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A white Christmas but far from the land of the long white cloud

Kiwi expat, Vanessa Marjoribanks is facing a Christmas in lockdown.

At a time when whānau and friends are front of mind, they couldn’t be further away for the single mother of four.

Vanessa and her family are among the more than 16 million Britons now in lockdown for two weeks, to help fight the spread of a new coronavirus strain.

“It’s upsetting and restricting but it’s logical,” says Vanessa.

Vanessa, a self-proclaimed “small town NZ girl” moved to London in 2007 with the intention of staying a year.

Thirteen years later, she still hasn’t left and has found ‘extended family’ and support in London-based Māori cultural groups, Ngati Rānana and Te Kōhanga Reo o Rānana.

Now in lockdown and no longer having the ability to “regroup”, Vanessa is finding it particularly challenging being so far from home.

“With the pandemic and not being able to meet or mix, a lot of that support, grounding and emotional connections that we need being so far from home, haven’t been available in the same ways.”

Heading into a new and stricter lockdown, Vanessa says she’s not panicking but she knows this will be her family’s toughest stint with many of her Ngāti Ranana whānau having chosen to move back to New Zealand. She has had friends who have lost jobs, struggled with their mental health and have ‘just gone’ home at short notice.

However, moving home isn’t an option for Vanessa and her family.

“Most of us took for granted the possibility of travel and being able to return home whenever we could. Never in my life did I think I would ever be unable to get home with my children from the UK.”

In the past, trips home at Christmas were something Vanessa and her children craved to see family, celebrate their identity and to reset.

“It’s been emotional and a real struggle to know that it’s not on the horizon anytime soon – not only financially but also the availability of MIQ spaces and vouchers.”

Vanessa says many Londoners, like herself, were especially looking forward to celebrating Christmas. It was going to be a chance to come together and have some fun, after a really hard year.

“People wanted that respite to be able to see their family they might not have seen all year or since March, physically.”

Vanessa finds herself trying to get on with life, while also navigating the uncertainties of the pandemic, and the consequent stressors and fatigue.

“There are all these layers of dealing with the ongoing unknown and to be constantly in this pandemic situation, it is really wearing.”

Challenging too is reading all the ‘assumptions’ Vanessa has seen written online about Kiwis living overseas.

“I’m so incredibly grateful New Zealand has been buffered by Covid-19 and I sincerely hope NZ never experiences what we are seeing here in London.”

“As hard and wearing as it’s been to go through this experience, I am so grateful that nobody home has been put in this position… I am really looking forward to the day we can come home and connect.”

Vanessa says ensuring her family are well during lockdown comes from doing simple things daily, like sharing recipes with her community, practising breath work and doing weekly Zoom hui.

“It’s all incorporated into ways of being. Without the smaller simple things, it would be easy to be overwhelmed.”

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