I stood next to a young man at the seafood section of the supermarket the other day while waiting for my fish to be cleaned. The store had just opened for the day and for some reason, the fifty customers allowed in made a beeline for the vegetable and fruit section, the meat section, and the seafood section. It was apparent that everyone wanted to finish their shopping as quick as possible, while consciously trying to keep a safe distance as much as possible from other shoppers.
This young man, who looked like he was in his early twenties, looked back and forth at the spread of fish and seafood and his list, written on a quarter sheet of white paper. I could tell that he was trying to match what was on his list to the items available, which was quite a challenge because some of the tags were left askew on the bed of crushed ice in the general rush to serve everybody. Not wanting to intrude, I kept silent and watched the scene before me: shoppers of all ages giving their orders to staff, some asking questions about the day’s catch, others milling around to see what was available. After a few more minutes, the young man had tried to catch the attention of one of the staff members by raising his hand slightly. I watched him open his mouth to speak but seemed to have thought the better of it and kept quiet.
I caught his eye and said, “Ikaw ba ang quarantine tribute?” (Are you the quarantine tribute?) He let out a small laugh and said, “Yes.” I laughed back, and said, “Don’t be shy.” I turned around and raised my voice a little and said “Ate, may order siya” (“He wants to order”) and left after she had handed me my fish. I think he smiled at me when I left (he had a mask on so I could not be sure) and I gave him a little wave as I pushed my cart away.
If you’re wondering what a Quarantine Tribute is, it’s the chosen person in the household to go out and get supplies during the enhanced community quarantine. Owing to the fact that older people and those with underlying conditions are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, the task of going out on supply runs has fallen to the younger members of the household. “Tribute” is a pop culture reference from the trilogy The Hunger Games, where members of the poor districts are offered as forced participants in a fight-to-the-death televised show, orchestrated for the grotesque entertainment of the wealthy and privileged audience from the capitol.
As of this writing, a group called “Quarantine Tribute Tips” had close to twenty-nine thousand members, which is quite high for a group created just last March 26. You see, that young man wasn’t alone. There are tens of thousands out there just like him, if we go by the number of members in this single group. Here, people share tips on how to buy certain kinds of fruit, (like watermelon) which pharmacies can take phone-in orders for pick up, (Mercury Drug, Watson’s, Southstar) and how long fresh vegetables and fruits last with proper storage. My dear fillennials might be laughing at their questions, but maybe we should take this opportunity to actually answer their questions instead of dismissing it.
Sure, most of these tributes are the likely choice for their household, but let us not forget the fact that they have taken the burden gracefully in order to protect the most vulnerable ones in their lives.
Those of us who are privileged enough to work from home find that we have extra time on our hands. I see a lot of folks getting back in the kitchen, and also those who are venturing in there for the first time; those who downloaded exercise program apps to try and keep fit while on lockdown; those who have gone the crafting way to jog their creative juices. We are living in extraordinary times and are entitled to find ways to cope, be it whipping dalgona coffee after watching a YouTube video or trying to cut your hair with clippers ordered online.
Let us also remember those who need our help the most during this quarantine: daily wage earners who are now out of work, our health and essential workers who care for fellow Filipinos in our hospitals, grocery personnel who walk for miles to get to work, janitors who make sure that our surroundings are clean. Keep asking government important questions about their plans to help this country through the pandemic. You might think that you don’t need to depend on government aid or action, but speak for the countless others who do.
Stay safe, be kind to everyone you come across, and always wash your hands properly.