16 February 2021

Manda Jane Johnson: Facilitator abroad – checking in from New York

Editor’s Note: Collective Intelligence Team Facilitator, Manda Johnson, is currently visiting her partner in the USA and shares an update with us here:

Manda Jane Johnson

“Is it really a good idea to be leaving this safe place to go there?”

“Who in their right mind would…?”

These were the questions from two of my children in response to me contemplating travelling to New York last spring!

The combination of Covid-19, back-to-back winters and the 45th President, left them questioning the wisdom, with their questions challenging me to question too. In the end, to check the sanity of my decision I ran it past one of the Collective Intelligence teams that I facilitate – just to get a reality check.

The American Embassy issued me a 6-month visa – no trouble – once I answered yes to two questions: one about owning property in New Zealand and the other about having grandchildren. It seems they know matters of security and the heart will make me leave the US again. I made a plan – with part of that plan being scheduled time at Palm Beach to soak up as much VitD as possible before leaving.

I left armed with health insurance (which covers Covid-19 up to $2 million), business class travel once in the US, N95 masks, alcohol, wipes, hand sanitiser, oral spray and immune boosts. I was covering as many bases as possible to finally get together with my beloved partner after an 11-month separation and several failed attempts to get him into New Zealand.

The Weather
It snowed 10 inches two days after my arrival mid-December. Aside from some days around Christmas and New Year, the temperature has rarely been above freezing for the entire time of my stay so far. We have had three snowstorms, the most recent one delivering half a metre prompting the purchase of snowshoes just to be able to get out walking. As far as Robert can remember, it’s the most snow in New York for 20 years. Me? I’m happy about it. Might as well have a real winter if I’m going to miss summer and live three winters in a row!

Snow drifts on Manda's terrace
Snow drifts on our breakfast terrace

Covid-19
My arrival brought the challenge of re-acclimatising to human contact for my partner. We assessed that there was almost no possibility that I has contracted Covid-19 during my journey. LA airport was a good as a ghost town since the city had finally enacted a travel ban for anything other than essential travel; I sat in a lounge built for 400 people with three others! Whilst we decided not to quarantine me, it was a process of slow melting of the personal safety management system he had established to find ease in living together.

I find out from the very few people that I have had direct contact with – socially distanced when I meet them of course – that this is also true for many people. There has been no contact with anyone for 9 months. Those with partners lucky, or not so lucky, depending on the capacity of people to manage the pressure of such extended retreat/isolation. Shopping online, there is a constant flow of UPS, FedEx and many other delivery trucks in the streets.

Many people voluntarily wear masks whenever they encounter another person out walking – while many others simply do not. I see some people sitting in restaurants, which seems slightly crazy to me. It’s hard to tell what the risks are, infection rates are dropping but statistics show that many people are still getting infected – so I err on the side of caution. There is no contact tracing – I suppose it would be difficult to establish for a country of 331 million!

So, living is very simple. Lots of home time, really quite a precious time to be with Robert, lots of online meetings and study, making good food, walking the land often to get to know the feel of the country. This is the land of the Lenape people, walking the land with the trees stripped back to their fundamental form in the winter landscape, it’s as if you can feel the people who have walked and lived here before, although there is no official acknowledgement of this history that I have seen.

Hearing the latest news about the family in Auckland and the move to Level 3, registering the immediate responses in the Collective Intelligence communications, and then hearing about the impact even at Level 2 in other parts of the country… from over here I have such a different perspective from when that happened when I was in New Zealand. It’s tempting to say, “what are you worried about?”. It’s so strange to live for this time in a country where Covid-19 is everywhere and to sense the ‘almost panic’ that emerges in New Zealand when there is an extremely isolated case. Of course, I understand having also been in New Zealand and responding as a country to cases emerging at different times – the unknown hidden quality of the virus making everyone appear as a possible deliverer of threat. Somehow living here, I notice I am more relaxed in the context of the pandemic – as though I have learned to do everything I can to protect myself while not having any idea when, where or if I have been exposed. Maybe this is getting immunised on an emotional level?

Speaking of immunisation, Robert has his first Moderna vaccination a few days ago. His arm painful, as though the most recent boxing champ had landed one on his arm. All good now though, and no frightening side effects as far as I can tell. Conversations with his son, who has also received a first shot, reveal the longing for the possibility of being able to live life with more choice and freedom once more. I get a sense of how significant this is to everyone here after 10 months of living with the threat of infection, extreme social distancing and the majority of people working from home.

Leadership
Of course, it’s not possible to be here and not marvel and shake my head at the fiasco that has been occurring on the political front. I have to say that I am so grateful to have been led through Covid-19 by Jacinda and all the people who have played their part on the team that has led and continues to lead the country through such disruptive times.

On the ground here, I recognised in my own system a real sense of calm and grounding, as the country seemed to be dismantling into chaos and, in the media terms, insurrection. I felt grateful to be full of a different experience of leadership as I participated in various online forums with people in the US and heard very disturbed responses from them regarding the political intensity. For a while it felt like many people were hanging on waiting, just waiting, for Biden and Harris to finally get sworn in – but it was rather a bubbling pot of very mixed emotions on a huge spectrum of belief and loyalty.

I watched the Capitol being stormed, in fact I couldn’t unglue myself from the screen for several hours as the live drama unfolded in such graphic detail. At the time I was really grateful to see the lack of violent response from the police – although it was extremely confusing as to why there was so little actual movement to stop the storming of the building happening. As I watched, I began to think about what would have been happening if those storming the building had been black.

Racism
Due to my involvement with a non-profit organisation, The Pocket Project, I have been exposed to conversations and process about race for some time now. The peace-ability of the police as the Capitol building was stormed, relative to the violent police response to the peaceful protests after George Floyd’s murder, is a graphic example of the systemic difference of being a person of colour.

I listened to an African American woman speaking on this topic recently. She has chosen to live in France, where it has felt safer but currently that is eroding. Whilst it is very uncomfortable to wake up to white privilege and to recognise how societal structures work in our favour and against people of colour – it is the work of our times.

For a while on that day, it seemed to me that the American Civil War had never ended – as I witnessed a country so overtly polarised. It seems there is so much history that has not been effectively learned from and integrated.

Donald
The shutdown by Facebook and Twitter of Trump’s litany of fragmenting and inciting rhetoric (I would have less graceful ways of describing that!) brought such relief. His commentary having been reported as if it were news for far too long; it was like the air coming out of a hot air balloon.

The Donald
A novelty?! pen that declares in Trump’s voice, “I will be the best president that God ever created.”

For all the noise and big words about needing to face the music, finally as you will know, the impeachment came to nothing with Trump lawyers lying through their teeth and most Republicans standing by their man. That said, seven Republican senators voted for impeachment, the most bi-partisan senate vote ever in an impeachment trial of a president. Maybe their professional bodies will reprimand the lawyers, but all-in-all I’m astounded how little consequence there seems to be for Trump when he seriously neglected to act in everyone’s best interest on the day of the storming of the Capitol.

No doubt Donald will use the acquittal to continue his divisive splitting of the country. It makes me think of a talk I listened to from Deeyah Khan, a film maker, who said that the only way to recover such polarisation is to build relationships with those ‘on the other side’, one person at a time.

It is quite a time to be here.

Manda – 16 February 2021

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