There’s a phenomenon on the island that locals call “Barrier Lethargy.” After a day or so of arriving here, newcomers are struck by an urge to slow way down, take long naps, or sit lazily around. I’ve experienced it myself in previous visits. The mind quiets and the body follows.
We all thought perhaps this was what we were feeling when, three days after arriving here we all hit a wall. Unfortunately it was a stomach flu that hit us – first our toddler, likely because he picked it up at a playground or the airport, and then the rest of us. As a family we have never been so sick together. One day I couldn’t get out of bed until 3pm. Our little one was up all night for two nights. We had started our time on the island with lots of momentum for projects and activity only to be stopped in our tracks by this. Perhaps it was the island (and our immune systems) telling us to take it easy. It’s so hard being sick far from a familiar home, not to mention being off the grid where everything requires a lot more work. In order to get enough hot water for baths and showers, we have to start up the wood stove (which heats the water system) around 3pm and keep it going until bedtime. My in-laws helped us through the flu by chopping our firewood and picking up medicines at the little pharmacy down the road, which is only open for a few hours three days a week.
In San Francisco we could just dial up the heat or languish in an instantly hot shower any time of day. We used to be able to order cozy takeout from hundreds of different restaurants at the click of a button if we were too tired to make dinner, or walk a block to a giant pharmacy to pick up whatever we desired. Out here if you want hot soup or Gatorade, you’d better have some in the pantry or be prepared to make it yourself.
Near the tail end of our family flu, I hit an emotional wall. Without my typical energy, and with sick and complaining kids, living out here just seemed too hard. “Do we really want to do this?” I wondered aloud to Isaac. He reminded me this has been the hardest month of our whole life as a family, and it will get easier. But yes, he acknowledged, it’s hard living out here.
The moon was full that night and I sat outside beneath it, listening to the lone sound of the wind rustling the trees all around. I felt incredibly homesick and alone. Our wifi has been inconsistent enough that we haven’t been able to call friends and family back in the states. And I was weighted down by the news as well, anguished by what I read about Afghanistan and the world.
After a good night of sleep, my excitement for our new life returned. I drove across the island to pick up a load of groceries for us at the little store here and soaked in the views of wild beaches and rugged mountains. New Zealand is in its second week of the highest level of lockdown for COVID, so the roads were quiet and the driving was unhurried. The twists and turns of the narrow road were their own kind of medicine, lulling me into the slow pace of this new life. The island also gives you permission to forget the woes of the world when you want to, and that’s exactly what I needed.
I began to realise all the little bits of extra work required to live here have their own reward; it literally takes longer to do everything here, and therefore forces you to move more slowly. We can’t fit as much into one day as we used to, which is a good thing. Every errand takes longer to run. We don’t have a dishwasher, so dishes take up a chunk of the day. Laundry without a dryer is slower too, since it requires hanging it out to dry (and remembering to bring it in if it’s going to rain!). Then there’s chopping firewood and loading the wood stove to heat our hot water tank and warm up the house. And the wifi is spotty and slow, partly because the whole island relies on the same single cell tower for all their wifi. We use it briefly in the morning when it works and then sign off for the rest of the day.
Accepting that we can’t be as “productive” or “busy” here is a freedom and a gift. Our kids love it, for one. I’ve never seen our toddler happier in his whole life. He wears his pyjamas all day and darts outside whenever he wants, always without shoes. We spend a lot less money; multiple days go by without opening our wallets. And my body loves it too. The knot of anxiety and stress I used to feel daily living in San Francisco just isn’t there anymore.
Perhaps that is what “Barrier Lethargy” really is – an acceptance that one simply can’t get as much done here. The days are simple and slow. There’re spaces for thoughts and daydreams. There’s room to breathe.
The pace will likely pick up a little when our lockdown ends. There’s a PlayCentre here where I want to take Jude twice a week and various other social and family events we want to start going to when they happen again. We’ve cleared land for our tiny house, and the end of lockdown means we can hire in a digger to speed up the project. We also get our Elon Musk satellite dish for Starlink wifi next week, which means we’ll have faster wifi here than we did in San Francisco. I can’t wait. Even if we live at a slower pace here, I’ll be quite happy to do so with lighting-fast internet access. :)