• Countries Visited: About 50
  • Travel Wishlist: Iran, Russia, Peru
  • Locked down in: The Republic of Georgia

“Every day during the lockdown, I told myself how lucky we were. If I had still been in Brisbane I would have really struggled

Gamarjoba (Hello)! I was a bit hesitant when James asked me to talk about my coronavirus experience as I feel very lucky! However, perhaps my story will put a smile on your face and maybe even get a laugh or two.

Kazbegi, Georgia

I guess I’ll start from mid-October 2019. I had returned home after spending two months working on Survivor (as one of James’ underlings!). My partner and I had decided to settle down in Australia after about four years of living and travelling overseas. We were getting married in February and wanted to create a ‘home’ for ourselves.

For some reason, we thought we’d try Darwin, so we flew up there to check it out. The day we arrived was the hottest October day on record. Long story short, we decided to just enjoy Darwin as tourists and considered moving somewhere in Queensland.

While living in Asia, I had volunteered for a number of NGOs and social enterprises, but my confidence in finding a job back home was low. I actually sent out my CV to about a hundred places with no luck.

Then my partner came to me with a different idea – she thought we should move to Georgia! I was a bit shocked at first, considering how much time we had spent discussing a life back in Australia, but I thought, well why not! We had travelled to Georgia twice before and loved it. We came up with a plan of action that involved coming back to Australia eventually so I could go back to university to do a nursing degree.

I was still looking for work, as we wouldn’t be leaving for Georgia until February 2020 and I needed to bring some money in. I finally got a call back for a removalist position. Not exactly what I had envisioned, but I was happy to take anything. The interview was basically a quick introduction and then I got handed the contract. It was a brutal job, but the overtime pay was great and I worked with some really interesting characters.

As that was going on, I was having some medical problems and the doctor was concerned about my renal function and booked me in to have a kidney biopsy. I’ve learned to roll with the punches in recent years after I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, so I had the mindset that whatever happened, I just have to deal with it the best way I could.

A strange set of circumstances involved me telling my boss that I needed time off for the test and him telling me that he also had Ulcerative Colitis and his medication had damaged his kidneys to the point where he had to get a transplant. That was a surreal moment! I’ll fast-forward a little bit here, but I was told at the hospital that I had chronic kidney disease and then about a week later, I was told that I didn’t. It was a miracle! Our trip to Georgia was in jeopardy because of my health problems and we were considering delaying things, but after some very encouraging words from the doctor, we booked flights for two days after our wedding.

It was about this time that word of the coronavirus was spreading (no pun intended). Although the conditions were bad in Wuhan, it had only just arrived on Australian shores. At this stage no one I knew was thinking of changing travel plans unless they were going to China.

Everything was set for our trip and I’d even hooked up an online teaching job for when I arrived in Georgia. We got married on February 1st and then set off. Over the next few weeks we received more and more news about what was happening back in Australia and in other places around the world. It actually looked like Georgia was one of the safest places to be.

Eventually we started hearing about cases in the country. It was a guessing game for everyone at this stage and people weren’t sure what to do. I bought some vitamin C and D from the pharmacy, used hand sanitiser and washed my hands as I sang Happy Birthday twice. The thought of heading back to Australia crossed our minds, but it seemed like the process would be too risky. The only thing we were concerned about was if something happened to our parents or family members and we wouldn’t be able to come back at all if conditions worsened. We decided it would be better in the end to stay put, wait it out, and hope that our family and friends would be ok.

As the cases began to rise and predictions of a lockdown in Georgia began to circulate, my wife and I decided to head to the seaside city of Batumi and hunker down. Georgia had already closed schools and soon after arriving in Batumi, there was a curfew and restaurants and many businesses were forced to shut. Every day during the lockdown I told myself how lucky we were. If I had still been in Brisbane, I would have really struggled. The timing was insane, if we had delayed anything we would have been put in a difficult position.

Wedding Day!

Over the period of the lockdown we made the most of the time by working, cooking and exercising. We walked to the supermarket about once or twice a week. We donned a mask, got our temperature checked, had hand sanitiser squirted on us and then put plastic gloves on and kept our distance from other shoppers. I was continuing to work online teaching adults in China. It was interesting to hear their experiences in lockdown, but also their determination to improve themselves during the period by learning English. Although I was really nervous the first week or so of teaching, I started to really enjoy it. I’ve struck up good relationships with many of my private students.

I should tell you that I am an introvert, so the difference between the lockdown we were experiencing and normal life wasn’t that dramatic. Being overseas for four years, the number of friends I keep in contact with has dwindled. The lockdown, however, did make me think about my relationships a bit more. I don’t drink anymore because of my Ulcerative Colitis and I’m in a much better place mentally because I moved on from my previous life as a touring musician and because of the support of my wife and her encouragement. Again, I feel very lucky to be in the position I am in now while the pandemic is unfolding.

After a few months, the number of infections in Georgia were starting to go down and the government started to allow businesses to reopen. Every two weeks a new type of business was allowed to open. There were so many people out on the seaside boulevard walking – I think they were all glad to have some sense of normalcy back. I got asked to join a boxing group when I was exercising outside one day and actually really enjoyed the social interaction. Since then I’ve even joined a band. Maybe the lockdown had more of an effect on me than I thought. 

Fight club in Batumi!

My wife and I were able to travel within the country again, but we still wanted to play it safe, so we took advantage of an offer to go and help out a guesthouse and community project in a regional area in Georgia. Things were looking good and although we still had to wear masks indoors, everything was now open.

About two or three weeks ago, though, the situation started to change and the numbers have started to rise again. We didn’t want to get stuck, so we decided to head back to Tbilisi (the capital city) and lock in some more long-term accommodation.

The government thinks it can handle this second wave in terms of hospital admissions, so we’ll see what happens. Their strategy now is to place regulations on specific areas where there is an outbreak and to increase testing. We’ll see what happens over the next couple of weeks.

Tbilisi, Georgia

In terms of the future, we’re still considering our options. We are used to changing plans and the coronavirus just adds another dimension to that. For now, we are starting to learn Georgian and wondering just how long we’ll end up staying here. We’ll try to focus on the things we can control.

If you got this far, I hope you enjoyed my story. I look forward to reading other stories on this site and I hope that for those who are having a difficult time during this pandemic that it can serve as some therapy for you.