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

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map shows new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 11-17. (BCCDC image)
BCCDC says fresh COVID-19 cases down in most Island Health areas

Nanaimo sees its fewest new COVID-19 cases since mid January

The Sybil Andrews Cottage property in Willow Point, along with the Haig-Brown House property, have both been assigned Community Heritage Designation. Mirror File Photo
Sybil Andrews cottage and Haig-Brown House get full heritage status

Designation offers both protection as well as opening up future funding opportunities

Police executed a search warrant at the Devils Army Clubhouse on Petersen road in Campbell River on August 10, 2017.
John Dillon Brown set off to conclude an out-of-court settlement the day he disappeared

Trial of Richard Alexander continues in B.C. Supreme Court in Victoria

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist, an independent pharmacy in Toronto, Monday, April 19, 2021. Younger Canadians in several provinces are now able to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
AstraZeneca vaccine appointments fill up fast on Vancouver Island

More pharmacies expected to be added as supply increases

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

The conservation service confirmed they do not relocate cougars from settled areas but that euthanasia is not necessarily the fate for an animal in the Fanny Bay area. The hope is that the animal will move on to wild areas. (File photo)
Woman hopes cat-stalking Fanny Bay cougar can avoid euthanization

Conservation officers do not relocate the animals from Vancouver Island

Tofino residents expressed frustration over a recent post by Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett that falsely claimed all residents have been vaccinated. (Westerly file photo)
Resort owner apologizes for suggesting Tofino is safe to travel to

Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett apologizes to community and visitors

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Nanaimo RCMP say a man was injured while pouring gunpowder on a backyard fire in Harewood on Wednesday, April 21. (File photo)
Nanaimo man hospitalized after pouring gunpowder onto backyard fire

RCMP investigating explosion in Harewood also came across a still for making alcohol on property

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. sees 1,006 COVID-19 cases Thursday, ‘alarming’ 502 in hospital

Vaccine bookings for people aged 60 and older set to start

Most Read