Reflections from COVID Purgatory
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | january 14, 2021
I’m writing this from Auckland, New Zealand, but it feels more like I’m writing from a state of suspended animation – or a COVID purgatory.
A couple of weeks ago I flew from Asheville to Los Angeles. It had been planned for months but, with the virus surging in California, I was concerned. I’d been taking zinc, vitamin D, and resveratrol for months and practicing pranayama daily. I wore two masks on the plane (an N95 underneath and paper mask on top), sprayed myself with essential oils every hour or so, and said a few protective mantras (because, hey, why not?).
Nevertheless, I do not harbor any delusions that I’m impervious or even protected, and I’m well aware that by choosing to travel, I was essentially running the COVID gauntlet.
Since LA is pretty much ground zero right now, to avoid contact, we rented a car (we usually just take Lyfts to save money and because when I have to drive in LA, I mostly want to scream like Cher in Clueless).
We stayed in an Airbnb down the street from my sister (fun bonus – we could see the Hollywood sign from the living room!), and socialized with her and her family mostly outside, always masked and physically distant, for three days.
I married a Kiwi 23 years ago – we often talked about living in New Zealand some day but never actually got around to it. Brett had left for NZ in the middle of December to get our rental house in Christchurch ready for us, and find a car, phones, wifi, and all the other bits and pieces.
Of course I love the guy, but little did I know that one day, I would feel like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory holding a golden ticket.
We went to the LA airport on January 2 to fly out to New Zealand. The international terminal was mind-blowingly vacant – as empty as a John Friend workshop in 2013.
My son had brought a pre-workout supplement in his carry-on bag that panicked the TSA guys. They sent his bag through the x-ray machine three times, called a manager to assess and re-test the substance, and then gave him a 10-minute pat-down which included making him stand in Warrior 1 on both sides (I’m not making this up) and excessive examination of his groin area.
He was unfazed, but the mama bear in me erupted. How dare they subject a 16-year-old to this nonsense?! Pardon my white privilege. They ignored me. Clearly, they had very little else to do than hassle a boy who wants bigger muscles.
When we arrived in Auckland, the typically busy airport was also a ghost town peopled only by nurses, customs officials, airport security, and folks in army fatigues. Everyone was kind and polite. They shuttled us through a series of short lines, asking questions, checking baggage, taking our temperature, reminding us to stay in our own bubbles, and then finally leading us outside to a bus.
Once on the bus they told us we would be going to a Managed Isolation (MI) hotel south of the city. We made a reservation for MI months ago but we had no idea and no choice about which hotel. It only took about 10 minutes to get here. At the hotel, a military guy boarded the bus and briefed us on what we would experience over the next 14 days, including expectations about testing, mask wearing and social distancing.
Managed Isolation is not Quarantine. We got tested almost immediately after arriving and had to stay in our room until the results came back. The next day we got our results back. Both of us were negative.
After that, they’ve allowed us to roam around the parking lot whenever we want between 8 am to 8 pm, as long as we stay away from others. We can reserve a spot to take schedule longer walks in a bigger parking lot down the street a couple of times a day if we want as well.
The parking lot is typically full of kids drawing with chalk, folks walking around for exercise, and every evening there’s a group of Samoan guys who hang out in a big socially distanced circle and crack each other up for a few hours.
Our room is fairly spacious and has a kitchen (another golden ticket).
Outside the window I can see a theme park – it’s called Rainbow’s End (which may be an apt name for the whole country at the moment). When I open the window (I’ve never appreciated having a window so much), we can see, and hear the elated screams of people spinning around upside down on the “Stratos-fear” ride.
Three times a day we get food delivered to our room from the hotel restaurant.
I’ve been getting up around 6 up or 6:30. I practice pranayama, meditation and asanas for an hour or so. Then, I take a walk in the big parking lot at 8. I come back, eat breakfast, and work for a few hours. After lunch I take another walk, answer emails and FB messages, make phone calls, and then watch a movie with my son. Then we sing kirtan and meditation and try to get to bed before 9:30.
New Zealand has decided to do things differently from other countries.
When COVID hit, they shut down hard and fast and did vigilant contact tracing. Since they are a remote island nation, they have pretty good control of their borders. Unlike countries that are depending on travelers to quarantine on their own, this country has decided to mandate it – and they use repurposed hotels around the country (helpful for the hotels because of the decline in international tourism) to house arrivals like us.
If we had tested positive at all (and we still have one more test to do tomorrow) we would be shipped to the quarantine facility here in Auckland with many more restrictions on movement and our 14 days would start all over again.
Since my son is a NZ citizen, our two-week stay in COVID purgatory is being paid for by the government.
Which sounds amazing, yet I wonder how much money they are saving by not having to care for sick people, not to mention avoiding most of the economic toll of an out of control pandemic.
Our only outside time is in a parking lot, so I look hard for beauty. I’m entranced by the huge flax plants that thrive in their home right next to the highway.
Flowering vines creep up the fence that borders our luxury confinement. A few wild peach trees laden with little green unripe fruit sprout up through the flax. The birds are pretty and occasionally seagulls visit. The kids chalk art evolves every day as different people enhance the creations. Yesterday I watched a graffiti artist chalk tag a wall and connect his tag to a previous drawing of Sponge Bob. He drew a spray can in Bob’s hand.
Our time in MI has forced me to slow down, rest more, be a little stiller. Somehow it feels quite appropriate for this time. CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera keep us up on the latest chaos in the states and we feel so sad and so worried.
We did not decide to come here to escape from anything – rather we thought it would be a good experience for our son to go to school here and COVID presented the opportunity for us to visit for an extended period – we don’t plan to stay for more than a year or two.
If the new strain gets out of quarantine and into the community, NZ will go straight back to lockdown – there is no Shangri-La on the planet at the moment.
Still, we are grateful to be here, and looking forward to getting out of MI on Monday.
P.S. A note about my meditation buddy, Jerry, the cat. He was adopted by some friends in Asheville who have two little girls. I miss him a lot, but he is loved and happy and doesn’t seem to mind being dressed up in tutus.
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