The Covid-19 Expat
Possibly the Biggest Flight or Fight of Your Life…
Being newly expat and living in a foreign country during a time where the whole world has turned to complete chaos and tragedy is an extremely unsettling and scary time.
This current pandemic event can be unsettling and frightening for anyone, as each day you wake becomes priority one: ‘do not catch the coronavirus’.
It really is that simple. As communities unite around the globe with one primary goal, that is to contain and not spread a deadly and unknown disease that is slowly and surely impacting on the entire world as we know it.
However, when you have set up a life away from all that is trusted and familiar to you, in terms of government control and leadership, medical standards, health facilities and community ethical and cultural standards, the confidence that you place in all that filters down from these key core life elements becomes very murky, leaving the intensity of such uncertain times nothing short of unnerving.
So, what is life currently like on the small Indonesian island of Bali during the Coronavirus crisis?
As we see the extreme number of confirmed virus cases around the world constantly soaring, with terrible death rates also continuing upward, Bali is somewhat oddly not reporting extreme or high numbers, with confirmed cases only slowly rising. This is also true for Indonesia as a nation, though of course the numbers for the entire country are higher than that for Bali alone with hot spots reported such as Java and Jakarta.
Statistically, Indonesia is currently one of the lower South East Asian countries with confirmed cases. Very concerning however, the death rate percentage is one of the highest!
The Indonesian Government has slowly acted behind other countries, now enforcing tighter immigration restrictions, closing down boarders to overseas visitors, closing all schools and finally prohibiting all social and entertainment events and gatherings resulting in all large entertainment venues, social recreation and beach clubs closing until further notice.
Perhaps the most impacting and disappointing Bali restriction for our family is that local Banjar (community police) have now closed all beaches in support of social distancing measures.
The one fun outdoor activity where our family felt at ease keeping distanced from others, being active, taking deep breaths, washing away the daily stressors, while also gaining a sense of freedom from COVID-19.
The beach is our happy place… sun, sand, surfboards and salt water therapy at sunset or as an early morning walk it was a daily escape that has now been sadly removed from our world.
Government official media is now flowing to educate local communities about preventative social distancing recommendations, thorough hygiene measures and the direct encouragement from the President is where possible all people should, ‘stay at home, work from home and pray at home’.
The small tropical paradise island whose economy relies almost entirely on tourism is now extremely quiet. Most noticeably in prime tourist driven locations is the heavily reduced road traffic and the usually bustling streets of shoppers, diners, market sellers and clubs, cafes and restaurants with vibrant music, now feel silent as almost all non essential businesses are closed.
However, in larger cities and villages outside tourist areas many businesses, retail, cafes and local warungs are still operating, albeit most with reduced hours or services and minimal employees.
On some main roads the traffic is still relatively busy and so in some ways life still very much a contrasting ‘life as normal’ appearance in Bali.
For Little.Miss.IBU it is somewhat like living within a giant bubble of ambiguity, knowing full well the extent and rampant effects of the virus around the world when your own environment seems unmatched in its transparency and urgency to act.
Driving through small local villages especially, Balinese families and communities are clearly not masked or attempting any social distancing measures as kids play together along streets and adults congregate in groups going about their normal daily activities.
A recent annual Balinese cultural celebration just weeks ago saw a reported over 2,000 people gathered, unmasked and obviously without distance, in prayer and ceremonies along the very popular tourist destination beach of Seminyak!
On a supermarket trip home last week, I asked the GRAB driver of his views, did he feel that local Balinese were really aware of the serious danger and threat of Coronavirus and were they really hearing the messages: the importance to act strictly in regards to social distancing, hand washing and sanitisation practices?
Surprisingly my driver whose entire day is spent transporting numerous passengers within a confined airconditioned car space and with close personal contact to others, was not even protecting himself by the simple use of a mask or gloves. Proven measures or not, surely something is better than nothing!
His response was quite simply that “Bali was not like other countries, if Balinese do not work then they do not get money to live. Not everyone can work from home, like me I have to drive, and so I must still go out to work or there is no money”.
So, he did seem to realise one safety message, to stay at home if you can…
I reassure him that even in Australia, when losing your job the government does not automatically just hand out money to you! I encouraged him to try and be safe by wearing a mask to protect himself while he works in close contact with numerous groups of people every day!
A week later and a new driver was not only masked but was also equipped with sanitiser which he encouraged me to use!
During all of this uncertaintly and gloom perhaps the most heartwarming and humbling blessing to arise is the sense of community spirit amongst expats, and their strong willingness to help Bali survive this state of emergency.
Most visually obvious are baskets along roadsides within some villages, calling for donations of food and medicine for those in need. I have also passed a few private villas or businesses that have secured hand sanitiser to roadside stands, free to use for anyone passing by!
Expats and non Indonesian communities have also united online via social media, forming power groups to assist Balinese families direct with food donations.
Additionally small task groups are producing masks, fundraising for the procurement of PPE for hospitals and are arranging the design, print and erection of Covid-19 prevention signage in Bahasa, to educate local Balinese communities.
The fear of Bali being highly inadequate in terms of medical facilities, government transparency and the lack of education for Balinese to stop the spread is very evident amongst expat groups and so they are banding together to assist the island which they love and now call home.
In some ways being expat brings some small fortune as you have choices of where to best ride out the storm. Although with choice brings so many more questions and uncertainties that are impossible to answer or predict in a world that now continues to unfold and change in unknown proportions each day.
This is actually quite a distressing predicament as many elements you feel are choices to best position yourself and your family in this tragic event, are actually in fact not a choice and may well be a verdict that is imposed on you by government restrictions, whether it is suitable for your family and circumstances or not.
This is where your life is potentially out of your direct control, as the government who you now reside under can in fact at some point decide your fate via the immigration and VISA regulations that they enforce.
All countries globally are constantly updating travel, immigration and entry restrictions to best protect their own nation and the spread of the deadly virus to its citizens.
However, a huge primary unknown expat element is will you even be entitled to stay in your new home and environment that you have embraced and invested in financially and emotionally, if you choose to?
And if so, for how long… will unknown and constantly changing immigration restrictions or evolving government limitations impact on your future stay to reside?
Secondly, if after difficult and careful deliberation you do actually decide to return to your country of origin, will there even be flights available at that relevant time you wish to return?
Will your home country government continue to allow expats freedom of entry to return?
Another immense consideration which causes constraints over making future decisions of residency during a world crisis is personal financial position.
The Coronavirus has made a massive financial impact for all countries and people around the globe, however where this intensifies as expat, is the large upfront investment made to secure a life abroad; flights, immigration VISA’s, international schooling and home rental are all very large expenses which we have had to afford with payments required to be paid 12 months in advance!
Many Bali expats survive here via business opportunities and so have also invested heavily financially to create successful businesses, which may now be closed or running on reduced profits under new government Covid-19 restrictions.
Equally in reverse, personally in our home country of Australia we have relinquished numerous life conveniences in order to successfully move our family overseas. We no longer have a home to return easily to as it is currently tenanted, our cars were sold and our entire life is packed into boxes and annually stored within a storage unit.
To enable our overseas move we became almost nomadic, by travelling with personal belongings only that would fit into suitcases, so our return to Australia in some ways is easy as we currently live in a fully furnished villa with just essential items from ‘home’.
However, in other respects returning is not at all easy or encouraging due to the fact that other than family members, we have nothing usual to return to, as our life and home is now in Bali. And in assessing our personal finances, staying in Bali will actually benefit us best from an immediate financial aspect.
Being distant from close family, especially aging parents is probably the sole key drawback being expat, as we now build regular connections, see each other and communicate via electronic means only.
This separation element poses yet another unknown and distressing concern during such epidemic times as expat… the concern for your parents intensifies immensely with a new invisible and deadly threat lurking.
But where will you stand in terms of actually being able to get a flight, entry to your home nation and what self-isolation requirements will be imposed on your family at that time, if the dire need presents for you to return home quickly due to ill health of your loved ones?
And likewise, what medical, repatriate or survival options will you have available if someone from your immediate family becomes infected or seriously unwell while living overseas as expats?
How can you manage your home life with a seriously sick and potentially hospitalised member of your household, in times when social distancing is paramount for continued health, being expat the support to raise your family is already limited, and in current times some friends that have been made have already returned to their country of origin with the introduction of online schooling and the coronavirus threat?
Our families best defense and only way forward in my mind is quite simply to self isolate and remain positive but very proactive.
Staying in the safety of our home, away from confined spaces, away from other people and any crowded areas. This is followed strongly by good nutrition to build healthy immune systems, maintaining regular exercise and mental health protective measures!
Little.Miss.IBU and Co. do continue to go out daily in our quieter village and surrounding areas. Sometimes it’s a street walk or a jog, sometimes we take a ride on our motor scooters just to escape our small villa and slowly we are finding alternative recreational areas for us to be active outdoors and free away from others… with two active boys and a usually energetic family, we do need to get out!
However, we always go with PPE and have introduced new hygiene routines for our household.
Always wearing masks especially in confined spaces or within close personal distance to others, like shops. Our personal hygiene is foremost when returning home and at any time we have near contact with others we are always immediately liberal with hand sanitiser on leaving…
Generally, outings are shorter and minimised simply to reduce our exposure and mostly we are just laying low at home.
So it’s with much gratitude and hope that Little.Miss.IBU publishes this post.
Feeling overwhelmed and weighed down, compromised, uncertain and sometimes anxious about our place in the world, I am equally so grateful that my boys and I are all currently healthy and safe.
We currently have all that we need accessible to us to live comfortably, without the panic buying, empty supermarket shelves and the media mayhem of the western world.
And although we are spending a great deal of time confined at home in our small villa, which is often very frustrating and causing much friction for a usually active and adventuring family…
We are all together and are where we need to be at this point in time, with much quality time to enjoy and share.
And this is very rare and unusual for our frequently separated, globally FIFO family!