There is a slight tremble in Viani Tixier’s voice as she talks about her and her family’s experience while stranded in New Zealand due to Covid-19.
She is speaking from her room at Edgewater Resort and Spa, where they are being quarantined for 14 days before being allowed in the local community.
Tixier and her partner Dion Teau, along with their toddler son Dion Tom and her in-laws, were part of the first group of Cook Islanders who arrived in Rarotonga on Friday last week.
As she walked through the tarmac, Tixier bursts into tears – a moment that was captured by photojournalist Katrina Tanirau.
“When I got off the plane, I just saw all these people waving at us,” Tixier explains. “Among the crowd I saw my mum waving at me. I haven’t seen her for about three months. I just couldn’t hold myself, it was too emotional.”
“And then I saw my girlfriend Paulina Beddoes, I just wanted to hug her but of course there were barriers and we can’t do that.
“Then there was music, drumming and our two lovely aunties dancing away.”
Tixier didn’t expect such a welcome.
Her mother had told her about Prime Minister Henry Puna’s request to people not to come to the airport to welcome their loved ones.
“I thought we were going to be secretly rushed in, get off the plane and into the bus to the Edgewater. I didn’t expect that kind of welcome at all.
“At that moment I’m holding my son, I have my partner with me and his parents and I thought everything that we went through, that was worth it. We are home finally and it was a pure relief.”
Tixier and her family left Rarotonga on February 25 for a three week holiday in New Zealand and Australia.
The trip was meant to be a break for the family, especially for her mother-in-law Linda, who had been diagnosed with cancer.
Initially they were supposed to fly back to Rarotonga from Sydney but they had to reschedule their trip due to Covid-19 and other events.
The week-long cruise they took in Australia was cut short by three days due to a cyclone. They had no choice but to reschedule their flight to Auckland and then Rarotonga.
“We were told fly to New Zealand where we were scheduled to arrive at night and not to go out of the airport, to stay in transit area and then fly straight home. That was March 19.”
They spent the night sleeping on the floor. The next morning when they got ready to board the Rarotonga flight, they were told that instead, they were to undergo two weeks of isolation in New Zealand as directed by the Cook Islands government.
“It came as a shock to us, we had nowhere to go to, and who would take five people? We had no money as well, because we were at the end of our holiday and everything was prepaid.
“I told them ‘look we are going to sleep at the airport, I’m sorry but we have nowhere to go’. We were tired, we were very upset. Mama was crying and my son was also hungry, we were running out of formula milk. It was very tough for us.”
A lady overheard Tixier’s pleas and came to her rescue.
She was Jenny Salesa, New Zealand’s Minister of Customs, who arranged for the family to be transported to Sudima Hotel in Mangere.
The family stayed at the hotel for five nights after being told that they did not qualify for an emergency payment from the New Zealand government.
“We couldn’t stay there because it was pretty expensive, would have cost us $5000 and we had no funds.”
The five-night-stay, which cost around $2000, was later paid by the New Zealand government.
Tixier then contacted her sister Vaniva who booked an Airbnb property in Auckland for the remaining two weeks.
“I contacted the Cook Islands High Commission in New Zealand and talked to Piakura Passfield and explained her our situation and she asked us to stay at the hotel for another night while she will look into our case.”
The next morning Cook Islander Thomas Wynne, who is also a board member of Pacific Homecare, helped the family move to their new temporary home a day before New Zealand went into lockdown.
“The Pacific Homecare through Thomas assisted with groceries. Thomas also took my mama to pick up her prescription and do the blood test.”
There was a lot of support from groceries, baby napkins and formula milk, warm clothes, food vouchers and medicines that came from Cook Islanders and other Pacific families including an Auckland-based LGBT+ group.
“We received a lot of help to get us through that time. We had no funds whatsoever. It’s embarrassing for me to ask for help, I have never done that but help just came our way. It was just pure love.”
About a month later, Tixier received financial support from the Cook Islands government which took care of the Airbnb expenses.
“Thank God for the Cook Islands government for that payment that helped us cover for our accommodation for five weeks at the Airbnb.”
Tixier says getting in the first cohort to return home was a mission in itself.
They had to put forward their case, especially her mother-in-law’s health situation.
“They thought she might be better off in New Zealand but we had nowhere for her to stay in New Zealand. We are her family and we are taking care of her.
“The next day we got a call that we were in the first cohort. That was an emotional moment, we were going back home.”
At the Holiday Inn, the family was relieved to meet other people, especially people from home.
Tixier says they were well looked after at the quarantine facility in Auckland and had to undergo regular health checks to ensure they were free of Covid-19.
“None of us wanted to bring the virus back. We have been in lockdown for five weeks before we got there and we felt if any of us were ill we would have been in intensive care.
“In many ways we were thinking so much money is being spent on two weeks in New Zealand and two weeks here but it shows our government cares so much for our people in the sense we are free of this virus. You can’t compromise with health, you can’t put anyone at risk.
“We didn’t ask to be in that situation, no one of us asked to be put out here but we know we have to do this in order to return to our families. We have no complaints at all.”
After a rousing welcome at the Rarotonga airport, a welcome pack from her family and friends greeted them at the Edgewater Resort.
It contained some of the local delicacies such as moina tai (coconut cream), kuru, taro, and uto pancakes.
“It was a mini feast for us.”
On Mother’s Day on Sunday, Tixier’s mum and her girlfriends dropped off more goodies – including the yummy sashimi from Maroro King and Queen.
To top it off, Edgewater Resort made beautiful flowers and presented chocolates to her and the mama and provided them with a special lunch.
With less than a week to go, Tixier says they can’t wait to get back home and get on with their daily lives.
She is a marriage celebrant, her partner runs the Baby Pancakes Express business, papa is a builder and mama runs her Airbnb and rental properties.
“We have come back to a different world really. It’s just we have to do things slightly different and we are looking forward to getting back to our lives but doing things smarter. Well, we have to survive,” says Tixier.
“There is nothing more attractive than what we are now, being Covid-19 free place and we want to remain that way. We want to extend the Kuki kindness that have been shown to us, and we want to share that with our people here.”
Viani Tixier acknowledged the support from Minister Jenny Salesa, her sister Vaniva and Thomas Noel Tixier, Bernard Tairea JP and Genevieve Tua-Ngametua, Edgewater angels Teremoana Tunui and Nono Glassie, Eddie and Carolyn Marriott, John and Isamaera Kiria, Dr Joe Williams, Phylesha Brown-Acton from Fine, Ra Tangaroa and Max Cummings, Piakura Passfield and Elizabeth Wright-Koteka at Cook Islands High Commission, Thomas Wynne, Pacific Futures team led by Debbie Sorrenson, Cook Islands and New Zealand governments, Kuki Kindness Facebook Movement and the Covid-19 New Zealand-Raro family, her families and friends.