"I was flying high on the inspiring buzz of 2020 SPPETS long after leaving New Zealand." - Ruth Cross, President Elect RC Tawaera, Kiribati.  Then the world changed and Ruth is now stranded 2200kms from home with her baby.
This is her story so far.
I was flying high on the inspiring buzz of 2020 SPPETS long after leaving New Zealand. Four days of Rotary leadership bootcamp with hundreds of undercover superheroes was so much fun! Rotarians should become club presidents at least once so they can experience the magic of SPPETS. I felt like I had been able to fully appreciate how being a part of Rotary had woven me into a special tapestry made from the kindest humans of humankind. The wave of satisfaction I was riding after nailing my presentation on Kiribati was still rolling its way to the shores and I felt so much excitement about the opportunities that had been discussed. But as Isaac Newton said, “What goes up, must come down” and that big upswing obeyed the tacit laws of physics and came backwards hard.
One of nature’s gifts to mothers is clairvoyance because it is our job to anticipate problems.
“You know we could get on that plane and the corona virus gets to Fiji during our 14-day quarantine and we could get stuck there” I said to Tinte (man of my dreams, love of my life, father of my newborn child).
“I miss you and I’m tired of being apart” he said, “but if you decide to wait in Australia and see what happens, I’ll understand”.
So, I did exactly what people do when their partners don’t try and tell them what to do. I chose love and hopped on that plane, little baby, big bags and all my worries in tow. Lo and behold, 3 days later a case of corona virus was confirmed in Nadi. The COVID-19 apocalypse hit paradise, all the sandy borders of the pacific slammed shut, planes were grounded and the pandemic panic from Kiribati had the locals screaming on social media “don’t let ANYONE in or we’ll all die from the virus!”. 
I knew this would happen.
You know how everyone thinks that Rotary is made up of extremely wealthy retired people, business owners, well paid professionals and financially secure expatriates in foreign countries? Well it’s not true, especially in my case! I haven’t worked for over a year and Tinte since December. We left our comfortable lives and well-paid careers in Australia and New Zealand to move back to Kiribati. Nowadays we are more like “I got you babe” as sung by Sonny and Cher, because we have each other and not much else. My financial margin for a “rainy day” was fairly nonexistent and all of a sudden it was raining cats and dogs.
I sat on the bed with my sweating and grumpy baby in a dodgy hotel room in Nadi with not even a microwave to sterilise bottles. I cried as I ate the noodles I brought with me (thanks to clairvoyance) and laughed as I realised how silly it was to be crying that I was stuck in a place as beautiful as Fiji. As hopelessly ill equipped for our needs as the room was, I only needed to step outside of it and onto the soft carpet grass to improve my mood, but it solved none of my problems which were multiplying at the rate of corona infections around the world. A timely email from DGE Craig Horrocks arrived and the rest of the story is a much happier one.
One snippet of information led to another and before you know it, Rotary support, solutions and connections immediately whirred into action. Craig brought the district 9920 big guns in, Gary Langford, Jennie Herring, Ingrid Waugh and Malini Raghwan. I mopped up my tired and stressed out, noodle bowl tears, packed up my mother, baby and bags and moved us to a more suitable apartment – with a microwave and everything!
The following day our hero arrived. Milika Wata-Marshall, Area Governor and Past President of Lautoka Rotary Club and her army of helpers bundled us up and took us to our new home right next to hers. Here we are safely nestled away from the corona chaos except for Mili’s gentle hyper vigilant efforts to bag, glove, mask and disinfect everything. After a grocery shop and market run to Lautoka yesterday I observed the car we used getting detailed and disinfected after the trip. If hazmat suits were available, she would be wearing one so we could in fact, not feel any safer or luckier than right here in the Wata-Marshall safe haven.
Today Mili did a massive quarantine bake off and dropped over a hamper of freshly baked muffins. I have been shown how to make papaya juice for its health benefits, eaten my fill of Mili’s banana breads, papaya scones, chicken curry and vegetable stir fry. This is no ordinary safe haven, it is a heavenly haven complete with manicured gardens, bananas, star fruit, papaya, royal poinciana trees and birds chirping us awake for another day in paradise.
I am so grateful to our district 9920 leadership team and the Rotary connections that exist to mobilise efficiently against problems right across the spectrum. These range from our own communities to some of the most isolated parts of the world. Or in this case, Rotarians helping other Rotarians experiencing distress due to COVID-19. Our 2020 motto at SPPETS is “Rotary opens doors” and here it is in action and thanks to the Rotary spirit of genuine care and real solutions, we are not so isolated and not so stranded.
Despite the Rotary rescue, Mili’s kindness and my gratitude for the help of our big Rotarian family, I still miss my darling Tinte and have not stopped plotting our escape from Fiji. I have been stashing muffins, scones, banana bread and further supplies like cassava, sweet potato, noodles and more. I spied with my little eye, a paddle board on Mili’s balcony and Kiribati is only 2,200kms away.