#DataFam Amidst COVID-19

These are uncertain times. Planning ahead has become impossible as new numbers, research, developments, regulations, and restrictions become known every few hours. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. Nobody knows what will remain of today. But there’s one thing that will always pull through: family.

(This will be a long rant-slash-diary entry. Skip ahead to the last few paragraphs, if you like. It’s okay. I will most probably never find out.)

When I pinned down my data resolutions for 2020 a few months ago, I had wanted to meet as many #DataFam members as possible. And that seemed very easy to accomplish, as I had already planned a two month sabbatical for my sister’s wedding in Sydney, with stops in Stockholm, Singapore, Sydney, and Auckland, and Data+Women events or TUGs planned for the latter three. I was ready to embrace the #DataFam around the world. A dear colleague even went so far as to suggest I create a tour t-shirt for myself.

When news of COVID-19 first emerged, I will openly admit I was amongst the nay-sayers that were convinced it would be no worse than the common flu and everyone was just overreacting. Boy, would I eat those words just a few weeks later.

Stop 1: Singapore

Not worried about anything, I took my mum and we set out on our world tour. After negative degrees and rain in Stockholm, we were more than happy to enjoy the +30°C in Singapore. Temperature scans at every building entrance were a minor annoyance, but increased our sense of security. When the Data+Women Singapore event was made virtual, I was very sad, but found it reasonable. Health concerns should come first, after all. Together, Meera, Tanu, Celine, and I rocked the event, and my mum was excited to get to experience me live in my element.

Arrival in Sydney had me arrange a lunch meeting with Chris post-haste. I didn’t know it then, but that would be the last time we hugged for a while. There were difficulties setting up a Sydney TUG, and it would probably be virtual, but everything was in hand.

Stop 2: Auckland

Still not worried about anything, I left my mum with my sister and made the quick journey over to Auckland. The woman on the plane next to me was wearing a face mask, which was no uncommon sight those days. It somewhat irritated me, however, that she would pull it down to talk to me over the empty seat between us, both of us leaning in because she was speaking so quietly. I managed to abstain from giving her a lecture on how that mask was doing nothing to protect her, and next to nothing to protect me as long as she kept pulling it down. I still had no concerns about my safety, though.

Alex and his very pregnant partner were very kind to take me into their home. Alex and I spent a few days sightseeing, not minding the crowds of tourists, the commute into the city in packed trains, or full pubs. When meeting Ludo and his family for a trip to the west coast, we greeted each other with a wave of the hand, rather than hugs, but had no issue sharing a table for an impromptu BBQ dinner.

When we had to cancel the Auckland TUG that I had been supposed to speak at, I jokingly suggested to just hang up a white sheet between two trees, find a projector, have everybody bring picnic blankets, and just have the TUG in a park where we would be able to circumvent office buildings’ restrictions on meeting sizes. I still didn’t worry.

I kept in touch with people from back home. One of them asked about my current accommodation. When I told them that I was at Alex’ place, they said, “Ah, so you’re not with family”. I countered that I was with #DataFam, which is basically as good as, to which they replied, “Yeah, but that’s not real family”. We agreed to disagree.

While in Auckland, both New Zealand and Australia decided that incoming visitors would have to self isolate for fourteen days upon entry into the country. I was just happy to have arrived to Auckland early enough to not have to self isolate, and it took only a brief call to Chris to arrange for transport and accommodation back in Australia.

In hindsight, this was probably the point I started to worry.

Chris will kindly joke about it now, but I was in tears throughout the call to him. I had just come off of the third family crisis call (in the same number of days) with my sister and mum in Australia, and my other sister, brother, and dad back in Germany. We had decided that they would not be leaving Germany in order to come to the wedding. In fact, the whole wedding had been called into question. With all those uncertainties, I was under an understandable amount of stress. Before I could formulate the question of whether I might be able to stay with Chris’ family for two weeks, he interrupted me and said, “Whatever it is you’re about to ask, the answer is Yes. Now you just need to let me know the question so I know how to help you.”

Stop 3: Sydney Jilliby

Back in Australia, I went through immigration and customs in record time – less than twenty minutes from the plane hitting the ground to the outside of the airport with all my luggage in tow. This would be amazing for any airport, but for Sydney it’s nothing short of miraculous. I found it startlingly fast, as nobody deemed fit to instruct me on the terms of my self-isolation. The in-flight WiFi allowed me to research current guidelines for home quarantine, but I had assumed that there would be an extended number of tests and instructions at the airport. There were none. No temperature screening, no special signature that I had understood the terms of self isolation, nothing.

Chris’ wife and daughter picked me up, both sporting #DataFam shirts. I was doing my best not to cry. We picked up some more luggage from my sister’s house. She had joked earlier that her fiancé’s inflatable dinosaur costume would be ideal for picking people up from the airport on their way to self isolation, because it would create your own bubble of air, keeping you safe from cross contamination with other people. Little did I expect her to actually wear the costume, but there we were.

I’ve since been in self isolation with Chris’ family. In case the Australian government should read my blog: I’m set up in a granny flat separate from the family home, keep my distance, wash my hands excessively often, and continue to show zero symptoms. I enjoy cuddling the dog and talking to the alpacas. (They stubbornly refuse to talk to me, but I won’t be deterred.) Chris gave me a guitar, so of course I spam the Twitter community with daily excerpts of songs.

I talked to my friend from Germany again, who said that #DataFam was no real family. I asked them if they wanted to repeat that notion. They did not.

Stop X: The Great Unkown

Meanwhile, the situation is escalating. The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs has declared an absolute recommendation against travel – they usually do that only for warzones, but now they’ve done it for the whole world. Our return flights have been cancelled. Australia has closed all non-essential businesses and recommends that people home school their children. Every day, new restrictions become known. I continue to have crisis calls with my family whenever something is announced that might influence us.

I don’t know what will happen.

I don’t know if we will have a wedding, and if yes, when and under which conditions.

I don’t know when and how and if I will get back to Germany. I joke and say that I might even get home this year, but even that is uncertain.

I don’t know how COVID-19 will influence my visitor’s visa.

I don’t know if my travel insurance covers unintended extended stays abroad.

I don’t know how to emotionally support my sister.

I don’t know how to keep my mum from panicking.

I don’t know whether it is safe for my elderly mum to travel back to Germany where the virus has spread far more than it has here in Australia, if we should even have the option.

I don’t know if we would have the choice to stay here if the German government found a way of taking us back home.

What I do know is that I am with family here. Not by blood, but by choice. I was offered a home away from home here, not only for myself but for my mum as well, should we be stranded here for a month, or two, or six. Chris and his family go out of their way to make me feel welcome here, while constantly assuring me that I am not a burden to them.

I know that there’s family around the world. Family like Vince who checks in with the #DataFam on a daily basis, making sure that everyone is okay. Family like Ivett who keeps pushing virtual events so that we don’t feel so alone. Family like Mike who posts the loveliest cat content. Family like all of you out there who go to great lengths to make the community feel your support.

To all of you out there, I want to say Thank You. Thank you for being who you are and for making the community what it is. I don’t know where and who I would be without all of you.