16 June 2020

Diane Koch: My ‘harvest of learnings’: International travel and repatriation during COVID-19

I am really here!
As I write this, I notice an outbreath, mixed with partial disbelief: I am really here! I am back home in Aotearoa since 19 May. For two weeks after arriving, I was in Auckland in managed isolation. I was well taken care of and feel huge gratitude for that kindness, care and support. I am now home with my partner after 3 months, from what was meant to be just a three-week trip away to spend time with family and friends.

But before we start this journey – who am I?
I have been living in Aotearoa with my partner since 2015 – his return to his motherland. We live in Golden Bay. I was born in South Africa, where my whānau and a heart-tribe of friends still live. There I was self-employed most of my life, doing facilitation work specialising in approaches that weave the wisdom of the heart, body, imagination, and intuition as resources in learning spaces, to invigorate fresh-eyed thinking and sensing.

In my life here and now, I have part-time work in a work co-operative called Tui Balms, am learning te reo Māori and volunteer in a wonderful programme called Tides, offering rites of passage exploring the transition from childhood to adulthood, for young women.

Me at my niece and her partner’s marriage celebration.

Me eight weeks later (far right, seated with blue mask) pictured with a NZ High Consulate staff member in the middle foreground (flouro vest) at the Qatar embassy in Pretoria. Here we were waiting for the buses which would take us to the airport for our repatriation flights. Such a contrast, a different world! In South Africa everyone has to wear masks in public.

I was in South Africa in March for my niece and her partner’s Love Festival, a camping weekend along a beautiful river (pictured in the page header image above) with a ceremony and celebration of their marriage. My partner came to South Africa for a week. My Mom had died in 2019, and this opportunity for the whole family to be together came as a gift.

March 2020, when the world as we knew it, paused and was invited into rāhui. An invitation to reflect on our being and doing, a portal for change.

My learnings to share:
The challenge of getting home has felt like a rite of passage, with themes of separation and returning, challenge and opportunity. A significant journey exploring thresholds of belonging, choice and a deepening sense of tūrangawaewae.

I thought to share learnings from my journey in relation to my experience of international travel and repatriation in these COVID-19 times. I can’t help myself – with a professional background in learning and development! If there is even a small chance any of it could be useful for others, I am glad to share.

First up, some practicalities:

  1. Register with Safe Travel New Zealand.
  2. Contact the NZ High Commission where you find yourself.
  3. Connect to whatever social media channels and networks are available. Manage your energy in this space as it easily gets overwhelming. If possible, double check information with Safe Travel NZ and NZ High Commission.
  4. Be pro-active. Find others in your situation with whom to connect and check in. Share your learning generously and do your research. We need each other.
  5. If your journey involves transiting through other countries; (where border control entry, transit visas, quarantine exemptions and health checks may suddenly be required) contact those particular country’s High Commissions ASAP and request confirmation of what is required and the order/sequence of how to apply:
    • Be clear about where you have citizenship/ residency status
    • Check what you apply for first? Which permissions/exemptions are needed first before you can apply for another?
    • What sort of health checks are required, prior to travel or during transit? For example, at the time of travel in May 2020: for transit through Australia, proof of State Health Exemption from quarantine was required for ALL travellers and transit visas by some. One needed proof of both before applying for Federal Government Australian Border control permission to transit during COVID-19 times. Each of these took more time than imagined and required extensive follow up.
  6. With all of the above, pay attention to details, create a system with a ‘paper trail’ and timeline, where you keep record of dates, times, case reference numbers, names and direct contact details of people spoken to, follow up’s required.
  7. Pay attention to the detail of subject lines for emails you send, be specific, and WHEN necessary write URGENT upfront.
  8. Make space for human connections along the way, including the journey, transit and in quarantine/isolation. Heart connection can make a big difference to mental and emotional wellbeing. It is not only about sharing information and ideas.
  9. Know that when you get home, the journey of returning isn’t over. It takes time to digest the experience and unwind. Give attention to what is needed as you transition back into your life.

Some thoughts on awareness and attitude:

  • Take good care of yourself; look after and pay attention to your body, nervous system and your heart.
  • Understand that NO ONE knows all the answers, and everyone is likely to be on a steep learning curve.
  • Be kind. Show respect in all your interactions. Say thank you. People remember.
  • Things can get chaotic and tense for longer than expected. Take moments to breathe and cultivate ways to come back to yourself after bouts of intensity. That way you are more likely to manage your energy and relationships and make better decisions when suddenly called for.
  • Tend to your relationships, tensions can easily escalate, and people manage and see things very differently.
  • Cultivate awareness of your impact on others.
  • Give care to who, how and when you share this journey with others. It can be exhausting to constantly update well-meaning concerned loved ones and answer the inevitable questions that come. Find a way that works and be honest about what you can manage over this time. (e.g. a friend I made in transit uses a blog where info and updates are posted versus dealing with calls, texts and questions).
  • Listen to hunches and intuition and follow them up.
  • Know that things can change all the time. Accept this. Be mentally agile, curious and present: ‘So this is how it is now.’
  • Keep focused. Take responsibility for managing your energy. Pay attention to how much time and energy you give to conspiracy theories/white noise/panic/anger at non-sensical rules or laws/others responses or coping mechanisms/screen time and technology.
  • Forgive yourself when you miss something. Sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know.
  • Spend time in silence in nature whenever you can.
  • Practice gratitude. Aroha mai, Aroha atu. Pay it forward…

With deep thanks and appreciation.
Ngā mihi.

Diane Koch: di.koch247@gmail.com

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