Heading home…

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu… always, the sad end to the happy holiday, when we must take our leave; these days not truly knowing when we will see each other again. Gone are the days of having several years’ travel plans roughly pencilled in, and certainly, with Rob, knowing when his (or our) next trip will be.

So many “what ifs” and “what might be”… but a few things we know for sure.

We know that Rob and Jenna will not be joining the family Christmas in New Zealand, thanks to NZ’s very slow vaccine rollout, our impossible to access managed isolation bookings, and our bordering on ridiculous rules which means that Kiwi husbands can’t bring their non-Kiwi wives, the mothers of their Kiwi children, to New Zealand even for a visit, without a partner visa, which currently takes 10 months to process! We will miss them.

We know that Alfie will be walking, and probably having quite a lot to say for himself in real words, by the time we see him to cuddle in person again. The changes in the two short months we were together were huge, and will of course, only get more dramatic – growing babies do not stop growing just because Ouma is not there to celebrate those first words, first tooth, first steps.

And yet, somehow, I was not bereft at our leaving. Rather, I felt the positive restorative impact of having spent two months out there in the real world, away from Fortress New Zealand. I feel like myself again – like my soul has been restored, like I am still part of the whole world (not just our little place down here), and somehow, that there is at least hope; hope, if not for New Zealand in the foreseeable future, then at least for those of us brave and vaccinated, and well-resourced enough to venture out into the world.

For the world is still there, and it’s not waiting – it’s getting on with life, with business and with re-connecting with loved ones. Tourism may be somewhat dormant, but travelling to see family and friends is again filling airports, and bringing so much joy and soul-soothing peace. There is indeed nothing to ease an aching heart like wrapping your arms around each other, and just ‘being there’.

But on a practical note, the being there, and coming back, is fraught with paperwork and uncertainty. Every day for at least a week before each flight, an email arrives from the airline headlined “Important Information about your Flight” – reminding you to check the rules (again – they’re always changing), to fill in your forms, get your ‘fit to fly’ tests of a particular type, at a particular time, specific to your destination (is that 72 hours before you get on the plane, or before you arrive?) and so on.

For NZers returning home, there is an added complication. As one of the lucky ones who had secured a booking in managed isolation (which you can’t return without), we knew that we MUST arrive home on that specific day, or who knows when we would get a new booking – currently nothing available to end of November, and December bookings not released yet. November bookings were filled in just 10 minutes when released. So any cancelled flight, missed connection, or incorrect piece of paperwork would be catastrophic (so much so, that Peter and I took 6 months medication with us, just in case!)

Thus we left Rob, Jenna and Alfie in the Greek sunshine, in their gorgeous villa in Kefalonia on Tuesday, to be sure we’d be back in London on Thursday night for our scheduled flight home. Being ‘in transit landside’ in England released us from the need to self-isolate, though we did get a text message on Thursday reminding us that we needed a Day 2 covid test if we hadn’t actually left England by then! Two nights back in Rob’s place in Bow – very quiet and empty with no dog and no baby – and then off to Heathrow, following instructions to be at the airport at least 4 hours before our departure. First time ever that we’ve been first in the check in queue!

Pre-travel emails from MIQ (managed isolation & quarantine) in NZ reminded us that we’d be locked up for 14 days when we arrived, that we couldn’t choose where to be, that there’d be rules to follow, and that we needed to pack enough for 24 hours in our carry-ons, as our check-in luggage would travel separately to the facility, and may be delayed. As it was, it turned up about 3 hours after we did.

The London-Dubai flight was actually fuller than expected, certainly over half full. Dubai airport was humming…. almost everything open, with staff walking around in full PPE, and an over-supply of cleaners, the only outward signs that it’s not yet business as usual. Then on to the Auckland connection – not happy to find it was unexpectedly stopping in Kuala Lumpur. At least they didn’t let on any extra passengers from there (though a change of crew certainly increased the risk levels, I think).

KL to Auckland had maybe 80 people on board – so many children! Families, travelling home, travelling to re-connect, to visit or to stay, or returning from visiting family abroad. A very different airport experience – though everyone very caring… lots of checking of forms, lots of queueing and waiting, lots of social distancing (even though we were all on the same plane!) Temperatures taken, health questions answered, hand luggage x-rayed and sniffed (by the dogs) – then onto the buses to our hotel. Only then did we discover where – fortunately in Auckland, a nice 4 star hotel in the central city (sadly no gardens to walk in for our daily exercise though).

We were on the 4th bus… more waiting, as each bus was offloaded one bubble at a time, with three check-in steps before the door swung firmly shut on us for the next 14 days.

So it was Day 0. We showered, read the copious information provided, charged our devices and waited. Food deliveries followed (actually quite good, and plenty of it). A knock on the door signals there’s something waiting for you – don your mask, open the door and take in your package (lunch, dinner, coffee order, a bottle of sparking wine ordered from the very limited room-service menu). No one to be seen.

A phone call at 8pm instructed us to don our masks, and report to Level 1 for our Day 0 covid test. Ugh! Security escorts at the lift doors on all floors. A necessary but unpleasant end to the day – once the results are in, we will be issued with a blue wristband, which allows us to book our daily exercise slot (or if positive, means relocating to the actual quarantine facility – but we’re not thinking about that right now).

So a final reflection on Day 0 in managed isolation – it’s not so bad, at least we don’t have to pretend to be normal functional adults with massive jetlag! And a resolve that I will not complain – being locked up for 14 days like this is a small price to pay (well, actually it comes with a large price tag, but that’s another story). A small emotional price to pay for the joy of spending two months with Rob, Jenna and Alfie, and particularly for the restoration of my mental health, for feeling like myself again for the first time in more than year!

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