“If you’re looking for a story about suffering, I don’t think I have one for you” Lorraine teasingly laughs, her eyes gleaming with warmth and invitation. “I mean, look at this view. Look at this. I almost feel guilty that I get to have this.
“We went into lockdown straight away. Immediately we went into level four lockdown. We have four levels here. Level 4 means you stay home, and all of the businesses and restaurants close. I think they took all the precedented advice from other countries and went straight into a four-week lockdown. Right now, we’re at Level 1, being aware of the lockdown – and that’s about it. There are only cases on the borders. A few community breakouts in Auckland, meaning the rest of us went into Level 2. Auckland went into Level 3. But they smashed out those in a matter of two weeks. A few cases trickled in on the border, but then they go into strict isolation paid by the government. I do think controlling it in New Zealand works effectively, because it’s an island, and it’s easy to restrict people. But there’s no foreseeable time when people will be let back in. Only New Zealand citizens are allowed in, and essential workers. During the lockdown, everyone who was a New Zealand citizen, resident or employed on a temporary visa received the government subsidy weekly, without question. Everyone was economically sound. Which meant that when the lockdown was over, everyone was able to contribute back into the economy again. That being said – Queenstown was hit the worst. There is a darker side to this situation. Queenstown is run on workers who hold temporary visas. Tourism is the main industry. So when suddenly so many businesses were out of work, and because they rely mainly on employing backpackers, there was a problem because there was no money coming in to be able to pay these employees. This occurred primarily in the tourism and hospitality industries, which are the main industries here in Queenstown.
The issue was, when you were entitled to receive a government subsidy (through employment) you were okay, but so many immigrants and travellers were let go from their workplaces, and then had no money and nowhere to go, and were unable to leave the country. Meaning, thousands of people were stuck. But a lot of people were reaching out. A lot of locals came together, and the salvation army and food banks were trying to help these skilled and capable young people out. There were a lot of people waiting on expatriate flights, so then some people ended up having to leave.” At this point in our conversation, my mind wandered back to another moment in time, back to where our paths had originally crossed. Having met Lorraine while working in the hospitality industry in the mountain resort town of Whistler, British Columbia, Canada – my heart fell heavy hearing this scene. I drew parallels in my mind, while sketching my way back to this present moment. “At my workplace it was really hard as well, because our employers didn’t even know themselves what was going to happen, so they couldn’t tell us what was going on either. We all just kept coming in every week not really knowing what was happening. It became a constant stress in the back of my mind when everything was so uncertain, when you’re watching the news and the numbers just rise and rise and rise, and then suddenly you’re not working for 4 weeks. You think, ‘I’m gonna get back to work, and I’m going to lose my job, because after four weeks there will be no work.’ I’m applying for my residency through my work. At times, the thought that I could lose it was terrifying. You know the world is going to get affected economically accordingly. If I lost my visa, I would have lost everything that I have built up here, my life here. Because if I left and had to go back to Ireland, I wouldn’t be able to get back into New Zealand. I have a temporary visa (essential skills visa) through my work, meaning that I can only work through my employer doing graphic design. If I lose my work, I lose my visa as well. I’m currently waiting on my permanent residency. My partner is a Kiwi, so our backup plan was that we could apply for my residency through him if we needed to. Normally the time for residency is 5-7 months (for skilled migrants), but now because of a crazy backlog, people are waiting longer - for up to 2 years.
I remember when it originally all started happening, we were supposed to go to a festival. One week my biggest worry was, ‘I wonder if I could go to the festival,’ and then three days later I went to worrying, ‘what if I lose my life here’. That’s a pretty bizarre realization. Eventually (when the Level 4 lockdown lifted) what ending up happening – which no one expected – is that all of the Kiwis came to Queenstown for holidays. Suddenly, all of the hotels were loaded with Kiwi tourists, and all of the businesses were running. All of a sudden, the entire town was understaffed. We became just crazy busy at my workplace. The industry I work in is signage and promotion, and what businesses needed as a result of the influx of supporting locals and vacationers was promotional services and advertising - so we just got slammed. Normally I work 4 days per week, but I ended up taking on an extra. Our employer told us he was going to do his best to make sure none of us would lose our jobs. Because a lot of people rely on this job for their visas.” The midnight hours greet me as our conversation flows. I sit, wrapped up in my softest blanket – a cup of tea in hand, while connecting with Lorraine. Her Saturday morning soon to be introduced to noon.
How had she passed the time during the four-week lockdown?
“Well, I made it my job to get up every morning to work out to keep myself sane.
I’d get up, listen to a podcast, and get out to workout. Every single morning without fail I got up and went for a two-hour walk. We are privileged here. We’re surrounded by nature. We were permitted to leave for exercise, to go for a walk/hike within a 7-10km radius of our home, to go to the doctor, or for grocery shopping. I live with my partner, we moved in right before lockdown. We spent so much time cooking. I did a lot of walking, and creative things that I’m interested in. I updated my website, and for any of my friends who had been dreaming of opening a business, I’d make them logos to give them for their future businesses and ambitions for when all of this is over. I found myself catching up with people, doing lots of yoga, lots of running, and sometimes lots of drinking” she laughs.
“It’s like hitting the reset button. Sometimes you just have to have things fall apart, and then start again.
It was actually a really great opportunity to fully rest. I’m a very active person always. For the first time in my life I felt like I had no other choice but to rest. But, like a really deep rest with this crazy underlying uncertainty.
You kind of feel like you’re on two minds the entire time. Planning but not planning. Resting but not resting.
In the back of my mind I was already coming to terms of what would happen if I had to go back to Ireland. Starting from scratch, having no job. I was mentally preparing myself for that.
Because at the same time, when all the numbers were rising and chaos broke out around the whole world, I had a strong sense of having to go home to Ireland to my family. I felt a bit guilty for being here in New Zealand. On one side I feel so privileged being here in New Zealand, but on the other hand I feel really guilty for being here. I felt like I should be home with my family, taking on this battle with them. And I’m not good at dealing with uncertainty. Ever since I was a kid I needed to have a plan. In the beginning days of this, you’d make video calls with your friends and talk about when there might be a vaccine or what will happen - but that doesn’t happen much anymore because nobody really knows. I remember having conversation over the phone with my mom back in Ireland, and her advice to me was 'you can’t make plans anymore or look forward to them. You just have to live day by day, and live in the moment.'
And now it’s like we’re now just watching the entire world deal with uncertainty in a way that it never has before. You can’t make plans anymore. You just have to deal with it, moment by moment. It’s like the entire world has to take on some sense of mindfulness. You just have to completely let go of certainty.”
Lorraine is a graphic designer originally from Cork, Ireland. Currently based in Queenstown, New Zealand.
You can find her portfolio here:
photography by Zac Stoddard (photo 1), Whistler Wedding Films [@whistlerweddingfilms] (photo 2), Atazia Hadjirouseva [@atazia.pavlina] (photo 3)