I feel a need to acknowledge (mark?) this moment. Because I have no idea what comes next. Nobody does. Here, in Aotearoa, where we have relatively few cases (and I don’t know anyone, or know anyone who knows anyone, who’s had it), it feels rather eerily like a calm before the storm. The second storm. Not the wild, fiery, out-of-control storm of the virus spreading exponentially around the world. Not the media storm as these local stories unleashed and started overlapping and reinforcing, like ripples finding each other, merging to make one. One common story, the same everywhere but with very local differences. Largely determined by policy decisions. Never before have I been so struck by the tight relationship between science and policy. By the difference that leadership, and different kinds of leadership, can make. In our lives. In 2020*. Not during some distant or past war or famine that none of us coddled westerners can relate to or remember.
The second storm is what comes next. Will it be a new world? Will there be a storm at all? Will we return quickly to a new normal, not so different to the old normal, just a few fewer people around, mostly the old and weak. The pandemic a distant blip of localised sickness and extermination. Or will things never really be the same again? The ease and luxury of international travel; the spontaneous building of new friendships in close quarters (summer camps, backpacker hostels, dance parties); a naïve trust in shaking hands or kisses on the cheek – even air kisses (are they worse?); handwashing; trust in strangers; the way we care for and protect our elderly. Will the social inequalities that have been laid bare and exacerbated become the new normal that we become blind to again? And what does a recession, on the scale that’s being predicted, even mean? What does that feel like, look like, taste like?
One thing I am both fascinated and horrified by is the contrast between the tsunami of heart-breaking news from around the world, these wild projections of economic doom and trial, and our current reality in Lockdown Level 4, Otaki Forks, Aotearoa New Zealand.
This is our fifth Sunday in Lockdown Level Four. The last two weeks have flown. The first week crawled. In the week prior to that, when everything was unknown and the new rulebook yet to be written, time ground to a halt. Stuff that had happened that morning, or three hours ago, felt like the previous week. At least. Hours felt like days. We were riding high on adrenalin and exhaustion, at the same time. Invincible and powerless, at the same time. Four weeks of total self-isolation sounded interminable and now, in truth, I don’t really want it to end.
No-one ever told us that pockets of the apocalypse might be a paradise. It feels unethical, shameful, something I should never admit to. When you think of all those other stories, or situations. The pandemic itself, the abusive households, the people without shelter or income, the care homes ripped through with Covid-19, the front-line healthworkers.
Turns out that we hadn’t even realised how much of an impact the pace of everyone else, everything else, was having on our own family tempo. I’ve stopped the clock before – sailing across the Pacific, overwintering in the Antarctic, but that involved blocking the rest of the world out almost completely, including news and internet. I could never have fathomed a lockdown with internet. The collison of ultimate slow with ultimate fast – no need to commute or even make the effort to meet someone in a cafe and smile at them when they walk in.
Throughout this, I’ve still been working, Andy’s been working. Georgia (4) has been bouncing between us and a friend who’s living in the lodge, sharing our isolation bubble. We’ve found a new rhythm. One that doesn’t depend on the time that kindy opens, or the tradies arrive, or the guests leave, or the invoice needs to be paid by. Doesn’t depend on theoretical academic deadlines that everyone knows are made up but sometimes turn out to be real. Grade deadlines are still there, but the whole teaching space is being renegotiated to such an extent right now that that’s really the least of our concerns. Student welfare is more important than any grade deadline.
Time is slower, it’s nicer. And, dare I say, kinder. It’s more forgiving. It has lower expectations. It has changed priorities. Things that used to matter, now don’t. Baking does. Going for a walk, does. Picking the feijoas, does. Looking after each other, does.
Meanwhile, in our little slice of paradise, as New Zealand’s new case numbers appear to be stabilising in single figures, we prepare for a relaxing of the rules. Just everso slightly. Next week, we can go to the (local) beach, and for short local walks in the hills. Our staff who work on the land, and builders, can return to work at a safe distance, but cleaners can’t. It doesn’t matter – we won’t be having guests for quite some time. More than anything, our hearts are being pulled continually overseas to places where the virus is still ripping through countries and families. And there’s nothing we can do but listen for the news.
*At the time of writing, on April 26 2020, New Zealand had 1,470 cases of Covid, including 18 deaths. This is 305 cases and 4 deaths per 1 million people.
Comparable numbers elsewhere were:
UK – 148,377 cases (20,319 deaths) = 2,186 cases and 299 deaths per million people
Germany – 156,513 cases (5,877 deaths) = 1,868 cases and 70 deaths per million people
USA – 960,896 (54,265 deaths) = 2,903 cases and 164 deaths per million people
Sweden – 18,177 cases (2,192 deaths) = 1,800 cases and 217 deaths per million people
Israel – 15,398 cases (199 deaths) = 1,779 cases and 23 deaths per million people
Australia – 6,711 cases (83 deaths) = 263 cases and 3 deaths per million people
Data source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries