20 Mar 2020

Making it back to New Zealand in the pandemic

From Afternoons, 1:34 pm on 20 March 2020

Many New Zealanders around the world at the moment are working out how and if they can get back here. Sally Barraud and her family had just started a year of travelling and were in India and Sri Lanka when things started to escalate. They’re back in Aotearoa now in self isolation, Sally told Jesse Mulligan it was quite a journey to get home.

She says they wanted to go on a holiday to have a break from full time work and thought it’d be less stressful. She says it went well at first.

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Photo: Sally Barraud

“The usual kind of travel things, children getting sick and adjusting to the heat in India. It was a wonderful adventure and we were going to be volunteer teaching in Sri Lanka.”

It was around a month ago the family started looking at getting masks just in case of coronavirus. 

“We were surprised to see just how difficult it was to get masks. At that stage it still seemed like a very strange thing to wear a mask, it seemed quite extreme.”

A few weeks ago, the family started to think about what point they might pull the plug on their adventure. 

“We said we’d finish India then go to Sri Lanka and, at that point, there were two cases in India. The day before we arrived in Sri Lanka, our volunteering was cancelled so we arrived in Colombo not sure what to do.”

Sally says it was a strange experience being the foreigner in Colombo when coronavirus started to spread globally. At one point, she was sitting in a park when some teenage boys pointed at her and yelled ‘corona, corona!’. 

“It was so strange. I wept like a child in the park after being bullied,” she laughs. 

“It was a shock for us to get there and be treated like we were carrying the disease. We would jump in a tuk tuk and the driver would wrap his t-shirt around his face. We went to the museum before it shut and when they saw us coming, they all put on masks.”

She says it was a stark difference to their expectations of going there to contribute and help. 

“We were not only not connecting with people, we were seen as a threat.” 

Even their hotel pretended the family had got the wrong place and turned them away. They instead hunkered down in another place that was still taking guests and planned their route home, which was much harder than expected. 

“I couldn’t get anything online, I couldn’t get a hold of anyone. The ease that we’re so used to in New Zealand is gone. It’s incredibly hard just to book a flight.” 

Sally says her sisters managed to sort it out for her from New Zealand and got her on a plane to Singapore. 

“Again, very strange. You get to Singapore, finally, and you’re wearing gloves and masks and the children are wearing masks.” 

The next leg was meant to be Singapore to New Zealand, but they missed that connection and were stuck in Singapore. 

“We were at the gates and the lady wouldn’t let us on. They’d changed the boarding time, so the things on the signs were different to the departures we were given, so we got there at the wrong time.” 

They finally managed to book another flight and, to celebrate, Sally ran to the bar and had a shot of tequila. 

“We finally made it back and we were so close. Then they asked if we’d packed our own bags and we said yes, and they asked if we’d emptied it of fruit, and we said yes.”

But they were wrong. Customs discovered some Sri Lankan fruit and they were pulled aside. 

“That was another hour in Customs and then, finally, we’re in Auckland. Yay!”

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