FIRST PERSON | Out of the rain

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The twin disasters hit me really hard.

First, the Taal Volcano eruption last 12 January 2020. I was already slowly going back on track in February but… Boom! The novel coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) reached the Philippine shores and everything turned upside down. It left me jobless. It left my partner jobless. It left everyone in the family jobless.

The storms.

A lot of people know me by my “stage name”, Barbie Xeng. I am a Professional Events Host based in Tagaytay City – unofficially known as the wedding capital of the Philippines. My partner is an Events Musician. My mother supplies crew meals during events, too. All of us depend on the tourism of Tagaytay City and mass gathering.

Taal Volcano had been on Alert Level 4 for 3 weeks (or more) and half of the events scheduled were either postponed to another date or transferred to other venues away from our place.

Financially, I was not worried because we still had work – just in another location or another date.

During those times, what bothered me was the possibility of evacuating and leaving everything behind – all the things that you have worked for such as appliances and furnitures and more.

Whenever I see an evacuation scenario on television before, it was easy for me to say, “Mga bagay lang iyan. Madali nang kitain at bilhin yan ulit.” But now, I know the feeling of hesitation and regret because all of them were fruits of hard work and some even had sentimental values.

Moving forward, February had been a blissful month because it is when events are back to Tagaytay – with Taal Volcano on Alert Level 1.

Since everything had been back to normal, my partner and I had decided to transfer to a bigger apartment.

Because it is bigger, we would be able to save on expenses as the space in the new place would allow us to do things on our own rather than getting professional services such as laundry, car wash, etc. – which we were not able to do in previous apartment because of the small space.

This transfer was also part of our vision to expand our expertise and create another business as an extension of our service in the events industry.

We had purchased some necessary things via credit card. We even had fully paid a booth for two days in a bridal fair so we could fish for more clients and meet new partners.

But one day, all our dreams and visions were shattered in just a snap. The most prohibited activity to prevent the COVID-19 virus from spreading is mass gathering – our only source to live – our bread and butter.

Honestly, at first, I was still relaxed because the declaration for Enhanced Community Quarantine was only for a month.

We had savings that could make us survive about two or three months long if we only spend them on basic needs. So on the first month, I was just busy attending to the contract revisions and rescheduling of our wedding/event clients.

Days had gone by and the quarantine had been extended over and over again. Yes, we receive a reasonable 10 kilos of rice and some food every two weeks from the government.

But I already started to worry. How would be able to pay all our bills? We had our monthly apartment rental, the installment plan for our newly purchased things via credit card, water bill, electric bill, food, toiletries and more.

Our savings had slowly been depleting and there’s no income coming in. Though deadlines for payment are extended, the bills were not waived and just granted to people for free. We still had to pay.

There were soon-to-weds who, despite the non-refundable clause in the agreement of our service, insisted for refunds. I could imagine the mind-blowing moments when I had to do careful rebuttals and negotiations.

I swear, this pandemic had been really the darkest out of the darkest days I had. There were nights when I could not sleep thinking of what to do and what could be the next plan. There were even moments that I just suddenly cry out of anxiety.

The Strengths

One day, while I was crying, my partner asked me why. I told him that I am so tired and so anxious of what to do. I kept on whining and worrying. He listened all the way until I finished crying.

Out of my thousand words, he just answered me with a challenge. He said, “Bigyan mo ako ng isang pagkakataon na hindi mo nalampasan ang isang problema mo.” At that moment, I was speechless. I found it really difficult to name one problem that I was not able to overcome. “Tiwala lang,” he added.

Acceptance

His response was my wake up call. I was reminded that life has ups and downs. The events industry had made me support myself and family well and enjoy things that are beyond from the basic needs. In this uncontrollable season, I had to accept that things right now had really left me empty-handed. If I could not afford them at the moment, it’s alright.

Humility

I have never imagined myself with unpaid bills and piled up debts. From a very good payer status, I was really down to a few months of non-payment. Yes, this is how tough the pandemic had led my life into. I still cry about them until today. Getting back to zero taught me how to make an honest and humble plea especially to the “billers” whom I am indebted to. But at the same time, I also learned to fight for what is right – especially to those who abuse and make the pandemic as an excuse to draw something out of me and my family.

Faith

I know that not everybody has the same faith as mine. Each of us might have someone whom we whisper our prayers to. As for me, I am raised as a born again Christian. I am sticking on to this faith because this was the one my grandparents had introduced me. I had experienced His presence since I was in grade school. There were things in my life that were really impossible but without knowing how and why, they became possible.

One prayer is the job I prayed for. I was so exhausted at that time because I had a very bad day at work. My prayer was to have a job where I will be glamorous, no uniforms, higher income and time freedom.

Plus, it should be something that I really love to do – where work becomes play. What company would offer me something like this? Does this kind of job really exist? A few months after, with all humility, I became Host Barbie Xeng with at least 100 weddings a year, earning my old monthly salary in just three days per month.

I believe that there is something brighter and bigger things ahead of me. If this pandemic has taken away my comfort zone, then this pandemic battle is preparing me for something higher and greater than what I currently have.

I strongly believe that the “higher and greater” future in-stored for me will also be another form of answered prayer.

Courage

As the saying goes, “Do your best and God will do the rest.” Faith alone could not move and make me survive. Courage took me to do begin the work. First, my partner and I observed what’s going on in social media and what are the primary needs during lockdown. Then we checked on both our resources and the other skills we have that we can use for the venture.

The Miracles and Answered Prayers

The guitar story. On the height of our successful careers in events industry, my partner really loved collecting branded guitars. He will use some of them for just a few months then he will eventually get enough on a particular guitar and sell it. He was already selling one of them for a month before the lockdown. When ECQ came, we stopped selling it because we haven’t sold it during the peak season so why sell it during community quarantine?

With deep prayers and faith, we reposted the guitar on social media and voila! It took only days and we were able to sell the guitar to someone who can afford it and surprisingly, he is locked down in our city.

We were able to pay our bills for that month and had some fund to start selling anything online. This was when our online store, Juancho’s was born. We chose the name Juancho because it means “God is gracious” – inspired from our experience with the guitar.

Juancho’s Online Store really did well. We did not have any problems on delivering the orders of the clients because of our motorcycle.

We sold anything under the sun – our pre-loved stuff, motorcycle parts, avocados, diet food, and clothes.

We gained partners whom allowed us to get products on consignment. Some products were successful. Some did not work. Some products worked at the beginning but eventually died down from the trend. It’s a lot of trials and errors – over and over again. After a few months, General Community Quarantine was declared in our area and more people were qualified to go out. With this, online selling slowed down because people can go out and buy the things they wanted anytime. The number of online sellers also increased so competition was really tight. But that’s how it is. All we need to do is to move on and keep going.

Real estate journey. As online selling was going slow, my partner and I had to do something else to keep on surviving. These are the times when we already miss out on our billing deadlines because our resources were already depleted. Our sales were only good for our survival – food, water and electricity. So, I whispered another prayer. I asked for another opportunity where I can get a job that also has a time freedom so that when events will be back, it will not compromise the clients who postponed their celebrations from 2020 to another date when mass gatherings will be allowed again. In my prayer, I also added that I hope my next job will also involve a lot of traveling if travel ban will be lifted once again. Plus, I wanted the job to be age-friendly because surely, I won’t be able to host anymore when I get older.

One day, my father opened about selling his property near our place. My partner and I has to be in-charge of it as he is presently residing in Visayas.

He could not attend to the paper works because of the travel ban. During that time, my partner’s brother-in-law shared how he was able to survive the pandemic and support his family of six because of his real estate activities.

Inspired from his brother-in-law’s experience, my partner ventured into freelancing in real estate.

As he was doing that, I was also reconnected to my previous wedding clients and I was able to apply and passed the training for becoming a property specialist under the company where they belong.

What’s good about the opportunity for me is the team – our team belongs to the international sales so when traveling is safe again, I have the chance to travel the world.

Would you call this a coincidence? I could not describe how everything took place but it feels like someone is setting the correct timing on every little thing we do.

The cancellation. To make the long story a little bit short, being a property specialist in a company requires me to have the proper documents.

Unfortunately, these were the times when all our money can afford was our food and basic needs. Then again, I whispered another prayer. I said, “Lord, if this real estate journey is for me, I need this specific amount of money for my requirements.”

The next day, I received a text message from one of my wedding clients. These are the exact words:

“Hello Barbie. Good morning. I don’t know how to start this. Hehe First of all, we would like to thank you for your efforts and the time you allotted in preparing for our wedding. However, after much deliberation and consultation with our family, we have decided to totally cancel our wedding next year. My parents (from Canada) actually won’t be able to attend our wedding due to the current situation that we are in. And I don’t want to celebrate that special day without them. Hence, with a heavy heart we’ve come up with this decision.We really enjoyed preparing our wedding day with you and we’ve seen how passionate you are with your craft. That’s why we still would like to pay for your service. Please send me your bank details so we could transfer our love gift to you. Thank you so much for your understanding.”

I would still cry every time I share this. This is the best cancellation I ever had so far. I was not only appreciated because of my efforts, I was also given the answer to my doubts and fears on my real estate opportunity . And yes, I was able to push through with and accomplished all the required documents needed.

Like, share and subscribe. Doing all these things with my partner, I became fond of documenting everything until decided to upload videos on YouTube once again. I really knew nothing about YouTube until suddenly, I met people online who genuinely gave their support and mentored me. From only 5 subscribers, I gained 440 more in just weeks. If there was no system clean-up, I might event had my channel monetized by now. Maybe it’s not my time yet but for sure, I’ll be also in that monetized state soon.

With or without the pandemic, life would be always like this. We get fortune, we experience down falls and we face a lot of challenges along the way. Up until now, I still have unpaid debts. I still have sleepless nights for all the trials, errors and struggles. Above every hardship, I realized now that the fears of 2020 introduced me to the abilities and opportunities that I never knew before. I was too busy focusing on one. Today, I became 4 times of who I was before – an events host, an online seller, a property specialist and a YouTuber.

Rising above the storms is not easy. There will be different phases of victories and defeats. But with love, acceptance, humility, faith, patience and courage, you will keep going. Believe what Fabienne Fredrickson said: “The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.”

Just keep going.

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