I noticed the first flea hanging out on my phone as I sat at my laptop after dinner. I didn’t realise what it was at first – it was small and black and – thinking it was just a fruit fly – I attempted to squash it. It wouldn’t squash, instead it started jumping. I tried again. A bit of blood was now on the tablecloth but it was still jumping. I somehow caught it in a tissue, squished it properly and then threw it in the bin, and at that exact moment my brain seemed to kick into gear and scream, “FLEAS”.
We still aren’t sure where they came from. The South Africans before us had had an outside cat and we had moved in so quickly after they left it was very possible the fleas had been in the house from the cat; it could also have been a result of the extensive work our landlady had been doing in the garden, or from the ceilings being taken down (our upstairs neighbour had cats and rescued wild hedgehogs). Either way, all I knew was there were fleas in our house and I was being bitten left, right and centre. Six jumped on me that night alone – one even jumped onto my chest as I stood talking to the neighbour about what we should do (she had come downstairs armed with fly spray and a diffuser when I had panic texted her). We caught it in a wet tissue and she killed it to make sure it was a flea – it made a discernible pop as she squeezed it between two nails, a small blood spot appearing in the tissue. I had no idea how to handle this – it all made sense now, the red dots on my legs and hands, the itching which struck in the middle of the night. Our cats had never had fleas – they spent their entire lives indoors – so this was all new to us and we hadn’t known what to look out for.
We spent the next few days spraying the hell out of the house with fly spray, washing all of the sheets and flea bombed the house that weekend. We knew that we would need to do another flea bomb in a few weeks but hoped that, for now, that was that.
When my passport got sent accidentally to Dunedin and then lost in the mail room, and I discovered that my visa application data had all been input wrong, it started to feel like the universe was really taking the piss. Things were not supposed to be this difficult – how could moving to another country be so very hard? Didn’t people immigrate all the time? Especially as our case was so strong: we had housing contracts dating back for 4 years! It was a bureaucratic nightmare, nobody in the Wellington office seemed to want to help me and all of the people I spoke to on the phone (who were very apologetic) kept referring me back to the Wellington office.
The next blow came when the pet exporter expressed concerns over the Little Cat – she was a carrier of cat flu and in times of extreme stress would get a bit symptomatic (we’d come to accept that she’s a little wheezy and snuffly 90% of the time), which would make it difficult for the vet to sign her off as being “free from contagious disease”. My greatest fear was that she would be destroyed upon arrival into the country, slightly less than that was the worry that she may not be able to travel at all. I lay awake long into the night, staring at the ceiling and trying to send “good vibes” to the cats, as a friend had suggested. “Imagine the cats surrounded by a bubble,” he had told me, “and send all of your good thoughts and feelings into that bubble.” I sent treats, their favourite feather toy chaser and all of the things that I knew they loved into the bubble and hoped that things would work out.
Somewhere around this point I realised that I was depressed. I was stressed and snappy, prone to weeping over nothing and generally struggling with not being in control of my life. It had now been 8 weeks since we’d landed in New Zealand and nothing was going our way. I spent days stressing about my visa and money and, on top of that, I was lonely. Leaving London had been such a whirlwind I hadn’t really had time to think about how I felt then or was going to feel later on and now it was all hitting me at once. I didn’t even have anybody to talk to about it – my friends back home were 13 hours behind New Zealand and communicating with them was hard, my family were split across 2 different time zones, and worst of all my unhappiness was spilling over onto my relationship with TS. We were spending barely any time together because either he was asleep or working and in the meantime I was a 30-year-old failure with no job, no visa and no friends.
Things picked up for a time when a friend I had worked with in London moved in with us for a few weeks and another friend from London came for a visit whilst travelling around the world. We took him for a road trip to Napier, where I got to catch up with another friend from London, but when we got home we discovered that our housemate had had to unexpectedly move back to Auckland to help his family. It was a crushing blow to us both – TS because he had to pick up the slack from the rent money, me because I had lost the companionship of my friend, we had even discussed starting a business together – but we didn’t want to rent the room out to a stranger. Our landlady had suggested we sign up as hosts on AirBnB (“…and the money I get from the referral bonus I’ll use to take us all out to dinner!”) but TS didn’t want strangers coming in and out of the house and so that idea was shot to the ground. We decided to truck on solo until the friend could move back to Wellington (but that wouldn’t be this year) and it couldn’t be that much longer for my visa, right?
The next step of the visa troubles came when immigration informed me that they had now sent my visa to Auckland for processing, along with all of the other British and Chinese visas, and it was going to take a further 2 – 3 months to be assigned an immigration officer. There simply weren’t enough people in the Wellington office to deal with the workload and I had heard rumours that the Wellington office would be shutting down permanently in a few months, anyway. They also decided to tell me at that point that (despite having been told the opposite) as I was on a tourist visa currently, if I left the country before it expired and attempted to re-enter on another tourist visa, I would be deemed as a “non-genuine tourist” and could be refused entry. My only option was to apply for a temporary partnership visa whilst I waited for the resident’s visa to be approved, but that would take at least 4 weeks to process and we were booked to leave for Australia the following week.
That same day, when I got up to pee at 2am, I discovered something small, off-white and wriggly all over the bathroom floor. I peered closer. To my absolute delight the bathroom floor was now covered in maggots, maggots which were dropping down from the ceiling because evidently something had died in between upstairs’ floor and our ceiling. I ran from the bathroom, shouting for TS who, when I frantically told him there were maggots in the bathroom, seemed more perplexed than disgusted. It turned out he had also discovered maggots earlier that day in a slightly different spot in the bathroom but had cleaned them up and elected not to tell me. He started to sweep them up and tip them into a bucket of boiling water and I went to hide in the bedroom.
Where, when I sat on the bed, a flea jumped on me.
I was apoplectic with rage. I sprayed the room with fly spray and stormed around the house, whilst TS calmly mopped the now-maggot-free bathroom floor with bleach and sealed the maggot entry points with filler. The following day we headed to the vet to buy flea bomb, informed the neighbour that we would be bombing the hell out of the house (and if it didn’t work I was strongly considering looking for a new house, I’d even started browsing TradeMe the previous night whilst waiting for the fly spray to do its thing) and then made preparations for the new visa application. We managed to hand it in all in one day, no mean feat when you consider that I had to fill out a whole new ream of documentation, get new visa photos, get copies of our passports certified and hand it all in before the immigration offices closed at 2pm, but we somehow managed and then crawled home, broken.
Imagine my delight, then, when the boiler broke on Good Friday. Amazingly, our landlady’s plumber managed to get it fixed the same day, but the boiler had now broken twice on us (we are really lucky when it comes to fridges and boilers – every house we’ve lived in either the fridge or boiler has broken on us shortly after moving in) and I was worried that if it wasn’t fixed permanently it was going to go again at any moment.
We had another two friends staying with us that weekend whilst travelling through New Zealand and, luckily, when they arrived we had managed to sort out the fleas, maggots and had reassurance from several people that I wouldn’t be refused re-entry into the country upon our return from Australia (I even, helpfully, had the name and number of the Wellington CAB and their immigration lawyer). The Easter weekend went by swiftly and, before we knew it, it was time to head to Australia for the week.
The depression was still lingering, I had merely managed to distract myself from it over the last couple of weeks, but I felt it weighing heavy upon me as we killed time at Wellington airport waiting for our flight to Melbourne. This was supposed to be a nice holiday, we were supposed to be able to enjoy ourselves for a little bit, free from fleas and maggots, but instead I felt only worry and anxiety. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go any more – would I even be allowed back into the country when we got back? What would the state of the house be?
It was time to board our flight and what could I do but get on the plane.