Victoria Loustalot, ’03, sees a rainbow in Kona, Hawaii, on April 18. (Photo courtesy of Loustalot)

IN THE MIDDLE OF IT ALL: ‘Stuck’ in Hawaii, alumna finds new hope

This is the third installment in a series on Country Day alumni around the world during the pandemic.

Victoria Loustalot, ’03, is an author and Legacy Leadership consultant. She has lived nomadically for 2 1/2 years, now residing in Kona, Hawaii. 

Q: Where were you when COVID-19 became a pandemic

A: I was in Tucson, Arizona, but then flew to Hawaii in early March with some work friends, where we were supposed to catch a flight to Auckland, New Zealand, for a new business project. 

But New Zealand closed its borders until May 31, so we got stuck in Hawaii.

Now we have a flight to Auckland on June 1. In the meantime, we’re working on the New Zealand project remotely from Kailua-Kona on the Big Island in Hawaii. 

Q: Have you been tested for the coronavirus?

A: No, I haven’t, and I don’t have any plans to get tested.

Q: Do you know anyone in Hawaii who has tested positive for COVID-19?

A: Since I personally don’t have a lot of friends in Kona, I don’t know of anyone testing positive here or in other places.

Q: Do you plan to return home?

A: I am home. I’ve been living nomadically and out of a backpack for more than 2 1/2 years now, which means wherever I am in the moment is my home. 

Q: Have you seen any changes in the atmosphere on the Big Island?

A: The atmosphere was most hectic when there were more vacationers here, as people were figuring out if they wanted to cut short their vacations. They were wondering what to do because the hotels were shutting down and flights were becoming more difficult to get. 

So during that week in the middle of March, things got very hectic.

But once most people decided to go home, the general energy has been surprisingly calm. There are fewer people here and fewer cases of the virus.

It’s easier to access nature now. People are still hiking and swimming because it’s much easier to maintain 6 feet apart in Hawaii than other large cities. 

Q: When did you start realizing that things were becoming serious?

A: When I was in Arizona. I just arrived there for a quick project and was staying with friends. But I only had time to hug them and have a meal; I had to get to New Zealand before the borders closed. 

I then rushed to the airport for a flight that left at 3 o’clock. 

With planes being grounded and borders closing, it was a moment of reckoning for me. That urgency that I felt to get off the mainland and try to get where I needed to be was when I truly knew things were getting serious. 

Q: Are you able to get everything you need?

A: Yes. Because there are fewer people here and fewer cases, there’s been less panic. So there’s been less of a frenzy or a sense of things running out.

And that’s not to say that when I was at Costco I didn’t notice that there were fewer supplies than usual. Initially, I think a lot of people were buying tons of toilet paper, and after time went by, supplies were replenished. 

I don’t know anyone who actually ran out of toilet paper. We never stockpiled toilet paper, but we also never ran out.

Victoria Loustalot, ’03, eats gelato in Kealakekua, Hawaii, on March 20. (Photo courtesy of Loustalot)

Q: How has the pandemic changed your day-to-day life?

A: It hasn’t really changed my day-to-day life at all professionally. Because I’ve been nomadic for 2 1/2 years, all of my work is done either digitally or with minimal in-office needs. I’m always consulting and freelancing.

Of course, it’s put off our arrival in New Zealand. But, this is what a lot of people are experiencing for the first time in terms of working remotely. That’s the way I’ve almost always worked, so I consider myself lucky in that manner.

Personally, it has. I’m in a place where I’m fortunate to have a few friends, but it’s not like I have a huge community here in Kona. 

Q: What safety precautions have been taken? 

A: We’re honoring the protocol of 6 feet apart and keeping a social distance. When we’re out and about, it’s only for things that are necessary.

Most businesses are closed or only doing pickup, so it’s not like there’s really much to go out for.

I’ve been very sensitive to washing my hands as much as I can, staying away from people and not putting anyone who might have a compromised immune system at risk. 

Q: How has the local community reacted? 

A: The farmers market and seeing the community come together has been really amazing. 

Hawaii is not necessarily known for being at the cutting edge of technology or business innovation, but the way they rallied so quickly was fantastic.

You aren’t allowed to peruse the stalls of the farmers market, but in just a few days, the local market in Kona set up an online ordering system so you could get what you need through a curbside pickup. 

That’s not something that they had ever offered, but they were able to pull that together in record time. So all of the farms that were supported by the market continue to stay open and have revenue.

We’ve been able to get almost everything that we need. 

Seeing the community come together and supporting places that might have been very badly hit otherwise has been encouraging and beautiful to be a part of.

Q: What is the silver lining of this experience for you?

A: Staying in contact with friends and loved ones from a distance over WhatsApp and Zoom has been wonderful. 

But what’s been really beautiful is that so many people I’ve tried to maintain a connection with over the last few years are suddenly much more available. They were less likely to hop on a video call because they had a lot of other demands. 

And for someone who has been living nomadically for quite a while, it’s been really nice to reconnect with good friends of mine on a more regular basis. 

Q: What do you miss most from pre-quarantine life?

A: I miss observing each other. The way we dress and move and speak. 

Taking our bare, unmasked mouths for granted. A pair of heart-shaped lips there, a soul patch here. 

Going to parties, watching, listening and collecting the best bits and looking forward to sharing and dissecting them later with my friends. 

I miss making observations and hearing the people I love, with their singular perspectives, make their own. 

The serendipity of running into friends in unexpected places at unexpected times. 

But how gratifying, too, discovering these kinds of missing moments I’ve already had. Every night now, I step outside and watch the sunset. And I stay on for the darkness, gazing up at the stars. 

These are the observations to make now, the parties to RSVP for and the serendipities to behold. It’s not the same as before, but that’s the point. 

Victoria Loustalot, ’03, snaps a photo before snorkeling at Wailua Bay on April 7. (Photo courtesy of Loustalot)

Q: How are you keeping busy during these times?

A: I actually have more work than usual. So, I don’t have trouble staying busy. 

Because my professional background has always crossed the divide of working in the digital space, which now is more important than ever, I’ve actually been really busy.

I’ve also been consulting with friends about different books. I’m a huge reader, but now I have other people that are interested in talking about books with me.

I’ve also spent the last few years in a lot of big cities, so it’s been lovely to be in a place like Kona, where I have so much access to nature. A lot of it is being grateful that I can get outside and spend time in nature.

Q: What’s open in your neighborhood?

A: Places like Costco, the grocery store and gas stations. A lot of restaurants and coffee shops are open, but only for curbside pickup. So you can’t actually go in and sit. 

Places like the post office, FedEx and UPS are still open. Obviously doctors’ offices and veterinary clinics are necessary services. But I’m not shopping or going to boutiques or the bookstore. All that stuff is closed.

Q: How has your community come together?

A: Spending time in the water, I’ve noticed a lot of support and respect for the Ironman Triathlon.

The Ironman race is held in Kona every year in October. So you have a lot of people who spend several months of the year here preparing for the competition. Which means that even though this situation is happening, you have a lot of people who want to maintain their exercise regimens and routines. 

And there’s been a real respect for social distancing when you go down to the water. People are keeping their distance on the beach, giving each other the space they need to do laps, whether they’re triathletes or just someone who needs to get some exercise. So that understanding of being respectful of each other’s space has happened pretty naturally.

The hikers on the trails have shown tremendous respect as well. They’re sure to keep their distance as they pass by and do it with a smile or a wave. It’s all been really lovely to see.

Q: Is there anything you’ve seen that gives you hope for the future?

A: A lot of things give me hope. The ways in which so many people are waking up to this moment and recognizing that what we had before wasn’t working.

I don’t want to go back “normal.” Normal wasn’t working for us — this virus proves that. What we consider normal has been broken for a really long time. 

And what an incredible opportunity for us to make changes and to do something different. It’s amazing that there’s less pollution in the sky in Los Angeles. Immediately, just like that. With fewer cars and planes around us, our planet has literally taken a breath of fresh air.

We are starting to recognize how huge collective decisions like that could have such an immediate positive impact. And it’s an incredibly hopeful thing to see. I hope that it spurs us to continue to make such decisions.

Q: In the big picture, how has this changed your life?

A: This situation is very similar to how I was already living.

I would say the situation has made me far less anxious. It’s made me more hopeful and grateful because I’m seeing the ways in which society is waking up, collectively, and it feels like an amazing moment to be a human being on this planet. Because we get to be a part of shedding the old world and creating the new world paradigm — what an incredible opportunity.

I’m watching so many of my friends who are parents shifting the way that they approach parenting. For instance, I’ve observed friends and colleagues participating in Zoom conference meetings with their children napping in their laps.

It’s been incredibly beautiful for me to see friends of mine who are parents waking up to a new relationship with their children. As I consider the possibility of having children of my own, this has opened up so many different possibilities for what raising my own family might look like.

So if this virus has changed my life in any way, I think it’s changed my life for the better.

—By Jacob Chand

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