Having reached alert level 2 of Covid-19, I reflect here on some of the changes in people's behaviour and practice before the rahui/lockdown and level 4, particularly in my suburban Durie Hill neighbourhood.
I enjoyed the slower pace of life and am disappointed at how quickly many folk returned to old ways. This was brought home to me at level 3 when cycling up Portal St and four vehicles zoomed past me in quick succession. The air stank of petrol fumes.
"I don't need a mask for Covid," I thought. "I need a mask for pollution."
This made me realise how pleasant and healthy a slower pace of life can be for us all. Because we all had to "stay safe, stay home and stay in our local area", and I am not an essential worker, I did what folk throughout Aotearoa New Zealand did and stayed home.
I worked from home — a challenge without the resources available in the office — learned more about the technology available and how to connect with groups remotely, enabling birthday parties, meetings, get-togethers and discussions via internet connections. Lots of people have said the same things, via social media, visual media and in private and public communications.
Like so many others, I found there were benefits to having to be at home, but not on holiday. The geographical and physical restrictions the rahui/lockdown imposed meant I had time to think, complete unfinished chores, begin new projects, catch up with myself and others by phone, email or other forms of social media.
Working from home and meeting or socialising on line and spending days locally did away with travel time and reduced pressure to be places and do things.
I could see the difference as I walked or cycled Durie Hill, observing what people were doing and enjoying, as one person put it, the "more like 1950s" pace of life. I took lots of photographs, talked to lots of people (physically distanced, of course), met new folk and reacquainted myself with others.
Over the five weeks, the atmosphere changed, the happy busy hive of activity becoming less bubbly and somewhat frustrated adjusted.
I was aware of comments made by Marilyn Waugh, a former New Zealand probation officer, and specialist in home detention.
Via Facebook, Waugh outlined the stages folk go through when in detention and suggested the experience of Aotearoa New Zealanders experiencing the rahui/lockdown might be the same.
The first two weeks, Waugh said, may have a holiday atmosphere with folk catching up with chores but that, by week 3 they realise what detention really means and depression can set in. Fortunately, by week 4, folk have generally adjusted. I noted this happening in Italy where, during the first 10 days or so of lockdown folk got together to sing from their balconies but this diminished by the third week when they began to understand the economic and social implications.
I wondered what would change on the Hill but wasn't to know for five weeks. I saw then that we, and the rest of the nation, had responded similarly.
For the first two weeks, the atmosphere was lively. The weather was fine, clear and sunny. The community came alive with people in a way it hadn't done at weekends or school holidays. Before rahui, people used their cars for work, the school run, shopping, or going just about anywhere. In rahui, people left their cars at home, using them only for essential purposes — like work, medical appointments and grocery shopping.
As a result, the numbers of folk out an about increased visibly. They were young, old and in between, on foot or on bikes, scooters and skateboards, individually, in pairs, or in family groups (one or two adults, one or more children), several with dogs. Folk took their time, wandered, stopped to chat, swapped produce and plants, checked on neighbours and friends, and found creative ways to socialise.
During the first week, we could hear lawnmowers roaring, hammers rapping, skillsaws whirring and paint flakes falling (yes, it was that quiet!) as folk tended their homes and yards, prepping houses and roofs for painting, catching up on deferred maintenance or beginning new projects.
By the second week, folk could be seen out tidying and sorting sheds, airing bed linen in the sunshine, socialising in their bubbles on their front porches or bringing chairs and drinks and meeting distantly in driveways or green spaces. Folk continued exercising outdoors, kids played in their yards, watched movies, or spent lots of time indoors playing board games or on their screens.
Durie Hill took on board the message that "We're in this together", accepting media invitations to join in a Teddy Bear Hunt, an Easter Egg Hunt and to commemorate Anzac Day. This individual and family behaviour signalled collective action through individual actions.
After about three days into rahui/lockdown, chalk drawings began appearing on footpaths, on the road, at the end of cul-de-sacs and in driveways: a hopscotch "because we thought it would be nice for kids walking by to have something to do", a dance party — with lots of different activities over a distance of 40m, smiley faces, and messages like "We can do this."
Durie Hill acted on the International Teddy Bear challenge based on Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury's classic tale, "We're Going on a Bear Hunt". Teddy bears and soft toys appeared in numerous windows, on fences, beside downpipes, front porches and letter boxes. We joined in the nationwide Easter Egg hunt by posting coloured paper Easter Eggs in windows.
Neighbours willingly shared fruit and produce — fruit, flowers, vegetables, plants and seedlings. Notices appeared encouraging people to share, be kind and be neighbourly.
One afternoon we stood with others at the entrance to Durie Hill to honour a neighbour who had lived on the hill for nearly 50 years. He was doing a last "run" via hearse. This gave us a chance to acknowledge his family at a time when few people could attend a funeral.
When rain fell in the third week, I wondered what might change and was glad to see the Dance Party extended and other, albeit fewer, drawings appear. But, as Waugh suggested, people were becoming frustrated or bored and moodwise, they weren't as cheerful.
They felt "dull", or "down" or "a bit over it". They wanted "normal" back even though they knew "normal" would be different. Like the Italians, we were beginning to realise the implications of the rahui/lockdown. We knew it could affect not only our own, but the nation's livelihood and wellbeing and still couldn't see an end, let alone envisage what that might look like.
By week 4, we were, as Waugh predicted, adapting even though Anzac commemorations were a sombre reminder of change. Preparations for this coincided with the change of mood in week 3.
However, in another way, the commemorations at week 5, drew the community together again as we honoured honoured our Anzacs visibly by creating memorabilia and lots of it — poppies, photos, crosses — and displaying them in our yards, fences, and windows. We stood at our letterboxes at dawn on April 25 in eerie morning light, listening the national service with neighbours across the street and down the road, each of us standing to attention as first The Last Post and then Reveille/Rouse echoed oddly from cellphones, iPads and books through the through quiet chill air, raising goose bumps and tears.
Two days later Aotearoa New Zealand moved into level 3. Neighbourhood behaviour changed. Cars came out, people zoomed around, went to the beach, the lake, the take away store. Fewer folk could be seen out walking and cycling. It felt as if we had both lost and gained something positive as we moved from level 4 through level 3 to level 2.
I don't deny that when we were in the rahui/lockdown situation that it wasn't difficult. There was were absences — of freedom to go wherever we chose whenever we wanted, the lack of social life as we knew it, absence of close physical contact, enforced domesticity, having to contain and homeschool the kids and an immense economic impact, among other things.
On the positive side, neighbourhoods were quieter, the air was clearer, folk noticed "more birdsong", more "native birds about" and relished the chance to work on home maintenance or complete unfinished tasks.
People made an obvious effort to be kind, sharing fruit, produce and plants, checking on each other, making new connections in the area, some spending more time with their children, and generally living more quietly and therefore saving money.
I doubt that many folk would choose to live under rahui long-term but for me the benefits of a slower way of life give one a chance for contemplation, Right down to watching the clouds flow by and, as I did in my childhood, enjoy a moment reflecting on the shapes they make.