Our last anniversary found me basking in solitude in the Red House of Niue, reflecting on the doozy of a year I’d just experienced. It was a much needed break away from challenges that had tested both me personally, and our nation as a whole. In March 2019, after the Mosque Shootings, I’d written:
For the last eight years I’ve thought that the one moment in our nation’s history that I’d be asked about when old and gray would be the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake. Now I see it was hubris that made me believe that the defining historic moment of my lifetime had already passed.
By March of 2020 I’d be once again redefining my relationship with the history of my times.
I also went public with two major adventures I’d planned for the coming year. The first, to Taranaki to trace the steps of my first Kiwi ancestors, went ahead without a hitch. Auntie and I spent a week researching and touring historic sites in the region as we pieced together the story of the Parsons family.
The second, an epic eight week adventure to the USA, Scotland, England and Hong Kong, did not. Not much more than a month out from our departure date, we began to hear rumours of a new virus spreading in China. This was concerning, but we figured that if necessary we could change our plans to avoid the affected areas. Like SARS and bird flu and swine flu before it, it was sure to fizzle out soon enough.
For the next few weeks we kept an eye on the developing situation, plotting out new routes to avoid virus hotspots and discussing the risks that overseas travel now presented, though these risks still seemed abstract and unreal to us.
At two weeks to go-time, we received a call from our travel agent, now advising us against leaving the country. We exchanged our tickets for flight credits, hoping to rebook once the excitement had died down, and went about the tedious business of cancelling our many bookings.
The next day, New Zealand’s borders closed. That was a shock, but it needn’t ruin our holiday entirely. Stuff.co.nz was now running a “Back Your Backyard” campaign so we began to look into vacation options within the bounds of our own country.
Mere days later, the government was cautioning against travel outside of one’s home region. We took this in stride, reassuring each other that there were plenty of nice places in Otago.
Then the alert system was announced, placing us at Level Three. My workplace had already sent half the staff home, toilet paper was inexplicably flying off the shelves, and business I’d not patronised for years were hastening to assure me they had my back in these unprecedented times. I had my last meal in a near-empty restaurant, dutifully complying with the hastily-implemented sign-in system.
The very next day we gathered at 1pm to watch the Prime Minister’s official update. That was when we learned we were moving into Level Four.
Only a month ago I’d been planning to visit the other side of the world, and now all of a sudden I was facing the prospect of indefinite quarantine.
Over the next 48 hours reality begun to sink in regarding just how much this would mean. I initially assumed I’d still be able to visit my family as long as we stuck to the 2-metre rule, but it soon became clear that even that would be out of the question. So we had our last hug before returning to our separate abodes. As we farewelled each other my sister and I reassured each other: “It’s only the end of the world as we know it.”
As lockdown went into effect my days became a blur of helping to facilitate my workplace’s rapid transition to remote access by day and tossing sleeplessly at night.
As the days progressed things calmed down enough both inside and outside of my head for me to finally take stock of “the new normal”. I ventured out on my government-approved neighbourhood walk to a changed world.
Empty streets, closed businesses, and supermarket queues were what greeted me. But there were also signs of hope and togetherness interwoven with the unsettling strangeness. Teddy bears in the windowsills, signs of encouragement, and ANZAC poppies had cropped up almost overnight.
After a month of hanging on Ashley Bloomfield’s every word we finally received the news we’d been hoping for – “no new cases”. Finally, the restrictions began to ease. We cautiously ventured outside once more, reunited with friends and family, hugged indiscriminately.
Watching the continuing upheaval overseas we began to realise just how lucky we were here in our isolated island chain – lucky to have competent leadership on both sides of the political spectrum, able to put aside ideological differences in the face of an unprecedented challenge, lucky to be a people capable of coming together to work toward a common goal.
Now we face an uncertain future. Our borders are still closed and we remain vulnerable to a second wave should our quarantine measures fail. On the fifth anniversary of this blog I remain unsure when I’ll be able to return to the site of my fourth anniversary. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to have my great holiday to the USA and Europe. Sometimes I find myself wondering if those places will even be there in the same way they were before all this happened.
When I visited the landing place of my ancestors in New Plymouth I wondered how they must have felt facing their new lives in a strange and unfamiliar land.
Today I feel like I finally understand.