New Zealand is a country of unique privilege.
I say this from a little experience and a lot of solidarity, having immigrated three times and lived for lengthy stints in a further two countries.
Without a doubt, Aotearoa is the cleanest, greenest, safest, freest place I have ever lived.
We have got it goooood.
We’ve always had it better than most.
Don’t believe me?
Try living in a country where lockdown means crouching indoors, hoping the fist-sized rocks won’t make it through your iron-barred windows.
Where arranging your children’s education means deciding which child will go to school on which day, as they share one uniform between them and must take turns.
Where going to a polling booth means police armed with AK-47s telling you exactly who you will be voting for today.
Where “stay home, stay safe” means protecting yourself and your family and friends from a rampaging virus.
The reality of Covid-19 has sucked. It’s been a long and hard haul, and it ain’t over yet. Here in Auckland, we’ve already been through two lockdowns. Who knows how many more we’ll face before the year is out?
But while it drove us crazy to shrink back into our bubbles – exacerbating already stretched mental health, and adding to layers of financial worry – for the majority of us, our bubbles were mostly quite comfortable and safe, all things considered.
I had electricity in mine. Running water too. Even internet. I could go outside for a run. I could head to the store to buy groceries.
And as the levels eased down, I could buy petrol and a coffee-to-go, without worrying about street riots, or gunfire and teargas, or rabies-infested wild dogs catching me unawares.
I couldn’t say which is the best course of action for this pandemic. There are still too many unknowns to lift one country’s methods above another. But whatever the present state of things, I’ve been so grateful to be in New Zealand throughout it all.
Because we have got it SO good.
But sometimes we do it bad.
There were those of us who, when asked to act with caution and awareness, thronged in packed crowds to grab our favourite take-out instead. We swarmed the beaches in careless glee. We threw big parties regardless of large social groups being the key instigator of the cluster outbreaks that took down so many people.
We balked at the idea of wearing a mask (never mind that we would 100% expect a surgeon to wear one when operating on our insides), and we laughed in the face of those denying themselves the normality of freedom until we could all get there together.
Somehow, the optimistic vibe we wear became entitlement.
But entitlement is only half our problem.
The other half of this unhappy marriage is lack of gratitude.
We have not stopped to look around and be grateful for the things we do have.
And I’m not talking luxuries. Pineapple Lumps and waterfront restaurants are great, but they are mere excess to the bountiful goodness that fills our land.
Here in New Zealand, we have food in our supermarkets and doctors in our (clean) hospitals.
Here in New Zealand, we breathe fresh air, pop out for a quick stroll through pristine nature, and tune in to listen to a government leader who speaks to us as compos mentis equals.
Here in New Zealand, I can get my flu shot safely and hygienically – not sitting on a plastic chair in the midst of a moaning, oozing crowd, while the nurse steps around a pile of vomit on the floor and I try hard not to stare at the wave of blood splattered against the wall beside me where a typhoid patient coughed without covering their mouth.
WE. HAVE. GOT. IT. GOOD.
We just don’t always acknowledge it.
Do we really understand how easy we have it? Are we grateful for the basic human rights we access, merely by existing in this country? Or have we become lazy in our stewardship of this fine, green land?
In the midst of the biggest worldwide trauma we’ve seen in decades, too many of us flaunted the rules of care, risked the wellbeing of others, or simply didn’t give a shit.
We stand at risk of becoming the epitome of lackadaisical.
But it’s time to do this pandemic uncertainty better. It’s time to dose up on our world-renowned good nature and humour. It’s time to pull up our mates who’ve forgotten that community is our middle name.
We have the freedom to walk through this with decency.
We have the power to come out of this with dignity.
And we have that unmatchable Kiwi tenacity that can shift even the mechanisms of our own culture, allowing us to step both bravely and wisely into a strange new world.
We are a nation who laughs easily and innovates effortlessly.
We dream hard and work harder.
We do what’s right, because it’s right.
So enjoy your Big Mac, but dispose of the wrapper in a rubbish bin.
(And be grateful our country has waste disposal services.)
Enjoy our stunning beaches, but be a responsible human guest.
(And be grateful our country gifts us the ocean at our fingertips.)
Take the bus to work and wear the damn mask and do it with graciousness.
(And be grateful our country affords us these options at all.)
We live in a privileged sphere of niceness, and it’s up to us to keep it (and ourselves) nice.
Ungratefulness? Rudeness? Bull-headed refusal to be kind or responsible or safe?
Delete, delete, delete.
Awareness, appreciation and the Kiwi stoicism that arises from intelligent minds and caring hearts?
Upload full speed while the internet lasts.
Emma is an Italian-South African with a New Zealand passport and an international heart. She spent years training student choirs and co-running a puppeteering business, before working for a humanitarian organisation in New Zealand (7 years) and Papua New Guinea (3 years). Currently a nomad living between various countries and towns, Emma's deep joy is in writing, music, cooking up an Italian storm, and taking time to listen to people’s stories.
Read Emma's creative expressions at http://www.girlkaleidoscope.wordpress.com or https://pngponderings.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/finding-the-beauty/
Emma’s previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/emma-mcgeorge.html