Stories from these days of stillness

Ross Tugade
Stories from these days of stillness


A Filipino studying in Italy writes about life in self-quarantine at the center of a pandemic

Editor’s Note: We’re running stories of how people – from Metro Manila to Italy – are handling the coronavirus pandemic. It’s our hope that through these stories, we somehow learn from each other and find calm amid the chaos.) 

In the past week, Italy has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 global pandemic with over 20,000 confirmed cases.

The sharp rise in figures has led to the enforcement of a series of unprecedented measures from the Italian government, culminating in the entire country’s lockdown. Movement is restricted for all residents and most establishments have been closed down, except for those providing essential services.

I arrived in Turin, Italy last January to commence the residential phase of my Master of Laws program run by the United Nations. At the time, COVID-19 cases were confined to Asia, with China under the world’s scrutiny. That Covid-19 would explode into its present-day proportions was far from the everyone’s imagination; we had domestic issues to sort in our own backyards. The Philippines itself was still reeling from the Taal volcano eruption.

Barely two months later, I now find myself right at the heart of the disease’s raging fury. Classes have been suspended until further notice. With almost all establishments closed down, social life has come to a grinding halt. I prepared to buckle down for the long haul once having received the news of the Italian government’s decree.

It felt like the extension of a supposedly waning winter. 

As the virus closes in 

In the beginning, it seemed that I would only have to face the slow passage of time. I am, after all, a true child of my generation—all I need is connectivity to keep up with the world.  However, after receiving an official confirmation that I was, along with others, directly exposed to the virus, things had to change. Seclusion has now become a necessity.

Quarantine, as a method in itself, has come home after centuries in a swift, tragic blow: the word finds its roots in the Italian quaranta giorni, where ships during the Bubonic Plague had to be isolated for 40 days. 

Hard lessons are being learned by policy-makers and health workers each day as the figures swell. The tack now taken by these decision makers, including those in the Philippines, is to go to the quarantine route. In theory, it should ensure the least number of transmissions and to contain the spread of the virus. 

Life under self-quarantine 

Most expert advice I have read so far are of the general consensus that those who are to undergo self-quarantine for COVID-19 must do so for 14 days. As I write this piece, I am now a week into my self-quarantine. In the confines of my apartment in northern Italy, I spend most of the day reading, alternating among a variety of books.

Now and then I will go to YouTube to watch videos, often burning through a series of videos with a similar topic or theme. In the past couple of days, the videos were about music theory, custom guitars, and the most difficult songs to play. Most of the time I wish I had a guitar with me.

The afternoons are spent dozing off. I will usually start falling asleep mid-day, waking up right before I would have to prepare my dinner. I consume a lot of social media in between, which I soon end up regretting. Social media is a tricky thing in this situation. On the one hand, it’s my only way to connect to the rest of the world, but it’s also likely to compromise my psychological and emotional safety.

In the last two days, this country and its citizens sang their hearts out from the safety of their balconies, fending off, with all their might, the far-reaching hands of despair. I opened my window today to be in solidarity with a world that’s afraid yet still full of hope.

Telling stories for tomorrow 

Thousands of miles away from home, worried about my family, friends, and country, all I have are the strength of my words. We do not know how soon all this will be over, or if this is the new world we have already effectively inherited from yesterday. 

While my personal circumstances are far from ideal, the reality is I that am still insulated and cushioned by the safety that privilege can afford. Right now while life is in an indefinite pause, I will continue weaving narratives, amplifying my voice.  

Sickness is fought with sound science and policy, but without stories and art, we are doomed to live with impoverished souls. And so I am tapping away, in the middle of the night when the dark is deepest, to allow the world to take a  glimpse into a weary, restless, but still hopeful mind. 

Tell your story for the world of tomorrow.

More importantly, take the opportunity that slowness can afford you to listen to someone else’s. What are their pains? What are their fears? How do they love? What are their dreams? Stories are the driving force of history and for the revolutions ahead. 

The virus and its fury will unravel, forcing us all into stillness. But once its rage descends, what are we but the stories we will tell? –

Ross Tugade, 29, is a lawyer.

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