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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

Stranded in the Philippines, Akron Resident Taking One Day at a Time

a photo of a COVID-19 checkpoint in the Philippines
Cars and pedestrians wait to make it through a COVID-19 checkpoint on the outskirts of the city Bacolod, in Negros Occidental, Philippines. Traffic was backed up for miles during the initial checkpoints before cities began total lockdowns.

For the past month now, the one thing we've heard time and again has been the importance of following the stay-at-home order. But imagine what it would be like if you found yourself stranded thousands of miles from home with no way of getting back and no indication that would change any time soon?

That's the case for one Kent State University employee who has been stuck in the Philippines for the past month. He sent us this story of what life's been like. 

My name is Ruben Luevano. I am from Akron, and I work at Kent State Univerity as an electronics technichian. I'm in the small sugar cane farming community called Sabugal which is on the island of Negros Occidental which is a part of the Visyan Islands in the Philippines. 

My trip to the Philippines had been planned, oh probably about six months prior to my departure. I was really looking forward to the trip to meet up with my girlfriend's parents and meet up with her and just have a great time. 

We wound up in a small beach community called Sipalay. We spent four days there, and that's where I proposed and it was just absolutely wonderful. We then went to Bacal, which is one of the largest cities here on the island and that's where things really started to turn.

Credit Ruben Luevano
Ruben Luevano on flight from Tokyo to Manila, March 6, 2020. Before lockdowns and flight cancelations.

Precautions begin
Just to get into the mall you had to have your temperature taken, your hands disinfected. We thought, 'Oh, they're just taking precautions.' Then the city started implementing a curfew so everybody had to be in their homes or hotel. We decided to head back to Sipalay which is the beach area that we had visited before. We figured that if we have to be locked down we'll do it in a nice area, close to the water.

After about a four hour car ride we made it to Sipalay and we were intercepted by the tourism board as well as members of the local health board. They informed us that they were not going to let us into the city and that they had closed all of the beach resorts. Luckily, our taxi driver that we had ridden with had not left and we were able to catch a ride back with him. So we decided just to head to my fiancee's hometown here in Sabugal and hoped we could stay with them.

Close quarters
At this point there is nine of us living in the home and it's very cozy, to say the least. Of course the family was very welcoming, very hospitable. The neighborhood was very welcoming. Everybody welcomed us. They live in a small, about 150 square foot dwelling, mostly made out of bamboo with a tin roof; no running water, indoor plumbing, no modern conveniences that we take for granted. 

We all share one water source so we all have to convene at the water source at some point. It's a community here. Everybody watches out for everybody. And everybody knows everybody. 

Time actually goes by a lot faster than you would think. Because of the heat and humdity staying clean is kind of a large task. And also just doing laundry. You know you have to do laundry by hand. Cooking also is a big part of the day, and I've enjoyed that as well, learning new recipes and trying new things. 

"Stay positive and count your blessings because things can always be far worse."

Staying positive 
Now when you're not doing any of those other tasks, you might have a little down time, just standing in the sugar cane field, listening to nature and taking a walk around the neighborhood through the sugar cane field in the afternoons especially just to see the sunset; kind of be at peace, for a little while, before repeating everything the following day.

The most important thing is to not give up when your flights are canceled or when you hear of a lockdown being extended. You just kind of have to take things day to day and problem by problem, solving one problem at a time. And just to keep moving forward and stay positive and count your blessings because things can always be far worse. At least I have my health, and people that I know about and care about. Friends and family are still healthy. And you need to focus on what you have, not what you don't.

Credit Ruben Luevano
The sugar cane fields of San Enrique, Negros Occidental, Philippines

That's Akron resident and Kent State University employee Ruben Luevano. Ruben says he's reached out to the U.S. embassy there and has been told to keep trying the airlines for a flight. He’s also reached out to Senator Sherrod Brown's office. Brown’s office says they’ve called on the U.S. State Department to secure the immediate and safe return of all Americans stranded abroad.

The audio for Ruben's story was produced by WKSU's Jon Nungesser.

Jon joined the station in September 2012 as a producer. He loves all the things he gets to do at the station; from assisting the news department with stories to meeting the interesting guests on Elevations, every day is a new adventure.