The following is part of Cecilia Brainard’s series, Filipinos Coping with Covid.
Responding to my interview questions, Filipino American author Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino describes life in New Jersey, USA, during the time of coronavirus. This was written on May 24, 2020.
Update August 4, 2020 by Betty Ann Quirino: New Jersey is still on partial lockdown, even if some places opened. Gyms and bars are still not allowed to open. And masks are mandated in every building, park or public place.
We are still working from home and practicing social distancing as we did in March.
Interview of Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino by Cecilia Brainard
Copyright 2020 by Cecilia Brainard
1. Are you still on lockdown?
Yes, we live in New Jersey, a hotspot. Most of the state is still on lockdown. Some places have been allowed to slowly re-open, though. But my husband and I personally feel it is too soon to go out and mingle. We live in a suburban town in Northwestern NJ, about 60 miles west of NYC. We are actually closer to the Pennsylvania border. My husband and I are very strict about social distancing. We have limited our trips to essential places in town – like the food store or farmer’s stores every 2 weeks, occasionally the bank ATM, the gas station, and the post office.
2. Are you working? IF yes, are you working from your home or do you have to go to your place of work?
Yes, I am a freelance journalist, writer and author. I work from home; I always have even pre-pandemic. I keep regular office hours. So, I am used to the work-from-home scenario My husband has been working from home since the lockdown began in mid-March. He works in his den and maintains strict office hours. We try not to disturb each other, especially if we have web meetings or online seminars going on. We are both fortunate we have the luxury of working from home, so we can be isolated from the dangers of being contaminated by those who have Covid19.
3. Were you affected financially by the pandemic? Did you lose your job? Did you get assistance?
No not yet, thank goodness. For now, we both are working hard and keeping our expenses down, being economical and thrifty. We are preparing ourselves for the economic situation to get worse than it already is.
4. Do you go out ? To take walks? To see relatives/friends? For exercise?
If we go out we only go food shopping, and to essential places like the bank, gas station, post office. We have not seen relatives or friends, not even neighbors, since the lockdown started in March. We have not seen our sons (who each live in SF and in Philadelphia) since pre-pandemic. It is simply not safe to be out and about. For exercise, we have our indoor treadmill. And I have my online exercise classes.
5. Do you wear a face mask? Do you practice social distancing?
Yes, my husband and I both wear masks. We’ve had these protective masks with replaceable filters since last year, pre-pandemic. My son who lives in SF got them for us, for our visits during the time the California air quality was bad due to the wild fires last year. So, when the pandemic happened, we were ready with our masks. We actually started wearing them here in NJ, way before it was state-mandated, for protection and as a courtesy to other people. And recently, I gave my husband a hat which has a plastic face shield. I got myself a similar sun hat with a protective plastic shield. I used it over my face mask when we ventured to the wholesale club last week. It made me feel safe. And yes, we practice social distancing – at least 6 feet apart from other people if we have to be outside.
In the past, all I needed to worry about before leaving the house, was where my sunglasses were. These days, before leaving the house – we are in full battle gear with masks, face shields, gloves, sanitizers, and all. I am certain eventually; we will get used to this as a way of life.
6. Please describe your daily routine:
On weekdays, I keep regular office hours, as a freelance journalist, writer and author. I maintain regular office hours – writing, reading, researching.
My work days are filled with work-related phone calls, web seminars, zoom meetings.
I quit working by 5 ‑6 pm. I log on to my online exercise classes or else go on the treadmill. I start cooking, get on social media, watch the news, and then we have dinner. These days, the news has become unbearable, so we keep it to a minimum, limiting our feed to local New Jersey news from our Governor, so we know what resources we have, as far as Covid19 is. After dinner, I chat with our sons. Then, we binge on Netflix, Prime, Hulu and Apple TV.
I end my day the same way I started it – with prayers to restore my faith, hope and courage in these tough times.
7. Do you go buy your own groceries?
Yes, I go to the stores of local farms, more often than the large supermarkets – the farm stores have curbside service, so the clerk puts my orders in the car trunk and I don’t need to have any human contact with them.
8. Do you order food to go?
No, I have always done my own home cooking and baking, even before the pandemic. That has been our norm. I bake our own Filipino pan de sal and ensaymadas I haven’t been able to go to the Asian market, which is an hour away, since the lockdown.
9. Do you shop online?
Yes, I shop for other essentials online on Amazon, Target, Walmart. The point is to avoid going out unnecessarily.
10. Do you worry about the future?
Yes, of course, like all humanity probably worries these days. I try not to give in to my fears or to any form of depression. I told my sons the same thing – you cannot give in to fears, to sadness, to anxiety, because if you do, then the enemy wins. In this case, the enemy is the virus. But I know the world will overcome this, as we have in the past.
As Filipinos, we are strong, resilient, and we bounce back every time from any calamity. And I noticed with most Filipinos, we do not whine, rant or complain as much as other nationalities do. We know how to bear heavy burdens without complaining. I think we learned these lessons from our parents and grandparents – they were the best generation there was. We learned from their stories and how they lived their lives.
11. What do you miss doing?
I miss seeing my sons and visiting them in the cities where they live. I miss traveling for vacations – overseas especially. We had to cancel a trip to the Philippines early this year when the pandemic crisis was getting alarming. I want to be optimistic that in time, we can see our family and close friends again and hug them in person.
12. Do you have tips about surviving this pandemic?
Listen to scientists and doctors who went to medical school for the correct information, data and developments on the Covid19. Do not be swayed by emotion of others who do not have factual basis for scientific information.
Know how to discern what is real, informative news from what is fake or political propaganda.
Do not give in to fears, panic or anxiety. Talk to someone you trust if you must.
Be in touch always with those you love.
Be grateful. Find a way to help others and give back to the community.
Keep the faith, have hope and be brave always.
Bio: Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino, Filipino American author, is a multi-awarded winner of the Plaridel Writing Awards for best in journalism, given by the Philippine-American Press Club in San Francisco, CA. Her food essay “A Hundred Mangoes in a Bottle” has won a Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award. She was an awardee of the FWN Filipina Women’s Network 100 Most Influential Women of the World in 2013.
Betty Ann, as she is fondly called, was born and raised in Tarlac, Philippines and now based in New Jersey, USA. She is a journalist, author, and a correspondent for Positively Filipino online magazine. She blogs about Filipino home cooking recipes on her popular site Asian in America.
She recently launched her cookbook: Instant Filipino Recipes: My Mother’s Traditional Philippine Food in a Multicooker Pot, a follow up to My Mother’s Philippine Recipes, a collection of her late mother’s favorite Filipino traditional dishes which Betty Ann transformed to everyday cooking in her American kitchen. Other books she has written are How to Cook Philippine Desserts, Cakes and Snacks; Statesman and Survivor Elpidio Quirino, 6th President of the Philippines; and she illustrated Color and Cook Food Coloring Book, an adult coloring book of Filipino food. All books are sold on Amazon.com.
Her writing has been published on Positively Filipino; FOOD Magazine by ABS-CBN Publishing Inc.; Rustan’s Sans Rival Magalogue; and QuirkDIY, Quirk Books Community Blog (Philadelphia, PA). She has made a guest appearance on the TV network KACL-LA 18’s Halo-Halo with Kat Iniba, which aired in California and Hawaii.
Betty Ann is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (NYC); the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance, and is on the board of the Filipino Food Movement. She is also on the President Elpidio Quirino Foundation Board of Advisors.
Betty Ann travels often to the Philippines and throughout Asia in search of traditional recipes, and stories about culture and personalities. She is currently deep in the trenches writing her next book on Filipino food and family relationships.
Find Betty Ann Quirino on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and her site AsianInAmericaMag.com
Coronavirus: The Beginning, by Cecilia Brainard
How Filipinos Are Coping With Covid, Part One (Cecilia Brainard, Positively Filipino)
How Filipinos Are Coping With Covid, Part Two (C. Brainard, PF)
How Filipinos Are Coping With Covid-19, Part Three (C.Brainard, PF)
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Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino, USA
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