Thursday, 14 May 2020

Life after lockdown

Today marks eight weeks since I arrived home from my whirlwind trip to Bangladesh. Two weeks of self-isolation in the spare room away from Mr Weka on my return morphed into a 4.5 week long country-wide lockdown. Restrictions eased into a state of limbo two weeks ago when non-essential businesses were allowed to begin trading again and people rushed out to buy the takeaways they'd been craving for the past month. Today we've entered alert level 2: not so restricted but still not quite normal.

Stay home, save lives logo

Eight weeks of lockdown has been a surreal experience. It's something we could never have predicted would happen just a few months ago and may never experience on this scale again. People seem to be divided into two camps: those who felt overly restricted, grieving their freedom and craving contact with the outside world versus those who embraced the solace afforded by the safety of a few weeks at home.

As a pair of introverts, Mr Weka and I have actually enjoyed the quieter pace of lockdown. Our single success indicator for the lockdown period was to emerge with all four of our parents still alive. We made it - just. Sure, our businesses have both taken a huge hit, but we'd prefer to weather the storm of several months with zero income in return for the health and safety of our family, friends and wider community. I realise how privileged I am to be able to say that.

The streets are now busy again. I'm in no rush to go out and get a haircut, eat at restaurants and bars or hug crowds of people. I think it will take some time to reduce my heightened sense of caution that resulted from fleeing a developing country at the start of global pandemic. And I know we're not completely out of danger yet.

the new normal text

As for returning to normal, I'm intrigued by the urgency I see. It seems the same people whose wellbeing was threatened by the stresses of living at an unsustainable pace are the ones who have most yearned for a return to the routines they've always dreamed of escaping. Does the desire for familiarity outweigh the stresses of uncertainty? Perhaps. But I don't see much benefit in returning to what wasn't working before.

What would a new normal look like? Is it really possible to create the normal we want rather than settling for the normal we know? Can I keep waking up without an alarm, being super-productive while working from the safety of my home office, cooking healthy meals, baking my own bread and enjoying the luxury of a daily lunch time walk along the beach? Or must I forfeit it all in favour of peak hour commuting on public transport to open plan offices with hot desks, working through lunch breaks then collapsing in a heap at the end of a day or week, all in the name of 'normal'? I know what makes more sense to me. I guess only time will tell.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Lighting up a city

Two delights have mesmerised me since childhood: fairy lights and fireworks. Events that feature both are sure to make me smile. I got to experience some beautiful lighting displays in Bangladesh recently.

My hosts took me to the rooftop restaurant at the Dhaka Regency Hotel one evening. High above the traffic and noise of the city below is a mystical oasis of light and space. We ate pizza under the stars and overlooking the airport nearby.

The entrance would appeal to a certain target market (not us)
We had the whole rooftop garden to ourselves
Private dining
Even the rooftop pool looks enticing
17 March was a national holiday in Bangladesh to commemorate the centenary of the birth of country's founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Large public events were planned throughout the city of Dhaka. They were then cancelled due to the risk of spreading COVID-19 but a delightful fireworks display from four city locations went ahead and we enjoyed it from the rooftop of my host's apartment building.

In the meantime government buildings and public spaces were decorated with miles of LED fairy lights. Ten storey buildings were draped in strings of coloured lights to represent Bangladesh's national colours (green and red). Others featured every colour of the rainbow. Imagine Christmas lights and multiply them by a hundred.

Others buildings featured changing light displays on a continuous loop. We sat opposite this ICT Tower for ten minutes, delighting in its rotating display, which was far too grandiose for my phone to capture.


Driving around a crowded city becomes a magical experience when surrounded by millions of LED lights.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

The noisy streets of Dhaka

I blogged about traffic in Dhaka while travelling to Bangladesh last year. We may complain about traffic jams, commute times and the state of roads in developed countries, but Bangladesh's traffic is something else altogether.

The whole city is actually really noisy. Dhaka is one of the world's most densely populated cities and there are people everywhere. The days are a clutter of traffic from Dhaka's 8 million residents plus 5 million commuters to the city. Car horns and bicycle bells ring out constantly as cars, rickshaws, CNGs and pedestrians make tiny gains among endless traffic jams. I'm happy to not drive myself in Dhaka and instead enjoy the skill and experience of our driver, who can navigate traffic jams and potholes with ease.

This video (not mine) shows a typical but not especially busy Dhaka street.


Here are some of my photos of street scenes around Dhaka.
A typical street corner
The road outside our office
Just one street over from one of the main roads, we were held up by traffic of a different sort. This area is a large scale building development for a new subdivision. The roads feature even more bumps and potholes than usual. I have no idea where the cattle were coming from or heading to, but just one block right featured typical traffic chaos!
A woman moves cattle and a goat just one street away from the main road
And then this happened. The photo isn't clear as it was taken through the car windscreen. A truck in front of me had about 15 young men on the back. The truck clipped a vehicle that was passing on the left. The two drivers got out of their cars and started yelling at each other, along with about 10 of these guys. Everyone else was trying to drive around them (many car horns tooting!). The truck driver got back into his vehicle and took off with a few passengers missing. The guy in white and a few others managed to jump onto the moving vehicle. Others decided to walk.

Jump on or you'll miss your ride!
From 7pm, articulated tucks and large delivery vehicles arrive. They aren't allowed to drive on the roads during the day so deliver goods and supplies overnight, racing along expressways and main streets. There are no lights on rickshaws or bicycles to see them approaching or passing these huge vehicles at night. They bravely (or recklessly) weave in and out among the traffic armed with little more than a bicycle bell. Even on a quiet side street, it's not uncommon to hear car horns through the night or someone blowing a whistle at 3am.

The evening commute out of Dhaka
Each morning I enjoyed a moment of calm around 5am as the first call to prayer rang out, then it was back to constant chaos and noise. It's a world away from the peace and quiet of lockdown in New Zealand.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

A whirlwind trip to Bangladesh

This is a very surreal post to write. What a week it has been.

For several weeks I've been excitedly looking forward to returning to Bangladesh for a second stint of professional volunteering. Two weeks of workshops and meetings were planned in Dhaka, then a similar week-long programme in Kathmandu, Nepal. I prepared early, updated all my travel immunisations and planned ways to minimise risk while still making the most of this incredible opportunity. My plans were guided by one principle: safety first.

And then it all changed. Covid-19 was declared a pandemic just as I was flying out of New Zealand. The risks increased exponentially while I was en route to Dhaka in a half-full plane. The country I'd left was very different to the one I returned to a week later.

The hysteria became palpable. Online shrieks ranged from "New Zealand has closed its border!" through to "you'll have to be in total isolation once you return!", "travellers should immediately put into quarantine or be arrested!" and "the government is covering up the truth!" It was then followed by some really bizarre advice from a 'surgeon': "drink water as it kills the virus. Also, the virus can't live in climates over 27°C (nope - Dhaka's average daily temperature is 30+°C) and take vitamin C and D supplements to build your immunity (in just one week!)". While drinking water and building your immunity is always a good idea, these messages are not helpful and only serve to spread misinformation. Seriously: wash your hands.

It's so hard to discern facts from among all the conjecture, unqualified social media commentary and random conspiracy theories, especially when you're relatively isolated in a developing country whose health system is not equipped to manage a pandemic (if any country's health system is).

Basically, there are (were?) four sources of truth for kiwi travellers planning a return journey. Since then, a dedicated Covid-19 site has been developed. The rest is mostly noise - including chain mail and click bait from well-meaning friends and family on Facebook. Don't @ me.
But, despite how drastically circumstances changed, I actually had a really good time in Bangladesh and packed in as much activity as I could into what ended up being a flying visit: just five days in Dhaka sandwiched between two days of flying.

I tweeted much of my experience of getting home safely using the hashtag #TravellingWeka so won't repeat myself here. Instead I want to share my experiences in Dhaka and remember the good times long after the new post-Covid-19 normal emerges. One good thing about two weeks of self-isolation is that I have plenty of time to do this. 

Thursday, 16 January 2020

The summer of plums

Several years ago, I noticed some beautiful spring blossoms appear above our fence. A year or two later, we noticed a tree on our property that seemed to be growing some kind of fruit. What was it? And how did it get there? Neither of us have very green thumbs. Should we have been looking after it?

It seems that Mother Nature or one of her helpers had self-seeded a #SurprisePlumTree in our front yard and it was preparing to bear fruit! We culled some lavender bushes underneath that were stifling its growth and wondered what to do with this strangely shaped tree. We were delighted when the first season yielded a few dozen dark purple plums (not sure which type). I took some advice from a keen gardener and had a go at gently pruning the tree, cutting the long branches back one third each year to finally shape it into something that might actually produce fruit - and this year we were rewarded with a bumper crop!

In mid-December, the tree looked like this. Things looked promising.
A hint of colour
Shortly after Christmas, the fruit started to colour ...
Steady progress
... and then last week the neighbourhood birds announced that the plums were ready! After a frantic day tying and re-tying netting around the branches to beat the birds at their game, recovering plums that had already fallen to the ground and rescuing slightly pecked fruit, we started collecting beautifully ripe plums. And then some more. And then even more. Yum!

Two days' pickings with more to come
It's lucky that we like summer fruit and plums as they now accompany every meal. Bags have been shared with neighbours, family and friends. Plums get added to fruit smoothies and also contribute to the compost bin. I've experimented with recipes and already baked sooooo many things with plums with more planned for next week, including:
I'm not at the sauce, chutney, stewing or jam-making stages yet as we don't really eat these, but ask me again next week and I might change my mind. In the meantime, I'll keep searching for more yummy plum recipes.

We're enjoying our summer of plums and are thankful to whatever planted and cared for our #SurprisePlumTree until we were able to look after it ourselves.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

2019 Ta Da! list

2019 has almost finished and a new year beckons tomorrow along with the promise of shiny fresh starts, hopes and possibilities. Some insist that we're also about to start a new decade and are busy recounting on social media how the last decade has played out for them. Although not technically correct (yes, it depends), I'll play along.

2019 has been an epic year for me. It sped by as I learned and did things I could never imagine this time last year. There were some bumps in the road but overall the good things outweighed the bad this year.

As someone whose To Do lists frequently get the better of me, I've made a Ta Da! list reflecting on 2019. The To Do lists can wait until tomorrow. 

Things I'm proud of

  • I fought for something that really matters to me and learnt to make it a priority.
  • I've always known that there's nothing more important than whānau and was reminded of this again as we banded together when it mattered most and supported each other through various health scares.
  • I started to use my professional voice after keeping it quiet for so many years. This led to professional opportunities that may have previously passed me by. 
  • My professional volunteering experience in Bangladesh left me tired, refreshed and overstimulated all at once as I processed what I experienced while well out of my comfort zone. I started learning to look for optimism and hope in adverse conditions and gained a new perspective on life. Giving, giving back and giving forward has led me to take on a role in a professional committee but also to know my limits.
  • I said no when someone asked me to do something waaaaayyy beyond my boundaries. I felt terrible about it for ages thinking how I'd let her down, but it turned out just fine and we're still really good friends - because good friends understand and respect boundaries and limits.
  • I didn't buy much this year and was more contemplative about what I already have. I'd rather do things instead of buy things with my money.
  • I was a Good Bitch 17 times, baking 17 batches of sweet treats for charity recipients, nine birthday cakes and several care packages for friends and whānau.
  • I completed this year's Goodreads reading challenge after some sleepless nights finally pushed me over the finish line. Yuss!

Things I've learnt

  • My sense of identity is stronger than other people's perception of it. I'm especially proud of this one.
  • If contracts are like sprints and permanent jobs are a marathon, then a fixed term role is a half-marathon. You can't run a marathon by sprinting like a contractor. The same goes for life in general.
  • Life, misery and exhaustion is not a competition. We're all in different spaces and that's absolutely fine. I've learnt to empathise and support but not be dragged into someone else's negative space just because they're having a tough time.

Things I'm still working on

  • Saying yes to people and experiences without taking on too much.
  • Managing, protecting and nurturing my energy. Sometimes this involves having ridiculously early nights.
  • Pacing myself. I just can't be or do everything I need or want to all the time. 
  • Letting go of the shoulds
And so I finish the year tired but not completely exhausted, looking forward to a break but energised by the possibilities of doing things (or not) over summer. Bring on 2020!