What I found out after more than 450 Zoom family calls during the pandemic
This first-person article is the experience of Alia Ceniza Rasul, who moved from the Philippines to Toronto as an international student. For more information on CBC’s first-person stories, please visit the FAQ.
“I have bad news,” my father said worryingly on a Zoom call. Apparently, 16th-century astrologer Nostradamus predicted the pandemic – and it came true. “He also predicted something worse … a zombie apocalypse!” My brothers and I started to laugh and my father’s serious face broke into a satisfied smile, knowing he had just made his family laugh.
It’s a snapshot of our family calls, and this kind of game is new to us – a product of devoting an hour or two to a “Family Zoom” every day since the world went on lockdown.
My mom said we would video chat every day as a family for our mental health. And we did. I’ve missed a handful of days over the past year, and we’ve had some tense conversations, but I’ve really come to enjoy them.
It was something that would not have been possible in “Before Times”.
With the Philippines being one of the biggest exporters of labor, it is quite common for Filipinos to have different family members living and working in different countries. I live in Toronto, my mom lives in Dubai, and my dad and brothers live in different parts of Manila. The time difference between each city makes planning a nightmare, and the idea of giving up two hours of my day amidst hectic work and school deadlines for a family chat was a ludicrous proposition.
The pandemic has changed that.
I moved to Canada as an international student at 19. I have lived here for a little over a decade. Around this time, my interactions with my family turned into casual little conversations and video calls were reserved for special occasions like birthdays. In my mind, it was the natural way to do things. As an immigrant, this is part of the difficult choice you make when looking for opportunities elsewhere: you leave people and relationships behind, locked in a specific time bubble.
For years Zoom was the only video conferencing software my mom had access to in Dubai, so we were already saying things like “Oh! You’re still dumb!” before it became the norm.
Before 2020, videoconferencing was a strange reminder of how far I was from my loved ones. I didn’t like it and avoided it. Now that it’s normalized, the distance I felt is gone and now my family is as close to me as my neighbor.
My family has learned that when my dad gets into storytelling, we’re going to laugh.
“I think Nostradamus knew these things because he’s a time traveler,” my father continued.
“What time do you think he’s coming from, pop?” I asked while playing.
Without hesitation, he replied, “Well, the end of time of course! He came back to try to warn us, so that we can live better lives.”
Watch Patriarch Rasul recount to his puzzled family Nostradamus, the pandemic, and the zombies.
It’s hard to look at the state of the world, especially with the pandemic, and say it’s a better life.
But I must admit that I am living a better life thanks to our daily calls. (Thanks Mom.)
My biggest revelations from my family’s calling are simple. First of all, all storytelling heals. After a week of daily Zoom calls, we quickly ran out of chatter, so we started telling each other stories about our days, and eventually we felt comfortable enough to advise each other (“Yes, you have enough plants now “), celebrate small victories (” I finally bought a shelf today “) and other everyday family things like helping my younger brother with his homework (” I don’t remember not that school is so difficult ”).
My second revelation is that families have to play. Taking the time to be silly seems so forgiving in a world where productivity reigns supreme, but making my parents and siblings laugh has been richer and more fulfilling than anything I’ve been through lately (and I make people laugh for a living, as an actor). We are the closest we have ever been as a family, even though we are miles apart.
Reflecting on my life in “Before Times”, I remember being intensely lonely. It’s hard to admit because I’m grateful for my life in Canada. I hadn’t realized that this complex ball of feelings had been pervading me all this time. If I had my dad’s Nostradamus time machine I’d go back and tell the 20-year-old to get into the Zoom thing earlier (and maybe also invest a bit in the stock market). ).
I’m still thinking about how I had missed out on a great source of support the whole time. Regardless, at least I have it now, and plan to continue with our Zooms family in “After Times” and beyond. So bring on the zombie apocalypse, my family and I will be ready to zoom in on it.
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