My Very Own COVID Quarantine Facility

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 Sep) – Hubby and I had been saving to get ourselves a condo unit for our retirement years. There was one such property that often caught my eye because it had had lots of pools. It reminded me of Mulia, a Bali resort on the Conde Nast Traveler Gold List. So for close to three years, hubby and I were paying for a unit each, planning on putting the two together for a bigger living space.

But just as we were about to complete the 30-percent down payment, take out a bank loan, and start customizing the unit to our needs, the 2019 Mindanao earthquakes happened. The damage inspection team reported that this property needed to fix some structural damage. The prospect of living six floors up did not seem appealing any more.

When the developer offered to pay us back in full last February 2020, we did not hesitate to have the contract rescinded. Well, I would have wanted to quibble a bit on the matter of interest our money earned while it was with the property developer, but sometimes it’s just better all round to cleanly cut one’s losses.

My husband works on the other side of the mainland. It takes him some time to arrange to travel to Davao to do business. So it was some days after we got the notice that the check was ready that he was able to come over and we could claim the check together.

That was the last he would be home for some time because just a few days we got our scared customer refund and after he had gone back to his work base, the world saw fit to lock people down where they were. It was like that game of Statue Dance: Everybody freeze.

Stay home. Save money. Save lives.

Liane, our eldest, was still working at a drug rehab facility. She sheltered in place. RR would drive me over to the center to bring Li grocery every week to augment the center’s kitchen. Maybe also to assure me that she was eating right. She would meet us at the gate masked and all, and we couldn’t touch or hug. It broke my heart. It felt like visiting a person deprived of liberty.

Sage, on the other hand, had to forego going back to UP Visayas. She was home with me and constantly worrying about her friends who got stuck in the Miag-ao dorms. She was raising money to help them with their basic necessities, calling on her network to pitch in and get help to the poor iskolar ng bayan. It would be months before the last of them, especially those from Luzon, would be able to make it home to their families.

At the start of the COVID pandemic that March, I missed hubby very much. Families should be together during crisis, but I did not know when he could get past the many checkpoints between Iligan and Davao. He would send me stuff through LBC, and back then it sometimes took three weeks before the package arrived. He finally made it home on Fathers’ Day in June. It was the longest we had been apart since we got married almost 30 years ago.

I missed Liane, too. It terrified me that the center soon began to hold birthday parties again. My experience at attending some there in the past was of clients’ kin from all over gathering in an airconditioned space. There would be raucous games, loud singing, and riotous laughing… and that is how the COVID virus gets propelled out there for the vulnerable to catch. Right?

Mostly, I feared that immersing 24 hours a day among troubled clients would not be very good for my baby girl’s mental health. But of course, she’s an adult. She would know how to take care of herself. She can decide what to do with her life.

But I was very relieved when she decided to quit. That told me she too knew how to cut her losses.

I took long solitary walks at dusk down deserted streets. Breath muffled in my unfamiliar mask, I imagined I looked like the kidnapper that children should hide from. The dark, deserted streets reminded me of walking home almost half a century ago in my sleepy hometown. Life shut down as the town church tolled the Angelus.

Forced to work from home finally got me to confront the extensive house repairs needed. In 1999 when we moved to Davao, we settled in the Royal Valley house Tatay Honorio built in the 1950s. In late 2020, Dito – that internet company – sent in a construction team to break ground at the lot across my side gate. Soon they were constructing round the clock. The house vibrated with the constant jackhammering and heavy trucks coming and going. It was no use asking the barangay captain to make this company comply with the curfew like everyone else. The Royal Valley residents’ complaints of the perennial dust and din and the occasional midnight fire at the construction site just fell on deaf ears.

But when the house got flooded twice last October 2020, bringing in our neighbor’s wealth of rotting trash to rest on my floor and wedge into every nook and cranny, it really was time to move out.

I had earlier wasted PhP70,000 of our house money paying a contractor’s draughtsman to prepare the plans, secure the needed signatures, and obtain a building permit that would allow us to build our home. Two weeks before he passed away, Tatay Larry gave hubby the title to a home lot located on a quiet side street in Matina Crossing. We did plan to build there after we got our refund from the condo people. When we talked in May of 2020, the draughtsman said that the City Engineer’s wasn’t processing applications because of COVID. Maybe it will take them five months to get to our application. Come November, I checked and found they never submitted our application.

So I brought in a hundred mini dump trucks of earthfill to the home lot to raise it higher than the road. Taking inspiration from my architect friend Richard Manapol on how to build fast, I checked out prefabricated container homes and arranged with Engr. Paul Garcia to help me put a few together. Unlike traditional buildings, prefab containers are considered temporary structures and the building permit for such comes out in two or three weeks. There are units now that come in 20 feet by 10 feet by 8.5 feet. That size can accommodate a small en suite toilet and bath.

Twelve weeks into turning prefab containers into a home for me and mine. MindaNews photo by GAIL ILAGAN

So one each for the girls, one for hubby and me. Manang has to accommodate a small kitchen and dining area in her space. Her room also has a toilet and bath. We used the steel doors as the units’ exit door. Across from that, we replaced a wall panel with a sliding glass door leading to our shared family space. Our common area has space for reading or watching TV and a pocket kitchen/dining area. A spiral staircase there leads up to the deck.

I work up there on the deck with the gray railings that match my gate. I have a view of the treetops past my neighbors’ roofs and I get visited by butterflies and sunbirds. The breeze flows through the deck most days, and I can pretend I am on a ship. But the rain can get in when the wind is blowing hard. For now I’ve solved that by putting up shower curtains. Someday, I’ll probably think up of a more aesthetically pleasing yet sound solution. Drop walls maybe. Or accordion curtains. Up here, I have a bubble bath, hot and cold shower, water closet, and a wash basin. I also put in a portable sink for washing mugs and dishes because my brain runs on coffee and sometimes we eat up here.

A sunbird (tamsi) preens in front of the mirror over my wash basin. MindaNews photo by GAIL ILAGAN

There were frills that I wanted for myself, and I bankrupted my travel fund to get them. The countries I was supposed to visit all do not accept aliens vaccinated with Sinovac, so what’s the point?

Cost-wise, accounting for additional brace on the floors, tiles, customized windows, lights, ceiling panels, bathroom fixtures, checkered plates for the deck floor, and auto paint finish, the build rings in at about P14,000/sqm. Traditional build usually pegs at PhP25,000/sqm and a house this size might take 6 months to build. My very own Covid quarantine facility only took about 14 weeks to put together.

The family is fully vaccinated, so I would like to believe that should any of us contract COVID it’ll be the asymptomatic or the mild version (Knock on wood). I heard somewhere that a COVID-positive person who is asymptomatic or has mild symptoms may be allowed to isolate at home if there is a room there with its own toilet and bath. So if I get COVID, please let me stay home so I can still work in my bubble bath.

I love this house that I put together for my family. I need to pat myself in the back from time to time for taking back for myself the sense of security that this pandemic seeks to take away from all of us. In a world made insecure, people should be allowed their security base where they make it.

My workspace upstairs temporarily taken over by Sage’s floral offering for Mothers’ Day. MindaNews photo by GAIL ILAGAN

About the Author
Gail Ilagan is the chair of the Psychology Department at the Ateneo de Davao University. Working from home these past 18 months, she bleeds off the stress of transitioning to online instruction by building her house, completing two major research contracts, helping write a teacher’s manual for BARMM and DepEd, and editing a college textbook on SUD treatment. Better to make sense where things make sense while waiting for the world to right itself.

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