Spending almost seven weeks in lockdown in China was taxing for Pietermaritzburg lawyer Manashya Maharaj.
And when she felt worried about being alone in a foreign country, her family were just a phone call away.
They were the support structure she needed, to keep her motivated and make her smile.
Maharaj was one of 114 South Africans the SANDF evacuated from China last month.
When they arrived, they spent a further two weeks in quarantine, at The Ranch Resort in Polokwane, Limpopo.
Last week, they were given the all-clear to return home.
The 28-year-old said she moved to Xiangyyang city, in northwestern Hubei province, last August to work as an English teacher at a training centre.
Hubei province is about a 90-minute subway ride to Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus.
“I enjoyed being a lawyer and worked at a local firm for about two years, but I relocated because of my desire for personal growth and to create a legacy.
“I also wanted to be an example to all those who wished to step out of their comfort zones, explore life and their careers in a different environment, without being confined to societal norms and standards,” said Maharaj.
Although she was living in China, she said she found out about the outbreak via news platforms in South Africa.
“At first, the situation did not really sink in. Then I realised I was actually living in the epicentre of it all,” she said.
“It felt unreal As time progressed and the virus affected more people, I felt concerned but I was not fearful. I ensured I took the necessary precautions to keep safe and out of harm’s way.”
She said the stores closed, public transportation was banned for public use, and there were no local and international flights.
Maharaj said temperature checks at the entrance of the complex she stayed in were mandatory, and they could only leave if there was an adequate reason.
“We had to maintain social distancing and the police ensured all the regulations were upheld. The shift from freedom of movement to strict isolation was a task on its own.
“To maintain good emotional, mental and physical health, I did indoor exercise, cooked and watched movies.
“It was difficult to get food, but it was made possible. Online shopping became available with easy delivery to our apartments.
“We had access to what could sustain us during the lockdown, such as potatoes and other vegetables.”
She said social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are banned in China.
But she was able to connect with her family via Chinese social media platforms such as WeChat.
“We also chatted via voice and video calls as often as we could due to the six-hour time difference. In addition to my support system back in South Africa, prayer was my go-to. I had faith that God was by my side every step of the way.”
She spent 55 days in lockdown.
When she finally returned to South Africa, she felt “relieved, emotional and extremely happy that I was back home”.
At The Ranch Resort, all those who were repatriated underwent daily medical examinations to ensure they did not test positive for the virus.
“After being informed that we did not have the virus and we left the Ranch, the first thing I did when I got home was have a cup of tea. I spoke to my mother and grandmother about my journey and how it felt to be back home.
“Also, one of the first meals I asked for was mutton breyani.”
She said there was a lot of uncertainly surrounding people’s futures and careers.
“Mine included The biggest job for us all now is to find ways and means to stay safe, raise awareness and fight against the virus.”
Maharaj encouraged all South Africans to abide by the rules of the lockdown.
“When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I felt the government made the best decision and they did right by the citizens.”
She said China did not have a lot of greenery, and once everything returned to normal, she intended connecting with nature.
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