Voices of the Kea community
Depending on where you live, experiences of the pandemic have varied dramatically and will continue to do so for some time. We spoke to four of our offshore Kea members who told us what’s happening in their part of the world, how they are staying connected to their Kiwi communities, and what they are most looking forward to for the future.
Vanessa, Business Owner – Mexico
I run my own business working as a virtual assistant, doing social media marketing and creating websites. I also do some English teaching online so in terms of work the pandemic didn’t disrupt things too much, that is until I caught the virus. I live on a ranch on the outskirts of Mexico City and COVID-19 left me unable to work or really do anything for just over a month. Being single and bed ridden in an isolated area was incredibly difficult as it was hard to access food and medicine. Luckily a couple of friends drove out to me a few times and dropped off supplies and I never got so sick that I required emergency medical care.
Because I am outside of the city, sometimes the pandemic seems far away. The locals here don’t really wear masks or practise social distancing even though the country is currently in a third wave of COVID-19 infections. We are seeing hundreds of new cases and hundreds of deaths each day, however the Government has rejected another lockdown because of the damage it will do to the economy, so it’s hard to say how things will play out over here.
For me the pandemic has highlighted the importance of good friends and staying connected. When I was unable to work due to COVID-19 a few friends did a whip round and collected some money to help me get by, for which I am incredibly grateful. Following the news back in New Zealand I have also had time to appreciate New Zealand’s willingness in general to ‘work together and do it’ for the greater good.
Kevin, Television Producer, Qatar
It’s been a really challenging 18 months. Initially, I felt a lot of frustration with how Qatar handled the pandemic – it never completely shut down so the virus spread much more per capita than it should have. Having said that, most of the clusters were on the outskirts of Doha away from the city. Al Jazeera handled it pretty well, and I was one of the “lucky ones” I had to go into the office to do my job so I was spending four days in the office, four days in my hotel room in those early months. I enjoy the social contact of an office so I think I would’ve struggled much more if I’d “worked from home”. Towards the end of 2020 I came back to New Zealand for a visit and I found it much harder when I returned to Doha after nearly five months back in NZ practically living a “normal life”. For the first time I questioned whether I was doing the right thing. But I love what I do and what Al Jazeera does. And I think our coverage of the pandemic – and other big news stories like Afghanistan right now – is world-leading. And as a newsman it would be very difficult to give that up. Plus we’re edging closer to another big reason for coming here – next year’s Football World Cup.
To stay connected I’ve organised quiz Zoom sessions with family back home and initiated sessions with colleagues from around the world where we got together online for a few hours, had a few drinks and just talked about various issues we were facing, what was happening in different parts of the world or just simply caught up. I got a lot of positive feedback from people who really appreciated those sessions and looked forward to them. And in a way, they’ve laid a benchmark. A few months ago, I organised something similar after one of our American colleagues died of cancer. We had members of his family and other friends from outside Al Jazeera on the call too, everyone seemed to appreciate it.
I think the pandemic is changing how we live and work. More flexible working arrangements – like working from home – are hopefully here to stay. Wearing masks is becoming a part of life and I think it’ll stay that way in many parts of the world. And of course, the big question, how long before we can travel the world like we used to? I don’t think I or anyone else can answer that accurately but I think it’ll be months, if not years, away.
Matt, Project Manager, Japan and Saudi Arabia.
I was in Japan at the start of the pandemic and the country went into a State of Emergency. There were no strict lockdowns, but businesses were encouraged to close early or not open at all. Sports were played without crowds, but trains still ran, etc. The theme park I was working on closed but my other project work kept going. From memory there was about a four-week period that we worked from home, but that was because management encouraged it and we are owned by an American company.
A few months ago I moved to Saudi Arabia for work, there was an extensive lockdown period here but I didn’t arrive here until after it ended. Right now schools are still doing classes remotely but are due to reopen soon. It’s compulsory to wear masks in public, plus you must use a tracing app to get into shopping centres, supermarkets, etc. And there are heavy penalties (circa $550 USD) if you don’t conform. A colleague was fined for not wearing a mask, while driving, in the car by himself, when he went past a checkpoint.
The pandemic has taught me to be a bit more conservative. There is no such thing as a safe industry to work in. I know people working in Construction that have survived better than people in Primary Industries. And I have been disappointed by cash rich companies furloughing employees while small businesses have still found a way to keep people employed.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised that people generally have behaved better than I had expected. I suspect after years of social media, and the media in general, I had begun to expect the worst from people. Most people have conformed to whatever their governments have expected from them. On a personal level, I’m just looking forward to being able to travel again. Skype and Zoom can scratch the itch for talking to family when you miss them, but there is no substitute for a vacation.
Kate, Teacher – Netherlands
Life took some adjusting when we had the first lockdown over 18 months ago. I remember being scared to do groceries, but living in the Netherlands, the variety of online shops meant we could easily get deliveries and not have to go out unless we wanted to. I work as a teacher and the schools closed, but I enjoyed teaching online and it was fun helping to set up the program for the school. I enjoyed the challenge!
What has been really hard is not being able to see our family in New Zealand for two years, they haven’t been able to meet my son who was born in April and we have no idea when that meeting will happen. It’s been great to see people reach out and connect with others. Over here there have been plenty of community initiatives, for example, you could sign up to drive an elderly person to the doctor or collect medicine, buy groceries and drop them off on their door step etc. There were plenty of ways to reach out and help others in lockdown who were not able to care for themselves. I’ve been able to keep in touch with other Kiwi via online forums and have taken comfort in chatting to them. We mostly talk about our frustrations at not being able to easily travel home.
The pandemic has definitely taught me to appreciate the small things, and to never take for granted the precious time you spend with family. All of a sudden when you aren’t able to see them no matter how desperate you are, it really changes your perspective. It’s also made me realise that we should grab every opportunity to travel or seek adventure but also take time out to prioritize self-care through exercise and mindfulness.