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Re-living the pandemic from this side of the pond

Almost always the only ones at the beach

It took a while for me to figure out where to get my news here. Scrolling the homepage of the NYTimes or listening to daily news summaries from NPR told me nothing I really needed to know. That is, nothing about New Zealand’s ever-changing lockdown and COVID dramas.

When we arrived here in July, every Kiwi except staff of the managed quarantine program were living blissfully in a pre-2020 era of concerts and dinner parties and maskless grocery shopping. After yo-yoing through a year and a half of closures and distanced outdoor hangouts with friends in SF, we were excited to breeze into this pre-pandemic world. But of course, two days after clearing MIQ and arriving at our new home, Covid slipped into New Zealand. And this time they couldn’t stamp it out.

Since then, the headlines here are all pandemic-related. We tune the radio to RNZ’s news summaries multiple times a day. The number one piece of news is always how many reported new cases there are and where, followed closely by what percentage of the population have gotten vaccinated. At a distant third place are any other breaking news stories, like about people who’ve escapes quarantine, people who’ve been caught disobeying lockdown rules, or the latest rugby match score. We hang on the Covid and vaccine numbers day to day, knowing our social freedom hangs on them too.

New Zealand aims to have 90% of the eligible population vaccinated before opening schools or dining (even outdoors) or shops again. And each week the number of cases rises and the percentage of vaccinated folks slows. So here we are, living the pandemic all over again, seemingly from square one. School are closed and kids have been home for months now with no end in sight. Teachers are nervous to go back to school. Parents working from home are slowly going insane. Businesses are closing and people are losing their jobs. Sounds pretty familiar to me. Everyone is getting more and more frustrated, and even as case numbers climb people are increasingly tempted to break the rules and socialise.

I don’t blame them. I’m tempted too, ready to sit and enjoy our treats at the cafe rather than in the car, and plan playdates with anyone willing to get together. Vaccination is such a touchy topic here, and hesitation to get it so prolific, that you daren’t bring it up in conversation with anyone whose stance you don’t already know. I made that mistake once in small talk with an acquaintance and learned my lesson.

Isaac and I are, of course, vaccinated. We had no hesitation about it after living pandemic life for a year and a half – it was the way back to normalcy for us, our kids, and all of our friends. Unfortunately, we have moved to a place where we get to re-live what we went through in SF last year all over again. Sound maddening? It is.

Another beach all to ourselves.

Every couple of nights after the kids go to bed, we sip tea in the kitchen after doing the last of the dishes and hang our heads in loneliness and frustration. Loneliness because we haven’t been able to make friends with many people at all since moving here, and frustration because the country’s response to Covid seems to have learned little from all the mistakes and trial-and-error the rest of the world went through in 2020.

The social isolation brought on by the pandemic is just one of the woes. We just got word that timber and other supplies we need for our house project are not going to be available until after Christmas, due to Covid-related shipping and production issues. And our container of worldly belongings is still stuck in San Francisco, there simply aren’t any ships coming this way across the Pacific anymore. A few weeks ago I had to ask family and friends to stop mailing anything our way – postal service between NZ and the US is simply not possible right now, with so few planes and boats going back and forth. Kiwis are already stocking up Christmas gifts for fear there won’t be much on the shelves in December.

I knew moving overseas would be difficult, and prepared myself accordingly with pep talks and promises to FaceTime those we love back in the States. I was ready to put myself out there to meet new friends, find kids for our children to play with, and build new routines to replace the cafe visits and playground dates we loved back in SF. But all this has made it more difficult than I could have imagined. Those evenings with Isaac in the kitchen always end with us hugging, then me looking to the ceiling and begging the universe to please let this run its course as quickly as possible. I want to stay here, but not like this. We need more normalcy in our life after already putting in a year and a half of social isolation. We need people.

There was some good news on the radio this week. Auckland’s vaccination rate is the highest in the country. Being the closest city to our island, we follow their lockdown rules. People are hopeful by Christmas we’ll be able to leave the island and others will be able to come here. We might be able to sit down at the cafe to drink our flat whites rather than take them to go. Our kids might get to go to PlayCentre and frolic on the playground with peers. Our extended family who live in NZ might be able to visit us. Maybe. We’ll see. For now I’m drinking my tea, looking at the ceiling, and hoping.

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