Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Tabada: Prepper


IT was past three in the morning. Friday the 13th. Wondered what woke me and read the phone screen: “Kumusta namo diha (how are you doing)?”

So S. and I reconnected the gap of some 30 years when I stayed put in the country and she married, divorced, remarried somewhere in Nevada. We met in one of my earliest jobs and clicked like sisters. I was definitely the “manang (older sister),” as unbending as a stick to the flash of sunbeam that S. was to everyone.

We bonded over, what else, the coronavirus. I mentioned the lockdown of Metro Manila and remembered the three eggs left in the fridge.

S. said her investments took a beating but that she has “cushions” laid away. Then she sent images of their stored drums of water treated every five years and canisters of food that will “stay fresh for 25 years.”

Survivalists, as portrayed in the 2012 National Geographic series, “Doomsday Preppers,” intend to survive a final holocaust, whether it be a “super volcano” eruption or pandemic. Yet, according to “The New Yorker” series, “Annals of Obsessions,” this American subculture is not just about stockpiling food or weapons.

Jason Charles of New York, when not on duty as a fireman, gets together with other families to learn how to prepare for the worst.

“The antisocialness that is developing in us is gonna be the danger for us,” says Charles. “We need to be social, we need to communicate... people need one another to survive.”

After going through my first phreatic eruption, first ashfall and first lockdown, I think nothing is worse than the miasma of anxiety floating around as we freefall away from the ordinary and comforting.

Suddenly, respecting someone’s space has become “social distancing,” an infection control mechanism. “Quarantine,” “isolate,” “work remotely” and “disinfect”—our buzz words move us inexorably to this moment, ever since we think in filter bubbles and connect on social media that’s often not.

In the age of anxiety, how can the preppers be a subculture? Starting “hard up” as an immigrant, S. cut her own hair, “never spent a dime” on fast food burger, did not own a credit card and saved her “small salary.” S. never sent a balikbayan box to her family in the north of Cebu.

Lots she bought instead for her siblings. Relations live in her properties in Cebu City. Living in an “old small house” she bought with all her cash in 2009, when unpaid mortgages threw Americans to the streets, S. has not stopped being a Pinoy in the arid and freezing desert of Nevada.

Only a Pinoy knows what it means to have a roof over one’s head. And own this roof.

Thirty years ago, I nicknamed S. after a sunbeam for the joy she gives. My memory remains good.


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