When my family decided that we’d had enough of European lockdown, and we were ready for some real freedom, we knew that spending two weeks in a mediocre hotel would be tough. Then again, I just packed up my fully charged Nintendo Switch, chucked in a few books and went on my way. A small price to pay for days with mates on the beach, spending nights at fully functioning restaurants, and maybe going to a music festival.
It can’t be that hard, we said. The weak won’t be able to handle it, we said. Little did we know, we are the weak. We are all weak. You want to know how to spend two weeks in solitary confinement? Strap in, baby. We’re going for a ride.
We start our stay on Day Zero. I understand that they have to call it Day Zero for those who arrive in the country at 9 p.m. but we arrived at 5 o’clock in the morning, so Day Zero felt particularly soul-crushing. Having to spend a whole day in our rooms, knowing that this is Day Zero, not even Day One, is the most demoralizing way to start our isolation period. “Demoralizing” would become the key word throughout our entire 2 weeks.
I’m starting to get antsy. Yesterday, this was all a novelty, and I could waste countless hours organizing my socks in drawers. I can only organize my socks so many times before I run out of things to do, and today, the sock drawer being perfectly organized, I have no tasks to perform.
My room overlooks the entrance of the hotel, so I can see all the buses show up from the following flights, and I can watch everybody sidle off the bus, looking bleary-eyed and unenthusiastic. It’s only going to get worse, boys. Trust me, I’ve been here for one whole day. They’ve erected these large steel grates to cordon us off from the rest of the sidewalk, so we don’t make a run for it. I felt like a dairy cow: there’s only one way forward out of the bus, and it’s into the hotel. Normal citizens cross the road as they watch us potential-Covid-patients unload our baggage and enter the facility, not to be seen until 2 weeks later, after several bouts of biological government testing…
In a cruel twist of fate, my room not only looks over the entrance, but also coincidentally, the exit. Every afternoon at around 2 p.m., just when my work motivation is flagging the most, I watch beaming backpackers load their packs into the back of trucks, a squealing girl hug her mum, and a couple laughing obnoxiously loudly as they strapped their surfboards onto the top of a van. Oh, how I despise them…
Today is the day of our first Covid test. We are legally obliged to have a minimum of 2 tests during our quarantine period, and Day Three is the day of the first. This will also be the first time I’ve ever had a corona test, and I’m nervous. I generally do not enjoy having sticks up my nose. My little sister told me it feels like when you’re just about to have a big sneeze, and that it’s best to relax your nose muscles, or it’ll feel like a spiky lobotomy. Convincing words.
When I got there, I watched the lady before me get hers done. The whole thing lasted less than five seconds, and she wasn’t even crying.
My turn. The American nurse snaked it all the way up my nose, held it there for ten seconds, and then told me that she would now start the test. I started to fidget a little – she had already been up there for far too long! She gave the swab a few sharp twists, and then pulled it out of my nose. I definitely felt a nosebleed coming on.
“Have you ever broken your nose?” she asked. If I wasn’t crying before, I definitely was now.
“No, I don’t think so,” I replied.
“Ah, well, sorry if it was quite uncomfortable for you. You have one of the tightest nasal passages I’ve experienced.”
The food here is definitely not four-star (the apparent rating of my hotel). Every morning at around 7.30 a.m. we receive a brown paper bag. In it, is a small packet of Skippy’s (cornflakes), a sad orange, an un-flavoured, un-sweetened natural yoghurt pot, and some bitter rhubarb compote. It helps to stir two white sugar packets into the yoghurt, which makes it sweeter, but also grainy. Hashtag life hack!
You can choose other options. My mother ordered the scrambled eggs, but just imagine a plastic box, coated in condensation and three-quartered filled with far too many lukewarm scrambled eggs (just the eggs – no toast), and you’ll understand why we just go for the cereal and fruit option.
Don’t get me started on the lunch. Every person who flies into New Zealand has to pay a $3,100 NZD fee to cover their MIQ (Managed Isolation & Quarantine) stay. What do you get for $3,100? Someone rapping on your door with a baton when it’s time for lunch! Just put a hole in my front door, why don’t you?
What’s for lunch? A plastic box filled with something soggy and much condensation, a juice box, and a packet of chips. Or crisps, if you prefer to call them that. What I’d give for some hot chips.
Every day, if we get up early enough to snag a spot, we can walk around the terrace roof for 40 minutes. You can only book 24 hours in advance, and all the spots get reserved pretty quickly, so if you forget to book at 7 a.m. like I did yesterday, then you’ll suffer today and have no outside time whatsoever.
It takes exactly 27 seconds to walk the perimeter of the terrace, which means I usually walk around the terrace close to 90 times every day. 30 of us march around the wooden decking in single file, and there’s always that one weirdo that walks against the tide, staring us all in the face like an animal. Get in line, loser!
This is probably the most disturbing thing I found out of the whole stay. Helicopters would fly overhead, watching us walk around in circles for minutes upon end. We’re all just hamsters on a wheel, going nowhere.
My mood is starting to wane. It was raining today, and I’ve run out of all my long sports leggings, so I had to power-walk my 27-second power circuit in shorts. I also (very intelligently, since I have flown to a country literally named ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’) did not pack a raincoat, and so now I can shiver like a damp dog in my AC-powered ice box for the rest of the day. I hate this place.
I’ve come up with a name for quarantine/managed isolation anxiety. I call it, “The Quari-Worries”. I had to stop reading my book, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, as it was giving me serious Quari-Worries. I wondered if my mental stamina had really become so weak, until I googled some reviews and the book was described, “…the saddest, most upsetting book I have read – perhaps ever. – Cathryn Conroy.” Well thanks, Cathryn, you couldn’t have told me that before I read 400 pages of it in a managed isolation unit?
I have turned up my fridge to the warmest setting, and still it freezes all my food. Want coco pops in the morning? Too bad, you’ll have to wait a full six hours, because your milk has turned into a solid brick! Ordered strawberries from the supermarket yesterday? Sorry, they’ve all gone soft because they froze. Feeling a little parched? You’ll have to use the tap for now, because your sparkling water is now a giant ice cube.
Before you tell me, “Maybe it’s on the wrong setting,” it literally has a warm temperature icon next to it, and I’ve also tried the other extreme setting, which really froze all my food. At least now, if I put it in the good spot by the door, I can just mix the ice shards into my hummus instead of having it as one solid block. If there’s anything I learned from The Queen’s Gambit, it’s strategy.
Since I’m approaching the old age of 26, my back is starting to give me some trouble. There is either the bed to lie down on, or one chair that I can sit in, in which I have been experimenting a variety of poses to keep it interesting. There is also the windowsill, which I occasionally sit on to get the sliver of sunshine at 4 o’clock, in my otherwise dungeon-ous room.
My back pain could also have something to do with the fact that I am trying to master the common handstand, a feat I have never been able to perform, not even when I was six years old, and had all my friends cartwheeling circles around me. I cannot seem to kick up onto the wall (sorry, neighbour), and my back ends up in a lovely little banana shape, before gravity takes hold and my knees end up slamming into the cheap, carpeted floor (sorry, down below!). There’s only one thing for it – more Youtube tutorials.
I have started to debate whether I should experiment with my cooking. We are not allowed any kitchen appliances apart from a kettle, for risk of setting off the fire alarm and having all the guests evacuate. I saw a TikTok of someone cooking a filet of salmon on a clothing iron, and am tempted to make a grilled cheese. Should I risk making a grilled cheese, setting off the fire alarm and making everybody (especially myself) start isolation again from day zero? Forget about the fines and the negative press! …The jury is still out.
I made a grilled cheese with a clothing iron. The smoke alarm did not go off, and I had great engagement on my Instagram stories. Do people think I’m funny, or absolutely unhinged? After 11 (12, if we count day zero) days in self-isolation, I’m starting to doubt my self-confidence. It’s like when you look at a word for too long and all of a sudden, the spelling looks foreign. I’ve been staring at my personality in the metaphorical mirror for what feels like an eon, and now I think I’m ugly, un-talented, weird, and worst of all, un-funny. Had to take a melatonin to stop the nightly Quari-Worries. Fingers crossed my bad-bitch-behaviour makes a reappearance tomorrow.
I am pissed off. First of all, I had to have my second covid test today, and starting your day off with a stick up your nose is akin (perhaps worse) to waking up on the wrong side of the bed. Secondly, two people decided to escape from my facility through the fire escape. Normally, I would be cheering for them, but this coincidentally happened during my 40 minutes of 27-second outside day-dreaming time, and my 40 minutes was cut short. We were sent to our rooms so the military could do a full hotel check to make sure that they hadn’t indeed lost more people through the fire escape. I am pissed off at those two people for cutting my outside time short, but I am more pissed at them for not bringing me along. I, too, would’ve liked a quick trip to Macca’s.
Today is probably the longest day on record. Luckily throughout my time, my days haven’t dragged that much, but today is different. I’m getting out tomorrow.
Rain sure does feel good when you’re not in a cage. Handed in my final negative covid test paper to the army as my ticket outta here, fully deliriously grinning and making bad, not-fully-coherent jokes… only to exit into good old Auckland city rain. This is what real freedom feels like, baby!
A quick thank you to the staff at the Grand Millennium (especially you Mister Breakfast Man, when you whack those doors with your big, bad, baseball bat); I love you, but I’m never coming back. Peace.
Feature image via The 1975