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Two weeks ago, I was going to Mexico.

I hadn't booked anything, but I'd filled a Lonely Planet guidebook with brightly-coloured post-it notes.

Two days later I carefully pulled each one out and pushed the book through the library returns slot, a week early.

Timeout on Mt Hobson in Auckland on day one of the alert level 4 lockdown. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Timeout on Mt Hobson in Auckland on day one of the alert level 4 lockdown. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Mexico required flying through Los Angeles, and news was filtering through that the numbers catching coronavirus, which began in China in December and has since left a path of economic and social destruction around the world, was rising at pace in California.

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Mexico's deputy health minister had also said the country was considering tightening its northern border because of the threat of contagion, at any other time a delicious irony given the US president famously campaigned on building a wall between the two neighbours.

Mexico was out, and I was really disappointed.

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Three days later, I was told to work from home - to protect myself, the community and the business. A daunting prospect when you live alone.

Barely 24 hours later, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shut our borders to foreigners. Other countries - including Australia - shut theirs to us. The world was shrinking, and fast.

Everyone was nervous, and it wasn't just the contents of their shopping trolleys that showed it. Their faces reflected the grim reality of a rapidly-worsening situation.

Peak lack-of-human-interaction bottom came on a walk to the supermarket when, unusually, no smiles were returned.

I didn't care about Mexico anymore. I just wanted to feel like I was part of a community again.

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He gave me a fright at first. Sitting on the ground outside Z Manurewa, I startled when he said, 'Hello'.

Then he smiled and asked how I was. We had a conversation. Nothing profound.

The coronavirus crisis has touched everyone, from the homeless on the streets to high-end store owners forced to shutdown. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The coronavirus crisis has touched everyone, from the homeless on the streets to high-end store owners forced to shutdown. Photo / Brett Phibbs

He put his cap out and I did something I've never done before - I gave money to someone who was begging.

He said, 'Thank you'. I said, 'Thank you'.

I've sponsored countless friends running, walking, shaving their heads, and giving up lollies, booze and whatever else in aid of others.

Every month, my bank transfers money from my account to a charity I support. I know I could do more.

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But I've never given money to someone begging because, confronted by the ambiguity of their need, it was easier to pretend they weren't there.

The coronavirus crisis has touched everyone, from the homeless on the streets to high-end store owners forced to shutdown. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The coronavirus crisis has touched everyone, from the homeless on the streets to high-end store owners forced to shutdown. Photo / Brett Phibbs

I'll never know if this man was being genuine. And I still think it's better to donate to charities helping those in need, than to the individuals themselves.

But in that moment, it didn't matter.

New Zealand has now been in lockdown for three days. We have a long month ahead as we make sense of a new way of life where, to save each other, we can't physically see each other.

We will change, but will that change be for the better? Will we appreciate the little things more?

Will we be kinder?

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Something that's in all of us

Psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald. Photo / Supplied
Psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald. Photo / Supplied

Psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald gave to someone begging last week, too. It was out of the ordinary for him, too.

As so many of us find ourselves looking to the state to save our homes, jobs and businesses through the Government's financial rescue packages totalling more than $23 billion, we're not so much changing as having something that's in all of us -the values of wanting to help others and be part of a community - become the most accepted part of the culture, MacDonald says.

The formerly dominant "individualist" culture is being pushed back.

"What's being pulled to the fore for all of us is that sense of community and connection and generosity. The people that have the signs at the traffic lights asking for money, I gave them some money, and I usually don't.

"It just sort of feels like the right thing to do at the moment, because we're all in this together. What we're seeing is just an absolutely overnight 180 degree culture change and yeah, there's always going to be people who don't buy into that or are disengaged from it … but the swing towards the valuing community and connectedness is kind of wartime effort level, and it's necessary."

And it's not just here.

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MacDonald, a Green Party list and Epsom candidate, cites e-commerce giant Amazon's decision to ban a profiteering hand sanitiser-hoarder as a perfect example of the shift.

"Amazon, the biggest capitalist fortress world banning someone for gouging, because that is now seen as completely repugnant behaviour in this context. Profiteering, a month ago, was still seen as a virtue we would uphold."

The US and the United Kingdom, also under partial and full lockdown respectively as coronavirus cases skyrocket, have shifted from "very neo-liberal, individualist-focused policy-making" to, out of necessity, having to support the population, MacDonald says.

Both countries have announced colossal - NZ$2.3 trillion and NZ$713 billion respectively - financial rescue packages.

"A few weeks ago that would've been called rampant socialism … now, it's about recognising that we can't get through this individually. That those old ways of thinking, individualism, competitiveness, just don't work in this new context and it's really interesting to think about whether that's going to persevere."

We won't change completely. The old culture will come back - but, also, not completely, MacDonald says.

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A generation of Kiwis will, for example, "really understand" the need for strong, well-funded public health.

"We're going to have a generation of people who really get that, and realise we do need to provide that for everybody."

The change would be on a more individual level, too, as people who had never struggled for money found themselves making the same heartbreaking decisions those living in poverty make every day.

"I hope that what comes out of that ultimately is more empathy."

Cry, but laugh too

Atka Reid lived though the Sarajevo siege during the Bosnia war. Photo / Supplied
Atka Reid lived though the Sarajevo siege during the Bosnia war. Photo / Supplied

One thing we're not short of is people saying Kiwis have overcome adversity before.

Many have, whether from the impacts colonisation, ill-health, natural disasters or personal tragedy. But many haven't experienced such an abrupt and unsettling change in life before.

It's scary, but it could be worse.

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And we will learn from it, those who have survived tough times before say.

Atka Reid was a 21-year-old Sarajevo student when her city became locked in a siege during the Bosnian war which would last more than four years, trapping those living there in a daily struggle for survival.

Atka Reid in Sarajevo during siege at the height of the Bosnia war in 1992. Photo / Supplied
Atka Reid in Sarajevo during siege at the height of the Bosnia war in 1992. Photo / Supplied

It, too, came as a shock, the Auckland mum-of-two, who with her sister later co-wrote the book Goodbye Sarajevo, says.

"This reminds me a lot of the start of the war … it was 1990s Europe. We went on holidays. We had MTV. We'd just had the [1984 Sarajevo Winter] Olympic Games. Life was very normal. Just like life in New Zealand. We had very comfortable, middle class lives.

"[When the war began] you don't want to accept things. You don't really believe it's happening to you. But it is."

The hardships which followed were incomparable to New Zealand's coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

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Tiny food rations were supplemented by whatever could be found, including stinging nettle from the garden. Finding water was a daily struggle. There was no electricity, and no phone service.

A woman runs across a Sarajevo sniper risk-zone protected by sheets in 1992. Photo / File
A woman runs across a Sarajevo sniper risk-zone protected by sheets in 1992. Photo / File

If you went out you could be shot by a sniper, struck by shrapnel or blown up by a shell -one uncle was killed by shelling queuing for bread, another by a sniper. Home was barely safer - a bomb could land on your house.

And yet, people adapted, Reid says.

"You will be amazed how quickly people adapt. And the quicker you adapt, the easier it gets … just think about the small things you can control day to day. That's the only way to stay sane. And keep a sense of humour."

A good cry helps - everybody cried during the war - but there was also a lot of laughter.

And joy, sometimes in the smallest things.

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"There were days when we were locked in the basement - a very cold, dark basement - because the shelling was very intense. If you're stuck there for a day or two, it's horrible. So I remember, just sitting outside in the sun and breathing the fresh air was just so joyful."

We were lucky because we were all in the situation together, whereas during the siege the world did not help Sarajevo, Reid says.

She hopes Kiwis will remember happiness is always within reach.

"This is going to be good for a lot of people because it will change their perspective and they'll realise what's actually important in their lives."

Police Commissioner Mike Bush joins Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking to discuss police clamping down on people flouting coronavirus lockdown rules. Audio / Newstalk ZB

Kindness undermined by shopping behaviour

Paul Spoonley, like all of us, isn't sure what the future holds.

The virus' impact on access to resources and quality of life could be a leveller "up to a point", the Massey University Distinguished Professor and sociologist says.

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"I think the levelling function will work so far, but then it won't equal out some of the socio-economic inequalities that we see in society."

Professor Paul Spoonley of Massey University. Photo / Doug Sherring
Professor Paul Spoonley of Massey University. Photo / Doug Sherring

As with health statistics even in life before coronavirus, there are ethnic and socio-economic factors that mean some people would get through the crisis better than others.

"And the others are going to be the poor and the people who simply don't have options - they've lost their job, they can't access the internet, which would keep you sane and pre-occupied, so the impact's going to be uneven."

He's hopeful, but realistic about whether Kiwis will, collectively, emerge from isolation kinder and more understanding of those going through tough times.

"The jury's out on that … I think many people are simply kinder [right now] because we need to reach out and understand that we can't do certain things, and we need other people to understand that as well.

"So there's a degree of collective responsibility that's quite new, but that completely gets undermined by our shopping behaviour in the last week … [and] there's people that are going to blame the Chinese [for coronavirus], and there's people sending things around which are scientifically inaccurate and who are wanting to see big Government or some conspiracy in all this.

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"There's going to be a range of reactions."

What will be our lesson?

But that doesn't mean we can't hope for better from ourselves.

Rosemary McNoe lived through the Christchurch earthquakes, the pre-dawn September 2010 thumper, the deadly February 2011 aftershock and the thousands of smaller shocks which dragged on for years.

She was let go from her job as a travel consultant after the quake. She's now the general manager of a travel agency; the Government wage subsidy has secured her job for 12 weeks.

Rosemary McNoe lived through the Christchurch earthquakes. Photo / Supplied
Rosemary McNoe lived through the Christchurch earthquakes. Photo / Supplied

Beyond that, the Diamond Harbour mum isn't sure what the future holds. But she's ok - the quakes gave her the gift of gratitude.

"I was so grateful I didn't take my usual lunchtime walk down to Cashel St, where I could've been crushed to death. It didn't matter about houses, it didn't matter about jobs - my family was alive, and I was alive."

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Kiwis can learn from this latest challenge, too.

"We are very privileged, most of us, with homes and travel and drinking wine. Things like this bring us down to the same level.

Whether we take that sense of humbleness, gratitude, love and kindness on is up to each of us."

Seeya, Mexico. Hey, Rewa

Mexico feels like a long-ago dream.

The night before the lockdown, after police commissioner Mike Bush made it clear he didn't want people driving "willy nilly" about the place, I typed my address into Google Maps.

I've lived in Manurewa almost five years, and I've never looked at it as a destination for outdoor excursions.

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On my first lockdown walk around the block I was surprised. I could hear birds. It was peaceful, it felt good.

The afternoon before I had sat in the backyard as Newstalk ZB broadcaster Simon Barnett choked up while reading a letter to Kiwis from a New Zealand teacher ending a seven-week lockdown in China, where signs of recovery are taking place.

"You learn to appreciate the little things. Sunshine through the window, flowers blossoming and being able to enjoy a coffee in a cafe. You miss them.

"To those just beginning this journey, you will get through it … there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Sunbeams penetrating at Ik-Kil cenote inlet opening, Mexico. Photo / File
Sunbeams penetrating at Ik-Kil cenote inlet opening, Mexico. Photo / File

I ended my first day of lockdown by messaging a friend who lives nearby.

I won't stand below the pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan or jump into the gorgeous cenotes of the Yucatan.

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But my friend and her little girl have promised to wave when my next walk takes me past their house.

I'm really looking forward to it.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website