I still can’t believe that Covid happened to the world. I can’t believe that my entire family got it. We know people who lost their lives to it, their jobs, their businesses. Everything has changed for most of us, and I still haven’t come to terms with it all. I remember that at this time last year, everyone was watching Tiger King and making banana bread. Cigarettes and alcohol was banned and everything was closed. I missed iced coffee the most. Any kind of takeaway coffee, really. I remember helping the boys with homeschooling, being really down and not even being allowed to walk my dogs. Sometimes we were allowed to walk them between like, 7 and 9am or something. I remember that their favourite park was so crowded that you couldn’t pass people and the dogs could hardly break a trot it was so busy.
At this time, Francois and I were both working mostly in tourism and hospitality. Him with his own business (a tour company) and me as mostly a freelancer. We also own and run a guesthouse in Stanford. I remember how ‘those’ calls and emails started trickling in… “The bookings have gone down” to “There are no bookings at all”. I remember my clients closing their doors – some temporarily, not knowing that they would never open again. I had a few months without any income at all, and then neither did Francois. But we still had to pay our rent (at our Claremont home) and put food on the table. We moved to our Stanford house for a few days which turned to weeks.
When we got Covid, we had to quarantine for 2 weeks so we went to our Stanford home where there’s a bigger garden for the dogs and more space in general. Stanford is a very quiet town. One day, after being stuck indoors for over 2 weeks, I pretty much lost it and grabbed the dogs and walked the few meters down to the river at the end of our street. I know full-well that the river is deserted during the week in the mid-mornings. I knew full-well that we would not be in contact with a single soul. I got out of home for 15 minutes and this lady in the village posted to a whole bunch of people about us breaking quarantine and “putting the whole village at risk”. I was so mad. I was so hurt. It’s been almost a year and I still think about how mean and unnecessary that was.
Then we thought: We just need to get through winter! Francois’ business relies 95% on international clients. He runs these super popular wine tours to Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Some days, he’d have 5 busses of tourists out every day. They went from that to zero in a matter of days. “The tourists will come back soon, just wait for spring!” I’d tell him. That was 10 months ago. There still aren’t any tourists. Some things hit even harder, like the international news reporting that South Africa had developed a new strain of Covid, AND… with every alcohol ban, the wine industry shut down. I had clients who were restaurants and bars and they closed too. Then the big hotels closed.
Tour busses can seat 13 people, but those got banned at one point too. Then they said that like 70% capacity is ok, so even if you had a tour out – your profit got slashed.
We did a few clever things, though. I got involved and we created a super fun domestic campaign to encourage locals to take trips to the Karoo, Kruger & Matjiesfontein (also in his company’s portfolio). He was on TV and radio and all over websites. Then another alcohol ban came. It was like every time you tried to stand up, someone would take a baseball bat and hit you on your shins.
Things have been up and down. They go from better to worse every other week, but we’re holding on as tight as we can. We made a few clever moves (well, Francois did!) that really helped. We rented out our Stanford house on a long-term lease as nobody was traveling to guesthouses at that point. We saved a lot of money because we weren’t going out, eating out of traveling anymore.
Probably my core focus was protecting the boys from feeling any of it. I didn’t want them to know when we were stressed, or struggling. I didn’t want them to panic or worry or feel unstable in any way. I mean, their entire lives had changed, their routine was non-existent, they were trapped at home and seriously missing school and their friends. Keeping a straight face when things get tough is exactly what we did. Keep your chin up, put your shoulders back – and carry on!
Things seem to be changing again. We’re in a “good week” but you never know what’s waiting around the bend.
Another clever hack of ours, is that we’re part of two different “home exchange” type of groups. If you own a lodge / guesthouse / hotel you can be part of this group. It works on a point system, so you can use your points to stay somewhere as long as people can also use their points to stay at your place, etc. We had loads of people use their points at our guesthouse over the years, so we had accumulated a lot of points; which is how we managed our holiday to Mozambique. We also saved so much by flying instead of driving and thank goodness, because the land borders closed the week before our trip. We’re currently using our points here and there when we want to stretch our legs and try escape some of the stress we have to deal with sometimes.
Oh man, another awesome hack was that Francois’ business gives bank cards to the tour guides to fill up with petrol. For years! He’d earned so many eBucks (like points you can use at certain partners) that we used them on groceries for like 2 months. I could use my medical aid savings for basic medicines that we needed. Pick n Pay Smart Shopper points came in handy too. We also had this brand-spanking-new massive kennel that we’d bought for the dogs. They hated it and never set their paws in it, so we gave it back to the pet shop in exchange for store credit. I could get enough dog food for three dogs for two months out of that! It’s amazing how resourceful you can be when you really need to, and know how to.
Oh MAN, another thing we did! Haha. It was so funny. Francois had a whole storeroom full of ‘grape juice’ that was left over from a project, and that we couldn’t sell. Cases and cases of the stuff. During the first alcohol ban, we sold like, all of it. We made a pretty penny, too! There was this one couple who were in the process of emigrating. They gave us like, this really cool (brand new) printer in exchange for a box of it. I was thrilled as the boys really needed one for home-schooling. Some people traded us grape juice for other kinds of juices, like potato juice – which is my preferred one. We felt like the mafia! Within a week, that storeroom was empty.
We’ve learned so many lessons this past year. We found areas where we used to over-spend, hacks we weren’t using and tricks we didn’t know about. I made it a game with the boys when we went grocery shopping. I’d be like “If we buy this 150g product for R45 does it work out cheaper if we buy the 500g one for R87” and things like that. We’d make it this fun math game and they’d get so proud of their equations and how they were really ‘sticking it’ to the corporates who were trying to trick us into spending more money.
Not that Francois and I were ever flashy or spent a lot of money. We share a car that’s paid in full. We rent a tiny little house in the suburbs and don’t buy designer things or expensive clothes. We pretty much never eat out. We only ever really spent extra money on travel, because that was a priority for both of us. Why buy a R850 dress when that could be a train ticket from Rome to Venice? I guess that’s how we used to see things.
Now it’s a year later, and we’re about to go into winter again. We’re repeating all our re-assuring words to one another: “Just a few more months” and “This is almost over” followed by “We just have to make it through winter.”
I know that things have been hard on everyone and some people have lost everything including their lives or loved ones. I know this. I can only be grateful for what we’ve managed to hold on to and the lessons we’ve learned. Sometimes I just don’t know how much longer we can hold on for.
Amongst all of this, Francois’ old knee injury started acting up again. When your knee gives in, you walk a bit skew with a bit of a limp, so his lower back went into excruciating pain. I had never seen a grown man cry out and scream in pain like that. His Orthopaedic surgeon scheduled another knee op, which didn’t help. Eventually they booked him in for a knee replacement (after nothing else worked). When he went in for that, they found a big infection, so they closed him up and sent him home instead.
Francois has been in pain and on crutches for as long as I can remember at this point. As soon as he recovered from the one surgery, he was being booked in for the next. Of course I didn’t mind looking after him, but this meant that I was spending more time doing things on my own and had to run everything, look after the dogs, kids and house on my own. Some days, I didn’t make my deadlines at work and it was putting strain on my income.
In recovery (after his attempted knee replacement), his back got so bad that he could no longer make it to the bathroom. Without mobility, his neck started going into spasms and he could no longer lift his head to swallow pain tablets. When I say that my husband was in pain; he was in more pain than I’ve ever seen anyone in. I threatened getting an ambulance, taking him to hospital – anything to make him feel better. Francois hates a fuss and he’s quite stubborn. One morning I’d had enough of watching him suffer and called his surgeon. The doctor was like, omg he needs to get to hospital… but you can only take him in 4 days time when some really brilliant back doctor is on call. They made all the arrangements, Francois powered through and he was admitted to hospital for permanent care. They took X-rays of his back, booked him into theatre and injected cortisone directly into the inflammation. He spent a few more days in hospital. I think he was there for a week?
When he got home, his recovery continued and about a week later, he was booked in for his full knee replacement. I’m not going to lie, I was SO EXCITED for him to finally have the operation, knowing just how much pain he’d been in for so long. It’s now been about 3 weeks since his recovery and his mobility is much better. Some days he only uses one crutch and sometimes can walk around a bit and do basic things for himself like make a cup of tea. Last night, he even cooked dinner and I must admit it was so nice to get a tiny bit of help for one night and to see him be able to do a task again. While he was trying to keep his business open, he was also dealing with excruciating pain and recovering from major surgeries. That husband of mine is honestly impenetrable and so much stronger than I thought he was.
Probably the biggest factor is that we’re getting a lot less sleep. Francois is obviously very restless and uncomfortable at night. He struggles to sleep from the pain. I get up and try help him, or make him some tea or get his meds for him. Some nights he sneaks out and sits in the living room or kitchen from like 3am – 6am. Then I’m up at 6:30 to sort the boys out and do the morning run, which wakes him up again. Luckily the boys’ schedules and routine is exactly the same and they’re quite oblivious to anything but fishing, Minecraft, Fortnite and surfing. There’s been a lot more screen time around here lately and I couldn’t give a shit, honestly.
Today is a good day. There’s been some good news here and there. Two days ago I was jumping up and down from joy. Yesterday I burst out crying in a parking lot with my eldest in the car. Today, I’ve taken the day off. I mean I still have to do the basics but Francois is out at doctor and business appointments. The kids are at school. I got back into bed at 10am and decided to write a bit. To do something for myself.
It hasn’t been all bad. Francois and I are closer than ever. The boys are absolutely thriving at school. They have sports again and have joined a few clubs. They have play dates and sleepovers with their best friends again. I got super into gardening but then my asshole rabbits ate all my flowers.
I have a few squirrels now. I started feeding a squirrel that I saw in our garden. I called him Chip. Then he brought his friend, who I named Chappie. Then they brought two smaller squirrels with them, so now I have this little squirrel family that I’ve been feeding for about 3 weeks. I always take their peanuts to the edge of the garden and place them on top of a shelf. This is usually at about 8:30am when I’m home from dropping the boys and walking the dogs. This morning, I went to re-fill their bowl and Chip and Chappie came jumping down from the tree! They were a bit hesitant, but then they came RIGHT UP to me and nibbled their peanuts just above my eye-level, like 30cm from my face. I didn’t want to scare them, so I just stood completely still and watched them learn to trust me. These wild squirrels and me: their Peanut Lady. I don’t know why it made me so happy, but it felt really good. I feed them every morning, then I sit at our garden table, drink my tea and watch them have their breakfast. They’re really cool. You’d like them.
I have a bit of other updates and news to share, but I don’t feel like talking anymore. I think I’m going to make another cup of tea and maybe have a long bath, put on some nice clothes and maybe even a bit of makeup. Francois is so used to seeing me in sweats, tights and pyjamas. Anyway, I really think that today is going to be a good day. I hope so.
Thanks for listening x