New Zealand has never seemed so far away for the heartbroken Kiwis living abroad this Christmas.
Kiwi entrepreneur Sarah Ayala – who lives in Texas with her husband and children – always thought she and her family were just a flight from home when it came to life’s big moments.
She has long kept an emergency fund of cash to buy last-minute tickets to New Zealand or Argentina – where her husband is from – if they had to return home soon.
It was a godsend when Ayala’s son was very sick as a baby and his mother ran across from New Zealand to support him through difficult times.
But Covid-19 has since created barriers around the world.
Ayala was unable to return to New Zealand for her mother’s funeral in September and is now unable to return at Christmas to see her remaining family as her children only get two weeks of school holidays in the US.
“Being stuck might be a bit exaggerated, but it feels really weird knowing we can’t go when we need it,” he said.
And not just his family.
The protective COVID-19 border wall that New Zealand has set up on the other side of the world makes family and friends appear more distant than usual at this year’s celebration time, said fellow US expat Hayden Garrett.
He’s been in Colorado with his family for five years, but can’t come home this Christmas because it’s too expensive.
Isolation from family back home adds to the gloomy festive season in the US where a surge in the virus means the country faces major challenges over the next four to eight weeks, he said.
Likewise, Ayala said she is proud of how New Zealand is handling Covid-19 and the way everyone can participate in their role to keep others safe.
By contrast, the virus is “out of control in the US” with more people dying from it every day than what happened in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, he said.
“I’ve heard people tell me that wearing a mask is like slavery or complaining about why everyone with a health condition or an elderly person destroys it for all of us,” he said.
“It leaves me breathless – this is literally the person I know and talk to.”
All staff and visitors to her workplace must wear masks, with Ayala joking that she hired a new employee three months ago and still hasn’t seen her face.
“I saw his driver’s license working on the paperwork, and I thought, ‘oh that’s what he looks like’,” he said.
People often underestimate New Zealand’s achievements, saying it should handle the virus well as a small and isolated island, Ayala said.
But the country’s leadership and support from every day Kiwi to do their part is extraordinary when compared to most of the rest of the world.
It’s also not easy as Kiwis have chosen to maintain tight borders that come at sacrifices they can’t easily make or have family and friends come home for Christmas.
“I feel influenced by the quarantine rules, but still agree with what has been done in New Zealand,” he said.
“And it might be in contrast to what I’m seeing here in the US, people feel they shouldn’t be affected in any way.”
Ayala says she’s only voicing the sadness of many Kiwis this Christmas at being so far away from home.
While people always talk about how special a white Christmas is in the US, no one celebrates Christmas better than New Zealand, he said.
“There’s a barbeque on the beach, the family gets together and everyone’s really nice to each other for the day, you have a few drinks, sit in the park, the kids run around and someone might start kicking a ball.”
It means that when she sees her family photo together this year, there will be extra pain in her heart.
“I would be like: ‘Aww, it would be great to be there’.”
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