It is nine days after the earthquake that has changed the face of Christchurch forever and taken so many lives. The days since the quake have been given over to coping on a hourly basis - three days without power or sewerage, eight without water. The rhythm of these days has focused on the basics. Clearing a safe path through the mess in the house; removing the worst of the glass and ensuring I wore sandals inside until power returned and I could vacuum the almost invisible glass shards; finding containers for water; collecting water from the tanker at the fire station; boiling water for safe consumption on the little gas camping stove; emptying water into the cistern to flush the toilet; morning sponge baths...
I thought of the Cambodian primary school where we volunteered. Six hundred children. No electricity, no running water. The children were clean, the school buildings also. I never did find out what the toileting arrangements were. Here 'poos' and 'wees' - or the adult equivalent - have become conversational staples over the past week. I have been unable to take photos of buildings this time. It feels too intrusive. But the image at the end of this post is one with which Christchurch residents have become very familiar.
These days have also been given over to sharing with, and caring for, others. In Governors Bay the community has pulled together to check on neighbours, share scarce resources and information, swap quake stories. Up at the water tank a stranger offered me two 4-litre bottles of clean water. People all over Christchurch are opening their homes to quake 'refugees'. Simi, Chris, Jai and Priya stayed with me for a couple of nights when it seemed their house might be unsafe to live in. Elaine took in elderly neighbour Doreen and made a 'home' for her in the living room. Students are shovelling silt all over the city.
Once again there was a sense of unreality. Without power, we were unable to access images of the destruction. All we knew were our own homes, our immediate neighbourhoods. Ironically others around New Zealand and overseas were better able to comprehend the citywide damage. And once the images became accessible, it still seemed unreal - as though happening in another country. However a car trip to check on those I was most concerned about revealed the following. Big boulders on the road over the hill. Undulating roads awash with silt from liquefaction in St Martins. The St Martins New World supermarket (my supermarket for 25 years) closed for good. In Heathcote my friend Anna's house (only one of many) minus most of its bricks and several windows. Ferry Road and the Causeway to Redcliffs pot-holed, sink-holed, cracked, bombed. The Lyttelton tunnel, closed. Evans Pass, closed. The road to Sumner (at least a couple of days ago), closed. The historic port town of Lyttelton, including the iconic Timeball Station, smashed, beyond repair and smelling of rotting garbage. And this is just around the base of the hills. The central city is cordoned, off limits.
After the September quake we wanted every damaged heritage building repaired, restored. Post 22/2 many of those buildings have gone and now it is only the most 'iconic' that stand any chance of restoration. Christchurch's brick and stone public buildings which bespeak its colonial heritage are now too dangerous. It will be a new CBD that rises from the dust. And today, as I listened to citizens advocating the rebuilding of the Cathedral, I found myself thinking that we would be better to start again - a new, adventurous and edgy building, a phoenix but not a recreation.
A week on from the quake, residents gathered (as they did all over New Zealand) at the Governors Bay School, to acknowledge the quake deaths in two minutes of silence. The waiata following the silence, and the newly unfurling monarch butterfly that Mel’s little daughter Sasha held gently, undid me and I cried for the first time. While my relationship with Christchurch City has always been somewhat ambivalent, it is the city in which I was born, grew up and where I have spent most of my life.
My house is standing. The kitchen floor was awash with red plum preserve syrup, mixed with red currant jelly, marmalade and heaps of broken glass. The contents of other rooms were smashed, splintered, spilt - the floors strewn with books, paintings, broken ornaments, broken glass… The large water cylinder has shifted significantly and leaked. But I am fine. My whanau are fine. The furs and feathers are fine. We live on shaky ground and we may never feel entirely safe again. That is the nature of the planet we inhabit.