After graduating from HPA in 2000, Chelsea Wallis went on to receive a B.A. in English literature from Oberlin College, and an M.S. in financial journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill. She now lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, with her husband, Tom, and two young children. With South Africa’s strict COVID-19 lockdown protocol, she’s keeping her young children busy 24/7 and documenting their projects on Instagram along the way. Knowing the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting Ka Makani around the world, we checked in with Wallis to get her perspective from afar.
You went to HPA from first grade all the way through high school. How did you make your way from Hawai‘i to South Africa?
From HPA I went on to Oberlin College, and from there I muddled about Chicago for a bit, then fell in love with a Kiwi and lived in Auckland, New Zealand for a few years. We moved to Sydney, Australia, got married, and welcomed two Austra-ki-wiians born in Sydney in 2016 and Brisbane in 2018. I’ve been a freelance writer since my first pregnancy and am lucky to spend this time with my kids while they are young. My husband, Tom, works for Partners in Performance, a global management consultancy based in Sydney. The company did a call-out for volunteers to do a two-year secondment in Africa, so we volunteered.
The whole world is responding to the COVID-19 crisis right now. What, from your perspective, are the challenges or benefits particular to living in South Africa at this moment?
President Cyril Ramaphosa is following scientific advice and issuing restrictions based on the way COVID-19 moved through other countries. The government’s plan is a staged return to normalcy to control the outbreak. Different states and suburbs will be able to move through stages independently to control infection rates. The entire country was under a Stage 5 lockdown, one of the strictest in the world, for five weeks. No leaving the house except groceries or medical help; no alcohol, tobacco or food takeaway sales; and no deliveries except for groceries or medical supplies. There was no walking your dog or going for a jog. For 45 days Tom and I cooked all meals, and occupied our kids with the internet and what we bought at the grocery store. The country moved to Stage 4 on May 1 and Stage 3 on June 1, so we can pick up a coffee or buy beer and food to go during restricted hours. We don’t get to international flights until Stage 1. Aside from that, we are some of the lucky ones for whom life doesn’t change much. With two under five, you prep five meals a day, chase them for 12 hours with a bottle of disinfectant and a vacuum, get through the bedtime routine, and pray everyone sleeps enough to do it again the next morning.
How are you managing to keep your young children entertained in this time?
I was pretty much full time with Brett (4 years) and Lillian (2 years) before COVID-19 dropped, but I am way out of my depth spending 24 hours a day with them. Daycares and preschools can’t support us digitally the same way as school-aged kids. Zoom classes for children under 5 are as bad as they sound! I started COVID-curriculum posts on Instagram as a lockdown diary, knowing if I had to post every day it would keep me accountable. We’re not trying to keep them on any educational schedules. We’re just trying to take one moment a day to put everything else aside and connect. It’s two minutes to investigate something they found in the driveway, a two-day salt-dough project I’ve prepped, or making cookies for lunch.
What are some of your favorite projects?
So far, my favorite activities are the ones the kids came up with themselves.
Try it yourself
Check out the slideshow below for some of Chelsea’s recommendations. Good luck and have a blast!