The Long Way Home: 21 Days in Tanoa (Part VI)
The final piece to the Long Way Home series, Part VI, will be about the general quarantine experience. I still think 21 days quarantine in Tonga is too much, considering that most countries enforce only 14 days quarantine, a majority of the repatriated passengers are coming from low-Covid risk countries such as Australia or New Zealand, and everyone MUST provide a certified negative Covid test before we can even board the repatriation flight. Tonga Government just likes doing things in an excessively complicated and somewhat redundant way I guess. You can't teach old dogs new tricks. 🤷♀️🙄🙄
Putting all that bureaucracy aside, I thought it was an interesting experience to quarantine in Tonga. I know from my own work experience (in the Public sector) that the top people who create the long-ass fakapiko-ass processes and make the decisions are different from those who have to carry out the actual heavy lifting at the ground level. In saying that, I have so much gratitude and respect for the staff who did the heavy lifting at the quarantine facility, namely all the Health staff, nurses and doctors and the HMAF & TFES staff. Malo lahi e ngaue! And now, moving on to what the actual blog should be about 😂
Daily Temperature check
Temperature checks are done to monitor symptoms of Covid-19. The mandatory temperature check is done every morning, usually between 10 am- 11 am.
Two nurse staff will knock on your room door when it's your turn to get your temperature checked. They were always polite and cheery and worked pretty quickly.
One staff would take your temperature, and the other would record it on their clipboard notes. They would also ask if you need anything in your room (extra water, toilet paper, rubbish bags etc.). If there is anything you need, they will deliver it to your room a few hours later (because they're short-staffed and you have to be patient.) On that note, don't wait until you're absolutely out of toilet paper to request for more, because you really don't know when they'll deliver it to your room. Request before you run out!
Care Packages from Home
We were allowed to receive care packages from our families three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Staff will call in the evening to check with us whether we will be receiving a package and if there are any non-allowable items we are expecting (List below).
Anything that is not on the list has to be pre-approved by the staff, who will inform the HMAF staff who will be receiving and checking all the care packages. (In my case, I had to request approval for clothes pegs/ pine taufo and laundry powder/omo)
We can receive packages, but we can't send out anything (like souvenirs, NZ candies or chocolates) from the quarantine facility to our families. We have to hang on to all our things until the end of the 21 days quarantine.
The reason why cooked foods are not allowed is that the package checking takes a long time and there is a high chance the food would spoil. My mum said she dropped off a package for me once at 12 noon-ish (it was snacks and veggies), but the package was delivered to my room at 8:00 pm (yes, it's that slow).
Personal opinion but I think they should revise that guideline again and expand the allowable items to include laundry items, but more on that below.
Laundry and Linen changes
Unfortunately, there are no complimentary laundry services available at Tanoa
Quarantine. We were told we can do laundry in our rooms and hang it on the balconies. However, if our clothes were blown away by the wind to the floor below, it would be considered hazardous waste to be incinerated (No lie, that's what they said in the debrief😂). With the laundry powder and clothes pegs I received in my care package from home, that picture basically shows how we did laundry during the 21 days quarantine.
Sidenote but can you imagine being in quarantine with small kids who have no autonomy over their bodily functions and will make lots of dirty clothes? Tiny kids will spill things, pee, puke and shit on themselves a lot so I reckon families with small kids at least should have access to hotel laundry services during their 21 days quarantine stay. He'ilo. Just a thought. Moving on.
There was spare linen set in the closet, and we were told we can only change it on Day 10 of quarantine. (In NZ MIQ, we'd receive clean linen change every 3 days but oh well). We were required to place the dirty linen in a black trash bag and leave it outside our rooms by the evening.
In the room we were in, there was only one linen set in the closet, so my roommate used it while I requested for one. I received my linen change three days later because staff told me there is a linen shortage as hotel linen laundry wasn't done yet. Just a minor inconvenience but again, reminding myself this is Tonga 😂
Surprisingly, the food in Tonga Quarantine wasn't that bad. If anything, I thought it was pretty good! The breakfasts were pretty generous, compared to the cereal or pastry option we were given in NZ MIQ. If there is one thing that Tonga quarantine has done better than NZ MIQ, it's definitely the breakfasts for me!
For the lunches and dinners, I thought that they could have served a little more vegetables (that's a personal preference though). Other than that, we were served flavourful meals with generous portion sizes (That's what I thought anyway). I liked that every Sunday in quarantine, we had luu pulumasima. On Mother's Day Sunday, there was a cute note on the food containers wishing Mothers (in quarantine and at home) a wonderful day. They probably couldn't be arsed to repeat that on Father's day as there was no note that Sunday. 😂😂 Nonetheless, food was good. Malo ma'u me'akai!
While the meals in itself in quarantine was good, if there was one thing that could be improved, it would be for more consistent meal delivery times. Breakfast was consistently delivered by 8:00 am, but lunches and dinners really varied. Sometimes we'd get lunch at 12:30 pm or 1:30 pm. There were a few times it would be 2:30 pm (yes, that's basically supper 😂). Dinners would sometimes be delivered from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm. ( I don't know about you but I don't like eating after 8:00 pm 😂) I guess it depends on the cooking times of the food/what kind of food we're getting that day. At the same time, I guess it's better we get served well-cooked food late than to receive hastily prepared undercooked foods. Hmmmm.🤷
How to kill time for 21 days
If you'd read Part V, I mentioned how you're not allowed to leave your rooms at all (unless you're a smoker). Unless you're an absolutely unimaginative person, there are still ways you can keep yourself entertained in the 21 days quarantine.
There was fast internet at Tanoa. So, I watched anime, YouTube and took free online courses ( FutureLearn: https://www.futurelearn.com/ OR EDX: https://www.edx.org/)
I worked out 5 days a week on the balcony in the early mornings and in the evenings (a rather unsuccessful attempt in trying to work off the beer belly I'd developed in NZ 🤣)
You are given a free Ucall Sim card, so you can talk and text your friends and family.
Just sleep if that's more your thing. You do you.
The check-out process is just as long as the check-in process I'd written about in Part V.
The staff will knock on your door to let you know an estimated time of when check-out will start.
They will ask you to pack your bags and leave them outside your room for the staff to take down to the lobby. In the meantime, you are required to clean your room, bathroom, fridge etc and remove the linen from the beds.
Afterwards, everyone will be required to assemble in the lobby area. The staff will then call out the passengers one-by-one when their pick-up arrives (this takes 3-4 hours of waiting again).
The staff will help you with your luggage and get them placed at the entrance for easy loading onto your vehicle.
Pick up vehicles can drive in through the front Tanoa entrance and the passengers need to get into their vehicle as quickly as possible to not block space. (Some people started doing those crying feiloakis and blocked the way for other passengers queuing for their pick-up. We get that you're excited to see your family, but you're blocking everyone elses' way so please move along quickly).
And that's that for Tonga quarantine. ✌️✌️
To be honest, while I was excited to be back home in Tonga, I really truly wasn't looking forward to the 21 days quarantine in Tonga (who in their right mind would?). As I said before, not only do I feel that 21 days is unnecessarily long, but I also didn't really understand the reason why it had to be that long because most countries require only 14 days 🤷🤷.
However, I do understand (to an extent) that these measures are put in place in light of the limited availability of resources and capacity in Tonga. In saying that, again, I recognize and appreciate the effort of the front-line staff working in the Airport and the Quarantine facility. Malo lahi e ngaue!
As the Long Way Home series end with this blog post, I reflect on the unexpectedly long and at times challenging journey I had to take to get back home. I was all by myself in London at the height of the pandemic and went through multiple lockdowns in London. As a natural introvert (who is very good at looking like an extrovert 😅 😂) being all by myself in London for so long made me lose 90% of the little social skills I had 😅 😂. While I feel I recovered some social skills when I was in NZ, being back in Tonga quarantine for another 21 days and only seeing my roommate made me lose all I regained when I was in NZ 😅 😂.
If you see me out there somewhere in Nuku'alofa and I seem a little standoffish (or if you know me, and I'm more standoffish than usual😅 😂), that's me still kinda struggling to adapt back to life in Tonga. Kinda struggling to get used to feiloaki and hugging people again and kinda struggling to get used to being in an enclosed space with more than 5 people again after social distancing for so long. It still feels weird that I don't need to wear a mask when I leave the house and that I don't have to use a hand sanitiser every 10 seconds. I still couldn't get over it, even when I was in NZ. At the back of my mind, I still have the anxious thought that I could get Covid every time I step outside of the house, but that's a thought I need to get rid of as I try to remember what life was like before and what life in Tonga is supposed to be.
I've taken the long way home to get back to where I belong but it's still gonna be a long time for me to feel normal again. Whatever the fuck normal is, because I really don't remember that either 😂😂.
Anyway, thank you for reading the last chapter to the #LongWayHome series. Until next time. Tu'a 'ofa