Christchurch (a love song)
The people I’ve met
Are the wonders of my world
Canterbury, a province in the mid-South Island of New Zealand
, is known for being quiet, stately, reserved... some would say boring, but for those of us from there, it's just a fundamentally good place to grow up. Characterised by arable plains with views to snow-capped mountains, forests, and the sea, it's a little piece of perfect
I’ve been walking in the same way as I did
Any city in which you say your first words and take your first steps will always mean something to you. I don't know if it's a conscious memory or not, but I have a clear recollection of using my miniature wooden pram (with blue gingham shade cover, no less) to hold myself upright as I tottered around a house by the Avon River. There was cork flooring, I swear, and I only know in hindsight that I had the chubby legs of a baby stumbling beneath my sundress. I don't remember my actual first steps (and I'm sure, effervescent praise soon after), merely the prequel. But I know I took my first steps as a baby in Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand - the secondmost populous city in the country, located approximately halfway up the East Coast of the South Island.
Missing out the cracks in the pavement
As a child of the 1990s, it was a matter of course to rollerblade. Even after moving from Christchurch, I still returned frequently, having friends and family there. The wide, tree-lined streets of Christchurch, rollerblades on, racing to and from the mall with friends. We added in the old rule of not standing on a crack - although seeing, and jumping, cracks on rollerblades led to many a skinned knee, we didn't give up. Cantabrians are often stubborn and competitive. A graze was worth the glory.
And tutting my heel, strutting my feet
The first time I ever got "dressed up" was in Christchurch. The first two times. The very first was going to the ballet with my mother, in my new shoes and a dress I hated. The second involved rampant riding up and down the glass elevator at the (then) Park Royal Hotel, testing the patience of the staff. The diners below almost glowed in the candlelight. As did my eyes.
I like it in the city when the air is so thick and opaque
Christchurch is beautiful in winter. The pewter skies, the soft curl of woodsmoke into the air, the riverside trees shivering as much as the students bustling to the university.
I love to see everybody in short skirts, shorts and shades
In summer, we get fish and chips, T-sauce, and L&P, and go to the beach. It's the quintessential kiwi experience. The students flock to the campus pub, sitting arrayed on the terrace-style steps. The lecturers come too, and we debate fiercely, good-naturedly, and someone brings the next round.
I like it in the city when two worlds collide
"I love you," he said. I loved him too, and the city in which he first gave me those words.
Round my hometown, memories are fresh
None of us expected what occurred at 4.35am on 4 September 2010.
A magnitude 7.1 earthquake tore open the earth at a previously-unknown faultline near Darfield, a small township approximately 40km inland (West) of Christchurch. It was about 10km deep, and was felt for about 40 seconds throughout both islands of New Zealand, and caused widespread building damage, liquefaction of heavily populated suburbs, and general chaos of critical infrastructure. A 5.8 aftershock soon followed. Trains stopped. Roads split. Bridges buckled. Water and sewerage flooded the streets. Bleary-eyed Cantabrians clung to each other. Those of us in other parts of the country woke and held onto our beds as our own homes rocked, thinking it was a reasonably notable quake - not realising we were only feeling reverberations.
By the time the sun, and the nation, arose, the daylight laid plain the devastation. In what can only be described as a miracle, there were only two serious injuries, and no deaths attributable to the earthquake. But Christchurch, Rangiora, Kaiapoi, and all the smaller towns and villages were in serious trouble. Even towns such as Timaru (approx 200km away) sustained severely cracked buildings.
Questions that had never confronted Cantabrians previously unaware minds arose: where do you get water you can drink? How do I cook food without power? Where is the gas tap to shut off the pipes? How can I turn off the mains so that my house doesn't burn when the power comes back on? Are my loved ones safe?
As the cellphone networks buckled under the pressure of over 4 million citizens of New Zealand calling and txting each other to confirm their loved ones were safe, the people of Canterbury hit the streets, pulling together with shovels, wheelbarrows and thermoses. The aftershocks ensured nobody in Canterbury slept. For the following months, as homes lay partially in ruins, and core services slowly returned to most areas of the region, it was thought the worst was over. A severe aftershock on Boxing Day 2010 rattled already frayed nerves. But it was ok, it was going to be ok.
Tragically, how wrong we were.
Aftershock ((Ed: subsequently confirmed as a new seismic event)) (approx) number 4,500 laid waste to Christchurch at lunchtime on 22 February 2011. Although 6.3 on the richter scale, at only a few km deep - and centered under the city's port suburb of Lyttelton - the damage was extreme. Buildings and structures that had held up through thousands of previous quakes crumbled. The Cathedral, the soul and symbol of Christchurch, had its spire collapse into dust, people trapped inside ((Ed: by what can only be described as a miracle, this thankfully ended up not being the case)). Office buildings collapsed with workers inside; buildings fell on top of passing busses. Liquefaction, flooding, and devastation everywhere. (Out of respect for the ongoing operation on the ground in Christchurch I will not comment further, as I do not think it appropriate for a journal entry when I am not presently there.)
In another part of New Zealand, my colleagues I stared, transfixed, at the television, choking back horror-induced vomit. My thumb moving without thought against the keypad of my phone. Are my loved ones alright? (Thankfully yes, although I genuinely grieve for those who have not had this same news.) Kia kaha, kia kaha, kia kaha Christchurch...
There is nobody in New Zealand who is not affected by this (hence my use of "we"). We are a small country - just under 4.5 million of us. When a city of just shy of 400,000 is affected, we are all hurting, all begging, all confused, and all numb. And it's not over, it's only beginning. And it hurts.
“Is there anything I can do for you dear? Is there anyone I could call?”
Christchurch will be rebuilt. Cantabrians are noted for their tenacity in the face of adversity. I have no doubt that the cathedral spire will rise once more. But in the meantime, the focus is - and must be - human.
New Zealand's government has currently launched an international appeal for aid. I have written this to try to contextualise what is happening in my country, to my countrymen, in the hope that someone might feel inspired to help out. Any donations are gratefully received.
"I ain’t lost, just wandering”
I want to return, even if only to hug those I love and help them put items back on shelves. I want to help. Feeling helpless in the face of a disaster, when you know you now have family and friends without homes, is a situation I would not wish on anyone. Having others around you still waiting to hear, to have terrible news confirmed... it's mind-numbing.
But now is not the time to return. The best help I - and anyone - can give, is financial, according to officials (and emotional support, too). More people in the city right now is (I understand) more pressure on the infrastructure. We have experts on the ground, doing some amazing work in extremely difficult conditions, and we are incredibly thankful for their presence. A special thank you to Australia, the US, the UK, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and China for their incredible generosity in this difficult time.
Shows that we ain’t gonna stand shit
Shows that we are united
Shows that we ain’t gonna take it
Stand strong, Christchurch. I love you.
Lyrics from "Hometown Glory