It is only three weeks ago that we heard monkeys crashing through the trees as we walked down to breakfast at the Drake Bay Wilderness resort in Costa Rica. While out and about in the jungle we had been more worried about being bitten by mosquitoes and catching dengue fever than being infected with the coronavirus.
On the last day of our holiday we spent the night in San Jose, the capital city. There had as yet been no cases of the coronavirus in Costa Rica so we felt it would be reasonably safe to walk downtown to visit a couple of museums and to buy some souvenirs for our granddaughters. It was buzzing with shoppers, there was music in the streets. The food hall was packed but we found a small restaurant where we wouldn’t have to sit too close to other customers. After buying our souvenirs and discovering a couple of sachets of hand sanitiser at a pharmacy we headed back to the hotel.
Before going down for dinner that night we made sure to wash our hands really carefully. Just as well as it was not until halfway through our meal that the waitress came over with a bottle of hand sanitizer and casually asked us if we wanted to use some.
To our relief our flight to Houston was running on time. The slightly sniffly nose I had had since before leaving New Zealand was still lingering. I was really scared that on arrival they would do a health check and I would not be allowed to board the plane. But all went smoothly.
During the flight back to New Zealand we discovered that the Air New Zealand flights from Houston to Auckland would soon be ceasing and all our hardworking cabin staff would lose their jobs. The enormity of how the coronavirus could affect New Zealand was beginning to sink in.
We arrived home on March 17. On arrival in the early hours of the morning there was no automated checkout. We were very briefly interviewed and made aware of what to do and who to contact if we got sick and were told to start self-isolating immediately for the next fortnight.
Our daughter had thoughtfully ordered some basic food items for us from the supermarket which were delivered by lunchtime (bread, cheese, milk eggs, cornflakes, ham, apples, a big tub of hummus and loo paper). We were immensely grateful as we soon discovered that when we had our first go at placing an online grocery order at our supermarket we could expect delays of almost a week. Fortunately, we had food in the pantry and a week’s meat in the freezer.
There was no shortage of things we could do at home. The internet was awash with a myriad of free courses. I made plans to write, get back to doing some art, try out new recipes. Instead we spent too many hours glued to the TV watching with horror as the coronavirus spread around the world taking its deadly toll.
The following week the alert levels rocketed from Level One to Level Four. I sat like a stunned mullet as I watched our PM Jacinda Ardern make the announcement that the whole nation would be in lockdown for a month.
It is hard not to be overwhelmed by feelings of doom and gloom. The lockdown is already causing great hardship for so many Kiwis, there will be deaths.
But we are so grateful to be back in New Zealand and are counting our blessings. The internet is our lifeline. We can stay in touch with our family and friends all of whom are safe and well right now.
Over the last few years our street has become chock-a-block with cars as there are two bus stations, Akoranga Campus and Smale’s Farm, within walking distance. Now it is again the quiet suburban street we had before. Birds are coming back. As we headed out the door to take our dog for a walk one morning two tui were singing their hearts out on a branch of the protea bush halfway up our driveway.
The people in our neighbourhood usually keep to themselves. But on the footpath a steady stream of walkers of all ages, keeping a wide berth, are smiling at each other and there is a constant chorus of Hi and How are you?
Dads who no longer have work to go to are tossing balls around with their children in their back yards. On the footpath some children have been busy creating chalk art.
Young families are out together on teddy bear hunts, the new national pastime. And it is not just the little ones either. I meet a couple of oldies who tell me their score so far is an impressive 139.
In the grounds of the local intermediate school a solitary figure is practising his martial arts.
There is just one rule breaker. An older lady crosses the street to have a chat. She is coming too close. I ask her to keep her distance.
“I don’t care, ‘she says but when I hold up my hand she does move back. I am flabbergasted but stop to have a chat.
I should have told her:
“You must care! It’s not just about us. It’s about our children, our grandchildren, about the whole community and about the health workers who are risking their lives to nurse those who catch the coronavirus!”. If I meet her again I will speak my mind.
At nearby Lake Pupuke a young couple is feeding the ducks. We are no longer supposed to sit down on park benches, but we can still enjoy the tranquil view over the water.
That evening round about 7pm there is a bit of a commotion just around the corner from our place. I go to take a look. The residents of Puriri Park retirement village are standing on the pavement, keeping their 2-metre distance, and are clapping enthusiastically.
“We are thanking the health workers who are doing a wonderful job” one shouts at me across the street. “Join in!” So, I do.
Because I too am very grateful. And I think New Zealand is the best place to be right now.
“Be strong, be kind, we will be O.K.,”. is our Prime Minister’s message in the face of the coronavirus.
And I really believe that if we all do our part we can do it.
Reviews by Lyn Potter
Parent and grandparent, Avid traveler, writer & passionate home cook