Rose Mirza with her two children. (Submitted to Black Press Media)

Rose Mirza with her two children. (Submitted to Black Press Media)

Canadians in New Zealand reflect on the global COVID-19 pandemic

A group of Can-iwis – Rose, Jen and Mel – report from the other side of the world

Whether a Canuck in Canada or a Kiwi in New Zealand, the emotional impact of living through COVID-19 lockdown has been universal. A group of Can-iwis – Rose, Jen and Mel – report from the other side of the world.

During COVID lockdown, Rose Mirza’s mother died in Montreal of cancer. No one from her family could go to the funeral.

Rose was 15,209 km away, in Albert Town, New Zealand, where she has lived for years, raising her two children.

Pre-COVID, Rose had booked flights to visit her mum, but was delayed because of an issue with passports for her children. Just as that was resolved, COVID struck.

“It was horrible. My mum died July 8. She had lung cancer and I hadn’t seen her in two years. It sucks. My dad is in a home in Canada and my brother is in the States, and he couldn’t cross the border. My dad has dementia, so he didn’t know what was going on.”

Her grief is still raw, knowing her mother died unsupported by close family. Seven months since COVID -19 claimed the life of its first Canadian victim – an elderly British Columbian rest home resident – more than 10,000 Canadian families have had similar experiences, unable to properly participate in grief by honouring a loved one with a get-together and ceremonial farewell.

Gathered together, this is the first time Rose’s friends have heard her story.

“She was in hospital and luckily she had a retired friend who had been running a nursing home … And my mum called her and asked, ‘Can you take care of me?’ That was the only way she was able to get out of hospital. She lasted 45 days in her house.”

The tale is told. There are hugs from Canadian neighbours Jen and Mel. Soon the chat is flowing again, assisted by a glass of wine, a toast to mothers and laughter at the antics of Rose’s young daughter cartwheeling around the lounge, dressed in a long cape.

Staying apart, keeping in touch

No matter where you were in March or April, the fear of being alone was just the same.

While the Can-iwis kept in touch with family over phones or laptops, actual experiences ended up being worlds apart.

Midwife Jen is from British Columbia and has lived with her Kiwi fishing guide husband Calum and their children in Albert Town for eight years.

During lockdown, Jen was one of the few people allowed out as an essential worker.

“The babies kept coming. They didn’t get the note.”

She had to get a “midwife on call” sticker for her car to protect her from complaints she was breaking lockdown protocols.

Meanwhile, her husband was on “on holiday” at home with the kids.

Former hospitality worker Mel Morden, of Atikokan, Ontario, has lived in Albert Town with her Kiwi husband Craig for more than 10 years. They have two young sons.

She lost her job during COVID lockdown. Hospitality businesses weren’t allowed to open, and New Zealand’s border closures and loss of international visitors forced business restructuring once restrictions lifted. Mel has since found work with a hardware chain.

She and her family enjoy fishing in the Clutha River, playing with hula hoops on the law, and dropping in unannounced on neighbours and friends.

“Once we got out of level four and were able to meet more people outside the family bubble, I noticed Carter (aged four) wanted to cuddle the people we were meeting, and was confused about whether he was allowed to.

“It didn’t occur to me, how much he had missed human contact. He would be in tears. He wanted to cuddle the girls who worked at the local recycling centre and he wasn’t allowed.

“Poor Carter. I told him when we got to level one, he could go for it.”

As a nation, the country is still locking out the rest of the world, unless you have a Kiwi passport, are an essential worker or need to enter for medical reasons.

The ministry of health says border controls will not be relaxed until a successful mass immunization program has been completed.

Strict quarantine requirements, plus Canada heading into another period of lockdown, doesn’t inspire the Can-iwis into booking tickets home anytime soon, because no one wants to spend 14 days in a hotel room when they get back to New Zealand.

Jen believes the New Zealand borders may not open until 2022.

Go hard, go early, get lucky

When New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern decided in March to “go hard and go early” into lockdown, the Can-iwis heard some criticism from folks back home.

Jen’s dad told her New Zealand was being ridiculous, and that the Kiwis were going to kill their economy.

“Everyone had a thought about whether New Zealand was doing it right or wrong and so there were funny conversations at home.”

Mel Morden and Jen. (Submitted to Black Press Media)

Mel Morden and Jen. (Submitted to Black Press Media)

Now, as New Zealand has resumed a near normal life and Canada remains in quasi-lockdown, the Can-iwis find it hard to watch their loved ones continue to suffer.

The Kiwis have been moving freely since June (early October for Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city).

Jen feels awkward telling her parents she just went to an event or her kid’s games.

“So I have just quit talking about what we are doing down here. I just send them funny videos, just some entertainment.”

Mel noticed that despite being able to call, there is a disconnect in terms of truly understanding each others’ experiences, and the emotional impact of words.

Her mother kept reminding Mel’s kids to wear masks, even though they are not being deemed necessary in New Zealand. In Albert Town (population about 2,500), there’s been life without masks in public since April – unless you still want to wear one.

That caused confusion for young Carter, who worried about whether his New Zealand and Canadian families were safe.

“We had to have a whole lot of chat about what she could say to Carter. It makes it harder to understand when they can’t leave home without a mask. Equally, it was hard for me to listen to their stories because I didn’t get what they were going through either.”

In New Zealand, there is just one source of official information about COVID-19: the colloquially named “Jacinda and Ashley Show.”

Every day during lockdown level four, the prime minister and the Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, stood before the nation and explained what was happening.

In comparison, Canada had a variety of responses, depending on the province you lived in. That made it confusing for Can-iwis trying to find out how Canada was faring.

“In Canada, there were provinces doing their own thing and their prime minister wasn’t giving a talk every night. Here, we all tuned in and some of us now have a crush on Jacinda!” Calum said.

The Can-iwis definitely feel New Zealand is a “lucky” country. Mel wasn’t prepared for how patriotic she would feel for her adopted home.

“It never occurred to me. It was my parents kept saying it to me. New Zealand is doing it right. You are pretty lucky. And we were, yeah! Maybe we are.”

Eventually, New Zealand’s flow of COVID information became overwhelming. Mel stopped following the bulletins.

“I don’t want to bury my head about what I should do. But I can’t keep burdening myself with the rest of the world when I have two young kids. I am in a happy place. Why put myself in a dark place?”

Despite their freedoms in New Zealand, none of the Can-iwi families feel out of the woods with COVID.

“Until the borders reopen, we are all dreaming of when we can unite again.”

Story by Nathan Weathington

1964

mountain culture / new zealand aotearoa

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Desmond Tompkins helped curate and host a youth art show at the South Surrey/White Rock Learning Centre. (Contributed photo)
South Surrey/White Rock Learning Centre art show highlights ‘diverse perspectives’

With COVID-19 protocols in place, youth art show underway

RCMP Isp. Benoit Maure (top right) has written a book, Leading at the Edge, which details Canadian peacekeeping missions, including his own 1999 mission in Guatemala (bottom right). (Contributed photos)
Longtime RCMP officer pens book on Canadian peacekeeping efforts

RCMP Isp. Benoit Maure’s new book, Leading at the Edge, features stories from 10 missions

The SACH Community Hub team, from left to right: Upkar Singh Tatlay, Gary Thandi, Allysha Ram, Jassy Pandher, Harman Pander. (Submitted photo)
There’s help for South Asian men wrestling with drug addiction in Surrey

South Asian deaths related to toxic drugs increased by 255 per cent between 2015 and 2018

Surrey residential construction. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Surrey councillor says city needs more accessible housing

Linda Annis expected to introduce notice of motion to that end at tonight’s council meeting

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Chilliwack Law Courts. (Black Press file)
Man sentenced to 20 months for sexual offences involving a minor in Mission

Will Laws Clark was 22 and victim was 13 at time offences began

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
Second doses delayed as B.C. vaccine delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

A Kelowna couple welcomed their Nooner baby in December. (Flytographer)
Kelowna couple welcomes baby girl from Hotel Zed Nooner campaign

Nicole and Alex will now have 18 years of free stays at the hotel

The Abbotsford Tulip Festival is permanently closing, with plans to eventually set up in Armstrong, B.C. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Abbotsford Tulip Festival is closing, with plans to rebloom in Armstrong

Event organizer says pandemic and sale of land were factors in decision

Most Read