Moving back to Aotearoa New Zealand

The four of us are sitting outside on a stone garden table with our arms around each other. We're white. My Grandma and great aunt are talking inside the house, visible through the window. It's a sunny day with green hedge and other plants also in the picture.

I’m flying back to Aotearoa tomorrow after moving to Sweden to study followed by a 2.5-year unplanned detour to Norway. I want to leave some reflections here about this particular transition. But I’m struggling to find the words. How can I express the ways that the pandemic’s presence and being dislocated from home and having long covid and Norway’s maskless public and the fact that I’m not flying back to the Aotearoa i left in 2019 all combine?

Norway is my parents’ home for now, and it was in a sense mine as well: I felt safe, loved and supported living with my parents there, I was able to stay there legally (this never to be taken for granted as a disabled immigrant!), and I could access the publicly subsidised healthcare system. But the draw to Aotearoa has always been there too: the knowing that I want to settle there, and that I want to continue putting my energy into disability and other progressive community activism and story-telling there while also connecting and learning from disabled kin internationally. I also felt out of place having arrived in Norway while becoming chronically ill during a pandemic, having thus connected very little with the land and communities geographically surrounding me.

So moving back is a welcome homecoming of sorts. But it’s complicated. In 2019, I left the country that my core family lived in and am returning to it with my mum temporarily accompanying me but where my parents and brother no longer live. I left a country which, in 2019 was blissfully unaware what 2020 had in store, and am arriving to a pandemic response which is heading increasingly in the direction of Scandinavia’s individualism and general failure to give a shit about the wellbeing of people at highest risk. I left a country in which I grew up healthy, and am returning with a chronic illness, where my energy, physical activity and diet are very restricted with substantive impact on my life and routines. I left a country where the undercurrents of misinformation and alt right extremism were in the shadows, and am returning to one where they exist unashamedly in daylight.

Equally, I come back enriched from so many spaces of conversation and community especially with disabled pals in these last three years. Thank God for getting sick in the smartphone era. So, so many voice message conversations on Whatsapp with friends, probably about half of whom I’ve never met in person. Thank you, all of you. Also, many connections were nurtured for me through podcast and story-telling convesations, friends finding/creating remote work for me without me asking, the European Network on Independent Living team, climate and disability advocates, and migrant/disability and Green Party communities back in Aotearoa among others.

I also come back feeling a deeper connection and appreciation than I did previously for my disabled identity. In some ways, being previously disabled and enmeshed in disability politics made it tricky for me to process how long Covid changed my experience of disability, given that most of the 2020 first-wavers with LC I was in support groups with weren’t disabled before. But, that caveat aside, I’m so grateful that LC was not the first time I became disabled. I had plenty to learn about the lived experience of chronic illness, but I could do that from a position of feeling grounded in this pre-existing identity. Now I am disabled by social prejudices, by the invisibilising of chronic illness, and by the unpredictability of my body-mind. But at least on the better days, I can counter ableism and join in collective power from this position.

I return, too, with the Masters I set out to get, back those long three years ago. The thesis took 17 months instead of three, and it never would have gotten done without my parent’s practical and emotional support. The social media hashtag #WhyDisabledPeopleDropOut is a thing for so many reasons. No matter that I’m pretty persistent, dropping out easily would have been me if I didn’t have other privileges, including housing and financial ones.

Liam and I on a living room couch looking delighted, our arms around each other. Liam is almost a foot taller than me. In the background, there happens to be a framed photo of my dad and my uncle as very small children.
My brother Liam and I

I’ve spent the past month in Ireland with family. This house of my grandma’s is another home for me. It is invariably where my dad’s side of the family converge, and over the years I’ve spent many a happy Christmas heere. I caught up with my brother and his girlfriend who both made the trip over from Canada, as well as the wider family across the generations (ages 6 to 92).

Tomorrow, the next transition begins. I guess I found words for parts of its complexity. That said, this post looks very different to its first version. That one read more like a therapy journal stream of consciousness, through the disorientation of pandemic time, long Covid time with so many physical and mental symptoms, lots of living from bed, the disorientation of landing up somewhere unplanned while also being very privileged, way more summer heat than my body wanted–thanks climate breakdown, the pain of knowing I’d be leaving this part of the world without seeing my friends based here again for the foreseeable future, the unsettledness of everything, how despondent and mad I felt when Scandinavia axed all its Covid restrictions for good while Omicron was taking off last January… Maybee those facets of life, so present and so hard to pin down, will always resist coherency.

The coherency won’t magically return in moving to Aotearoa, much as I’d like it to! The adjusting will be messy. But this time, much as I will miss my family, the journey is my choice. I’m moving back to where my heart tells me to be and I know I’ll find home on the other side.


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