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Resiliency and Gratitude: Two people who know how to be mentally tough

What would you do to get back home?

This is Part 2 of the story about two people in my family who were caught off guard away from their homes in March by the pandemic.

Their story is one that will inspire you. If you didn’t have a chance, you’ll want to read Part 1 of the piece I wrote about how they got stranded. You can read it here

 Bev

She waited and waited for months for a possible opening to fly to Vanuatu, her new home.

The borders to this tiny country with no covid have been closed since March.

In September, a repatriation flight from Auckland opened up.

It took a boatload of emails and phone calls to the Vanuatu government and the New Zealand government in order to coordinate the tricky business of getting Bev on that flight. Stephanie, Bev's daughter, worked hours and hours to get clearance for Bev to fly.

There were so many on and then off again moments...for weeks until they knew that Bev was approved for the flight. 

It took 70 hours to fly around the world

Bev strategically booked her flights from Halifax, Canada. Everything had to be coordinated with the repatriation flight without having more than a 24-hour layover in Auckland, where she would board the special flight.

Her epic journey began on September 23, in Halifax, very early in the morning.

Bev began the trip by flying to Montreal and although she was the first person in line at the check-in counter, the airline questioned her paperwork.

After haggling with airline employees for 3 hours, she was issued her ticket and then raced through security…the last passenger to board.

All passengers were required to wear not only a mask but a face shield for the entire 14-hour flight to Doha, Qatar.

Keep in mind Bev had broken her back in January so she also was wearing a back brace.

She landed in Doha and faced a 7-hour layover before the next flight.

Doha to Auckland was a grueling 18 hours.

Yes, you heard that right. 18 flippin' hours!

Again, with face mask, face shield, and back brace.

For me, this flight alone would top my list for the most brutal flight of the world.

Imagine flying again after the previous 14-hour flight!

In Auckland, Bev texted she was so happy to be in the same hemisphere as Vanuatu. Is this hardcore or what???

Bev texted, “it wasn’t too bad because I could lay down since no one was sitting next to me.”

Once in Auckland, she waited another 7 hours to board the repatriation flight which was primarily for seasonal workers who had been caught in New Zealand during the pandemic. 

She waited in the holding area. Her choices for food were only vending machines.

Here you can see her after a zillion miles of flying holding a flat white (coffee) and a KitKat. And she was happy about it!!!!

Landing in Vanuatu

The journey was not over.

On arrival, Bev and the rest of the passengers began the 14-day quarantine. They were escorted to the hotel by police from the airport.

 On arrival, Bev posted a photo of her room which overlooked a beautiful lagoon.

I was able to Facetime with her and though she looked tired, she was smiling and ecstatic to be at her final destination.

She talked about how happy she was to be there and how beautiful her room was.

During her time in the small hotel room, three times a week, she was allowed a small package from the outside world.

Byron, Bev's husband, (who had been waiting for months for her arrival), would bring her a French pastry, a flat white, and beautiful tropical flowers.

He’d drop them off in the hotel lobby without being able to see her. (How’s that for romantic?)

Bev wasn’t allowed out of her hotel room for 5 days.  She was given a Covid test and tested negative which allowed her to be outside for 20 minutes per day. 

Every day she walked down near the lagoon with a security guard who made sure she didn’t wander away.

Once again, Bev texted in her positive way that she was thrilled to be able to go outside, if only for 20 minutes a day.

One day Byron brought the grandkids on a paddleboard on the lagoon near her room at the hotel. He had figured out the approximate time when she was allowed 20 minutes outside time.

They were close but not that close and Bev could hear the guard say, “get back.”  

For Bev, she didn’t mind because she could see her family.

Another day, Stephanie was able to join them. 

Two weeks later, Bev was released from the hotel.

Imagine the moment Bev was able to see her husband whom she hadn’t seen since February and to be able to see her daughter and hug all 3 of her grandchildren.

It must have seemed surreal.

The journey had been 70 hours, 14 days, and hours upon hours of waiting.

Do you know what’s the most impressive thing of all?

I never heard Bev complain, whine, get worried, or express how hard it was. Not once.

The only thing I continuously heard from her was deep gratitude and always a cheerful, positive comment about her situation.

 Andrew

The journey had begun on March 15 when he left Fiji after a family gathering to celebrate my 70th birthday. You can read the story here.

Like Bev, Andrew had been caught off guard when Vanuatu and other nations closed their borders unexpectedly due to the pandemic

Andrew was stuck on his company's barge, the Ocean Chief, on a tiny island..one of the least visited countries in the world. Tuvalu. 

The islands of Tuvalu are extremely remote and near the equator where the heat is oppressive.

Andrew told me that when the ship was underway the heat from the engines combined with the humidity was nearly unbearable. He laughed that he sweated constantly.

"It’s a bit of a surreal feeling to be sailing in these waters knowing that if something happened there wouldn’t be anyone coming to help you. Truly you are alone..." Andrew wrote in a story about this time.  

It had been endless days and weeks of boredom…the day to day work on the ship, carrying supplies to the outer islands, and waking up and going through the monotonous routine of the same thing every day.

They had nonexistent fresh foods…no fruit or vegetables and no ability to receive letters or packages. Andrew did have access to the internet at various times so I was able to Facetime with him and text.

He grew a long beard, resembling Tom Hanks from the movie, Castaway. He was proud of it and laughed when he said his beard was "face art" and that it marked the days he'd been in Tuvalu.

He found some joy fishing and was proud of his many catches, including a shark that had swallowed the tuna on his line. It took a few hours with a rope tied around his waist to get the shark in the boat.

These are the stories mothers should never hear about. 

With each of our Facetime conversations, I asked Andrew how he handled being stuck there and each time he’d say, "well, Mom, I don’t have any other choice. It is what it is."

No complaining, only resignation, and determination to survive.

I knew he was missing his wife and his 3 young children. And I worried whenever we facetimed.  I’d see his eyes which looked dull and lifeless, most likely from the poor diet sans fresh vegetables. It was hard to see him like that. 

I didn’t hear him complain. Not once.  He did not mention the loneliness, and the boredom he must have felt. 

Afterward I learned of dicey moments on the Ocean Chief. Apparently, they ran out of water on one of the trips to the other islands.

Once Andrew got a fishbone caught in his throat which could have required medical intervention or worse yet choking. One of his crewmembers saved him by slapping him on the back. 

A crewmember, Salendra, had an accident causing a blood clot in his chest cavity. 

It was serious and Salendra nearly gave up, believing he would die on this small island far away from his family.

The medical care was extremely limited and despite the island having a hospital. They were totally unequipped to deal with anything serious. The only treatment they could offer was aspirin.

Andrew spent the night next to Salendra in the tiny island hospital on a bed with only wooden slats…no mattress. He talked through the night to Salendra who was in obvious pain, consoling him, and instilling in him a will to live.

Andrew reassured him that he would be able to get back to his family and his home in Fiji.

That was July.

(Fortunately, Andrew was able to arrange for a seat on a repatriation flight in late September once the planes flew again so that he could get proper medical care.) Salendra is fine now and back with his family. 

It was a difficult decision for Andrew to leave Tuvalu and return to Vanuatu. 

As the owner of his shipping company, Ocean Logistics, Andrew knew it would be tough on return since work was scarce and the economy had been devastated in Vanuatu. 

There were numerous goodbyes and farewells to the Tuvaluans and the Chinese workers they partnered with on the days leading up to their departure.

Some of the workers on the ship had been away for an entire year. I wondered what the moment was like for all of them on the day they left.

I imagine there were mixed emotions but happiness all around to be able to return home. 

Andrew sent a video of Ronald, one of the Ni-Vanuatu crewmembers who said he was grateful for the opportunity to work for Ocean Logistics and that he now had more money than he had ever had in his life.

Returning to Vanuatu

The journey on the sea took 8 days. 

Click on the image above to see the video of the barge sailing home. 

The 14-day quarantine began when they left the harbor in Tuvalu.

 When they reached Vanuatu, they had 8 days left of quarantine, the barge moored in the Port Vila harbor. 

I can't imagine what it would be like to see your children through binoculars from the barge, standing on the waterfront, trying to see dad in the harbor.

Being that close and yet still far away…those 8 days of waiting in the harbor after waiting and waiting for months must have been excruciating. They were even extended for a day!

When I spoke to Andrew, he told me that he had waited this long, he could do a few more days.

The reunion was magical.

The kids were so excited to see their dad, even with his huge scratchy black beard. 

Click on this pic to see the video of Andrew getting off the ship

I imagine there were a few tears and many smiles that day.

I don’t know how things work in the world but I’m fascinated by how it happened, without planning, that both of these people arrived basically at the same time back in Vanuatu.  

Andrew got off the ship just days before Bev was released from quarantine.

They couldn’t have planned to arrive at the same time even if they had wanted to as there were no flights in or out of Vanuatu. Until the repatriation flights.

 Neither of them could have predicted their fate of being stuck.

 Still to this day, Vanuatu remains Covid free

The virus could decimate the population since they also have limited medical care. I believe there is one ventilator for the entire country.

I have deep gratitude that these 2 people I love have made it back. I wonder if I could have had the resiliency to weather the hardships that they did and not complain.

Once again, I take lessons from each of them having to do the impossible…keeping positive in very challenging and uncomfortable situations.

I believe everyone is resilient. I'm unsure whether some of us would do this kind of challenge without complaining. 

We all can learn from role models like Bev and Andrew who are incredibly mentally tough to help us through moments in our lives.

Andrew and Bev are the people I want to be with just in case I’m ever stranded somewhere.

OVER TO YOU:

When have you faced adversity and how did you handle it?

Who are your role models for mental toughness and resilience?

I challenge you to tell them today how they have inspired you and how you've seen them being mentally tough. 

Hit reply and let me know. We all need to hear stories of resilience and courage.

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