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Filipino COVID-19 survivor in Dubai heads home after losing sister to pandemic

Dubai: The life of Filipino expat Naser Mercado, 37, is a constant phase of ebb and flow – sometimes he goes up, and sometimes he goes down. But for every decline, there is regrowth.

Naser’s resolve has been tested severely the past few months. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 in January this year and he teetered on the red line, with an infection that required him to stay in the ICU (intensive care unit) for 20 days.

Then he bounced back and became healthier than before. His financial health also improved. After working for nine years as an auto mechanic in Dubai, he had enough savings to start his own business back in his own hometown in Sorsogon, a province in the Bicol region of the Philippines.

Together with his elder sister, Marrie Nellette Mercado, 42, a former UAE resident who worked at a call centre in Dubai, they put up a pizza, pasta and pastry joint called El Kapitan. Naser invested Dh35,000 and Marrie pinched in another Dh15,000.

The pandemic turned out to be a boon for their business. They engaged in online delivery and from one branch in Ogod, Donsol, they put up another branch in the neighbouring municipality of Castilla, Sorsogon. Expansion was fast as the third branch of El Kapitan was also opened by their aunt who lives in the neighbouring province of Daraga, Albay.

Change of tide

But after going up, the tide swiftly changed. Marrie, who was always hands-on in operating the business, died of COVID-19 a couple of months ago. “It happened really fast,” Naser poignantly told Gulf News, adding: “My sister went to Manila for her usual supply run but she contracted the virus and after only seven days of struggling in the hospital, she passed away.”

“Marrie was the eldest of five siblings. She was our ‘ate’ (eldest sister). She was instrumental in operating our business and always looked up to her,” added Naser, who converted to Islam back in September 2005. Marrie was also a Muslim convert and took the name Maryam.

Naser was devastated by the death of his sister. Then Naser’s elder brother, the second in the brood, took up the cudgels and became the head of operations.

El Kapitan, the pizza chain launched by Naser and his late sister, has recently opened its third branch in the Philippines.
Image Credit: Supplied

After the family setback, Naser got a plea from his older brother to return to the Philippines. So Naser decided it was time to hang up his mechanic’s suit, pack his bags and return home.

Naser will be going home for good in July. He will be trading his screwdrivers and wrenches for pans and rolling pins. He will be the kitchen manager and supervisor of the delivery team. But more importantly, he will be returning home for good to personally see his two young kids (Leigh Violet, 12; and Muhammad Kamil, 2) grow. He is also planning a child with his second wife.

Naser will be going home with the prospect of his business on the upswing. He said: “Our signature 55-inch mixed flavour pizza is a big hit in our hometown and neighbouring communities. I really need to come home and help the business grow.”

Every time his resolve is tested, Naser borrows a line from William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus – “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” This is why he has also named his food business El Kapitan.

Undefeated by challenges, Naser added he will be leaving Dubai with great lessons in life.

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