Monday, March 28, 2011

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome

There are many things that contribute to stress levels in post-earthquake living. Dealing with insurance is one of the greatest of all stress-inducers.

Now I don't want you to think our insurance assessors is a nasty chap. Nothing could be further from the truth, I mean this guy is just plain nice. We stood outside the Dallington house making jokes about disappearing down the fissure if there was another earthquake. The guy has a great sense of humour. But I wasn't laughing when we started talking about our insurance coverage.

Why is that an insurance assessor wants to make it feel like they are doing you a favour if they do what your contract says they have to do and what you have for paid them for years to do if you needed it? Does this seemingly sensible, good nature chap really think that he can fool me like that? Surely when Richard and I are standing there, talking and laughing with him, it is apparent that we can read--and pretty well. When he starts telling us that we should have out-buildings included into the measurement of our house, does he think that we are idiots? If we had all the out-buildings measured as part of our house, they would probably be accusing us of fraud, trying to claim more insurance than was our due. What insurance agency in the world is going to pay out the $2000-2200 per square metre of rebuilding costs for a house to rebuild a greenhouse or shed?

As I stood there, those jokes we'd been making about the fisure opening up and swallowing someone started to seem like a very fine idea!

No, Mr. Insurance Man, my out-buildings are not included in the measurement of my house, aren't you glad about that! You don't have to pay premium building costs to rebuild them...but you sure are going to have to rebuild them! That's what my contract says, and I can read.

The stress-inducer that come second only to insurance dealings, is lack of information. We could have called this government induced stress.

The thing about Lack of Information is that it has a companion named Rumours. These two
stress-inducers make the perfect tag-team. Rumours abound around the city about areas that are not going to be re-built. My Dallington neighborhood is right in the centre of all such rumours. Along with rumours that the neighborhood will be demolished and not rebuilt are rumours about what will be done with the land.

Rumours can only abound and cause stress when people don't get good information. That is what we need. We don't need to hear that something like 10,000 houses will be demolished and some suburbs may not be re-built, only to find out later that this was 'back of the envelop' thoughts rather than facts This only promotes an atmosphere of uncertainity with people forming opinions and spreading them like they are facts. We need information, as quickly as is possible.

I don't think I have Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome! I don't. I think I have some days with Insurance Induced Stress Syndrome, some with Lack of Information Induced Stress Syndrome, and then occasionally I get Rumour Induced Stress Syndrome. But, hey, I'm opened to an arm-chair diagnosis if you want to have a go.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The One You've Been Holding Your Breathe For....

I was taking my daughter to work in the Eastern suburbs a couple of days ago. (And yes, she still has no car--it remains locked in the city garage!) Maddee was in her car seat, and of course we were chatting about the broken roads and houses as they worsened the further east we drove. Maddee chimed in, I need to go to the toilet.

'Can't you wait sweetie?" says me.
'No, I need to go now.'
'Oh Maddee, we have to at least get to Molly's work.'
'No, we can stop at a blue one or a green one.'

She was talking about portaloos, of course. At four, Maddee was desperate to get into one of those colourful boxes and have a go. I guess the sad fact is that any four year old in this city can, without thought, explain those strange boxes littering the streets. But for her, the thought of using one is exciting.

You think it's because she is little she that she feels that way, right? Well my friend and Dallington neighbor has a PhD in some sort of mathematics (I don't really ask, I mean we're talking mathematics here!). She said she was never so excited about anything as when her portaloo arrived on the street. It's clear you don't have to be four to find portaloos great. Spending a couple of weeks using a bucket over a hole and another couple bagging up the contents of a chemical toilet will turn even the most sensible of person into a fan of the 'green ones or blue ones' sitting on side of the road. At least the city comes and cleans those. (There's that silver lining!)

So, when you come to Christchurch and find yourself stuck in traffic for ages, you don't have to worry, if you have to go it is really easy to find a place to go. Just look for the blue ones or the green ones, and you might be rather excited when you see one.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Christchurch, The Garden City

I'm very tired this evening. I know why, it is because I had errands to run this afternoon. As I was out, trying to make my way from one end of the city to the next and then back again, something important dawned on me.

This is simply not the same city that it used to be. When I go out to do anything, I feel like I'm living in a different place. I've lived in so many places, different cities and countries. I'm accustom to changing surroundings. But when the place where you are changes around you, that is hard to deal with.

Some of my favorite cities in the world are highly populated places. Cities where the grocery store queues are long, and parking means circling, and driving means traffic. Christchurch was not a city like that.

When we were first thinking of coming here, Richard came for a visit. He came back and told us about this city, the garden city of New Zealand, the most English city outside of England. He said that for a city of around three hundred and fifty thousand people, it worked more like a town. For years we had lived in small villages, first in Cambridgeshire and then in Canada. We didn't see how we would adjust to a city of such size, but Richard was right, Christchurch was small and comfortable in feel. Easy to get around, slower than a city should be, pleasant and uncomplicated. It quickly became the city of our children. Christchurch was (maybe is) a city you can easily own.

On February 22nd, all ease fled. Christchurch is now complicated. The traffic, the closed roads, the long queues for every service, in every store, the circling for car parks, these things are worse here than anywhere I have ever been. In those cities where I lived in the past, there was tension and stress because life is more complicated. That, too, is truer of Christchurch now than any place I have been. Some people in Christchurch are still living with the worse of the earthquake,in areas that are broken, water that doesn't run properly, in places where roads are barely drivable. All of us live with nights often rocked by aftershocks, and everything we know changed. The words tension and stress are not good enough words to describe the feelings. You can see in most every face, and the lines around so many eyes, people are stretched. It makes it harder to reach down and find the patience that we needed more than ever before.

When I was a little girl, they had a saying, loosely based on a Bible verse. 'Don't pray for patience, because tribulation produces patience...' If you want to test out how well your patience has developed, come to Christchurch. But when you realise you need more than you have, leave before you pray for it. Because, frankly, I think we have enough tribulation for now.

The receptionist at Richard's work said it best to me today. Sue said, "The earthquake took the garden out of our city."

Ready For A Disaster?

I still haven't put together that blooming emergency kit! You might think after two earthquakes in less than six months, this blonde lass would be smart enough to get her act together and get ready for a natural disaster, or a power outage even! Nope. I definitely am one for the cliche' because 'my road is paved with good intentions.' I did get a great little plastic box with a handle to put all the bits into, but then I used it for something else. (Really, some boxes have a million good uses!)

When I think back to both those earthquake events, I don't think an emergency box would have done us much good anyway. In my own home, I did have a place where all medicines and supplies were kept. But the house was too damaged to really access during those cold dark hours just after the September event.

New Zealand has something of an earthquake emergency box, called the EQC,The Earthquake Commission.

The EQC inspectors were on our street yesterday. You can see them here and there around the city doing the 'Rapid Assessment' of every building in Christchurch. It's a new approach that they put into place after the February 22nd event.

After the September 4th event jokes abounded about the EQC having invisible workers. There was a sense that things simply weren't progressing fast enough. The Civil Defense was into Christchurch on that Saturday, September 4th and were everywhere present, and progress was rapid. As the emergency status was removed, progress seemed to slow.

This time, EQC have developed a 'triage' approach to assessment, and aren't even waiting for people to make claims. This is good. It seems like September 4th was a dress rehearsal that revealed all the problems.

Let's face it, EQC never had anything to deal with like this before. They were formed in 1945, fourteen years after the Naiper Earthquake of 1931. We haven't had a major earthquake since their formation. (And may we have another 79 years without one, please.) I've heard it said that up until a few months ago, EQC's specialty was making fridge magnets with their telephone number on. Made me laugh!

EQC is the government agency that is in supposed to be prepared to deal with these disasters. I guess having that emergency box checked made us all feel better, but one has to question how ready were they? How ready could they be when we haven't faced anything like it since 1931? How ready can anyone be ready?

I don't think it is possible to be ready for a natural disaster. That's what makes them so powerful and so frightening. They come fast, and in unimaginable ways. The cruelty of an extra forceful 6.3 earthquake in a city that was in recovery from a 7.1. A tsunami of ultra-proportions following on the heels of a 9.0 earthquake. Could anybody be ready for these events? Are you?

P.S. If you know how to keep a flashlight from going walkabout, can you let me know?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Boiling Water

I'm boiling water again. I keep a huge soup pot on my stove and each evening I boil water. I'm starting to feel like a witch, with a cauldron.

It's kind of fun,this boiling water thing, unless of course I run out. Besides, it reminds me of my childhood in Indonesia. I only have to boil my water for three minutes. Back when I was a child in the village, water had to be boiled for twenty minutes and then poured through a charcoal filter after it cooled. Okay, I'll be honest I didn't boil the water back in those days. We had young women who worked for us and they did it. Sometimes I helped pour it through the filter though!

You won't believe this, but I didn't know it was World Water Day when I started writing this. In fact, when I started writing I didn't know World Water Day existed! I only found out because I googled 'boiling water' to see why it was we boiled our water so long. Maybe we didn't need to do it that long, but not one of my family ever came down with cholera or typhus when people in the village died as epidemics rolled through.

I wrote this because I want you to turn on the tap, pour a glass of water and drink it. Brush your teeth, and rinse your toothbrush under the flow of water from your tap. Appreciate water that flows clean. (Please refrain from following these instructions if you live in Christchurch. And if you are from my old neighborhood, I apologize for even mentioning running water when you still don't have any.) But don't feel sorry for me. I don't mind boiling water, it is just one of the little things that changed, and it is one that doesn't matter.

It also doesn't matter that we have bits of paper lying around from insurance companies, and the EQC. Today when I swept, in the dirt on the floor was a card with a number for counseling services offered by the EQC. These are the little reminders of life that changed. All very unimportant things that are ever present in our life. We never forget. New plates, new furinture, not enough mugs, empty cupboards, all remind us. EQC notes, and boiling water, the occasional tear when one of the little girls remember something that is gone (okay me too)keep it close to our emotions. But just in case you forgot, we had an earthquake, and if you come to Christchurch, remember to boil your water.

Earthquakes Are No Respecter of Persons

I was driving down Papanui Road and saw this house being demolished. It was one of those huge houses, in Merivale. Merivale, yes, it's just like the name sounds, posh. The houses are beautiful, or in the case of a few, were beautiful. The demolishing company was on that site, as I passed, I saw rubble and antiques, all combined in the macabre mixture that an earthquake creates. The owner of that particular million dollar house had been interviewed on television. The house, once beautifully done and full of period antiques, was felled with all the contents.

It is, you remember, a pain I understand. I did not live in a million dollar house, the furniture that I owned was not period antiques (though I had some lovely antique pieces). But I think most everything in that house was special. Okay, maybe the Tupperware wasn't special, and I had a few bits of clothing that I no longer even liked and wondered why I bothered buying in the first place. But I have travelled around the world, and I am, by nature, a storyteller, so nearly everything I owned, had a story. Okay, so now you know that if you had visited me before the earthquake, you would have seen some interesting, but not overly expensive things, and been bored by a story. But don't worry, it's almost all gone now. My major story now is, 'I bought this after the earthquake.'

I'm classically middle class, the sort of woman who is completely average. I'm so average, that if you put me up beside ordinary, I'd make it look special. It didn't matter on the day of the earthquake. The houses of the wealthy, the poor and the average, ordinary, middle class, lay broken in this city.

As I drive around the city, venturing out through the traffic to find which roads I think I can tolerate, I am saddened by the businesses lost. I think of those people, who must be worried about what the future has for them. The little dairy and the Chinese Take Away not far from my old house in the Eastern Suburbs. Those two places where hit hard by the September event, how they worked to get things back into place, only to be hit again. I see the same story written on so many corners around Christchurch. The broken buildings say more than just damage, they speak of fear, of uncertainty, and of pain.

Surely I am not the only one who reads that same story in the faces of those poor central city business owners. Some of those people are wealthy, city property owners, and some just small business people. It doesn't really make a difference, when an earthquake takes all you have. I watched the news with horror as they attempted to enter the red zone in the city and were fought off. Is not that anger, really just fear of the future? Where are the leaders of our city, or country, the sons and daughters of Christchurch (or Auckland or Dunedin) to put a hand on the arm of these poor people, sit down with a cuppa and reach an agreement that gives them peace?

Peace is hard to find in the aftermath of an earthquake. The land itself continues to shake, the roads and buildings are constant reminders of what has happened, personal life is uncertain and rumours of squabbles and politicizing concerning the rebuilding of city increase insecurity. It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor, an Earthquake takes everything, including peace, from everyone.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Altered States.

"I think that was a 3 pointer."

"Oh," says I, "I didn't feel anything. Did you feel something?"

"I think it was a 3 point 2 point 5."

"Oh," I say, again, and watch as Maddee goes back to her play.

There are words and thoughts that have entered our life here in Christchurch, things I never knew about or at least never thought about before. Earthquakes alter more than just the land, it alters the people, even in the simplest of ways.

"Hey mum, look at that, there's a Search and Rescue Man on a bicycle." Isabelle points out as we are driving down the street.

"Ah, probably the easiest way for him to get to work in the city would be bicycle." I answer.

USAR, a word we all now know, Urban Search and Rescue Personnel, now a common sight, often a conversation point. Even my children can identify these people on the streets, passing by, on a bicycle.

"Do you think the inspector will come today?" Maddee asked me.

"Inspector, what inspector?" Excuse me for not being with it, but I was talking to a four year old. Maybe she was talking about Inspector Gadget, or was it some odd thing that came up on Bob the Builder or some other television program?

We were just arriving home, and I pulled the car up, more than ready to turn my attention to getting in and having a cup of tea before starting dinner preparations, which were taking more thought and planning because I hadn't yet had replaced my pots and pans.

"Mum, do you think an inspector will come to look at the house?"

Then I got it. An EQC inspector, or a Structural Engineer inspector. EQC, Earthquake Commission, Engineers, these were things we never thought about, no less spoke of a few months ago. Now we talk about this all the time while we are waiting for someone to inspect Molly's flat to say if she can live in it again. Has the inspector come to your house? Have you heard about when the inspectors will visit you? Have you seen the inspectors in your area yet? It is a common topic around this city now. Poor Maddee was just joining the conversation of life.

On the door entering Maddee's preschool, a new sign as appeared. 'Out of respect for our children, please keep all earthquake related conversations outside these premises and away from little ears." I wonder if I should wear a sign like that? No I don't think I can.

Everywhere I go, people are in huddled up, chatting away about the earthquake, where they were, what has happened to them, what they have lost, if inspectors have seen their property, troubles with insurance. I do it too. It is the first thing we talk about when meeting up with a person. And here I am, blogging about it. There is some compulsive need to use these new thoughts and words in every day life. I think as we speak these words, they become normal. And normal is good.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Changes in Me.

Today is March 19th, that makes it the 20th tomorrow. Don't ask me how I feel about it? You don't have to because I'm going to tell you. I don't like it. This Moon Man thing has really gotten to me. He has predicted an earthquake for tomorrow.

Here I am, normally, a sensible, thinking, blonde woman (yes! those are ALL compatible traits!) scared to death of the predictions of a man who has written a book about reading Cat's Paws. Is this what these earthquakes have reduced me to? I also bought a flat screen TV (not that you can buy any other sort, and since we have lost ours...)but it is connected to freeview TV! We haven't had a TV that does anything other than run videos and dvds in years.

These aren't the only strange happenings in my life. I will have you know, I bought bling today. Cheap stuff (well truth is I found out that cheap jewelry isn't really all that cheap!, and I bought a lot of it. It was fun! I now have three huge rings and four or so rather noticeable necklaces. If that earthquakes strikes tomorrow, and I go missing, just look for someone who sparkles.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Memorial Service, March 18th

Today is a beautiful day. Strangely so. We have had so many beautiful days since the earthquake. It's an odd feeling, to be a place where that is so broken, and yet so beautiful. Some days I have to make myself work hard to enjoy sunshine, children, well, life all together, really. It isn't just the traffic, the queues, or constant daily small difficulties of getting on with life, its the thoughts, and memories that take me away. The worry of what will happen with insurance, the thoughts of others suffering worse than we are, wondering what the future looks like, and knowing that life here will just simply be hard to live, for along time to come.

Just now, even as I write, the Memorial Service has begun. Four hundred seats have been put out for the families of those who have died. One hundred thousand people are there in Hagley Park, there to remember, there to mourn. I'm home, watching it on TV. It started with a video of our city, so that we, the people of this broken city, can see what has happened. It's hard for me to look, impossible not to, and yes I am crying. We knew, but yet didn't, the extent of the damage.

Prince William, Prime Minister Gillard and many others have come to mourn with us. Prince William has done the royal family proud, with his willingness to walk through the rain and talk to the people who have lost family members. Maybe it is because, he too, has suffered great grief.

I embrace the Maori opening. This is New Zealand, and it is our Maori culture that makes us different. So our grief, must also reflect our culture and our difference.

There were debates about the memorial service today. Many said it was too soon. Business trying to get back on their feet, have said this is too hard, to have a closed day just as they are getting back on their feet. Others have said, they needed more time, to distance themselves. I'm ready. I want it. I think the city needs it. If some need to wait, I don't mind. When they are ready to mourn, I will join them on that day as well.

Earthquakes, Fourteen Year Olds and Four Year Olds.

I think I might just the right person to write about this earthquake. Having lost so much in terms of material 'stuff' I think I understand the impact. More importantly I have so many children, so I see the earthquake through the eyes of a fair few ages.

Maddee who is four seems okay this round. She was traumatized by the September event and took months to recover. She experienced so many of the staple issues of trauma for her age, reverting to babyish behaviour, clingy, and not sleeping. Every aftershock was a major event. We seemed to be finally getting through the worst of it as February dawned.

Amazingly, Maddee hasn't regressed much after the last event. She has started back to pre-school, today was her first full day. Aftershocks can make her jump (me too!) and sometimes she needs a cuddle after a sizable one, but she is soon playing again. The only thins she does is refusing to go anywhere near the two broken houses, but that probably just makes her smart!

Let's face it, Maddee is a clever little character,and she knows how to use an earthquake. Just before we found our newest house, when life was almost unbearable for all of us, Maddee was adding to the stress with naughty behaviour. I mean we tried to give her a break with all that was going on, but eventually enough is enough. "You're going to have to go to your room," I said to her. She looked at me, crossed her arms and dawned her scowling face, 'I don't even have a bedroom anymore, it was broken by the earthquake!" She also has figured out how to get a toy bought for her, she just has to pull at her mum's heartstrings about how many toys are still in the broken house and can't come out. Poor wee lamb...hey?!

Izzi's feelings at fourteen are more distressing. It may be hard on her, but believe me, what she is feeling is tougher still on her mother . Yesterday, as we drove through the traffic to get to school, Izzi talked to me about her year. Her camp, which should have taken place soon after the earthquake is cancelled and she feels there is nothing to look forward to. Probably just her age? I don't think so, not this time. The earthquake means many of the activities outside school just can't happen this year. As she climbed out of the car at school, she turned and looked at me and said, 'Do you reaslise that everything I got for Christmas, except for my cell phone, is gone now in that house?" Then she closed the car door and left.

I drove away from school feeling angry and helpless. There was nothing I could do. Okay, there was one thing, I could talk Ric into making one more dangerous little trip into that house to rummage around and find some of the rocks from her prized rock collection. He found a fair few, put them in her favourite container and we gave them to her on Sunday, her birthday.

It's amazing what even a few of your special things can do to brighten up life.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Strange, Disheartening and Marvelous.

Earthquakes produce some real oddities. People act so strangely. I think most of us struggle to stay sane, and our minds are not necessarily well connected to our actions. But some of the weird stuff is well thought out. Most difficult for me is the earthquake advertisements.

After the September 4th earthquake, the advertisements were out in a matter of days. "Dear Christchurch, we are sorry for your distressing time," the radio announcement says,"but the XXX Mall is opened for you shopping needs." On the side of the truck, "Earthquake Building Repairs Ltd. Call XXXX"

It's taken a little longer, but it's all started again. We can have the computers broken by earthquake repaired by a shop advertising all the components we might need for that kind of destruction. Our property, you must understand needs to be evaluated by Earthquake Valuers. Aren't we lucky? Did the earthquake shatter your glass, well guess who is ready to take care of all your Earthquake insurance forms? I suppose business must go on, especially since so many businesses are either out of commission for the short-term, or worse, for good.

Life after an earthquake can be truly disheartening. Even if you haven't suffered loss, life has intensified. Traffic, queues, business closures, water, lumpy-bumpy streets all make life difficult. The daily report of workers laid off, factories too broken to operate, some companies moving on, is discouraging. Listening to the news as they give the identities of victims, or tell us how difficult it is to identify badly wounded victims can make me cry.

I think, for many Cantabrians, today was another very distressing day. It was just announced that the Rugby World Cup games were stripped from Christchurch. Now I'm not a rugby fan, but even I feel low about this. I, like most here, understand. We have few nice hotels operating, and no city restaurants, bars or cafes. The suburban services are already stretched providing for those who live here. What pre and post game activities can Christchurch offer Rugby fans. Though we understand, it is still tough. Our Mayor, Bob Parker, said it well. Christchurch is facing a long hard winter, it would have brightened our spirits to look to the Rugby World Cup in the spring.

Yet out of the desperate days also emerges moments that are wonderful. Those university students (a large percentage of which have remained in the city and are starting back to classes under extremely difficult circumstances) have a new university cafe. Like the new lecture rooms, the cafe is in a tent. It's name is Canvas Cafe, In Tent City 6.3. What a laugh! Yes, we still laugh at our earthquake, sometimes while shivering.

The bond created in this city by this horrible experience, is something I would not want to have missed out on. I was in a shop today when a loud groaning noise started. It mimicked the sound of some aftershocks. Myself and a couple of ladies jumped, then laughed. We were soon chatting about earthquake experience and feelings about aftershocks. We share something beyond ourselves that binds us in a strange way.

These marvelous moments are not big. We wanted one of those truly marvelous experiences after the earthquake, I think the whole city wanted it. We wanted one of those survival stories, someone to be pulled out alive after days had gone by. We didn't get that in Christchurch. I love it now, when the stories emerge from Japan, but it didn't happen for us. Yet, we had something, our Christchurch miracle, a great moment.

It took time to stabilized the Cathedral enough to allow the Search and Rescue Teams to go in and search the rubble. If you have ever been to Christchurch, you will understand that the Cathedral is an iconic image in this city. It stands in the square, one of the great buildings that represent the age and place of Christchurch in the history of this country. You don't have to be a believer, to understand that the Cathedral is important. Most children in Christchurch will have made a school trip to see the building at some point, even if just at Christmas to put a charity gift under the huge Christmas tree. And if you shop in the city, you may have had lunch in its shade or made it your meeting place.

Within a hour of the February 22nd earthquake, someone said to me, "I heard the Cathedral fell." It was symbolic of the city's devastation. Soon the news broke that 22 bodies were lying in the rubble. There had been people visiting, of course, it was lunchtime. Some had gone up the tower. Why they knew the number, I don't know.

On March 5th, when the rescue teams were finally allowed to go in, and the announcement was made that no one was found under the Cathedral was a marvelous day. (The dean of the Cathedral cried, well I guess I did too.) A miracle, some say. I don't know, probably. The same marvelous miracle that occurs every evening when I sit down to dinner and all my family is safe and well. Miracle or not, it was marvelous for our city. And we hang on to every marvelous moment, great and small, with all our might.

The Only Thing Harder Than Going Through an Earthquake is Not Being There.

After both earthquakes, as soon as the dust started to settle, I had one thing I needed to do. I needed to make contact with my mother overseas. On September 4th, the earthquake that hit at 4:30 am, I got to my daughter's flat mid-morning and though the telephone lines were useless, I was able to contact my sister via facebook and get her to tell my mother I was okay. As it turned out, my mother had been at the dentist all day and hadn't even heard the news about the earthquake, till she heard if from my sister saying I was fine. I was worrying about her worrying, and she didn't even know.

February 22nd the scale was so much larger. Hitting us in the middle of the day, there was the sheer complication of reaching our children on the ground first. The impact in the city was so much the greater, no power, telephone lines over-run and not working well anyway. It was a mess. There was simply no way to get a hold of my mother for hours. It was days before I was able to speak to her in person. In fact, I had to talk to someone in Auckland and get him to update friends and family overseas about things here. I know it was hard for them to have us here and not to be able to help us.

On that second earthquake, there was someone else not here, my daughter, Rosee.

Rosee called me on my cell phones just minutes after the earthquake stopped. I thought it had already hit the news, it hadn't. She felt the shake in Dunedin and wondered if it was one off Christchurch again. We were already in the car, heading out to get our littlest, Maddee. I hung up and was trying to call out to find my older children, the cell phones weren't working. Rosee called back, she had made contact with Molly-Rose. As the afternoon progressed, Rosee was able to keep us informed on one another. For some strange reason, she could reach us, while we could not call each other.

Within days, I was talking Rosee out of coming home. We understood the frustration she was feeling. She was helpless down there, but truth is, we were helpless up here too. We could scrape ourselves up, run into that dangerous house to get a few things, boil water, and not flush our toilets, but we could do nothing for those poor people in the city centre. Rosee had to get on with life, attend her classes and do what uni students do. We had to find a new home. It was frustrating for her down there, but I knew that helpless feeling wouldn't go away just by coming home.

She did come home this past weekend. With the major part of the crisis past, and things settling into the new and difficult pattern that has become life, it was good for her to come and be here. She needed to see her family. She needed to experience her ruined city. It was hard for her to go again. Strange to leave her family in 'just coping mode'.

It's as hard to be away from here as it is to be here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Partially Livable

My eldest daughter Molly-Rose has been out of her house for nearly three weeks. (Incredible to think we are nearly 3 weeks on from the earthquake!) She got a call from her property manager tell her that her flat is deemed,' partially livable'. Partially livable? What does that mean?!? Surely you either can live somewhere or you can't. ' Well', the property manager says, 'that's what the inspectation report said, but until it is declared 'livable' you can't live there.' I guess in that sense, the term 'partially livable' means 'it's too broken to live in' so Molly and her husband are staying with friends.

Her flat had a mezzanine floor, which now has a large crack in it. You can stand at certain places upstairs and see the rafters through the cracks in the ceiling. The sliding glass doors are so twisted, they no longer open. The stove fell over and the legs broke off. Yet, her flat is partially livable, I guess.

I think I can say to you, without getting into too much trouble, that my daugther doesn't much like stress. So her house being partially livable is not a great thing. Her car being inaccessible isn't too hot either. On the morning of the earthquake, Molly-Rose and David had taken her car to the garage to get a warrant of fitness done. I don't think they had ever used that particular shop before, a place in the central city. Molly's car has been there ever since, it is in the orange zone, a no go area. She has no idea if the garage where she took it is standing or not. Her car is inaccessible.

Molly teaches English as a second language for a job. She recently decided to get a second degree in Speech and Language Therapy. She started university on February 22nd. She was in the basement of the university library when the earthquake struck. She was already struggling with idea of ever going back into that eleven story building again. But at this point, with nearly 3 weeks of no classes, she just wants to get on with her programme. Two of her classes start back tomorrow (March 16th), the other paper won't begin until sometime in May. The university has six 'red stickered' buildings. Molly's classes are meeting in tents/marquees set up around the university parking lots and green areas. I keep encouraging her about the wonderful stories she is going to have as an old lady. But we both know that getting through this degree is going to be stressful. (Did I tell you that Molly doesn't much care for stress?) I guess the univeristy is partially usable.

Molly-Rose has also been worried about the new strange schedule that the university has come up with to deal with all the classes sharing tents for lectures. This schedule will interfere with her English tutoring sessions. But then, the last student she was able to meet with was packing up to leave New Zealand anyway. His family feel that his education is going to be critically hurt by the earthquake and all the building sharing that has to take place. There are a fair few schools sharing facilities, one school using the building in the morning, the other in the afternoon. If you've come to New Zealand because you wanted to enhance your child's education, I suppose Christchurch isn't the place for that anymore. It appears many of the foreign nationals in this city are fleeing, including some of Molly's students. Which may be just as well since she has no car to get around to teach them anyway. I guess Molly's job is partially up and leaving.

I look around this city and see how so many people, young and old are affected by the earthquake. Somebody needs to call Molly-Rose and tell her that her city is partially livable.

I Will Not Expect An Earthquake...blah blah blah.

If you have followed me these last couple of weeks, you will remember that I wrote a series of strong statements about getting on with life. 'I will not be afraid. I will not expect an earthquake.' Blah, blah, blah.

I lied. I didn't mean to. I thought I was telling myself the truth and that if I said it, I would believe it. But I don't. It was a lie.

I expect an earthquake. I expect one, everyday, everywhere, all the time. On February 21st, I expected aftershocks. Aftershocks were reminders of what had happened. I didn't like them, they made me feel vulernable and nervous, but as the months went by, we became used to them. As the time past, I didn't feel even feel an aftershock under a 4 pointer. We worried less. We had some bad days when aftershocks were worse, or bigger, but those days were less frequent. We were in recovery mode.

February 22nd took away that new found freedom from fear. I think of those moments when the second earthquake struck and it comes back to me in slow motion. The shake started, another aftershock, it was big, no it was not just an aftershock. This was a another earthquake, bigger, more powerful, more destructive than the first. The earth is an uncertain place, more uncertain than I ever realised. To have a second earthquake, more devastating than the first, changed my world.

I started writing this acouple of days ago. So when Japan was hit by a devastating earthquake, an 8.9 that followed on the heals of a 7 pointer, my fears are confirmed. You can't count on earth to behave itself in any sort of order. Having had a natural disaster doesn't mean you dont' get another.

I expect an earthquake, and I have to get on with life while I do it. I remember the first time I had to deal with living on in the midst of life's difficulties. My father had a strange medical difficulty, his esaphagus tore open. The doctors assumed he would die. My eldest daughter was only six months old and such a happy, funny little baby. I sat in the waiting room, finding it so odd to laugh and play with the baby while my father was dying. (Dad lived on, for another 21 years and only recently passed away.) The expectation was that Dad would die, that night, or that week, or within six weeks, but life with my baby girl had to go on. I have to put into practice what I first started learning then, life must go on. No matter what happens in the world, we must make the best of the life we have now.

There are events that rob us of our security. Discovering unfaithfulness in a spouse can rob one of trust, being burgled takes away security, a death steals joy, earthquakes shake our confidence in the very earth. But we must live on through every horrible event in life. And we must find peace again. As a Christian, I find peace in the belief that God must be found in the midst of the chaos.

During this past week we've been planning a trip to the mountains for the weekend to enjoy the hotsprings. My son's birthday has just past and Izzi's birthday was coming, besides, Rosee had come home to see the for the first time since the earthquake. We needed the family time. It was hard to want to make the effort, but we needed to do it for the kids. Then the news about Japan broke. Ric and I sat there, watching the unbelieveable devastation hitting those people, feeling for them in a way we could only feel after experiencing the last six months of our lives. And we wondered if we should cancel our trip. How can we, of all people, go away and relax in hot pools while so much suffering was going on.

We went anyway. We couldn't cancel the trip. Our children needed family time, and we must go on with life. We all have to laugh, eat, celebrate and live even if we do it expecting an earthquake.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I Don't Like the Moon Man

If you live in Christchurch, you are sure to have heard about the Moon Man, and you probably have an opinion about him. If you don't live in Christchurch (other than being lucky at the moment!) you may not know about him. No, I'm not talking about the Man In The Moon. Truth is I've never much liked the Man in the Moon either. Chaps with scary faces are just not my cup of tea.

I don't know if the Moon Man is as scary looking as the Man in the Moon, but how he talks is scary. The Moon Man makes predications and right now, can you guess what he is predicting? You got it, more trouble for us. The Moon Man reads the moon, it's position to the earth, tides and especially something called a Kingtide. He predicted the two earthquakes that have hit us. At least, that's what I've heard recently, and yes, it was after the events! Which I admit is a bit suspect. But looking at his website, it appears to be true. He says the earth is in a particular position since September that has caused the earthquakes and that the earth and moon will be positioned in like manner on around March 22 and April 18. I don't like this at all. I don't like it because I don't want any more earthquakes. And I really don't like it, because April 18, is my birthday!

That's why I don't like the Moon Man. He is saying stuff I don't want to hear! It could be just me, because I generally don't like people who say things I don't like. (The tax man comes quickly to mind here too!) I think I'm a pretty smart girl and usually consider myself above and beyond nutcases. I'm a Christian and I don't much care for those relgious nutcases that show up on TV. Okay, so maybe its that they say alot of stuff and don't want to hear, and we all know how I feel about that! So when I start hearing about the Moon Man, I'm thinking about dismissing him as just another useless crackpot who predicts events after they have happened. But I'm not sure the Moon Man is a nutcase. He bases his prediction on moon and tide cycles, like the almanac does. I think that is pretty old wisdom. I decided that I should read what he says myself, instead of just reading what people say he says. I found out a bit.

He does believe that the earth and the moon are going to have what he calls a perigee alignment, and something may happen. He says the alignment is closer and stronger than the last two, which are what caused our last two earthquakes. I try not to believe it, but I do. I don't want to believe it, but I've always believed in the earthy wisdom of the almanac.

I'm in a fix. Has the earthquake not only altered the world I live in, but my brain as well. I'm l left so vulnerable by these earthquakes that I am going to become a follower of any and every nut that has something scary to say? Oh dear. Trying to think clearly in the midst of earthquakes is hard work. I'm having a hard enough time replacing my iron and my dishes, thinking straight about someone's predicitions about more earthquakes is just too difficult. Especially when we go to bed after a 4.6 and wake up in the wee hours to a 4.1. It is easy to believe earthquakes will never stop, and after living through two big earthquakes, it is easy to believe something worse could happen. Don't you just love all these people who keep saying 'bad things come in three's?'

Okay, what to do about the Moon Man. He doesn't actually say something is going to happen, he says it might. Everyday in life, something bad might happen. The world we live in is an unstable place. I can believe that there is truth and wisdom in the almanac view of earth, moon and tides, but I also know it doesn't control the earth! I know who does, and I've had some pretty long talks with Him lately! As a logical girl (despite the blonde hair), I also know what happened here was extraordinary. Two earthquakes, the second being the worse, is considered something like a 2000 year event. A third event happening? A fourth? I logically I know it is very un likely.

I will wait and see. As I said, I don't believe in nutcases, but I do feel emotionally vulnerable. I've already told my husband, if something happens around March 22nd, then the only thing I want for my birthday is tickets for my whole family to go on a long trip on April 18!

By the way, the Moon Man also says this moon, tide, earth postion is all going to be over after the April 18th. Now that I really like!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Living The Ordinary during Extraordinary Times....Attempts to Cheer Us Up.

We sang some lovely songs yesterday at church. My favourite was 'On Christ the Solid Rock I stand...all other ground is sinking sand.' You can imagine how we laughed when they announced the song. We had to meet at 2:30pm in different building because ours is made dangerous by the earthquake. It will have to be demolished. The pastor was tired. He'd been out seeing to all his people in the hard hit Eastern suburbs.

A church in Reefton made a nice afternoon tea for our people. They baked enough for every family to take home a cake and sent groceries. Another church (of different denomination) had baked cocolate chip cookies, and someone had sent water bottles and chocolate bars. All done to cheer us up and fatten us up as well, I guess.

In the bank the other day, they were giving away bottles of water. There were a fair few people in the queues, which is true of most every service in the city. I got to the teller and what happens all over, to everyone, happened again. We exchanged our earthquake stories. It's like a requirement to the start of every conversation. We must tell our stories.

After the teller heard my story, she excused herself and left me standing. When she came back, she brought a gift card for groceries. It was only fifty dollars worth, but still, have you ever recieved a gift from your bank? Don't they usually just take your money, smiling with great joy as they do so?

Everyone wants to help and there are so many attempts to cheer us up.

The whole country spent a day wearing red and black, the colours of the Canterbury rugby team. Annoucements of fundraising dinners and sausage sizzles and other ways get money to help rebuild the city abound. Farmer's Department story extended their special sale for Christchurch residents, requiring another trip to the mall. Live music was playing upstairs, a place I knew people had been badly hurt during the earthquake. And yes, I did think about earthquakes the whole time I was there. Those thoughts can really spoil a nice shopping trip!

It's hard to cheer us up. We go low again so quickly. It only takes a call to the insurance, a nasty little aftershock, a story in the newspaper, and we are soon sobered.

But I say --Go ahead. Cheer us up. The chance to smile or laugh, even for a few minutes, means an awful lot these days.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Living the Ordinary During Extraordinary Times....Old People and Earthquakes.

A few days ago I took yet another hot dinner to the Eastern Suburbs, a place still without power and water. Then Richard and I made our way further east to check on an old lady. Our dear fiesty friend is 86 years old and lives alone.

We travelled what should have been a 5 or 10 minute trip..well to tell you the truth, I don't know how long it took us. I was too in shock to watch the clock. We couldn't really even drive 10k an hour for the dips and rises in the roads. But the broken road was only part of the difficulty. This strange earthquake phenomenon called liquification had altered the area grossly. You couldn't tell the road from the grass.

Liquification has been a bane this earthquake! It is dark grey, a fine silty sand that bubbles up out of the ground, around concrete roads, through grass, up the footpaths, and even into floors of buildings. It pours out and covers the surface of the ground or mounds into little volcanoe shapes. It is heavy and has to be cleared by sheer back breaking shoveling. And during those fine warm days after the earthquake, it dries, and blows, and chokes and covers cars, faces, hair and everything. I've never been so dry and dusty and thirsty.

We found our friend. Alone in a dark house. She refused to come home with us, wanting to stay in her familar home, but agreed to be picked up the next day to come back with us to the house of the friend where we are staying. Ric picked her. She came and had a hot meal again but this time with company and even better, she had a shower and used a real toilet. 'What luxury,' she said, 'I don't know which is better, having a shower or using a flushing toilet.'

We had four old people at dinner aged from 86 to 90 years old. Our friend, another old woman, English-born, picked up from a residential home down the south-side of the city. (Where fifty old people are sharing one Port-a-loo and still have no power and no water.) Along with the elderly parents of my hostess, who are staying in this house as well. Though these old folks had never met before, they quickly begin to chat. They talked of their friends, all old, and how the earthquake had affected them, a stroke, a heart-attack and those leaving the city to residential homes in working order or to join family. It was a said conversation.

But then the talk turned to the war years. I listened fascinated as they related their survival of those years, some of them living in Britian at the time. All of them enduring great hardship. An earthquake, it seems, is not much different. The fear, the wondering when it will all stop, the physical difficulties.

We cleaned up and got ready to take the two women back to these places where they lived, places so broken and made horrible by this Earthquake we had all endured, but still their homes and where they want to be at night. I was struck by just how resilent the human spirit is.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Earthquakes. Living the Ordinary during Extraordinary Times. Car Parks, Malls and Getting On With It.

My eldest daughter, Molly, had taken her car to be repaired in the city just before the earthquake. As the city is shut now, she and her husband are down to one car. Her husband works for a structural engineering company, so these days his work starts early and goes late. So with no car, their house declared uninhabitable till further checks are made, her job and university at a stand still, she helps me. I just have to get her from her friend's house so she can.

I went to pick her up at the closest mall to where she is staying. Her friends were going there to do some jobs. Actually, most of Christchurch seemed to be heading to that mall that day. I think that might be because it is one of the few malls not damaged by the lastest quake. It was bumper to bumper traffic. Really.

In Christchurch, BE (BEFORE EARTHQUAKE) we could come in late and say, 'Sorry I'm late, the traffic was terrible." This would produced awful visions of sitting at red lights with ten or twelve cars in front of you. The sympathy of evey person in the room would be with you. AE (AFTER EARTHQUAKE--gosh you had the figured out didn't you?!) with the city center roads blocked by police and army (and yes, they are actually parking tanks at some of the barriers...INCREDIBLE SIGHT!), and many other roads full of workers trying to repair the infrastructure of the city, the rest of the roads are clogged with traffic. It doesn't seem to matter that 70,000 people are rumoured to have left the city if you are trying to get to the mall, because the rest of the people here have hit the road, headed to Hornby Mall to find them.

Or maybe they were going there for that forty percent off all clothing that Farmer's Department Store (the only nation-wide department store chain in this country) has offered to the people of Christchurch as gift. I must admit, the temptation to drop into to Farmer's was too great for me...and I needed to pick up my daughter from the mall anyway! Richard was informed of the decision to check out the sale, after all, I've been through an earthquake. Okay, the rest of the city has too, but come on, most of my clothing are in a house that I'm not allowed to enter. Richard agreed (did he really have any other choice?). Go ahead, get a Stress Dress. Isn't he clever?

But hey, it works for me. I've never been much of a career girl. Couldn't do the Power Dressing thing. Never dressed for sucess either. But these days...I can Dress For Stress.

When I finally reached the mall, in that bumper to bumper traffic, finding a parking space was impossible. There are wonderful stories of genoerosity all over this city since the earthquake. But I don't think any of them are centred around parking spaces at a malls. Irritation and anger levels looked to be at an all time high as people waited for those precious spots to park their cars. I drove around and saw the ramp heading up to the car park building. It isn't exactly high, only one story, but there are now visions in my head of places I have been, places I have parked, where cars are crushed. I almost passed on by, to go fight for a spot on the flat when I saw that little neon sign. You know the one, often on those ramps....89 spaces available. There were 89 spaces available in the parking building, while people tooted their horns at one another on the flat. I bit my lip, and drove my car, with my precious Maddee in the back seat, up that ramp.

I said to myself as I drove up, as I say to myself now...I will not be afraid. I will not live in fear. I will not expect an earthquake. I will not change who I am. I will live on. I will do the business of life. I will love my family. I will pick up my daughter. I will boil my water. I will help my neighbor (especially those in the Eastern Suburbs!)

I'm a Christian. I believe that life and death lie firmly in the hands of God. I do not need to fear that an earthquake will take my life or the life of my child (though I sometimes have that fear), for that life is God's and one day it will be taken. But when it is, it will be by the will of God and that is that.

I bought my Stress Dress. Actually, I bought two. And I think I rather deserved them. There was no earthquake, not even a little aftershock, but I thought about them the whole time I was there, and they dominated the conversation of my daughter and I. But that's okay. We did what we needed to do. We got on with living life. And we even laughed about how scary it can be to park a

Earthquakes. Living the Ordinary during Extraordinary Times. Flushing Loos and Drinking Water.

On about the fourth morning after the earthquake, I went to my friend's house, she was out. Her daughter, Ric and I started cooking up the meat from my defrosting freezer--the freezer sitting at the Old New House...with no power, actually no plaster, chimney or ceilings either as I think about it.

We'd been running around all morning. I was tired, and needed the loo. My friend's daughter directed me out the back door. There I found the long-drop loo. We'd all been told that the city's infrastruction, damaged by the Sept 4th earthquake, was now in ruins. "Do NOT flush toilets" --this was the order of the day. Even if you had running water with which to flush a loo, which most people didn't have anyway, no one was to flush! "We Kiwis, we're a camping people, you know how to make do, most of you have dug a toilet in your life time.' Our mayor said, with that certain Kiwi pride.

My friend's long drop was second to none. Very deep, bricked up to a nice sitting height , a good seat made of wood and even a carved out seat cover. It was protected on three sides by a wooden structure and tarpoline. Everything you need, including the toilet paper was there. Well everything except the flusher! I was a good earthquake girl...and took care of business outside!

My friend came home and I complimented her on her fine long-drop. "Oh, did you use it?' It turns out, that for the most part, that household, like the home of the friend's we are staying , had taken on the old Kiwi drought saying. They mostly used the indoor loos and "When It's Yellow, let in Mellow....When It's Brown Flush it Down!"

As the week has progressed, that has become the official mantra anyway. If you don't see your sewage back up your toilet or flow into you lawn, then .... well you know the saying. But we have all been schooled, from an early age, the moment you stand up (at least in my case) you PUSH that handle. Mellow Yellow is hard to achieve.

But we know where its going. And it isn't nice to think about. With broken sewage pipes and destroyed pumping stations, our waste is flowing freely into our rivers and oceans. And of course seeping into our ground. This, the once proud city of the purest natural underground water, water that need no chemical treatment at all, is now a place of badly contaminated water. We are under strict advisement to boil all water for 3 minutes before drinking or brushing teeth.

In case you don't live in Christchurch, I would like to inform you that boiling all your water for drinking and teeth brushing is ALOT of work.

But I must not complain. For in the Eastern Suburbs, they have no running water nor electricity to boil what they get from various sources. I visisted one of my neighbors from the Old Old House, they are using a gas stove to boil water. They get the water from a natural spring that has a tap on my front lawn. Do you remember the story in I fought the insurance and won...and they put a tap on the natural spring that had sprung a leakat my house. Just as well I fought that battle isn't it!

Maddee had a bath yesterday. She kept dipping her face in it. No darling, don't put your face in the bath. Don't let it get into your mouth. No honey, don't flush the toilet. I wonder what kind of adult she is going to be? Do you think she will lack the toilet flushing complusion of her mother?

But Richard! He should know better! He came home from work yesterday and told me he drank water from the tap. " I just was thirsty and before I knew it, I had run water in a glass and gulped down two big mouthfuls." Just as his work colleague said, 'Did you just..." Richard remembered. Turns out his friend had done the same alittle earlier. That didn't stop me from scolding, because I'm not looking after someone who gets disentery because he isn't smart enough to remember to drink boiled water!

I went upstairs to get ready for bed still shaking my head and hoping the silly man wouldn't get sick. I used the milk container full of boiled water to wet my toothbrush and gave my teeth a good cleaning. I turned on the tap, rinsed my toothbrush, rinsed my mouth and took a sip. Oh no, pains hit my stomach immediately. But I'm pretty sure it was remembering the long drops and Flushing Brown Downs...and not really IMMEDIATE ONSET DISENTERY! (Could some tell me if that exists, because if it does....)

Written by Barbara on March 2.

Earthquakes and My Personal Loss.

I write about my personal loss during this Earthquake Event with a deep sense of gratitude. I lost a house on Sept 4th, I lost almost all my contents on February 22nd. Compared to the losses of life...I lost nothing.

From the moment of the Sept.4th Earthquake it was perfectly clear that our home, a dream house, set on the banks of the Avon River was destroyed. This house, not quiet 80 years old, had been a haven during the 5 difficult years we had lived there. The personal stresses that Richard, and hence, our family, had endured during those 5 years sometimes crept in the doors of that beautiful house, but for the most part we could lock them out, and retreat as a family. We laughed surrounded by the rimu paneling, and enjoyed the sunshine through the large windows peeking down at the river. We read books by the log fireplace, and made fun of each other in the dining room. I felt its loss, but my sadness was more for the value that it added to the scenic river, than for my own loss.

Oddly enough the Sept 4th Earthquake took few of our precious possesions. I mourned the loss of a broken pottery bowl that Richard had made when he was 17 or 18 years old. Glass shattered in picture frames, but for the most part, what was held in those frames remained in tack. At the beginning of this Earthquake Event, it was okay to mourn the loss of things. We were a city that had endured a 7.1 Earthquake without a single loss of life. But as it was I did not need to mourn much at all, for our contents loss were little, carpets, glasses, and a stove, the most replaceable of all possessions.

That all changed on Feb. 22nd. This strange earthquake, richter scaled at only 6.3 shook the ground at twice the force of gravity of the first event. No one needed to tell us that this was twice the earthquake, we knew it as the house shook around us vertically, till every south and north facing window blew out. I took no time to assess damaged when it finished. Ric put my shoes on my feet (I never wear shoes if I can help it!) and we ran for our children. It was a day later before I walked through that house.

I've lived an extraordinary life. My parents left the city where I was born when I was 6-7 years old. Since then I have wandered the earth, making 7 countries my home for long periods. Visiting many others. I guess I'm a 'Keeper' rather than a 'Thrower'. I have, or should I say had, beautiful things I've gathered around me from the world. A pottery set from Settle, Washington, a carving of the butterfly dancer from Bali, pictures from Texas, a limited edition print of Cambridge, England, maple tables hand-made from a friend in Saskatchewen Canada, a hand-blown jug from West Virginia, a little pottery person from the North Island, china mugs from England, pottery mugs from nearly everywhere in the world. The rimu furinture, hand-made by the prisoners of Paremoremo Prison on the North Island. Just a tiny page fromt the catalogue of my life. These things, these memories of my life are now shattered. When I walked through that house, it seemed my life lay in little shards across the floor.

I have things---of far less monetary value, which mean more to me than even clothing (can you imagine keeping baby clothing from 5 babies!), the quilt my grandmother gave me for my wedding, the quilts I made for my children. These are a few of the things I desperately want to find in that rubble.

As I write this, Richard is back at the Old 'new' house (Maddee's term). He probably shouldn't be. It's been 'Red Stickered'. So, as the law requires, we have had a qualified builder inspect it. It is unsafe, the roof too heavy to be supported by it's broken foundations. What can we take out? What will be safe for us to remove? Ric is there looking for those precious little things, the little memories, it may be unsafe to ever pull out the big things. I told him, no risks! No risks! No one thing is worth a life. Not a collection of piled things could ever replace a person.

And I know, in reality, that it was not my life that lay broken and scattered on that floor. It was only things. I have lived that life. I have those memories. I have written about my journey. It is not taken from me. I've shared those memories with my father, who recently returned to His Lord, I continue to talk about them with my mother, I use them to poke fun at my brothers, I laugh about them with my sister. My husband of nearly 26 years and I say..."Do you remember ...." and together we piece together some almost forgotten story of our life. Somewhere along my journey, these children of mine started saying, 'Mummy remember when..."

Memories are not the things. Things are reminders of the memories, and though I hope to save a few, and I feel a certain sadness at their loss. I still have those memories. And the people with whom I shared the experiences are not under rubble. They are safe. I have all that truly matters.

Written by Barbara on March 1.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Earthquakes and Personal Loss.

I've been intending to write this for a couple of days. I planned on putting it up as I put up photos of the two houses we have survived in this Earthquake Event. I have been overcome by a weariness that would not allow me to write. Today I was determined that before I went to bed, I would write these thoughts that wrestle in my brain. Today I would write.

But today, I also walked my street again. My beautiful street with houses all along one side, looking down at the Avon River. I walked it, and gave baking to my neighbors who are still there, still living without water, power, or sewage. Their immediate difficulties strangely out weighing mine. My house is so broken it is unsafe to live in, so many there have houses that are in awful states of disrepair, but inhabitable (if only barely). Then I spoke to a neighbor whose house is only one away from my own. A woman I had hardly seen while I lived on the street. She is one of a large family who have lived on Dallington Tce for decades. A close family who seem to need no one else. Her father-in-law (80 + years) was born on Dallington Tce. Her sister-in-law lives behind her, a niece also is in the same group of houses, there could be other family members, I don't know.

The woman looked at me, as she took the plate from my hand and said, 'Thank-you. I will pass this on to my parents-in-law. I say, 'I'm taking theirs now.' (They were the only part of the family I really chatted to on a daily basis.) She stops, 'They're not there, their house is unsafe.' Before I could say a word of sorrow, she goes on. 'You don't know, their youngest son, Phillip's younger brother, he was killed by a falling boulder in Sumner.'

There it is again. That greatest of all loss, the loss of father, son, brother, uncle. I read today about a boy, they called him a teenager, his fourteen birthday just past. He was a boy, an only child. His school was out early, and he had birthday money. He did what any child in this city could do before. He took the bus into the city to spend his birthday money. My own children, my son, Micah, whose 17th birthday is on Saturday and my daughter, Izzi, who turns 14 in two weeks, they do it all the time. All the buses went into the city bus exchange. There you could grab a bubble tea, a coke, an ice cream. Meet with friends at Mac Donalds, or the brand new place called Wendy's. Walk the shops, spend your birthday money. This boy, this boy like my son, the age of my daughter, is gone.

All over this once beautiful city, the pain and grief are ever present. Even on my own street. How can I write about my personal loss today of all days...for it is truly nothing.

Written by Barbara on Feb. 28th.

Christchurch and Loss of...

Life ... I'm blessed to be more than a degree away from this loss. It is the worst, as we all know. This earthquake will cause a great deal of grief for many around the world. I haven't lived in this city long enough to have an expansive network, but even I know people who have suffered this loss. The friends were I am living, an older couple, both grew up here. Already they know that they are connected to at least four building missing in the city. This loss is the greatest of all losses. does a city rebuild world confidence? How can Christchurch claw through the destruction and come back a city that people will want to do busniness in and with? What tourist will come here? What language student will study here? What conference will be held here? People from twenty countries are missing in our city right now. How do we get confidence again? How do the people of Christchurch get the confidence to walk the streets again? How do you trust the buildings above your heads? How do trust the high-rise car parks? Confidence is lost.

Heritage and History...Christchurch was a different sort of city in this country. New Zealand is a young country. When you fly into Auckland you see a city that thriving and new. So shiny and bright. Heritage buildings are scattered across the cities and its suburb. Christchurch is a city where the buildings of history dominate. Brick, stone and concrete. When I came here almost 6 years ago I understood why this is said to be 'the most English city outside England.' After spending so many happy years in Cambridge, I found happiness in being here. It was comfortable. The city founders must have thought and planned to make this city as much like home as possible . It was a warm and comfortable city, with its lovely old buildings. The announcement today that half the brick buildings will have to be destroyed and a third of the city demolished is a painful loss of history.

I feel these losses too. It is not just the city that has suffered this, it is personal, it is me. My confidence is shaken. (Earthquake pun alert!) My heritage and history is lost, broken and shattered.

Earthquakes and Words of.....

Comfort... opening my facebook, reading an email, talking on the phone or in person to a friend or family member, these words have been a life-line of emotional support to me. Words of comfort are more important than I ever realised. How I now wish I had spoken more of them in my life. When David Cameron spoke from Kuwait on the TV, I nearly cried. Harper in Canada, less emotional but I clung on every word, a note from Obama, seemed a let down, Gillard's words expected and appreciated (along with the hundreds of Australian man-power here on the ground within hours!) Our own PM John Key was in his finest hour when he called himself a son of Christchurch and said your pain is our pain. Only words...but words of comfort are powerful.

Information ... words of information have become like gold. Lack of those words leaves a hollow that is deep. I wait for words that tell me what has happened, when power or water or sewage will be returned, and I fight back the thought that needing that information is foolish beside those who wait for information about lost loved-ones.

Encouragement...every time someone says, Christchurch will rise again, it is incredible the fighting spirit that renews in myself and all around me. When someone on TV or real life says, Cantaberians are a resilient or fighters or strong, I think we rise up and become more resilient, stronger and fight harder.

Pain...are important. Each time I tell my story, it has less power to hurt me. Each time I hear the story of another who went through the day, I know I shared it with someone else. Each time I hear the story of great courage, I realise how far people can be pushed and still come back. Each time I hear the story of loss of babies, sisters, brothers, sons, fathers, mothers and loved-ones, though I don't think I can bear it any more, I hope it helps that someone else is sharing their pain.

Humour-- Being me, I made it through the last earthquake on the back of my rather strange sense of humour. I'm finding it harder to reach into that bag of tricks this time. That is not to say I don't appreciate a good story or joke..and can giggle or even laugh when one comes my way. But making earthquake jokes is just not serving me this time. (Okay--stop with the sighs of relief already!) Some day maybe I will once again make those jokes so prepare yourself for that torture. But as I wait to see how many have lost their lives, I can only feel sorrow. Smiles and laughter are far away.
Written by Barbara on February 25th

Friday, March 4, 2011

At 12:50 I should have been writing. I had been up until just a few moments before then.

All morning I sat in my favorite chair, by the picture window of this rented house. But for some unknown reason, Richard decided to come home for a late lunch. Only the Grace of God could have caused this. Ric was too busy to come home, he'd taken his lunch to work, made it himself. I think this was the first time I ever discouraged him from coming home. I wanted to write and he was too busy to take the time off. It seemed sensible. I should write on, he should work on. Twice, maybe three times, I told him not to. But he insisted.

I had only just stood up when it struck, we knew in a second it wasn't a normal aftershock. Ric took my hand and pulled me towards the front door. The house was shaking vertical, like something in a Disney ride...but terrifying without the fun. We could hardly stand up, no less get to the door. But Richard pulled me towards it only to find that glass was blowing out of the door, we retreated back. Then the debris, all the plaster, wood, dust and glass flew at us. The picture window exploded, and the chimney fell into the living room, pushing the log burner at us. Ric stood with his arms around me.

Time is strange. It lasted forever, but was over in seconds.

When it settled we ran to the door again. Richard, finding my shoes and sticking them on my feet.

This time, unlike September, I was hysterical. It's my children, see. This time the earthquake didn't strike us in the wee hours of the morning. This was lunch-time and my children were across town, baby in preschool in the north, the others to the south.

It was our Maddee we ran for, Ric driving, going up on footpaths to avoid the now broken roads. I know I cried, over and over again about the fact that she had only just settled down from the last. I guess that probably didn't help Richard much!

She was okay. The children were all outside, singing songs about Jesus. My little Maddeed who had been so traumatized by the first event. We had made 5 steps forward, going to preschool again the largest and last. She is 3-4 steps back now, hardly leaving my side, terrified by this new onslaught of aftershocks.

Then across the city to the other children. It took 1 hour to drive the 15 minute trip. Along the way we picked up a young woman walking with a two year old boy, she was crying. She was trying to walk home, across the city.

I could settle down now. Cell phone coverage was dead (just like in September) except that my daughter, in university in Otago, 4 1/2 hours away, could call everyone. So she assured us we were all fine and arranged the meeting up.

The traffic was mad, but we still didn't know how bad this one was yet. I did whisper to Richard, 'This one can't have not caused deaths. We were so blessed last time, but it struck us at the busiest of time."

I think about that now. It seemed so hard in September, we never really knew what hard was till February.

After meeting up with our other children, it took us three hours to get the young woman and her little one closer to her part of the city. Not home, but close enough for her husband to reach her by foot. Cars were gridlocked on roads towards her home. We had to drop her, and pray she is walked away.

Our city is devasted. We are safe, with friends. Not sure of next steps Everyone in this city, including ourselves, knows someone under the rubble.
Written by Barbara (beegirl) on February 23th.