When the borders closed. Again

I’ve been very brave.

During the last two years I’ve been quiet and accepting about lockdowns and border closures. I know nothing about deadly pandemics and what a country needs to do to protect its people so I watched and listened and I accepted that borders needed to close.

I missed my father in South Africa but took full advantage of technology and we started regular family zoom meetings . Forty minutes of chat — my father, my step-mother, my sisters and me. If we were all on the zoom it was like we were all together. Except the truth is my father is very far away.

I watched countless stories of families separated by borders and I thought I understood how they felt because I too am separated from my father. But still we spoke every week and I got to see my sisters every Sunday and it sort of felt like the family was together. Then at the end of every call when I went to make dinner and my father went to eat breakfast I would realise how far away from each other we actually were, separated by thousands of kilometres and many time zones.

I read about families who didn’t get to celebrate milestones together and I felt so lucky that I had so many treasured visits with my father, he had been to visit us every year, we missed some birthdays but we made up for them when he came to visit. He was here for my son’s bar mitzvah, he was here for my niece’s wedding. But then my niece had a baby and my father couldn’t get to meet his first great grandchild and the distance seemed so big it couldn’t be covered.

We celebrated as we reached higher and higher percentages of a vaccination. My father asked every week about each of our vaccination statuses — he was desperate for us to be safe, he also knew that when everyone was vaccinated there was more chance we could see each other. Every little bit counted. I began to loathe anti-vaxxers in a way I hadn’t known I was capable before. It felt like they were standing in the way of me seeing my father.

And then finally we were there. Vaccinated. Healthy. Borders opening up. We booked the first direct flight out of Australia to South Africa. That flight was due to take off on 4 January. I started counting the days.

I also started to get a bit nervous. Johannesburg has one of the highest murder rates in the world of all cities not at war. The crime is horrific. I lived there. I remember. But I was going to see my father and that was the sole purpose of the trip. I wasn’t going for a holiday or for sight-seeing. I was going to see my 84-year-old father.

Vaccination rates in South Africa are at 23% and I was anxious about that too. But I organised to get a booster and I knew I had to see my father because it’s been way too long and we have missed too much.

And then on Friday morning my phone started to ping with messages. A new strain of the virus. South Africa. Botswana. Travel restrictions. Quarantine. Isolation. Omicron.

All the fear I had about visiting Johannesburg vanished as soon as I knew my trip was being jeopardised. I have to see my father. He needs to see me. This time it feels personal. This time it feels like I’m being prevented from seeing him. Even though all the rules have been in place preventing me from seeing him before, having an opening and then having it taken away feels worse.

I still accept that borders will have to close at times, I still know nothing about global pandemics and how to lead a nation out of one. But I’m not as quiet as before, now I am crying with frustration and sadness and a mixture of emotions that can’t find the way to a page.

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