New Normal in the Netherlands: Escaping the City and Into the Wild

With almost 50,000 confirmed cases and over 6,000 deaths, the country has been slowly flattening the curve. To ease the economic impact of the pandemic to businesses, starting June 1, restaurants and bars, cinemas and museums are allowed to reopen. In July, sauna, gym and wellness centers are likely to reopen, but sex work would likely only be allowed to resume in September.

However, strict protocols are in place. For example, it is now mandatory to wear face masks in public transport, a health move that has long been overdue in my opinion. In restaurants, only up to 30 guests excluding staff are allowed in bars and restaurants, and a 1.5 meter social distancing rule must be maintained. Read my story on GMA News how the easing of protocols affect Filipino business owners in this report.

On a sunny, clear day, however, the social distancing measure is moeilijker (more difficult) to implement as throngs of people go to parks or the beach to bask under the sun. There is a general feeling that things are going back to normal as more people go back to work in the offices, and more are becoming more confident to take the public transport. To lift the tourism industry, the Dutch government has also reopened its borders for travel outside the Netherlands, but only to specific European countries.

Taken on May 31, 2020

For Filipinos living in the Netherlands, the situation is not that simple. Many Filipinos who work in the Netherlands are undocumented, which means they have no access to government social welfare and even health insurance. For many, the undocumented community is invisible to the general population. Most of them are afraid to seek help because of repercussions to their visa status. Many of them have lost their jobs, and are now struggling to pay for rent or even basic commodities.

Good thing the Spirit of Bayanihan (unity and camaraderie) is alive in many major cities in the Netherlands, and relief operations of food or cash aid are being carried out by Filipino organizations. In a report I wrote for GMA News Online, an estimated 30,000 Filipinos are undocumented in the Netherlands, according to Migrante-Amsterdam.

Filipinos line up for free relief packs in Amsterdam | Courtesy: Filipino LGBT Europe

“Most of these people work without a contract as cleaners or babysitters who rent housing but could not afford to pay anymore. Many of them have also lost their jobs due to the lockdown and have fewer work load/ opportunities,” Agnes van de Beek-Pavia of FilCom-NL said.

According to a community needs assessment survey conducted by FilCom-NL, an estimated 26% of Filipinos living in the Netherlands need food aid, while 31% need financial assistance to pay rent.

It is a tough situation to be in and in times like these, the disparity between the social classes is clearly shown. It is a privilege to be even able to pay the rent, or buy groceries in the supermarket.  Nobody knows when the restrictions will be fully lifted, or if people can still look forward to a normalcy in their lives. My privilege is not lost on me: I am quite lucky to be able to keep my job amid the pandemic, and still manage to pay for rent. My partner has not been so lucky as most of his part time jobs were cancelled. It was a tough time for everyone indeed.

Somehow, the only option we have right now is to get by. For me, personally, this means managing the emotional and psychological toll of the pandemic to my well-being. As my job hangs on the line, and our wedding gets postponed, it is quite easy to fall back into anxiety and depression.

For the first time in two months, I decided to get out of the city to do something for myself: I went camping in the forest of a faraway island in the north of the Netherlands.

Carrying a huge backpack, two sleeping bags and one sleeping mat, my friends and I cycled to a campsite near the beach. What is the best way to do social distancing but to distance yourself from the society, toch? We pitched a tent in the woods by the foot of a hill and spent the nights with only the most basic tools and facilities. We didn’t have electricity and no hot shower or proper toilet either.

On our first day, we went to the North Sea to swim. It was amazing how crowd-less the island is. I guess not many people would want to camp without the proper shower and toilet facilities open yet. But the quietness and tranquility were exactly what we, I, needed at the moment.

Texel Island
The North Sea

Hiking in the forest, cycling on the rough terrains, and jumping in the water somehow brought me back to my days in the Philippines, when communing with the nature was “normal”. It has been a while since I felt stillness, and getting out from the bustle of the city was the best way to feel normal again.

It will be a while until things settle down. While the Netherlands reopens its business in a bid to save the economy and the livelihood of its people, there is a much more pressing problem at hand, that is the mental and psychological toll of the pandemic on people. While I do not personally encourage to irresponsibly host parties or go to clubs as the measures are relaxed, responsible social interaction and communing with nature could be a way to help ease the emotional and psychological burden of being cooped up at home for weeks on end.

[Entry 327, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Author:

Sophia is the Global Editor of She is also Editor in Chief and Outreach Manager for the Seafood Trade Intelligence Portal and foreign correspondent for GMA News. She graduated from the Mundus Journalism Masters Programme in University of Amsterdam in 2018.

She is the recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Media Award given by the Media Correspondent and Volunteer Organization (MCVO) in The Hague, The Netherlands. She is a media fellow of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and recipient of 2016 Gawad Agong and Sarihay Media Awards for Excellence in News Reporting  on  the plight of indigenous people and environmental issues.  Journalism 2010, UP Diliman. Read more of her articles here.

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Share with us your stories about the “New Normal” in your country of residence. How are you adapting to the new social distancing measures in your country?

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