Author’s Note: This piece aims to enlighten and show that the more accurately we apprehend the world, the more deeply we can appreciate it and do our part to help. All names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewees.
A group of friends, not more than 10, met up for dinner two nights ago, which nowadays starts on a new time —”5-ish”—so everyone can be home by 7pm. Three just got out of quarantine and all wanted the same things: a hot meal and people to talk to.
Sitting 6 feet apart from each other, everyone had questions and everyone had thoughts to share. “How was quarantine like?’ “Was the food good?” “Did you have WiFi access?” etc.
It was not just the three who went through the 14-day mandatory quarantine that wanted to talk. Everyone in that get-together have been—each in their own way—in a state of isolation for some time now.
Landing from Tokyo eight hours after the mandatory quarantine for all people coming to the CNMI came out, Steve spent seven days at Kanoa Resort and seven days at Pacific Islands Club. “We got a certificate that we completed the quarantine. …That was nice but the time there was more important. …Saipan is a close-knit community so I think a lot of people like to socialize. They like to have meals together and all that but we are also a community that has a lot of sickness, old age, and these things don’t go well with this virus,’ he said.
“I think if we all stay home and do our part for a little while, hopefully this [virus] can die down, especially that we have done away with the airline service. If we can all wait it out, then maybe, at some point, my hope is this will die down and we will have zero,” he added.
The CNMI’s tourism industry is right now at a standstill, with all China flights suspended since February, followed by Korea flights in March and Star Marianas suspending interisland flights last week and United Airlines also suspending all flights from Saipan to Guam from April 6 to April 30.
Greg, flying from Guam to Saipan on March 23, was one of the first people subjected to the 14-day mandatory quarantine. “Nobody said it was easy…but I agree with what they are doing because we do not have the capacity here. …For 14 days I walked back and forth in the room all day. It was challenging psychologically because I couldn’t leave but I also knew I was going to get out so that put things in proper perspective,” he said.
“They called me Saturday and said that I was going to come out on Monday. On Monday, they called in the morning and asked me to have my stuff packed and I told them I packed the moment you told me I was going home,” he grinned.
While in quarantine, Steve and Greg kept abreast of both local and international news Having lived on Saipan for many years, they want this community to flourish and get beyond this challenging time.
What Steve missed most during quarantine was the social interaction. “I love hanging out with a lot of people. …Saipan is one of the most beautiful outdoor activity places on the planet—golf, diving, mountain biking. So when that is taken away, you realize that your options are really limited and Saipan becomes much smaller,” he said.
‘The measures taken to stop the spread of COVID-19 is for everybody. We want to contain it, minimize it, and hopefully the people who are ill right now will recover and be better. That’s what we want, no more deaths,” he added.
“Self-isolate, social distancing, and curfew hour—we need to do this so we can start moving the local economy because tourism is not going to be back for a long time. If we don’t ‘flatten the curv,’ people are going to fail and starve,” Greg said.
“We have to do this as quickly as we can and feel comfortable that there is no COVID-19 here. Personally, when that happens, I will go out and spend a lot of money in the restaurants,” he added.
Mark pointed out that the current situation seems like “the first time where a normal Joe is more important than the CEO.
“The essential workers now are your electricians, plumbers, carpenters, grocery people who basically cannot make more than minimum wage. There was a time when people go up and asks, ‘Why should you be paid a lot for flipping a burger?’” he said. “Now, those are the people who are keeping this island alive. We should open our eyes to ‘It is not how little or a small job you have, it’s all about the importance of that job,” he added.
The conversation swirled and eddied and, as with conversation among friends, jumping from one topic to another, sharing information and thoughts about the coronavirus bill, home schooling, Federal Emergency Management Agency funding and assistance, the CARES Act, and how people’s health and the CNMI economy are intertwined.
After sipping her wine and taking a last bite of the nan bread, Meg raised what was probably the most important issue of the night. “Guys, it is 6:30pm. Time to pack up.”