7 lessons learned while locked down abroad

While millions here in South Africa were learning to adjust to working from home for the first time, Stellenbosch author Dr Mariheca Otto spent nearly eight weeks in Bali with her four children in South Africa and only a cell phone to run her business. 

Many are unaware of the large number of people stuck in foreign countries right now, prevented from travelling by the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic. In many countries, by the time it was communicated with those abroad that it was necessary to fly home immediately, it was already too late to make such arrangements: most airlines had already cancelled the majority of their flights, and numerous countries had shut their borders indefinitely. Localised lockdowns and curfews mean that in most countries even overland, domestic travel can be impossible.

Sitting at home while trying to negotiate refunds or travel insurance pay-outs for a cancelled trip is one thing. Being stuck in a foreign country unable to get home to your children is another order of stress altogether. The pandemic has been a scary time for most, but for Dr Mariheca it’s been a true paradigm shift. 

Growth through adversity

It is safe to say Dr Mariheca’s experience over the last few weeks is a timely topic.  We caught up with her to find out how she learned to not only function but be happy while overcoming the emotional challenges of being under lockdown in a foreign country. 

“Dealing with my own feelings of guilt and shame was my most uncomfortable lesson. I was so angry with myself for taking the chance to go. I didn’t realise that things would move so fast in SA when Indonesia was so much more relaxed. I had to forgive myself. I had to think: “I might have made a mistake, but I’m here now and it’s okay.” The constant love and support of friends and family pulled me through. I have had three hugs in eight weeks, people are deprived of physical touch during this time. Love each other in whatever ways you can.

Changing business in a time of change

“Being stuck in Bali forced the transition and made the need to adapt just more acute. Where the majority of our business came from ‘selling time’ physically in workshops/coaching and consultations, we had to make the shift to an online reality – and really focusing on the online products that could be of use to many other consultants and clients. 

Like so many other businesses, we had to move fully online – consulting, surveys, feedback etc. We’re launching the new Motto Gender Perception Tool, diverse teams are 100% more productive than homogenous teams. So building a business that facilitates gender diversity and inclusion is a business no-brainer.”

Dr Mariheca Otto spent 8 weeks locked down in Bali
“It was a very sudden shift – a massive shock, realising that I will not be able to be with my kids and partner was the biggest shock. Then the realisation that I still need to run my business and generate an income remotely whilst trying to get out of Bali and back home, made it all quite surreal.”
“The mindset about the pandemic is different in Bali – They are far less fearful of the virus, but their economy is really struggling – tourism is their main income driver and of course it is practically standing still, so people are really hungry (not too dissimilar from what is going on in SA unfortunately).”

7 Lessons from lockdown in a foreign country

  • Where is home really?

Home is where you belong, it’s not a place. It’s not being stuck in a place you can’t get out of.  Home is being connected to the people who bring you joy and life.

  • You are what you eat

I went to Bali for a yoga retreat to take some time out, have a break and be healthy. My eating habits changed in the first weeks, drinking kombucha and green tea – detoxing on a physical level.  I had my first glass of wine for the first time in two months. This period has forced us to look at ourselves – what’s not helpful, what needs changing.  Our diet is one of these.  A lot of people are being so creative with their food and cooking during lockdown, now is a good time to develop healthy habits and a good time to experiment with food and cooking.

  • Pray

Meditations and stillness saved me.  Incredibly grateful that the yoga teacher was able to meditate with me every day to calm down and to manage my own anxieties and fears.  I have been revising resilience drivers – I know resilience was resourcefulness, connectedness etc, but didn’t know that part of the resilience is spirituality and being able to connect in some way – irrespective of religious affiliation.  Resilience is about being still and connecting with yourself.

  • Yoga

The yoga was phenomenal. In SA before the government introduced the early morning window of exercise, people were really suffering and unable to direct their energy. There was no outlet for energy.  Connecting with myself via exercise gives me the opportunity to be healthy, creating the energy to do what you need to do. Skip, ride, meditate, run, walk, something sustainable for at least 20 minutes every day.

  • Stay positive

I realised early on, people struggle because they get exposed to negative views.  It’s toxic and very unhealthy. Negativity spreads like the virus.  It creates fear.  Look at the lenses you view through. I was shocked at how different people look at the same situation completely differently.

  • Show courage, show love

It took courage to be myself every day to show up on social media. It takes courage to sit at home, trying to work, homeschooling one’s kids and cleaning house.  Be real. When you’re working with your staff who are working at home,  show them empathy, tell them you are also struggling and give people hope and direction – something to hold onto. It takes courage to show up every day.

  • We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow

There is so much uncertainty. “Not sure what’s going to happen tomorrow, but what can I do now?” People are lacking a feeling of empowerment. Relax into the uncertainty. If you’re clear on your direction and your intent, focus on that. 

After 8 weeks in Bali, Dr Mariheca returned to South Africa where she spent a further 10 weeks in quarantine. She has since been allowed to return home her family.

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