We will not surrender

They say we buy gifts for others that we covet for ourselves – and that is indeed true of this painting.

Serendipity has a lot to do with it. When we found Keith and Tallulah, our wonderful housesitters, to look after Koki while we visited new grandbaby Alfred and his parents in London this year, little did we know that our diningroom would be transformed into an artist’s studio!

Tallulah calls this painting “I Surrender”, and I loved it from the very first photo she posted of the work in progress. As it developed, I knew I must have it.. So here it is, soon to be hung on our wall, with a message and a poem that I wrote to Peter for Christmas.

2021 - a poem for Peter from Debra

A year when the world surrendered to a pandemic. 

We surrendered our freedoms, our free will,  
our rights to the very things that make us human. 

The hugs, the shared laughter, 
the celebrations and the mournings. 

This surreal surrender emerges from the shadows, 
from the forest of fear they have built around our lives. 

We emerge not whole;  
as hollow beings with arms held high, 
searching to recover our loss. 

Emerging with determination, 
a resolve to live in the moment, 
ingesting the beauty to fill our transparent soul. 

We will not surrender. 
We will emerge, and be whole again. 

A Christmas gift from Debra to Peter,  
with love and eternal thanks for being at my side through this, the most difficult of years. 

An unforgettable year, in every possible way.

That, I think, is the only way to sum up 2021.  

Each time I’ve sat down to write my “Christmas letter”, I’ve been overwhelmed by the mish mash of conflicting memories, thoughts and feelings of a year with so much to celebrate, yet so very much to lament.

Asked recently to nominate my “word of the year”, I chose “languishing”, framed in this NYT article as the dominant feeling of the year.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of wellbeing.

Adam Grant, New York Times, April 19, 2021

With New Zealand’s borders remaining effectively closed – yes, even to our own New Zealand citizens abroad, apart from the lucky few who ‘score’ a ticket to hotel-based quarantine, and can afford to pay for it – there are more family than ever that we will be missing at our Christmas table this year.

It’s a global pandemic – I know this, and I’m deeply grateful for the early response in New Zealand and Australia that kept us safe while the scientists worked in truly miraculous ways to deliver not one but many vaccination (and now treatment) solutions.  What happened next in this part of the world has been bemusing, distressing and just plain dumb.  Bumbled efforts to get early access to the vaccines – explained away under the “be kind” mantra of allowing them to go to  other countries that needed them more than we did – meant we were late to the vaccination party, and virgin territory for the new variants that crept in during the year.

This allowed fear and misinformation to spread – making it harder to vaccinate vulnerable populations, and providing a rationale for even more fear-based government control of our lives.  Having grown up in a country where a regime ruled by fear, I recognise the signals.  The one line mantras, the orchestrated press conferences, the compliant media…  but then I take heart from the knowledge that at least our politicians are well-meaning, and that ultimately, New Zealanders are not genuinely as compliant and sheep-like as we have been made to appear in the past two year.  Hope springs eternal.

And while I fear the consequences of building public compliance on a culture of fear, I am paradoxically pleased that this has ultimately resulted in massive uptake of the vaccination when it did finally arrived, with over 90% of eligible New Zealanders now double vaxxed. A cause for celebration indeed.

There was also much to celebrate personally this year. 

Isabel & Matthew enjoying our Christmas decorations!

Isabel and Matthew – now 9 and 12 – took to home-based learning like the proverbial ducks to water, and both had stellar school years despite the challenges.  Lockdowns meant that we saw far too little of them in person, truly missing the hugs, the always interesting conversations  and the sleepovers.  

Alfred Ernest Hall arrived in March, a lockdown grand-baby, in London.  Having missed Rob & Jenna’s lockdown wedding last year, Peter and I set off on what was perhaps our most adventurous trip ever, navigating international travel in covid-times, to spend a glorious two months with them in London (with a side trip to Greece) midyear. 

Seeing your own children turn into amazing parents is perhaps one of life’s greatest joys, and both Pip & Howard, and Rob & Jenna continue to make us so very proud.  We are also deeply grateful that all of them have been able to continue working, in jobs that sustain them, not just financially, but emotionally as well.

The challenges of 2021 were many, with so little to be certain of, and so much damage all around us, at a global, societal and personal level. 

I did not cope well with lockdown – turns out that although I say I work from home, being forced to do so (as opposed to working from cafes, shared office spaces and other people’s offices) really does not work for me at all.  The real meaning of being an extrovert – taking your energy from interactions with other people – was laid bare, and I know I became that crazy woman, constantly outraged about something, large or small.

Through 107 days of lockdown in Auckland, I kept myself sane with the small challenge of writing a limerick each day. Some were good, some were truly awful – and some prompted friends and family to chime in with their own contributions. This taster from my last one on Day 107….

Thinking it seems, is a very lost art
So easy it is to deal just with one part
they taught us to fear
death of those we hold dear
at expense of society breaking apart

Worse than my first world angst, however, was the impact of lockdowns on Mum.  Aged care facilities were particularly fearful of the virus getting in, seemingly unaware of the devastating mental effects of isolation on their residents.  During much of the lockdown periods, residents were not even allowed to form small support groups to have a simple cup of tea or conversation with each other.  Technology challenges meant that video calls were difficult.  This took its toll on Mum’s cognitive function, and her quality of life.  And while things are better now we can see each other again – the long term damage remains.  Very sad.

My brother Don in Melbourne has been a pillar of support during this time – somehow, it’s been possible to grow closer despite the forced being apart.  With several trips to Auckland booked and then aborted at the last moment during the year, he hasn’t seen Mum, or his two children here, in almost two years, and will be missing out on being at his firstborn son’s wedding in March.  His lack of a NZ passport means he can’t come in, even if he did get an MIQ spot or the long-promised self-quarantine is introduced – that’s all for NZ citizens & residents only.

And so we head into our annual Christmas feast with depleted numbers, and with a firm resolve to live each day to its fullest.  In 2022, we will take our opportunities to do what we can when we can, especially things that bring us closer together.  We will accept unpredictable outcomes – and be flexible and agile in making our plans.  We will vaccinate, and self-test…  and be careful but not fearful. 

We will avoid stupid people like the plague – because they may actually be carrying the plague – and we will hug those we care about, in the knowledge that we and they are doing all we can to stay safe.

It will be a year of travel – cautious, unpredictable  travel, but travel nonetheless – as the world re-opens, with or without the Hermit Kingdom of Aotearoa.

From our whanau to yours, we wish you the merriest of merry Christmases, wherever you may be, and may all your wishes for 2022 come true.

Noho ora mai | Look after yourself

Debra

MIQ Day 14 – departure!

Saturday.

And just like that, it’s done.

For future inmates, you need to know that checkout is a process, with systems and paperwork.

We were at the “easy” end of the scale – not going far, someone to pick us (and our copious luggage) up at the appointed time. If you’re not isolating in your ‘final destination’, I believe they will organise transport for you, at least back to the closest airport (including flights).

You have a 15 minute slot in which to exit, and you must not leave your room before your transport has arrived, and it is the appointed time! In your room, you are asked to bundle up all the linen and towels into big plastic sacks, and not leave anything in the room – apart from your keys.

Some anxiety as the departure time loomed and the nurse still hadn’t appeared to do our final healthcheck. Without those forms, you’re not going anywhere. And a post-departure chuckle as I read the form more fully and noticed the “do you have joint pain” question – I’m assuming Peter’s consistent, persistent arthritis doesn’t count?

You’re on your own getting your luggage to the lift and down to the lobby – once there, the army guys are standing by to help, which was awesome. We had a LOT of luggage – 3 checked suitcases and 2 cabin suitcases, plus handbags, 2 bags of leftover food & drink (I wasn’t about to abandon my beautiful supply of cheese), the bucket of cleaning materials I’d bought to keep our space habitable, the bicycle, windtrainer (super heavy) and back with footpump and cycling shoes.

At the appointed hour, we ferried it all to the lift lobby on our floor, and then when Pip arrived, I held the lift door open while Peter packed everything in. It was a mission!

Paperwork completed in the room (including a health check from the nurse) to be handed in, passports presented (they have to be sure the right people are escaping), and then as you leave, put your mask in the bin, sanitise your hands and THEN exit the gate. Peter caused much consternation by choosing to put on a new mask – we all thought he’d forgotten to bin the ‘hotel-contaminated’ one… he was unco-operative, and only crossly explained when things got heated!

The only missing piece of the process was the bill. Because we chose to leave, knowing we would have to isolate on return, we have to pay for our two weeks in a 4 start hotel – apparently they will send the bill in the due course. Okay. At least the hotel made sure that we paid for all those barista coffees before we left.

And then, just like that, in the car and away we go… home sweet home! Hugs from Izzy and Matthew, hugs for Koki – the realisation that there is NOTHING in the fridge or pantry, so Uber Eats to the rescue (oh dear!)

And the million dollar question – was it worth it? Or put more directly, asked by Pip: “If MIQ is still a thing next year, will you go to visit Rob, Jenna and Alfie again?” My answer – “hell yes!” While I am hopeful that Fortress NZ will be a little less “fortress” this time next year, we simply don’t know. But having experienced the sense of mental wellness that has come from reconnecting with family, I can honestly say I would do it again without hesitation.

In the words of my good friend George, reflecting on the Mark Twain quote below, “Now I see why the world looks more prejudiced, bigoted and narrow-minded, after no overseas travel for about two years.”

MIQ Day 13 – end in sight!

Friday. Friday 13th – should we be afraid?

A day on which we were particularly idle.

Highlights

  • Our day 12 tests are negative! Not exactly sure why we thought that was ever in doubt, but very conscious that if you are going to catch covid in NZ right now, it’s going to be while you’re in MIQ! Good to know we’ve managed to spend nearly two weeks on the ‘high risk’ end of the border, and managed not to catch anything.
  • Friday’s chef is very fine, very fine indeed. Eggs bene for breakfast, fish & chips for lunch and filet mignon (as much as you can in a plastic tub) for dinner. Oh, with rhubarb apple crumble and custard for dessert. Very fine indeed. A couple of glasses of NZ bubbles to celebrate – decided to save the Tattinger to celebrate with Pip & Howard once we’re out.

Lowlights

  • No exercise outside today at all – foul weather, and not wanting to risk catching something by walking outside on the ramp in the rain. An online pilates class to make do – very much looking forward to getting back to my reformer!

Final reflections on two weeks of idleness

  • The less you have to do, the less you do. Honestly I cannot believe how little has been achieved in these two weeks.
  • When you’re confined to a tiny space, keeping things clean and tidy becomes unreasonably important – I’ve actually surprised myself! Although I must admit my zeal for the perfectly made bed diminished as we got closer to exit.
  • There is an unreasonable amount of rubbish on television – and the advertising, OMG! I can’t believe how awful most of it is. I’ll be very happy to get back to my mostly tv-free lifestyle.

And so, just one more sleep to go. Tomorrow we will be out… fingers and toes crossed that there are no last minute hitches. This whole adventure has taught me the true meaning of being “agile” – accepting that there is no certainty left in the way we live our lives.

MIQ Day 12 – Testing Day

Thursday.

The long awaited Day 12 Covid tests!

Highlights

  • Everyone needs feedback. Good to know I’m going to be able to share my observations with both the hotel (an invitation to provide feedback to the hotel manager by email), and the MIQ system (an online survey), which I will ‘park’ for now and fill in once I’m actually out, and have experienced, well, the full experience!
  • Chats with Alfie, Rob and Jenna. He is getting SO CUTE, and the photos of his first foray into solid food are just priceless! He is definitely his father’s son – Piggy Jnr in the making!
  • Pip to the rescue! Shock, horror – I miscalculated our coffee needs and had to share the final scoops with Peter for a half-cup each. Thanks Pip for the delivery from Kokako, even though you know nothing at all about coffee – great choice!
  • News that we are trying to ramp up our vaccination programme, with everyone aged 16+ eligible to be vaccinated from 1 September. Let’s get on with it people!

Lowlights

  • Aaargh! That testing swab up your nose just never gets easier. Spare a thought for our frontline workers, including MIQ staff, who are being testing regularly – it really is like someone is digging in your brain!
  • Missing out on the bookings for the rooftop terrace tomorrow (forgot to call them early enough!) – meaning we have one more day on The Ramp. Meaning the super-spreader-sneakers will get one more outing!

Observations on #FortressNZ as we prepare to head out into the real ring-fenced world

A lot of time today was spent watching the forum discussing Reconnecting New Zealand to the World. I’m still undecided about whether that is a highlight or lowlight – but certainly slightly reassuring to know that someone is even thinking about the need to re-connect. Now to get them to acknowledge that reconnecting families is at least as important as business re-connections, maybe even more so.

Of course, it’s all contingent on the vain hope that “everyone” will get vaccinated.

And as they say “hope is not a strategy!”

MIQ Day 11 – OUCH!

Wednesday.

A very full day with an early start. No time for breakfast (delivered late), as I settled in for an all-dayer on Zoom, starting at 8.30am.

Highlights

  • Nothing to do with MIQ, but rediscovering the joy of being part of Kiwinet, helping to accelerate smart science out into making a difference in the world. New Zealand’s great talent never fails to make my heart sing. The long day on Zoom passed in a flash.
  • A thoughtful hotel staffer who, on delivering our daily ration of 2 bottles of wine to the room, lurked in the corridor (yes, more than 2m away from our door) to enquire, when I opened it, whether we needed a corkscrew, having noticed that the bottles did not have screwcaps. Such a tiny thing to show he cares.
  • The arrival of our departure instructions along with the breakfast delivery. It did make me ponder how people less literate than we are navigate their MIQ experience – there are a LOT of instructions, all in very wordy documents. This one key point is highlighted – “Your Departure Time is confirmed” HURRAY! Note the capital letters… Departure Time is definitely worthy of capitalisation!
  • A late afternoon exercise slot on the (still-covered) rooftop terrace, with views of the setting sun over the harbour. Breathe out!

Lowlights

  • Missing out on being at my Kiwinet meeting in person, especially given the amazing venue in the Legislative Chamber at the Beehive! Damn!
  • Closer to home, my toe!
    The curse of the tiny hotel room is that the more stuff you put in it, the more things there are to trip over, and the rearranged furniture didn’t help. In my haste to head for the bathroom in between Zoom presentations, I kicked my toe not once, but twice (I know, slow learner) on Peter’s bike setup, and I’m pretty sure it’s broken. Oh dear. Only the little one, mind you… but not happy! Peter was unsympathetic, though he did encourage me to strap it up last night, which helped. Don’t even think about asking why we always have strapping tape in our luggage!
  • An a somewhat lesser disaster – tossing my bowl of muesli onto my lap and the carpet in the middle of my meeting! Which led to the hilarious, undocumented sight of Peter crawling around the floor under my meeting table picking up flakes of Light & Tasty, one at a time! Well, it gave him something to do.

Things that are bothering me as the end of our incarceration looms…

  • What if our Day 12 tests are positive? I mean, technically, I know what will happen next, but I really, really don’t want to think about that?
  • What if the one of the other 4 people who are exercising on the roof with us today tests positive – will we be classified as close contacts? At least when we’re on the ramp, we’re on our own.
  • Why has no one at any stage recorded the fact that we are fully vaccinated – surely that’s a key data point if they’re trying to learn from what’s happening in MIQ?
  • What if Koki doesn’t recognise us when we get home? Or doesn’t want to know us because we abandoned her?
  • Given how little of my planned activities I’ve actually completed while locked up with technically nothing to do, will I ever be productive again?

And given that I’m not usually a huge worrier, how do people who are worriers cope with MIQ? Because there really is a LOT to worry about in here!

And so, with a furrowed brow, and a resolve to worry less (and maybe try to DO more) tomorrow, I put my foot up on a pillow and fell asleep.

Postscript!

In case anyone is wondering, food is still excellent – even if today was a bit of a “fast food” day, with chilli con carne nachos for lunch, and great burger and chips for dinner.

MIQ Day 10 – Double Digits!

Tuesday.

Time to rearrange the furniture in the room so Peter doesn’t accidentally wander across my Zoom screen in a state of undress!

Highlights

  • A surprise delivery – cheeeeesy goodness “with love from London” the note said. Well, obviously the cheese itself didn’t come from London, but the love certainly did – thank you Rob, Jenna & Alfie!
  • Maybe the best food day yet (apart from the cold poached eggs in the late breakfast delivery. Seafood chowder for Peter, Rogan Josh for me at lunchtime, with buffalo wings, onion rings and coleslaw for dinner. Fried chicken is definitely our chef’s special talent!
  • More chalk drawings on the wall of the ramp – including from a kid (one assumes) loving hotel life (and, no doubt, more attention from their parents than usual!)
  • Regular updates from our lovely house-sitters – Koki is indeed living her best life with Keith and Tallulah, and I’m not sure she’s going to be all that pleased to see us back!

Lowlights

  • Having to keep the curtains closed so that my “zoomies” can actually see me (and not Peter) in the meeting – I hate living in the dark, and hotel room lighting is somehow always suboptimal!
  • Realising that OMG I really am going to have to take drastic action when we get out. Lockdown kilos were certainly real, but MIQ kilos are worse thanks to the double whammy of great food and terrible exercise opportunities!

Observations for future inmates

People want to know how you’re doing. Being in MIQ is not an everyday experience, and no matter how mundane and boring you think it is – well actually, it really is mundane and boring – your family, friends and colleagues (at least some of them) will appreciate a daily ramble. Surprising, but true.

And who knows, you may even look back on your ramblings yourself, if only to reassure yourself that this is indeed doable, and a small(ish) price to pay for reconnecting with whanau and the wider world.

MIQ Day 9 – a new week

Monday.

A day of sliding slowly back into some actual work conversations – nice.

Highlights

Today’s highlight was definitely a conversation with the security man up on the Rooftop Terrace exercise area.

Look, a crack in the roof!!!

So, I asked, do you ever open up the roof? (The area is designed to be an open air terrace, with a large circus-tent-like awning, one assumes, providing wet weather cover if needed. However, even on sunny days, the roof has remained firmly shut – I was wondering if we need to book an exercise appointment later in the day, when it might be open.

Oh no, he says, the Chief Medical Officer has instructed us to keep it closed. He doesn’t want us letting the virus out into open air, to waft down into the streets of Auckland.

He’s joking? Right? He has to be joking?
I laughed, he laughed… not for me to second guess the boss, he says. Maybe he’s not joking? OMG!

He pointed to the tiny area in the corner currently uncovered by awning – usually coned off because the tiles are wet, and therefore a slipping hazard – just as well the boss doesn’t know about that bit, he says. Wow!

I had speculated earlier that if someone had a death wish, it wouldn’t take much to leap up onto the handrail, swing off the roof strut and be out off the top of the building… but only quietly so. There are more hazards to worry about than the virus wafting down into the street, just saying.

Lowlights

Probably the realisation that the security man isn’t joking at all.

And noticing how truly filthy my sneakers are from walking on The Ramp… definitely going to the bin at the end of this adventure!

And a final thought for the day.

Is New Zealand slowly sliding into being a Pacific Island, where old people live and young people visit (though of course, not currently)? Power cuts, shortages of construction workers, and construction materials… shortages of medical staff to (wo)man our already tiny inventory of ICU beds… and sadly, an increasingly insular, “us against the world” mindset, that’s not just allowing this all to happen, but apparently applauding it.

I tag these post #FortressNZ not because I support the mindset, but because it is something I believe we need to rail against.

Just one woman’s view.

MIQ Day 8 – a day of rest

Sunday.

A day of rest (technically) and one on which the boredom definitely started to set in.

Highlights

  • The salmon for dinner, with cauliflower and broccoli in blue cheese sauce… definitely a highlight, although I am still wondering why Peter’s dish included a cob of corn, and mine did not?
  • The staff who go out of their way to be positive – from the cheery nurse who arrives at our door to take our temperatures each day, to the Army lady guarding the ramp who commented on my (I just want to drink wine and bake Christmas cookies) T-shirt, to the lady on reception who picked us the Chilean wine from our stash, because she’s from there… they all understand that this is not easy, and that a cheery comment makes a huge difference
  • One should of course be grateful that our booking to exercise on The Ramp was in the morning, before the horrible wind and rain storm that battered Auckland later in the day arrived! This morning the barrier at the bottom as again set up up against the end of the incline, and we made it our mission to nudge each cone just a little bit further out into the flat on each lap, as a public service to the inmates who had the booking after us. I called it the magically meandering road cone… and we certainly gained about a metre without being noticed by the not-so-watchful eye of the private security guard on duty, which was a small win for personal freedoms!
  • Clearly, the instruction to not touch the walls is being taken with a large pinch of salt by our fellow inmates (or maybe they would argue that they are only touching the chalk that they’re using to write on said walls…. tempted to get an order of pavement chalk to add to the display!

Lowlights

  • Boredom, definitely the boredom.
    Which caused me to reflect on the unavoidable fact that boredom has nothing at all to do with having nothing at all to do. My “to do” list is still very much there, with a range of large and small tasks that I could easily tackle. No, boredom is actually about motivation, about simply not having the interest in doing anything at all. Well, at least, not anything that I can do locked in a hotel room. Ended up watching Master Chef, which somehow slightly assuaged my need to cook!

Observations for future inmates

Having access to a wide range of news (local and international) is fantastic – you’ll have more time on your hands to be more informed about the world around you than ever before. But do not, under any circumstances, get sucked into reading the comments – evidence of how many stupid, ignorant and uninformed people there are in the world.

In fact, I was slightly worried that the steam coming out of my ears would be interpreted by the nurse as a raised temperature! Just as well she doesn’t measure blood pressure!

MIQ Day 7 – HALFWAY!

Saturday.

Halfway mark in our two week lock up!


Congratulations – a treat from our wardens to recognise that we are indeed AWESOME!

Highlights

  • A zoom call with all the grandchildren and their parents – love you guys!
  • The All Blacks winning game 1 of the Blesdisloe – well, only a very very small highlight, given how poorly they played, but as they say, a win’s a win!
  • Sushi for lunch – the good food continues – and pulled pork burger, with fries, for dinner.
  • Exercise slot on the rooftop terrace – definitely not as flash as it sounds, but nice to look out over the city, and bask in a little sunshine, even if the roof was still closed, and the guards had put orange cones out, one assumes to suggest that we shouldn’t be walking into the corners of the room (which I simply ignored).

Lowlights

  • Reading far too much news – I think I was happier when I didn’t know about all the unbelievably stupid things going on out there. The latest that hundreds of MIQ rooms are being held back for what one can only assume will mostly be government officials attending Expo2020 in Dubai! At a time when so many kiwis are trying to get home for Christmas, it simply beggars belief.
  • Domestic chores – laundry (which will take days to dry!), clean the toilet, wipe down the tables, counters etc… can’t believe I’m lamenting the fact that I don’t have a vacuum cleaner for the carpet!

Observations for future inmates

Actually, it’s not so bad. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but as a wise colleague, also currently in MIQ, says, we knew the “price on the can” when we signed up to travel, so no point in complaining now.

A positive attitudes goes a very long way to making the most of an opportunity to recover from your jetlag, get your email box back under control and, given that it’s almost September (in my case), start planning for Christmas!

Only six more sleeps to go…