Nick and Betsy Ryan have been teaching in Saudi Arabia for the last three years, using the Middle Eastern country as a stepping stone for overseas adventures with their three children – Lucy (13), Maggie (12) and Andrew (9).
A shock terminal cancer diagnosis two weeks ago for Nick’s mum and their children’s much-loved nana quickly turned their world upside down, and now sees the family five days into their 14-day managed isolation stay at the Sebel Hotel in Manukau.
“It’s been such a whirlwind. We applied for a compassionate spot in managed isolation on the Friday, were granted it on the Sunday, and were flying home on the Tuesday. We feel so lucky to be here,” says Betsy.
Betsy says she has a growing list of things that she’s thankful for.
“I’m grateful for small things like windows that open to let in fresh air, not having to cook or clean, for the green outside the window and the blue sky, and especially to all those who are putting themselves at risk to bring us food, doing our health check every morning, and keeping us safe.”
Betsy’s number one piece of advice for getting through managed isolation with children is to change your screen time expectations.
“We are normally quite strict on screentime, but we’ve had to chill out about that. All our usual screen time rules have gone out the door – you have to do what you have to do!”
While there’s lots of screentime, there’s an expectation that everyone is as active as possible. Every day the family do 100 sit ups and 25 push-ups, and the twice daily 40-minute walk around the car park is compulsory.
“We always go outside - it’s a sanity thing!” says Betsy.
Lucy, Maggie and Andrew are relishing their parents more lenient approach to screens, with all three saying it’s the best thing about being in managed isolation.
Maggie says the worst thing is the boredom.
“The only time you go out of the room is to walk in the car park which isn’t that interesting, or to get a Covid test which hurts,” says Maggie.
She says one of the most exciting parts of each day is when their food arrives at their door.
It’s like being a dog – someone knocks on the door and we run to it really excited. It makes a change from just sitting around.”
“It’s always nice when the food comes. When we get it it’s like unwrapping a present, and it’s nearly always really good. It definitely helps takes away the boringness of the day.”
Mask wearing has been compulsory in Saudi Arabia for nearly a year, and Andrew says it will be really strange walking around not wearing one.
“Out of habit I’ll probably take my facemask with me when we get out of here. I’ve been wearing one for so long I can’t really imagine not wearing one. I think I’ll feel safe without a mask.”
“I am really looking forward to getting outside and breathing the fresh air. When we landed in Auckland I was shocked at how much nicer the air was – I don’t think I’ll ever take clean air for granted again.”
Lucy says that while they’re all getting on each other’s nerves, it’s going to be worth it when they can see their nana, catch up with friends and family, and go outside whenever they like.
Saudi Arabia has closed its borders, so while the Ryan family could get out, at this stage no one can get back into Saudi Arabia until May at the earliest.
“We’re just taking it day-by-day. There’s no point stressing about what we can’t control. And if there’s no going back to Saudi then I couldn’t think of a better place to be than Aotearoa – it’ll always be home for us,” says Betsy.
In the meantime, Nick is continuing to teach online from 6pm to 1am each day, and both Nick and Betsy are conducting parent teacher interviews - often from their hotel bathroom!