul somewhere around mid-April. Her family has already booked the locations for our civil wedding and the reception.
On my end, I already rented the house that we were going to live in. Heck, I even began to canvass for our furniture and appliances.
I was ready to start a new chapter in my life with the love of my life, whom I met back in my university days in Ankara, Turkey. Instead, COVID-19 took it all away from me.
At first, I did not want to work at all. I just wanted to lie down on the couch and watch videos on YouTube. I dragged my body every morning to my working table, which was just a couple of steps away from my bed.
I did not know what to do.
Every single day, I pretended as if I was okay. I wore a smile in front of my students every single online class, yet my heart was aching deep inside.
The bitter truth was that I cannot have my wedding anymore. It was hard for me to accept this reality.
As I wake up every morning, I felt like I was dragging a large boulder on my back. There was almost no motivation for me to even wake up and eat my breakfast.
Yet, deep inside, I also knew that I had to find a way to proceed with our plans to start a new chapter together.
I was going to fight for the love of my life. We decided to rebook the venue a month later, thinking that things would improve by then.
Still, both countries sealed their borders at the time. As a result, the family of my fiancee rebooked the venue for the third time for August.
At the beginning of August 2020, I have secured my entry visa, travel insurance, apostilled CENOMAR, travel declaration document, and a round-trip ticket. I was excited to go to Istanbul and finally tie the knot with my girl and have a change of scenery; there were not many COVID-19 cases there at the time.
I remember going to the airport on the evening of August 5. I checked in my bags and took my boarding pass. Only the immigration counter remained; I was confident that it was just going to be a formality.
“Sir, you can’t go.”
“You lack documents.”
“I have all of them.”
The immigration officer ripped up my boarding pass and simply told me flatly that my flight was denied. I demanded to talk to his supervisor, but he did not reply and outright refused my request.
As I boarded the taxi, I cried all the way back to Quezon City in utter silence.
I was in a deep state of despair: I just told my bosses at work that I was sick. They realized what happened, and they advised me to go to the main office of the Bureau of Immigration in Manila and talk with the authorities there to get some light on what happened.
The immigration supervisor at the office told me that they purposely kept the new guidelines away from the public to prevent them from being abused. When I argued that it cost me a lot of money to buy a new ticket, she assured me that it would not happen again and that the new documents would ensure that I would board my flight later on.
Thus, for the fourth time, my fiancee and her family were forced to rebook the venue once again. Even though I took my new set of documents (on top of the existing ones), at this point, only a miracle would enable me to go to Turkey.
On August 30, I finally flew to Istanbul on a half-filled plane. I was so scared that the Turkish authorities would turn me back.
When I finally touched down at Istanbul Airport, the Turkish officer simply looked at me and stamped my passport. I breathed a deep sigh of relief as I walked outside the gates of the airport.
There, I saw the woman with whom I was going to spend the rest of my life. She was the reason I kept fighting all this time; thus, I could not contain my happiness when I finally saw her.
A few weeks later, we said our vows in front of a judge on September 7. At the time, my wife looked like she was an angel in white.
It was a sight that I would never forget for the rest of my life.
When we both boarded the Turkish Airlines flight back to Manila, I felt overwhelmed with emotions. Despite all the odds and obstacles that we faced, we were able to stay strong, keep the faith, and see it through to the end of the line.
We bought our furniture, fixed our house together, and even got to travel to nearby places as restrictions began to loosen. In short, our lives are now intertwined.
It has been more than nine months since we decided to share the rest of our lives together. I am happy to say that we have learned a lot together along the way and that I do hope that our life together as a married couple would be a fruitful and meaningful one.
It is apt to say that 2020 was the annus horribilis of this century. Yet, we survived and succeeded beyond the odds. That is always something to be cherished in life.
After all, accomplishing the impossible during the global pandemic is never an easy task to do.
Take care and stay safe!
This story is an entry to ComCo Southeast Asia’s “Write to Ignite Blogging Project Season 2: Dear Survivor”. The initiative continues to respond to the need of our times, as every story comes a long way during this period of crisis. The initiative aims to pull and collate powerful stories from the Philippine blogging communities to inspire the nation to rise and move forward amidst the difficult situation. The “Write to Ignite Blogging Project” Season 2 is made possible by ComCo Southeast Asia, with Eastern Communications and Jobstreet as co-presenters, with AirAsia and Xiaomi as major sponsors, and with Teleperformance as sponsor.