It seems that, for the first time in modern history, the entire world is experiencing the same calamity. This is a shared experience, a riveting moment in time that will spout untold numbers of essays, studies, stories, theses, policy changes... you name it. We're all affected.
The silver lining, for some of us, is the gift of time. We wait at home while those in essential services go to the front line and work tirelessly to make sure that the human race comes out of this in the best way possible. Sadly, not all of us will make it, but for those who do, my wish is that a little something will have been ignited: a little more appreciation, a little more kindness and perhaps even a reminder to live a little slower than the hectic ways we lived prior.
We spent the time of COVID-19 in New Zealand, a country that by the time there were still barely 100 cases, enforced a national lock down, closed borders to foreign nationals and limited domestic flights. We've been here for over a year, this is our home. I am Canadian and Nico is Belgian; neither of us could return to our respective countries with the other in tow. Staying put made sense for us because it meant, among other things, being together.
We also realized that New Zealand might be one of the safer places on Earth to be during an epidemic - the closest country, Australia, is a whopping 4,163 km away at its closest point. New Zealand is in the far Southern Pacific Ocean, sharing borders with no other countries, with the ability to safeguard its residents (fondly known as kiwis).
Also, our flights out of New Zealand for our next adventure were cancelled weeks ago. We have a travel voucher, but we don't know when we'll use it.
Plus, we love it here. A lot. So we stayed.
We returned to New Zealand from Samoa on March 17th. The borders were closed to foreign nationals on March 19th. National lock down came into effect on March 25th. Originally planning to spend our lock down in our adorable little van Bongo at campgrounds, we found out the morning of lock down that that wasn't a viable solution. We were in Taupo, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the North Island.
7pm rolled around and we still had nowhere to go - that is, until an ex-colleague of mine called and offered us haven on her orchard in a tiny town called Carterton in the heart of the Wairarapa, more than a four hour drive south of where we were. Full steam ahead - we jumped in Bongo and made the drive arriving just twenty-five minutes before lock down came into force.
We spent a week living in the van under the swiftly-changing trees of the orchard; Autumn is just around the corner in the southern hemisphere, after all. Then, on one of our trips to the local grocery store as we were wiping our groceries down with sanitizing wipes and loading them into our van in the parking lot, a complete stranger approached us, asked us if we were seriously spending our lock down in a tiny van (yes, we are) and on the spot offered us - free of charge - the self-contained flat attached to his family home. We exchanged numbers and he gave us his address, offering us to swing by and visit (with a 2 metre distance between us, of course).
We finished our sanitizing and with grins on our face - are you kidding me how are kiwis so kind why did someone just offer us a place to stay does this mean we don't have to live in a van... - and drove around the corner. We stuck our heads in the flat, situated on the opposite side of the garage to the main house, waved from afar at the wife and kids and met Belle the puppy and promptly decided that yes, this would suit us just fine!!
Let me explain 'just fine.' I actually mean incredibly generous, beyond belief. The space is adorable, perfectly sized, has a walk-in shower, a deck, a TV, a full kitchen, a dining table (which is now our desk) and the comfiest bed we've slept in in a long while.
I'm constantly floored by the kindness of kiwis. New Zealand just keeps working out for me and I just can't appropriately express my deep love for this country and its people.
We didn't break any bubble rules - we still live alone, just in a real place with lockable doors, instead of in our van. We are endlessly grateful. Our hosts have provided us with heaters, puzzles, laundry, toilet paper, even the occasional dinner - we cannot fully express how lucky we feel.
Level 4 lock down lasted in New Zealand for 33 days - from midnight on March 25th until midnight on April 27th. We spent all of it in the farming village of Carterton, wandering down rambling lanes while cows mooed at us, witnessing the leaves change colour, breathing the fresh Wairarapa air, reading plenty of books, signing up for and completing online courses, doing daily yoga, trying out new recipes and enjoying the gift of time.
As New Zealand moves to Level 3 lock down today, campgrounds are still closed and inter-regional travel is still banned. The Wairarapa region is one of the few in New Zealand with 0 active cases, so we're happy to stay put. We'll keep living at the little flat but with a bit more freedom - walking and small day tramps are now permitted.
From us in tiny Carterton to the rest of the world: be safe, be as happy as you can be in your situation, be present and look after yourselves.
Here's a few of my favourite articles about New Zealand's response to the coronavirus:
- Covid 19 coronavirus: Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy deemed 'essential services' by Jacinda Ardern
- Coronavirus: New Zealand third-safest in the world during Covid-19 pandemic
- New Zealand is winning the war on coronavirus. Here’s why.
- Grant Robertson on why New Zealand's done better than other nations in COVID-19 fight
- New Zealand's PM Is Leading A Masterclass On Coronavirus Response
- How New Zealand relied on science and empathy
- New Zealand’s Prime Minister May Be the Most Effective Leader on the Planet