Having worked as an international flight attendant for 12 years, Sanae Sekine admits she found it hard to believe her flying career might be over when the Covid-19 pandemic forced planes to stay grounded around the world.
“It was my lifestyle and my identity as well. I missed flying and I wished I was still flying.”
She managed to work for a further month on charter flights bringing stranded Kiwis and Aussies home before the flights came to a halt but still hoped she would get called up again.
“I kept my suitcase out and my uniform hung up ready to go.”
With a varied career background which included looking after people with special needs in her native Japan, car sales, being a guardian for Japanese students in NZ and even working in a restaurant, Sanae had been looking at various other jobs.
But nothing caught her attention until the day she saw an ad for an evening receptionist and van driver at the Ryman Healthcare’s Logan Campbell Retirement Village in Greenlane.
“I was like, oh my goodness! This is something! So I quickly typed a cover letter and mentioned mum’s name. All the memories came flooding back.”
Sanae’s late mother-in-law Gail spent her final year at the village and was the first to sign a contract for a serviced apartment when the village went on sale.
Sanae and her partner Chris, Gail’s son, live just down the road from Logan Campbell and think of her every time they drive past.
“When we had to come in to discuss mum’s care I was impressed with how mum was treated as an individual and the staff totally accepted her needs and our demands as well. It was a real one on one service and that impressed me.
“The girls that looked after mum were so nice to her and so hardworking. When she died last year they said come back and visit but the first few months afterwards I was too emotional and I couldn’t, I was just too sad.”
Her excitement at the thought of not only visiting them but being a part of the village team was even palpable at her interview with Village Manager Karyn Nobilo.
“I was so happy even Karyn said ‘you’re excited, aren’t you?’” laughs Sanae.
She was over the moon when she was offered the job and with a few of her former colleagues either still looking for work or not enjoying the work they have found, she is counting her blessings.
“I feel very lucky because I didn’t hear back from any of the other jobs and there were so many applicants for this role.
“I also thank Gail as well because if she wasn’t here that opportunity wouldn’t have stood out to me.”
When she first started Sanae joined some of the residents at Happy Hour to introduce herself.
“Every time I talk to the residents they tell me how happy they are here.
“I asked them how they survived lockdown and while they missed having visitors a lot of them said they had an amazing time, they got bags of goodies every week and were well looked after. I thought ‘wow, that’s amazing’.”
Sanae was also impressed with Ryman’s organisation and attention to detail.
“Their precision and sticking with policies is very similar to my background with the airline – you’re responsible for people’s lives there as well.”
Because she is switching between reception work and van driving, Sanae is enjoying the variety of both roles and feels like she is doing her bit to keep the village ticking along.
“This is not just a job, it’s a community I belong to. It’s like a big community and people do all sorts of things within it. It’s very unique.
“I’m happy to be in the team, and not just a resident’s family visiting. Now I’m part of that team and that makes me feel very special.”
While her flying future remains uncertain, Sanae is content to learn the ropes at Ryman.
“Every day I really look forward to coming to work and with all the stories I keep telling Chris it confirms for both of us that we made a good decision for Mum to move to Ryman.”
She adds: “And I have put my uniform and suitcase in storage!”