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What I learned in 2020: Michelle Brotohusodo

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As we watch one of humanity’s most trying years retreat into the history books, we take a moment to reflect.

Canberrans have fared through devastating bushfires, suffocating smoke, destructive hail and a global pandemic in 2020. So undoubtedly, we’ve learned some things.

Today, HerCanberra’s resident foodie behind the popular HerCanberra Food & Drink Facebook page, Michelle Brotohusodo, reflects on a year that saw her and her family contract COVID-19.

Michelle Brotohusodo

Public servant, HerCanberra resident foodie

Paint a picture of you after summer 2019/20. How were you affected by the bushfires and smoke?

After the insanity that has been 2020, the start of the bushfires in 2019 feels like a distant memory! I remember driving to Sydney for a weekend in mid-December to go to an Elton John concert and visibility being pretty poor because of the smoke.

I managed to make it to Sydney and back for the concert, but was then watching road closures nervously as I had to return to Sydney to fly out for a family holiday, leaving on Christmas Day.

I ended up booking a last-minute flight instead of driving and was glad I did, though it was pretty confronting seeing the smoke from the sky. While I was overseas I kept a constant eye on the Australian news, worried for friends back home.

We stocked up on N95 masks while we were away as we’d heard there was a shortage in Australia. Getting back, I was glad we’d bought the masks, as they became a necessity when I walked to and from work.

How did you fare in the great hailstorm of 2020?

I was out at lunch with friends when it hit. It started raining and we thought we’d sit a bit longer while it passed so we didn’t get wet walking back to work, and then it started hailing. I remember the restaurant staff ushering us all away from the windows as it seemed the glass might smash.

When it was finally clear to leave, I remember walking out and having to be very careful where we stepped, as the ground was covered with a mixture of ice and sharp metal anti-bird spikes that had been knocked off ledges. And then we saw the cars, dented all over and windows destroyed.

I got off pretty well—although I’d driven to work that day I’d parked undercover, and the only damage to my home was a smashed skylight; I walked upstairs to find bits of skylight and hailstones on the bathroom floor. My brother’s car, parked out the back, didn’t fare so well but at least his windows were intact and his car was still driveable.

What were your first impressions of COVID in early 2020?

I was aware of COVID quite early on because of where I was working at the time. I remember being called into work for an emergency teleconference on the Australia Day weekend when news about a mystery illness in China began breaking.

From there, the situation changed rapidly and continuously over the next few weeks, and we had people working around the clock monitoring events and putting measures in place to protect Australia and Australians. I know it probably sounds like an exaggeration, but I assure you it was not.

I remember being on the phone with managers at 2 am on a Sunday morning talking through a process that we’d had just under 12 hours to develop and implement due to new information—that’s how quickly things were changing in the early days.

I only played a small part overall, but I know colleagues at my work and across the Australian Government kept up this kind of effort for months. It was exhausting but we all knew how critical and time-sensitive the work was.

This next sentence will sound clichéd, but I mean every word—it was truly inspiring to see my colleagues’ commitment and dedication to their work and our country during that time and over the following months. I am proud of them, proud to have been part of such a team, and proud to have contributed to the efforts that have put Australia in the enviable position we’re in now.

What was your first memory of being materially affected by COVID?

Not being able to leave the house for weeks after a whirlwind trip to Indonesia with my mum and brother in early March to see my Oma (grandmother), who was unwell.

We had quarantined ourselves on return because I wasn’t feeling well (at the time I wasn’t sure if it was because of a combination of lack of sleep, being emotionally spent, and jetlag, or if I was actually sick), but thought it would only be for 14 days.

This was extended when one of our cousins in Perth who had gone with us told us she tested positive for COVID-19. And then my brother—who I live with—tested positive for it too (my test at the time came back negative, though it’s subsequently been confirmed I’ve had COVID).

It was a really odd feeling knowing that we couldn’t leave the house (and for my brother being confined to his bedroom). I spent a lot of time in my lounge room looking out the front window at the garden and watching people walk by.

My brother’s girlfriend was amazing and did our grocery shopping for us, and my friends were wonderful too, calling to check in and chat, dropping off care packages of food and books, and picking up parcels for me from the post office (ordered before I knew I would be in quarantine!).

My manager was also really supportive and I was able to work from home during that period. By the time I was allowed to leave the house, the world had changed.

What were the low points of 2020?

I will always remember 2020 for two of the absolute lowest points in my life. My Oma, who I was very close to and who was my last surviving grandparent, ended up passing away when we went to see in her March. I am grateful that I was able to be by her side in her final moments and that she passed peacefully, surrounded by family and love.

The other lowest point came just a few weeks later, when my dad was hospitalised with COVID-19 and pneumonia. The first four weeks he was in hospital he was in intensive care—no-one was allowed to visit and I would call every day for an update, each time terrified that the news would be worse. He would end up being in hospital for another five weeks.

My family and I are eternally grateful to the doctors, nurses, physios, and other staff at the Sydney Adventist Hospital who treated and supported my dad and helped him recover.

What were the high points of 2020?

While 2020 wasn’t a great year for anyone really, I am glad to say there were still some high points.

My dad recovering from COVID-19, my brother and his fiancée getting engaged, my extended family growing with a number of my cousins having babies, strengthening my relationships with family and friends, actually being able to have a party to celebrate my 40th birthday (though the cap on numbers meant I couldn’t have everyone I wanted there), and seeing the wider community doing the right thing.

Also—the revamped version of MasterChef! (and you better believe I made the most of my vicinity to KOI Dessert Kitchen when I temporarily moved back to Sydney for six weeks earlier in the year).


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What’s the biggest positive change to your work or personal life that you’ll carry into the future?

I have a tendency to overcommit myself and be too busy. I’ve made New Year’s resolutions in the past to give myself more downtime, but have never really stuck to them.

I found out during my time in quarantine just how much of an introvert I am and how much I actually need that alone recharge time. I’ve managed to keep giving myself that time since and will continue to do so in the future.

What did you learn in 2020?

It sounds clichéd, but to really cherish my family and friends. You really never know what will happen, and time and relationships are precious.

How are you feeling about 2021?

I have very low expectations! As I’ve discussed with a few of my friends, this is the first time many of us are living through a historical event like a global pandemic rather than studying it after the fact—so I really have no expectations about what 2021 will bring as I have no idea when or what the other side of this pandemic will look like.

I’ll take each day as it comes, and be grateful for simple pleasures like being able to safely leave the house, spend time with family and friends, eat out, and go to the cinema.

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