Covid-19 Chronicles: On Duty

Filial Piety. Exhibit, Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, 2014.

Singapore

I meant to write about coming back to the motherland, when I first got back 2 months ago. I’d quarantined myself for 2 weeks (you can read about it here) and figured there wouldn’t be a whole lot else to do.

But I was feeling too guilty to get the words out.

Guilty:

  • For the privilege of being able to hop on a plane for a better option, though I am grateful for this.
  • For leaving my team, who all stayed in country and are working through this crisis. For choosing my own life, and my mother’s over everyone else’s, when we both have so much more than thousands of people I am supposed to be working for right now.

Then there’s the professional guilt.

My line of work is exactly about staying on in times of crisis. This is the raison d’être of an aid organisation, including my own. Much of the work that my organisation does, is helping Iraqis to build better options for themselves. But to do this, it’s necessary to stay on when the going gets tough. In leaving, I abandoned my work, when I should be on the ground.

I’m not the only one tangling with this. Veteran humanitarians do too.

And I have no justification.

I had choices. I made this one.

It was a relief to see mum opening the security gate of our flat, hale. To enact the comedy of trying to keep the regulation metre or 2 away from her in a small flat during my 14 day self-imposed quarantine. It’s still good to see her hale every morning.

Because you know what? Before I was guilty about leaving Iraq, I was guilty for leaving her.

Mum is 70 and lives alone. I am her only child, and all she has in this world. She busted her ass to raise me, and the right thing for me to do is to stay here with her to care for her as she grows older, because she is my priority.

This is my honour and filial duty, an aspect of my life that is non-negotiable. It’s what I was raised to do, along with millions of other sons and daughters in this incredibly diverse continent, who somehow meet life with a similar cultural understanding when it comes to our parents.

(My Chinese and Indian people – I am Chindian – out there are intoning “so it is written” with varying levels of gravity, I can feel it.)

But Mum has never asked this of me, so we agreed, before I left for Iraq, that when she needed me home, she would ask, and I would come back. She does not ask anything lightly. She’s a tough nut, my mother.

She asked in February, for the first time ever.

Iraq closed its airports the day after I landed in Singapore. They are still closed at the time of this post. If I’d delayed my departure, and something happened to Mum here, I wouldn’t be able to get to her.

I got back in time.

I’m glad I made this choice.


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