If you doubt the veracity of this account talk to Sharon, for she is our witness. There were four of us on that fateful afternoon, jogging across the shallow end of the pool, when a rogue gust of wind touched down and became a water spout. I know that it’s quite extraordinary, that Mr. Bill was not the catalyst of this peculiar event; after all, he is a bonafide cyclone magnet, but life is full of strange surprises. ( If you are not familiar with Mr. Bill’s unusual super powers, may I refer you to: Between Cyclones– July 2017, Bomb Cyclones -January 2018, Water Blog-February 2018, Change in the Weather-August 2019 and Mother Nature Weeps -November 2019. Prepare to be amazed.)
It was a picture perfect day in South Florida when out of the blue, strange bursts of wind, disturbed an otherwise calm spring day. Sharon, Mary Ann and I, along with our instructor Christina, were in the pool at The Preserve at Ironhorse, doing our warm-up exercises for the water aerobics class. Suddenly the equipment cart began rolling back and forth across the pool deck, like a ship tossed upon the sea. Although that seemed odd, we continued hopping and bopping about to the music. Sharon, who was running west to east, saw bright green balls caught by the wind, fly over the high fence of the adjacent tennis courts, sail across the sidewalk and drop into the pool. With a loud whoosh, another gust of wind took aim for the pool. Smack! The wind made contact and water was pulled up into a six foot spinning spiral and spun across the pool. Sharon was astonished to see MaryAnn and I inside a mini waterspout and we had no idea what had hit us, when we were slapped with a wall of water. We were drenched! Water raked across us counterclockwise, our sun hats were snatched from our heads and flung in opposite directions. The wind had come from behind, slammed into us and continued on, forming horizontal furrows, not waves, as it pushed the water to the edge of the pool. Back on land, the wind transformed itself back into a mini twister and pushed on toward the 18th green, after first scattering the furniture on the clubhouse deck along the way. We looked at one another in amazement. What had just happened? If not for Sharon, we would never have known what had struck us. To me, the quick soaking felt like the stinging spray from a slalom water skier, coming in hot and bent on a bit of mischief, which was a prank, that never got old for me and my summer pals. For a brief moment, I felt young again.
But what of Mr. Bill? Where was he during all this wet drama? Why he was nearby on the course, playing a round of golf. His status, therefore, is unchanged. Rest assured, Mr. Bill has not lost his ability to attract wind and water. Either he has become better at evading Mother Nature’s soggy embrace these days or she is growing weary of the chase. One thing is certain in their game of Hide and Seek, he’s winning! And everybody loves a winner.
Have you ever had that creepy feeling, that you are being watched? However irrational it may seem, you know with absolute certainty, that something unseen sees you. Your sixth sense is warning you and cannot be ignored.
Bathing outdoors is one of summer’s decadent delights. I was over the moon with excitement last August, when shown the outside shower, while visiting our friends Ken and Jill’s Fire Island, beach house. I was all in having grown up bathing in a lake but I suspect that the more modest Mr. Bill, was relieved to note, that the enclosure had four solid walls and was only open to the sky above.
There I was blissfully performing my daily ablutions, when suddenly the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Alarmingly, Mr. Bill was not within shouting distance, when my spidey sense began tingling to alert me, that I was not alone. I spun around. I was reassured that there were no peep holes in the weathered wood and the door was still firmly latched. I looked down but only soapy water was finding a route through the deck floor to the sandy soil below and there were no inquisitive eyes peering upwards. Nervously, I looked up. Staring down at me was a pair of unblinking, inscrutable, green eyes. Our eyes locked. I nodded and said, “well hello Ozzie” and with an insouciant flick of his tail, he was gone. Ozzie was a cat.
Ozzie is no ordinary gray tabby; he is the neighborhood watch cat of Atlantique. He lives next door to our friends and has taken it upon himself, to guard that narrow stretch of barrier island, which lies between the Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Ever vigilant, this fearless feline is always on the prowl. Not only does Ozzie provide home security for the island’s humans, he keeps the population of wild, white tailed deer under control. Ever my protector, Mr. Bill had obviously engaged Paw Patrol as back up.
Invariably, upon hearing our accents, Mr. Bill and I would be asked either, “where in America are you from” or “are you Canadians”? The former was expected when living abroad but not the latter. We had never been mistaken for our northern neighbors, until we lived in New Zealand. The difference in speech, which is so obvious to Americans, is too subtle for Kiwis; much as the distinction between Aussie and Kiwi accents had eluded us, prior to residing in Ohope.
We humans are curious creatures. In getting to know one another, what better ice breaker could there be, than asking where one hail’s from, to start the process? More often than not, the well travelled Kiwis, were familiar with our neck of the woods.
When an American asks another American where they are from, the answer is usually a state. If from the same state, a city or town is then named and depending on the other’s familiarity with the region, it could keep on going to suburb or street, until a common connection is made. New Yorkers, if not from the greater metropolitan area, will quickly announce that they are from upstate New York. Whereas those from New York City, won’t bother to tell you, that they are from New York. Instead, they will name which of the five boroughs they call home; as if Manhattan, Queens, The Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island are separate countries. Confusing? It can be, especially when they skip the borough part altogether and only say their neighborhood. I was completely flummoxed once when a woman said, that she was from Jackson Heights. In turn, she seemed put out when I politely asked in what state was her town located, and was informed (rather huffily) that it was a section of Queens. I suppose you cannot blame someone from the Big Apple, from thinking that they are a big cheese.
When introducing ourselves as we travelled around Aotearoa, we quickly learned that after proudly proclaiming our small state of Connecticut, the inquirer often drew a blank, which prompted further explanations. In the beginning, I’d say that Connecticut was part of New England, which I soon learned wasn’t very helpful. Mr. Bill would answer that we were from the east coast of America, until the day a couple from Auckland replied, “oh, you are from California “! That lead to a gentle explanation, that although California was indeed to the east of New Zealand, it was on the west coast of The United States. I settled on saying, that I was from Connecticut, the state next door to New York and that worked the best. Once asked and answered, it was our turn. If you think that replying Connecticut, is confusing to some, imagine how perplexed we were, when in response to our query, a young woman brightly answered that she was a ‘Jafa’. *
My friend Heather, recently asked me where I now call home; since Mr. Bill and I have become snowbirds, dividing our time between Connecticut, the Nutmeg State and the Sunshine State of Florida. That was a no brainer. Home is with Mr. Bill, wherever that may be.
I never expected, that would be something I’d miss, but I do. Can you imagine striking up a conversation in this pandemic, with someone outside your household? Horrors! Talk about stranger danger. Sadly, those accidental chin wags, are another COVID-19 casualty.
When first we fell in love, I dreamed of living in a bubble with Mr. Bill, just we two. It was a fantasy I never expected to come true. Yet here we are, living the dream, twenty-four seven. One could say, alone at last with Mr. Bill, everyday is Valentine’s Day. However, in the fifth decade of our romance, it can be said that our conversations of late, are more prosaic than romantic. I’m certain that Mr. Bill, misses the stories that I would carry home, after a day left to my own devises, out in the world. Gone are the days, when Mr. Bill would patiently listen to my breathless retelling, of incredible encounters with persons unknown; even though he was undoubtedly more interested in hearing, what was for dinner. Unfortunately, these days there are no literary morsels to tease him with, not even a crumb.
It has been said of Helen of Troy, that her face launched a thousand ships, but my countenance doesn’t invoke such fervor. Rather, I seem to invite the most curious revelations from perfect strangers, without any prompting on my part. Some strangers share secrets. What is the etiquette, when an elderly gentleman falls into step alongside you, and recounts the circumstances of his conception? “It was wartime, my parents met at a bar, he was shipping out the next morning, they went into the alley and he got her up the pole”. Perhaps because of my astonished expression, he kindly proceeded to explain the euphemism. How exactly, does one reply to that conversation starter? This chatterbox finds listening, is all that’s required sometimes. My confidential conversationalist was the most charming man, and we became good friends. Many more stories were forthcoming, all recounted at day’s end to delight Mr. Bill. Some strangers share sorrows. Upon being told of bereavements, I’ve found that a sympathetic ear is what’s needed. After offering my condolences for their departed loved ones or beloved pets, I have listened and learned of many beautiful lives. Some strangers need help. There were the four people who rang the doorbell on summer’s day, looking for a place to live. I invited them in, fed them and they stayed six weeks. Mr. Bill was a bit surprised when he arrived home for dinner around nine that evening, and I offhandedly mentioned that we had company, who would be staying a while, but he took it in stride. Sometimes, strangers say rude things. I don’t engage them in conversation, but you can bet your bottom dollar, that Mr. Bill hears all the gory details and what I wish I had said in reply! Some strangers are best forgotten. They say things that don’t make sense until years later. That happened when I was seven and was walking home alone from school, when an old man stopped me. He asked if I would like to go home with him, to see his monkey. That put me into an uncomfortable dilemma. I knew that I was not supposed to talk to strangers, but I also knew that I must be polite to grown-ups. Guilelessly I answered, “no thank you I have been to Roger Williams Zoo”, and continued on my way. I can’t say why, but I never told my mother when I got home; maybe this is why I tell Mr. Bill everything- just in case I misread a situation again.
Some strangers are good sorts. Living in self isolation last May, after returning to Florida from New Zealand, I accepted that we’d be keeping ‘ourselves to ourselves’. Our daughter, Audry, had stocked the pantry and made us a welcome home dinner. Naturally, it was the one time, that I had left the cupboards bare in our absence. Our son-in-law, Dave, scored us some toilet paper, for which we will be eternally grateful. Having all the necessities, we settled in for our two weeks of quarantine, although surprisingly, there was no obligation to do so. Imagine my delight on our first morning back, when I spied a stranger scrabbling around in our bushes. Unable to contain my excitement I dashed out the door (stopping well within a safe social distance), and waving my arms frantically, called out, “hello, hello, it’s so good to see you”! Mr. Bill was mortified and retreated out of sight, while I advanced, my eyes on the prize. I was in my pajamas and cared not a wit. I had seen this woman poking about in the philodendron before, but had let her be, not wishing to disturb her. Not this time! Here, within shouting distance was someone to talk to; an opportunity not to be missed. I’m afraid my enthusiastic greeting frightened the woman, for the poor dear was alarmed. Heedless of her distress I persisted, babbling away like an overflowing brook. I learned that Fran, the woman shaking the shrubbery, is a keen gardener who has adopted our street. She weeds between the landscaper’s visits, leaving neat piles to be collected. Incredible! Fran is a neighborhood treasure. I often see her on her self-appointed rounds or when she’s out walking her beat. Invariably, she breaks her stride and darts into a hedge, to pluck a dead leaf. I tell her, that she just cannot help herself, and she laughs good-naturedly, saying she is a crazy gardener, but I think Fran’s terrific.
Living life in the slow lane these days, Mr. Bill no longer multitasks when he hears my tall tales. I’m not sure if he’s lost the ability to sort and read the day’s mail while listening, but he now hangs on my every word. Isn’t life strange?
A farewell photo, taken high above Ohope from Julia & Derek’s house
Mr. Bill and I have burst our bubble.
It happened just before the clock struck twelve, on May 13th, when New Zealand went from Alert Level 3 to Alert Level 2. Unfortunately, all was closed at midnight in Ohope and there was no place open, to go and celebrate our newfound freedom. Nothing for it but to go to sleep and dream of all the things, that we could do come morning: such as, finish packing. We bid Aotearoa farewell, on the day that Kiwis emerged from fifty days in lockdown. Although we missed all the fun and excitement of resuming our stalled social life, at least we were free to stop and say goodbye to friends, as we drove out of town. We might have missed the opportunity to take a final Tiki Tour, when the travel ban between the regions was lifted, but fortunately, it meant we no longer needed permission to drive to Tauranga Airport. And wedefinitely missed the chance to get haircuts. I fear we’ll be sporting our long, lockdown locks, for a lot longer!
Mr. Bill has hung up his scalpel. It was a hard decision to retire but all good things must come to an end. He has always maintained, that’s it’s better to leave too soon, rather than too late. However, Mr. Bill never dreamed that he would be ending his career in a pandemic, when he decided that this locum tenens would be his last. As the novel coronavirus spread, across the globe taking its terrible toll, he was worried for his patients and concerned that the health care system, would be overwhelmed, should the disease spread to New Zealand. Whakatane Hospital prepared and braced for the worst.
The first case of COVID19 in New Zealand, was reported on February 28th. In the beginning, all cases were related to overseas travel. Contact tracing was implemented and the virus was ‘contained’- not spreading beyond close family members. Arriving passengers, were asked to self isolate for two weeks. By mid March, however, community transmission had occurred, with clusters of cases on both islands. The borders were closed and the country entered into the strictest lockdown, Level 4, on March 25th. Returning Kiwis were placed in supervised quarantine, in Auckland hotels for two weeks. Everyone stayed home, unless they were an essential worker and to the relief of Kiwi Kids, the Easter Bunny was deemed an essential worker. We all tuned in at 1 pm, to Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern’s and Director of Health, Ashley Bloomfield’s daily briefings, which ended with the reassuring words, “be kind”. New Zealand mourned its first death on March 29, that of an elderly West Coast woman, with no known exposure to the virus. Not being able to determine, the source of her infection was alarming. At Whakatane Hospital, strict protocols were implemented to protect patients and staff alike. Temporary walls went up in the wards, Emergency Department and Intensive Care Unit. Portable outdoor showers were installed, for staff leaving the hospital, to protect the public, from possible exposure. Admissions were processed in the parking lot and visitors to the hospital, were banned. All elective surgeries were cancelled, in anticipation of beds being needed for COVID 19 patients. Only emergency operations and cancer procedures were being performed. Yet, incredibly, no cases were admitted to Whakatane Hospital, not one. By working together, everyone throughout New Zealand, had stopped the spread of the disease. On April 28, the country stepped down to Alert Level 3; elective surgeries were allowed once more. Mr. Bill was back in the operating theatre, relieved that he could tackle, the backlog of delayed cases.
Our last days living in Ohope were interesting, to say the least. Like everyone else, suddenly experiencing the restrictions imposed under lockdown, we mourned the loss of all we once took for granted. Our children and grandchildren’s visits were cancelled. Plans were scrapped and life slowed down. The gentle pace of Ohope ground to a halt, on the day that everything stopped. Life, however, didn’t come to a complete standstill. Soon a new rhythm established itself. In the absence of commerce and cars, cyclists took over the empty streets. Walkers and runners easily shared the footpaths, the latter stepping into the road, to maintain a safe social distance. Children went on bear hunts, as they searched for Teddy Bears in the windows. The birds seemed to sing louder, but maybe it was the absence of vehicles, making it easier to hear them. Without the Boy Racers tearing up Ohope Hill at night, we could hear the call of the nocturnal kiwi birds, in the bush behind us. Even the cows enjoyed new delights, when they discovered construction equipment, sidelined in their Pohutukawa paddock. With no workers to stop them, they examined the idle machines, to their heart’s content.
“Stay Home. Save Lives”, was the message but everyone was urged to go outside for fresh air and exercise; just as long as you stayed in your own bubble and kept it local. Unable to go further than my feet or bike could carry me, I came to experience Ohope in a more intimate way. My bike rides took longer and longer, as I stopped to chat (from a safe distance- always) with friends both new and old. I took the time to introduce myself to people, who I had only waved to, when I had cycled by, the past seven years. I must admit, that it was always a hoot, when I would explain that they would know who my husband was, by his distinctive running gait. Sure enough, they always did! Staying home on weekends, meant that Mr. Bill could accompany me on my route. I felt like a teenager, showing off that I did indeed, have a boyfriend. When we peddled by Greg on Ocean Road, I could not contain myself and hollered out, “look who is with me”! To that, Greg shouted back, “the man”!
We missed our mates, Linda and Gavin, over the hill in Whakatane. Video calls, emails and texts were poor substitutes for our play dates but were a Godsend, none the less. Yet life wasn’t lonely in lockdown, thanks to our Balcony Buddies. Living once again at Beachpoint, we found ourselves situated in a row of ex-pats, delightfully positioned between an English couple and an English/Aussie couple. In the mornings, neighbour Janis, on the left, neighbour Vicky on the right and I would chat across our balconies, as we hung the day’s washing. In case of a sudden shower, one of us (usually eagle eyed Janis) would give a warning shout, to save the day. In the afternoons, I could always count on getting a bit of stick, from lefty neighbour, David. In the evenings Mr. Bill and I looked forward to hearing Trevor’s cheery ,”Cheers”, when our right hand-side neighbour, raised a glass of red at day’s end. When we all gathered on our respective balconies for happy hour, somehow, I became the ‘monkey in the middle’; running from one side to the other, repeating what had been said on the left to the ones on the right and vice versa, until I was breathless. Returning home from the hospital each day, Mr. Bill would step out onto the balcony and report the news from the world beyond, to our friends. One afternoon, I was surprised by Mr. Bill’s unexpected arrival and I remarked that he was home early. His reply was, “get used to it”. (Ah the 24/7 togetherness of retirement, would soon be ours). One day, information came from on high, thanks to our friend Julia, who rang from her house on the hill. Julia alerted us to the pod of orcas swimming past; we in turn called out to the neighbours and we all watched the whales, from our balconies. Life was simple. We treasured the little things. We knew how fortunate we were, to be quarantining in paradise. However, the BIG question always loomed large, in our conversations over the railings – how would we all travel safely back, to our respective homes? All of our flights had been cancelled. Options for safe passages home, looked dubious at best. Re-booking flights, was easier said than done, as airlines dropped routes around the world, without warning. Trevor and Vicky were the first to leave, securing seats on a repatriation flight to the UK, after Emirates cancelled their tickets. They are now home in Cornwall, safe and sound. Janis and David are leaving next week. Godspeed Gladwins.
As safe as we were in New Zealand, where they first flattened, then smashed the curve of the pandemic’s transmission and are now free of COVID 19 (Good on you New Zealand!), it was still an anxious time to be separated from family and friends, back home in America. We worried and we prayed for our loved ones. We were especially concerned for our daughter-in-law, Mandy, who is a nurse and had volunteered to go, “wherever needed”. Mandy was working long shifts, in a COVID 19 testing tent, in the hard hit state of Connecticut. Soon it was time to leave. Mr. Bill’s contract had ended. Too soon, rather than too late, but apparently with time enough, to take the long way home. Flying on Air New Zealand internationally and on United Airlines domestically, our original itinerary had us booked to Florida, via Houston. However, our way home was constantly changing, as the world’s aviation industry, adapted to the new normal. With the number of global travellers down by 95%, Air New Zealand dropped 85% of its long-haul flights and United Airlines cut domestic routes by 50%. We were rerouted through Los Angeles, then up to Chicago and down to Florida, with long layovers in Auckland, LAX and O’Hare airports. Our trip which usually takes one day, was extended to 41 hours, from door to door. Just a tad longer than the 19 hours it took the astronauts riding on Space X , to travel from Florida, to the International Space Station. But who’s counting?
Now in our new bubble, I am listening to Mr. Bill strum his guitar and sing, while I write these words. Life is good. May it be so, for all of you dear readers. Stay well. Kia kaha (stay strong). Be kind.
COVID 19 precautions at Whakatane Hospital- outdoor admissions & showers
Cows in lockdown
Final ride in Ohope, before our bikes went to a good home
Last lunch before lockdown, with our mates, Linda and Gavin
A royal send off from David & Janis
Trevor & Vicky, home in Cornwall -safe & sound
Teddy Bears in lockdown and words to live by~
A super hero, artist Teddy Bear captures a likeness
Annie’s Teddy Bear, sporting a poppy for remembrance, on Anzac Day
Caught out. It was bound to happen, sooner or later. This is what comes of playing Juliet to my Romeo.
With a kiss and an embrace, Mr. Bill and I part in sweet sorrow, when he leaves for Whakatane Hospital, every work day morning. Desperate for one last glimpse of my beloved as he drives away, I have thrown social conventions to the wind, and stepped out in my bathrobe onto the balconies, of our various Beachpoint apartments, to wave goodbye. Until this year.
Ensconced in unit 36, we are now in the rear section, set back from the road and nestled into the bush.The balcony on this third floor flat, overlooks the Beachpoint courtyard pool and commands an expansive view of the sea, but alas, not of West End Road. When we lived in #23, we were street side and I could watch Mr. Bill enter the rotary from Villis Glade, sweep past the public toilets, drive to the end of West End Road and turn right onto Ohope Road: where I would lose sight of him, until he returned at day’s end. When neighbours Rae and Don, were breakfasting on their balcony, they would cheerily wave goodbye as well. When residing in #31, a corner apartment above the garage, I could hear the creak of the roll up gate, announcing Mr. Bill’s eminent departure. From the balcony, I would watch Mr. Bill’s car shoot out onto the ramp, with the window down and his arm extended in adieu. I would then track him, as he traversed the short distance of Villis Glade, entered the roundabout and passed the toilet block. When watching from #39, the fourth floor apartment on the third level, I lost Mr. Bill at the toilets. (If wondering how a fourth floor apartment is on the third level, please read the, “New Horizons” posted, June 2016. It will explain all.)
It was a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, when we moved into #36 in January, and I realised, that I could no longer experience, the latter part of our farewell ritual. I was bereft. How would I cope in the intervening hours, until Mr. Bill’s return? Love would find a way! The third floor apartments, open unto an outside corridor, which abuts the bush clad, Ohope Hill, and while exploring our new digs, we discovered a ‘secret’ stairway at one end of the passageway. At the bottom, it connects with a footpath leading to West End Road. Would I have to pursue Mr. Bill like the Furies, down the steps and out onto the street, to wave goodbye? Thankfully not. At the top of the stairwell there is a vantage point, with a view of Ohope Road. That’s the sweet spot, where I spy Mr. Bill. Every morning, when his car appears in the gap between the bachs next door and Froglands, we wave one last time, as he travels up Ohope Hill.
Birds serenade us when Mr. Bill takes his leave. Only the fantails, tui, blackbirds and the skittish, flightless weka, witness a quick peck on the cheek and a goodbye hug. When Mr. Bill descends to street level and disappears around the corner, my feathered friends linger, keeping me company, while I wait for Mr. Bill’s car to appear, heading up Ohope Road. I’m in my own little world each morning, as I stand sentinel with a cup of coffee, unconcerned that I haven’t yet dressed for the day. There is never anyone else about, all’s quiet, peaceful and private early in the morning. But never say never. There was that one morning, when a young tradie materialised, bounding up the steps, two at a time. I am not sure who was more alarmed, me or him. Me, for being caught out in a state of undress or him, for stumbling upon the ‘Wreck of the Hesperus’, standing like the figure head, of that ill fated ship. Poor dear, I could only feel sorry for him. I quickly explained, that I was waving goodbye to my husband. “That’s awesome”, he said with great enthusiasm, as he opened the gate, of the end unit patio. Then, being a true romantic, he gallantly stepped aside, offering to let me into my next door neighbour’s outdoor space, for an even better outlook. Suddenly shy, I demurred and off he went, across the neighbour’s wrap around deck, to access the roof- which would have been the ultimate viewing platform. But I lacked the courage to follow him. After all, how would I explain that to Mr. Bill?
Stepping outside in the mornings, just the two of us, Mr. Bill and I felt like we were living in our own romantic bubble. Little did we know, that come midnight on March 25th, our bubble would become our, COVID 19-Alert Level 4, lockdown bubble. Now we count down the days, until we can burst our bubble. I’ll even dress for the occasion.
Be strong. Be kind. No matter where we are in this world, we are all in this pandemic together.
This will be a serious post for Travels with Mr. Bill. Please let me extend a heartfelt thank you, to everyone who has written to enquire after Bill and I. Your kind words and prayers are much appreciated and please know, that we hold all of you close in our hearts.
We are well and are presently living in New Zealand, under the Corvid- 19, Alert Level 4, lockdown; which was implemented at 11:59 pm, on Tuesday, March 24th. It was a bold and wise move by the New Zealand government, to stop the community transmission of the disease and ‘flatten the curve’ of cases. In the words of Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, “we must go hard and we must go early”. New Zealand learned a sobering lesson, from Italy’s delayed response to outbreaks and imposed strict social distancing, sooner rather than later.
A national emergency alert was issued last Tuesday, March 24, at 6:30 pm, stating: “From 11:59 tonight, the whole of New Zealand moves to Covid-19 Alert Level 4. This message is for all of New Zealand. We are depending on you. Follow the rules and STAY HOME. Act as if you have Covid-19. This will save lives. Remember: * Where you stay tonight is where you must stay from now on. * You must only be in physical contact with those you are living with It is likely Level 4 measures will stay in place for a number of weeks. Let’s all do our bit to unite against Covid-19. Kia kaha”.
The borders have now been closed to all but returning NZ citizens and medical workers, coming to help. All domestic travel is banned, except for essential services. All businesses, shops, schools, child care centers, libraries, museums, churches, restaurants-including all take away, parks, playgrounds, farm stands etc., are all shuttered. Online shopping is only allowed for essential goods. If you are not working in an industry deemed essential, you may only drive to Doctors’ offices, hospitals, grocery stores and gas stations.
On Saturday, March 21, New Zealand was at level 2 with56 cases of Corvid-19. All churches were closed and large gatherings were banned. people over 70 were told to self isolate and keep a safe social distance.
On Sunday, March 22 there were 70 cases.
On Monday morning, March 23, there were 102 cases. The country went to Alert Level 2-3. Sadly, the disease was following the same trajectory of other affected countries. It was a stark reminder, when the Prime Minister said, “We currently have 102 cases. But so did Italy once; now the virus has overwhelmed their health care system and hundreds of people are dying every day. The situation is moving at pace and so must we”. When Mr. Bill left for work that morning, he had an all day theatre list (scheduled operations). When he arrived at Whakatane Hospital, he was told that all elective surgeries were cancelled, in order to make beds available, for the expected cases of Corvid-19. Currently, he is only doing emergency operations and procedures for cancer patients. He still makes daily ward rounds on his patients in the hospital. When possible, his clinic patients and his post-op, follow up, visits are done over the phone, to lessen their risk of exposure .
On Monday afternoon, March 23it was announcedthat the country would go to Alert level 3 for 48 hours, in order to give people time to prepare for Level 4 lockdown. Kiwis rushed home, from around the world and across the country, to beat Tuesday’s midnight deadline. There were long lines for the Cook Strait Ferries, as travellers queued to get to either the North or South Island, for their period of isolation. There was much panic buying of groceries and toilet paper, despite the government’s assurances, that New Zealand has more than enough of life’s necessities to go around.
On Tuesday, March 24, there were 205 cases and the country’s lockdown began.
Everyone is expected to be sheltering in place, inside their designated bubble. Going outside for fresh air and exercise is encouraged, as long as one keeps it local and maintains a safe two-meter distance. Walkers, runners and cyclists, now rule the roads, while keeping a healthy distance. Mr. Bill and I are blessed to have beautiful Ohope Beach on our front doorstep. Mr. Bill runs, while I prefer peddle power. Most everyone is doing their bit. Wash Your Hands. Stay Home-Save a Life. It’s that’s simple. Sadly, there are always some who will flout the rules. To help stop that, the police have set up a website, where you can report those not in compliance; it crashed on day one. You may not drive to exercise, outside of your neighbourhood and the Minister of Health, was dobed in to authorities, when he drove to a mountain bike trail. Just one person per household, is allowed to grocery shop. Numbers into stores are limited and once that has reached the maximum allowed, it’s strictly one out, one in. Shoppers wait outside, two meters apart in line. Before entering, your hands are sprayed with sanitiser, as well as the handle on your trolley. People are urged to only touch when they intend to buy and shop as quickly as possible. Prepared foods are no longer on offer. To prevent panic buying, purchases are limited to two of the same item. Check out queues are kept a safe distance from cashiers, who are behind plexiglass barriers. You bag your own groceries and cash as payment is discouraged.
It was a sobering choice to remain in New Zealand, when the travel bans were announced. My instinct, like that of the ladybug, was, “to fly away home”. The US Consulate closed in Auckland on March 20th. The State Department sent an email stating, “…in countries where commercial departure options remain available, US citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period”. At the end of the day, Mr. Bill could not abandon his patients and I’m stuck like glue to Mr. Bill. We do hope however, that by the end of Mr. Bill’s contract, travel restrictions will be eased and we will be able to leave. The Bay of Plenty DHB would be happy for Mr. Bill to stay on and his work visa would allow that but unfortunately, Simurgh, the Kiwi insurance company, that we have our medical coverage with, will not renew our policy beyond the original exit date. Not to have medical coverage would be reckless. As visitors, we are not entitled (nor should we be) to use the NZ health care system and our American policies, do not cover us over here. Since 2013 we have purchased our medical insurance from Simurgh, for when we are in New Zealand and happily have never needed it. The irony of a doctor being unable to get medical insurance, despite working in the health care system, is not lost on us. So do please say a prayer, that we will be able to leave, before our coverage ends.
To end a serious post on a happy note, our next door neighbours, Janis and David, have informed us, that on Friday evenings at 5:10, they will be on their balcony and along with Kiwis, all over New Zealand, will be raising a glass, to toast all medical workers.
Mr. Bill has learned that he’s in for a merry dance, when I take the lead; which is what led to our misadventure, in the 2013 Ohope Beach, Ironman Challenge.
Standing alongside Mr. Bill, gazing wistfully at the colourful banner, announcing the Inaugural Ohope Beach, Ironman Challenge, that had appeared overnight on Mahy Reserve, I longed to be a competitor. Organised team sports for girls did not exist, when I was growing up; only boys played Little League Baseball and Midget Football. No matter, there was plenty of opportunity for exercise. I climbed trees, biked, jumped rope, swam and walked the half mile to school (uphill both ways, as the old joke goes). Mothers were ever so lucky, that we returned home for lunch in the sixties and luckily, I had an hour off mid-day, to walk the additional mile. We had neither playground nor gym class, at dear old SPS; there simply wasn’t the need. The chance to finally don a team uniform, would have to wait until I attended Bay View, an all girls high school or so I thought. Adolescence brought asthma, ending my dreams of athletic glory, with a wheeze. There was no fear of missing out, I knew I had missed out.
Mr. Bill is fortunate; he knows the joys of competing. His Little League team won the District Championship and he played soccer and basketball in high school. Now he can be spotted, pounding the pavement in Ohope. Our four children are lucky as well, for they all played sports, sons and daughters alike – times have changed for the better. To further that end, I became the number one driver to: tee ball, softball, baseball, basketball, gymnastics, swimming, cross country, track and golf. Finally, I was involved in athletics! Although cheering from the sidelines, was as close as I would come to playing. Yet, like Marlon Brando’s character, Terry Malloy, in the movie, “On the Waterfront “, there were times, that I wanted to wail and scream, “I could have been a contender“!
Still a bona fide, Iron Man Competition, was coming to town and it would be exciting to watch elite athletes, compete in the charity event. Scanning the poster, the particulars for the bike rally segment, caught my eye. They were allowing amateurs to enter! To ride in an Ironman race, what a pipe dream that would be! I shared that ludicrous thought with Mr. Bill, expecting a chuckle: instead he floored me when he said, matter of factly, “you could do that”. Had he taken leave of his senses? I explained, amateur or not, I couldn’t possibly bike that far, alongside ‘real’ cyclists. Mr. Bill looked at me with surprise, adding, “you bike further than that every day”. I did? Who knew? Not me.
Living in New Zealand has rejuvenated me. Tagging along with Mr. Bill when he became a locum tenens, surgeon at Whakatane Hospital, I felt like a kid again, with the freedom to ride my bike , all over Ohope. I was just having fun. I had never bothered to measure the distance travelled, but Mr. Bill had. Our fates were sealed when Mr. Bill encouragingly added, “you enter, I’ll do it with you and you can set the pace”. Done. Challenge accepted.
Race day dawned fine, with clear skies and cool temperatures, perfect biking weather. I was a bundle of nerves but Mr. Bill was relaxed, as we stood in line with our bikes, to register for the bike rally. When we ticked off amateur on the form, we were given a shorter route, for the ‘non-competitive ‘ racers. I was crushed. This was not mentioned in the Ironman prospectus. Now, instead of feeling like a kid again, I felt like a baby, not allowed to play with the big kids. Not fair! I wanted to do the real 14- kilometre race, not a wimpy 8-K route. This was my one chance to test my mettle. Knowing that I was about to start sputtering, Mr. Bill, who wasn’t upset in the least, by the shortened route, gently reminded me, that it was for charity and paid our entrance fees. We pushed our bikes to the staging area, on Mair Street. The competitive cyclists were already there, with their flash bikes and wearing sleek spandex. We amateurs were a motley crew, with our push bikes and leisure attire. Surreptitiously, I eyed the competition; a mother and her two young children. I felt confident that I could beat the little girl and boy but wasn’t sure about their Mum. I was much older. However, she was much heavier. What was the winning ratio between age and weight? Did I have an edge? I had no idea but I was determined to give it my all.
The race director took one look at the assembled rag tag, non-competitive entrants and announced, that the competitive racers would go first. Apparently, we didn’t need a head start or more likely, it was feared we’d cause chaos on the course. The countdown began, the starter’s gun went bang and the pros were off like a shot, never to be seen again. We five, shuffled over to the starting line, doing our best not to bump into one another. A few encouraging words, a countdown, the starter’s gun fired and away we all went. I sailed onto Pohutukawa Avenue. By standers were clapping and cheering. I was in the lead! Mr. Bill was right behind me, just as he said he would be. Students from Whakatane High School had volunteered to be race marshals and were blocking the intersections for us. What a thrill, I was stopping traffic! What an ego trip! It’s a wonder that I didn’t need a bigger helmet, to contain my expanding head. With no need to watch for cars, I flew down Pohutukawa, smiling at my adoring fans. It was exhilarating. If this was the high, one got from competing, I wanted more. Then disaster struck. The little girl passed me, grinning from ear to ear, with her blond ponytail streaming behind her. I was gutted. Beaten by a child. She was triumphant; she had bested an adult. She had speed, I’ll grant her that. Yet, soon her mad pumping began to wane and she slowed down. I decreased my pace as well, not wishing to hit her. When she slowed yet again by Ohope School, I wondered what the race etiquette was in an amateur event. Would it be churlish to pass a child? The mother and grandmother in me, wanted to let her win but the newly awakened competitive spirit in me, wouldn’t allow that. I passed her. Poor Mr. Bill was mortified by my actions but true to his word, he stayed right behind me and shamefaced, he passed her as well. (After the race, Mr. Bill admonished me saying,”I can’t believe you passed that little girl”!)
My confidence shaken, I redoubled my efforts but there was a desperation to my peddling. I felt the little girl nipping at my heels but I didn’t dare turn to look, lest that should cost me some speed. The grade had changed, after turning onto Harbour Road and now, I too was in danger of slowing down, as I approached heart break hill, leading up to the Port Ohope Store. Something else had awakened in me-my long dormant asthma. I was gasping as I rounded the corner at the top of the hill and turned onto Anne Street. I stole a look over my shoulder, Mr. Bill was right behind me, that was a huge relief. I heard the roar of approaching motorcycles. The noise grew louder and louder, until a trio of bikers sped past, reduced their speed and dropped in front of me. I had an advance team. I should have been thrilled but I was dying. My lungs were screaming for air and now I was choking on exhaust fumes. Still, I simply could not lessen my pace and allow that child to pass me again. On we rode down Ocean Road, soon a Saint John’s Ambulance came alongside Mr. Bill and the driver asked, if we were in the race. “I think so”, was Mr. Bill’s reply and with that, the ambulance tucked in behind him. We were escorted by the bikies the length of Ocean Road, to Te Akau and back onto Pohutukawa Avenue. Finally the end was in sight. With the three motorcycles leading me to glory, Mr. Bill behind me and an ambulance bringing up the rear, I crossed the finish line, wheezing and gasping but nevertheless, proud as punch. Standing there eating sausages, was the fat mother and her two children. This time the little girl was not grinning, I swear she was smirking! How?! How had they all beaten me? Blinded by my ambition to win, I had missed the turn off for the amateur course and had raced the competitive route instead. Loyal to the end, Mr. Bill had my back, as promised. (No wonder a search party and ambulance had been dispatched.) Chagrined, I congratulated the winner. I found that I didn’t mind losing after all, for I was secretly pleased, that I had done the competitive course- a proper race indeed.
At the prize giving, the non competitive division was announced first. I clapped loudly for the little girl, who had won. In fact her family made a clean sweep of the awards, claiming second and third place, as well. Mr. Bill and I applauded for the winners of ‘our’ competitive division. Three buff Ironman sprinted to the podium, on the deck of the Surf Club, for their prizes. Then came the shock announcement of the day, “First Place in the Woman’s Division is Iron Lady, Maureen Longo”! I had won! Mind you, I was the only lady, but it’s offical and I had to certificate to prove it. I am an Iron Lady, fit for purpose.
Mr. Bill is on the move once again. Mr. Bill shifts and Mother Nature weeps.
No sooner were our bags packed yesterday, in anticipation of today’s departure, than the wind began to moan, begging him to stay awhile longer. However, Mother Nature’s entreaties fell on deaf ears and she upped her game by sending rain. Honestly, the lady is rather predictable and her theatrics are tiresome. She will now be accompanying us to Tauranga this afternoon and no doubt will create a downpour, as we cross the airport tarmac to board our flight to Auckland. I can predict with confidence, that she will douse us again when we arrive in the City of Sails. It will be a soggy trip between terminals, before we can shake off her wet embrace but we will soldier on.
That’s good news for our Kiwi friends, as they head into summer. Sunny days and blues skies are on the way. Unfortunately it’s bad news for the folks in Connecticut. Snow anyone?
“A short black, a long black and a flat white”, I half expected the sentence to continue, “walked into a bar”. However, this wasn’t yet another variation on the classic bar joke but three of the ways that Kiwis enjoy their morning cup of joe. Amused, I put down the guidebook after reading, ‘What to Drink in New Zealand’. Living in New Zealand was going to be fun!
Coffee was foremost on our minds back in March of 2013, when Mr. Bill and I finally checked in at the Domestic Terminal, after a madcap dash around Auckland during the morning rush hour. We desperately needed caffeine and had I not read the guidebook, Mr. Bill would have ordered two regulars, one skim, instead of two flat whites, one trim. (I like the fact that I’m trim.)
One might well wonder what sane person, would leave the airport to travel the short distance between the International and Domestic terminals, via the congested neighborhoods of Auckland. Yet that is precisely what Mr. Bill did on our first trip to New Zealand. Lest you think Mr. Bill insane, this is what all locum tenens must do, upon arriving in New Zealand. Before he could begin working for the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, Mr. Bill needed a license* to practice medicine in New Zealand, which is granted by the Medical Council of New Zealand. The final requirement for all applicants, is an in-person interview in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, where they must present their medical credentials in person, for the council’s inspection and if approved, pay a fee in order to obtain their medical license.
This was nerve racking to say the least and we fervently hoped, that this was a mere formality. The Medical Council already had copies of Mr. Bill’s medical degree from Georgetown University (which they had requested be translated from Latin into English), his certificates stating that he was a Board Certified General Surgeon and a member of the American College of Surgeons, as well as a list of every operation he had performed (yes, surgeons keep these statistics, in order to maintain their medical licenses and hospital privileges). Yet we could not help but wonder, if any candidates had failed this final inspection and been sent packing. Adding to the stress, was the pressure of fulfilling this obligation within a four hour layover, as Mr. Bill was expected at Whakatane Hospital the following morning. The clock was ticking from the moment we touched down in Aotearoa. Four hours didn’t seem nearly enough time clear customs, check our bags onto Whakatane and travel to the interviewing official’s home, which was an estimated hour round trip; let alone return to the airport in time, for our connecting flight. Mr. Bill’s recruiter had booked the flights and assured him that it was doable, so we gave it a go!
That first morning is forever etched on our minds. It was a brilliant new day in a new country. Blue skies, palm trees and heat greeted us, a far cry from the six inches of fresh snow we had left behind in Connecticut. Customs and transferring our bags had gone fairly quickly and we hustled outside to hail a cab. There was a line of waiting taxis but none with drivers. I was frantic, where was the queue with the drivers? There was no time to waste, our flight had arrived late, Mr. Bill’s appointment was at 9am and it was already after eight o’clock. We had to find someone on duty to drive us! Mr. Bill however, was unconcerned being faster on the uptake than me. He pointed out, that the drivers were all there, just sitting on the ‘wrong’ side of the car. Of course! I had forgotten that they drive on the left in New Zealand. What looked all wrong to me at first, was alright after all. Mr. Bill engaged a great cabby and explained the situation. Our driver was thrilled! He was a man on a mission. A map was produced, consulted and discussed at great length with Mr. Bill. Then we were off. Mindful of our time crunch, our cheerful driver zigged and zagged through the heavy Auckland traffic, avoiding the gridlock on the A-1 motorway. All the while, we received a running commentary on New Zealand culture, geography and grocery prices. (Did you know that in 1970, you could purchase a whole lamb carcass for what you pay for some lamb chops today? No, we did not.) His accent was hard to understand and for the first time I began to worry, that I wouldn’t be able to understand Kiwi English. I needn’t have worried; our cabbie was from Croatia.
It took forty minutes but Mr. Kolja Mijian delivered us to our destination. This was no small feat, as the house was hidden down a right of way and tucked into the hillside of one of Auckland’s many suburbs. He wished Mr. Bill well and said that he would turn the meter off while he was waiting, explaining that was “the professional thing to do”, despite Mr. Bill asking him to please, keep it running. Mr. Mijian was clearly a gentleman who took pride in his work. (Please note dear reader, that when Mr. Bill paid the cab fare later that morning, he added a generous tip. By doing so, he was guilty of being an ‘Ugly American’, by not respecting New Zealand’s no tipping culture. However, Mr. Mijian was gracious in accepting it and did not hold it against us. He even gave us his personal business card for whenever we were in Auckland!)
Being curious, I tagged along with Mr. Bill, rather than waiting in the taxi. We were both nervous and feeling a bit lightheaded, jet lag no doubt but also very excited. We had finally arrived at the last hurdle. Soon we could begin our grand adventure. The house was modern with sleek glass panels and dark wood that gleamed in the morning sun. Windows and sliding doors were open and curtains fluttered in the breeze. It was thrilling to see the brass plate above the doorbell inscribed, ‘Officer of the Medical Council of New Zealand ‘ and ‘Justice of the Peace’. I had to restrain myself from taking a picture of the plaque. The time was now 9:10. We were late. It couldn’t be helped and we hoped the interviewing officer would be understanding.
Mr. Bill rang the doorbell. That set a dog to barking but no one came to answer it. The barking died down and all was quiet once more. We looked at one another in mild panic. Was no one home? This was the only contact information that he had been given. There was no Plan B. Mr. Bill needed this official’s stamp, before we could continue onto Whakatane. We waited. After ten minutes, Mr. Bill rang the bell again, which set the dog to barking again. An irate woman stepped onto the balcony and told us to, “STOP ringing the bell”! She was indignant, adding that we were early and ordered us to ” just WAIT outside on the bench” ! Ouch. Chastened, we apologized profusely. Then sat down, after being dressed down. It reminded me of the scene from The Wizard of Oz , when the all-powerful wizard thundered at Dorothy and company to go away, that he wasn’t granting them an audience that day. He didn’t care that they had travelled so very far to see him and neither did our welcoming official. Unbeknownst to us, the recruiter had emailed, informing her that our flight had been delayed and that we might not arrive until 9:45. Our Herculean efforts to present ourselves on time were all for naught. Mr. Bill’s interviewer was not amused to see us bright and early on her doorstep. The old trout!
Mortified, I returned to the cab to wait, abandoning Mr. Bill to placate the Medical Council Officer. Eventually Mr. Bill was admitted to the inner sanctum, where she determined that William Americo Longo was indeed one and the same as William A. Longo and Willian Longo. She stamped his paperwork and we were on our way. And no, in case you are wondering, she did not offer Mr. Bill a cup of tea, let alone a glass of water. Hardly an auspicious start but that truly has been, our only unpleasant encounter in New Zealand. We love Kiwis. They are friendly, helpful and incredibly welcoming. There’s always one contrarian and we consider ourselves lucky to have had it over and done, on day one. Poor Mr. Mijian was incensed, when told what had happened, which prompted a tirade on lazy government workers and many apologizes for being treated so appalling, on our first day in New Zealand. It felt good to have one friend in our new country and it made the return trip fly by.
Back at Auckland Airport, we checked the departure board and discovered there was enough time for a cuppa. Coffee never tasted so good. We clinked our cups together, toasting our arrival with a flat white. Now each time we return to New Zealand, we head straight to the little cafe opposite the gate and order flat whites. Best of all, it’s always Mr. Bill’s shout. *
Licence or license? You dear reader may decide! In British English, licence is a noun and license is the verb. In American English, license is both a noun and a verb and they are spelled the same. With apologies to the Queen, I’ve chosen the latter.