Five days, six cities, home now
When former Gisborne woman Sally Barraud (nee Ford) landed in New Zealand on Wednesday, she and her husband Josh and their two children had travelled through four countries and six cities in five days.
There were missed connections, masks, gloves, sanitising every surface, hand-washing, tears and frustration.
As the family flew out of Sri Lanka four days ago, the Colombo airport closed behind them.
“It's like doors are slamming behind you as you go.
”You're in a maze trying to find which way out and suddenly all the doors are shutting.
“Then the walls start crumbling around you.
“It feels really scary out there, it really does. You really feel very far from home.
“You come back to New Zealand and people are still doing stuff normally and you think, ‘well that's going to change next week'.”
Sally particularly feels for other Kiwis who have not been able to get home yet.
About a month ago they were in India and the Coronavirus came on to their radar.
Then things moved fast.
“It's surreal, it was like your brain was trying to catch up with the new reality all the time.”
Plans changed daily, as the family tried to make sense of new information and make decisions based on that.
In hindsight, Sally says they should have tried earlier to get home.
Just two months ago, Sally and her family were off in pursuit of a stress-free life, a year travelling the world, volunteer teaching in Colombo and teaching their daughters Trixie, 10, and Molly, 5, on the road.
They quit their jobs, rented out their Wellington home for a year and took the kids out of school.
Less than three months later, they are in self-isolation at a family cottage in Wairarapa for two weeks.
“We've gone from scary big Singapore Airport to a lady from Fresh Choice in Greytown apologising because the brand of apples we ordered online is not available.
“Right now it's a very simple existence. We are enjoying the quiet and living in the moment.
“We don't know what is next but we are feeling very grateful for New Zealand and hoping we are protected but thinking we are probably not.”
On the first leg of their trip in India, when news of Covid-19 started to filter through, they tried to buy masks as a precaution, still never thinking they would be needed, or that it would put a halt to their plans.
They decided to drop the Indonesia leg of their trip but continue on to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, where they had a volunteer teaching assignment.
Two days before they arrived in Colombo, they got an email to say their volunteer positions had been cancelled.
Still, they did not think they would have to cancel their whole trip.
By the time they arrived in Colombo last week, the schools were shutting and xenophobia had hit.
Everywhere they went they were made very aware they were not wanted.
When they arrived at their pre-booked accommodation, the owners pretended they had not booked there.
They were “white tourists”, sometimes shooed away if they tried to ask an official a question. A group of teenagers in Colombo yelled “Corona, Corona” at Sally and she dissolved in tears.
Trixie tried to work out why her mum was upset and asked, “So teenagers called you corona, is that it, did anything else happen?”
Sally can laugh now but at the time the situation was going “from worse to worse” and they felt very far from home.
The only place they could find accommodation that would take them was a five-star hotel, which was put on their credit card.
Next was to book flights out – they just wanted to get home. But Sally could not book flights online, or get through to anyone.
Finally her sisters Julie and Rose in New Zealand, with Sally on speaker phone, were able to get the family on flights home.
Time was ticking, and everything was shutting all around them.
“Are you ready now?” her sisters asked with urgency.
They decided to take the Tuesday flight, from Colombo to Singapore, and were up at 4.30am to catch it.
“We get to the airport and everyone is in gloves and masks, every single person, there is nobody without gloves and masks on.”
They arrived in Singapore for their connecting flight to Auckland. Their boarding passes did not have the time to board, so they triple-checked the signs that said be at the gate 10 minutes before departure, and made sure they were at the gate 20 minutes before departure, their bags already checked through.
“But they said no, we couldn't get on the plane. The departure time had changed.
“At that point is was like a true nightmare. It was quite devastating.
“There was nowhere to go, no friendly faces, no Air NZ counter, no ticket counter, nowhere to turn.
“Keeping in mind the whole family had been up since 4,30am that morning, I was crying, Trixie was crying, Molly was crying. Josh was being very manly and putting his head in his hands. We begged and pleaded with them to let us on, but no, we had to buy another ticket.
“We had half an hour to book the next flight out.
“The whole time we are washing our hands, making sure any food we buy has not been handled by others.”
With time ticking, Sally navigated the airport wifi, which kept crashing, borrowed an iPad from a man at the information desk, which also crashed, then finally “a miracle”.
They got seats on a Singapore Airlines flight to Auckland.
“By this point we have already spent $8000 to get home on top of the other flights we have already lost, and know we have to send another $6000 and there is no insurance because everything is coronavirus-related and pandemics are not covered.”
They could not be more grateful to be home.
“It's like a different world, everyone smiling, everyone relaxed, no masks, and I don't know what to think about it.
“Do I say, ‘it's coming our way', or be glad we're still in a bubble over here.”
A car had been dropped off at Wellington Airport for them, packed with food and clean clothes for their self-isolation period.
Sally said being in India had taught her “the responsibility we have for other people”.
“The beggars in the street, they are us. separated only by privilege, and in this fast-changing world we really are in this together,” she said.