The truth is that in my busyness, I’ve been pretty down on New Zealand and, well, it’s not really New Zealand’s fault. Partly it’s because I am a nomadic person and people like me will never feel happy simply staying put in any one place. So, it’s easy to think “It’s been 5 long years. I just need to move house”. And moving to a new place would feed my itinerant soul like nothing else can but, only enough to make the difficult bits in life more interesting for a while. Truth be told, this is the best place to raise my son. Although people tend to paint it with an overly rosey brush New Zealand is not without it’s hazards , but I know the schools are decent, there is a relatively low rate of violent crime, many people try to be accepting of others* and things like this can happen:
The other thing we have here, the thing that drew me and countless others way down here to the middle of the Pacific, to Aotearoa, the thing I’ve been too busy to enjoy is just beyond the suburban borders. When I’ve got my waterproofs and my boots on and I walk around in the New Zealand bush smelling rain, humus and manuka I once again feel calm, reconnected and, most importantly, restored. I wonder, when I get there, why I’m not there more often. “What am I doing that I’ve forgotten to come out here?”, I ask myself. But then I go home and get stuck in the eddy of daily life again.
As you may or may not know, three year olds are not known for their long attention spans but I took my son out into the bush as an experiment anyway. If you search tramping, climbing and even mountaineering forums online, you get a bevy of boot people freaking out that their outdoor lives may be over once the wee ones arrive. But the nice thing is there are others who have gone before writing calming words and warning newbies not to go with any expectations or goals (which is a serious issue for some competitive climbers!). I decided that our goal should be to focus on the lookabout rather than the walkabout. Turns out, he surprised me. Not only did he focus for 2 whole hours on walking, walking, walking, he asked questions like, “What’s that smell?”, “Can you hear that bird?”, “Is that water down there?”, and “Mummy, can I have my snack on that fuzzy rock?”.
Wow, I thought, he sees things and he likes to walk. I used to love this. I DO love this and I can do this again!
The next weekend he actually asked, unprompted, if we were going to go tramping. It took my husband and I a moment to realise what that word was he was saying (new words take a few goes to become clear). “He’s saying ‘tramping’. Oh my God, he wants to go out again!” We were delighted, of course, but secretly I felt like I’d just been given a gift. He loves that centering thing that we once thrived on and he’s going to bring us back to it.
Now, whenever we have the chance, the three of us get our boots on, pack up our backpacks with provisions and drive until we get to the hills. I haven’t decided who is benefitting more from this but I do know that it is joyful when a three year old can take you back to yourself.
*Please don’t take this to mean there is no anti-gay sentiment, or racism, or any of those other nasty things in New Zealand as unfortunately, like everywhere else in the world, there most certainly is.
Be assured that sheep in New Zealand are free ranging.
In our daily activities and rhythms we often forget that where we are is a foreign place to others. It looks and smells different and there are very different things that punctuate our day. After dropping my son off at day care, I wanted to go out for a run before settling down to work for the day and so pointed the car in the direction of a place I knew I could don my headphones and listen to some travel podcasts and forget that my legs were annoyed with me for making them move at this hour.
I’d slowed my car to a halt and was waiting to get through when it suddenly struck me that my windscreen framed what some might call “a New Zealand scene”. I was in Corwall Park at the base of One Tree Hill, one of Auckland’s 50 odd volcanic cones. It was fully my intention to run around the cone if only I could get to the car park and set off. But I was stuck, waiting for three sheep to decide which way they wanted to go. One was halfway up a hill and already tucking in to a fresh patch of grass doused in morning dew. I’m thinking this is like a power breakfast for sheep, greens and hydration in one. I had a lot of time to think. Another of the sheep was just looking at me and chewing , like they do. “What are you doing here?”, he seemed to be thinking. The last one was contemplating the cattle stop but finally decided that what lay beyond the stone gate was not something worth treading over narrow metal strips for, at least not today. When they finally inched over a bit I slowly rolled forward enough that they got the idea a flitted up the hillside.
Much of a travel writer’s job is to take up the challenge of describing a place without the dreaded “commodification”. Like salt has pepper, Japan has geishas, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, England has Beefeaters (I never understood that one), and California has the flashy cheesiness of Rodeo Drive (never understood that either). Places get stuck with images, often not actually very representative, and then they are copied and pasted ad infinitum. This is how we package things up to sell the story and sell the place. Perhaps some people actually still want this kind of writing. Perhaps they want to have critical mass of a particular image in their mind so they can tick it off on their list when they arrive at the destination, you know, for reassurance that all is as we believe it to be in the world. Indeed, I’ve had clients request this kind of writing. If that’s what they need, who am I to refuse? But I can say that it is difficult to spin that story in a new direction for the ten millionth time and it still be interesting. Very difficult.
As much as I hate reading the same bloody exclamations of “There are more sheep than people in New Zealand” and “They even have sheep in the middle of the cities” over and over, I have to admit that, in this case, it is absolutely true. There ARE sheep in the middle of Auckland. I’m sitting in my car, the rainy mist is hanging low, the stone walls are grey and the grass is green and covered in sheep. This doesn’t happen in London or Beijing. There may be some people who might want to know. Sheep in cities is sort of interesting… I guess. I suppose I should write about this. Oh, I just did.
We can just amble along down here in our little bubble for ages before suddenly being reminded how some of the branches we sit on belong to trees planted in other countries. Big bookshops are popular places. The automatic doors continually suck up power as they are kept from resting. The cafes located inside, while their employees grumble when they have to put away abandoned magazines and books, turn a huge profit all based on people trying to escape main street stress for an hour or so with a sub-standard coffee and a headline that promises 5 Ways to Change the Look of Your Kitchen (Oh,we love our D.I.Y.* in N.Z, eh?). English language students meet to look at Vogue and speak Korean. Or back in the main shop, anti-social, ruffle headed teenagers sit on the floor in front of the manga while amateur cooks secrectly scribble recipes down out of cookery books. Kids hug the Gruffalo toy as they listen to someone else’s Mum read a story while sitting on too tiny a chair for an adult. And poseurs pretend to be reading poetry while scanning the area for goth girls who are also looking for supposed poetry-reading cool boys. Neither of them will actually make a move and talk to the other one before they need to get home for tea.
All of this exists on a tenuous branch. This is not evident at all, until the branch is suddenly floating in the air, no longer attached to a trunk. Apparently the trunk is in Australia. The news came out a couple of weeks ago that Borders and our own Whitcoulls, which turns out to be in the same group, are in trouble. Apparently Australians, like Americans and the British, buy most of their books online now and ‘real life’ bookshops can not keep up with how cheap everything has become. That is certainly not the case here in New Zealand.
New Zealanders, as any traveller to these islands will tell you, pay a ridiculous amount for the printed word. We’ve always been unhappy about this, but what can we do? We like books and we don’t have Amazon, so we just carry on. Books are still special and people still go to libraries in droves. It’s probably what some people in other nations would call a bit “backward”. That’s OK.
The only problem (apart from us having been ripped off for so many years with overpriced books) is that now the bubble has burst, the branches are shaking, and the big hangouts for students and pseudo-intellectuals will soon disappear. Is there a silver lining, I wonder?
So, the masses will not have their usual place to hang out. We do have some of the best cafes in the Southern Hemisphere and people will soon disperse to relevant and suitable java-huts. But I don’t believe for a second that real booklovers, or even temples for booklovers will disappear. True, branches can’t just hover in the air without a trunk to hold them up. But there are seedlings under this falling tree. I think it’s time for all those little independent bookshops we have, and there are some fantastic ones, to shine. They are full of knowledgeable, book-loving people who want to help you, occasional uncomfortable chairs from second-hand shops, and cats. They’ve been fighting the good fight for decades against big business. I hope that this is their time. Perhaps they will even have to put in automatic doors. God, I hope not. Imagine the number of cat tails that would get caught.
*D.I.Y. means “Do it yourself” and is the NZ/Oz/UK phrase for home improvement that you do, well…by yourself, without hiring someone else to do it.
I wish I could describe better how I am feeling, but I’m not sure I even know how I am feeling. Maybe it’s that my feet are not on the ground. My lungs feel so stretched and overfilled with air from hyperventilating for nearly a week that I just feel like my entire body is made of lace that is floating and not able to get a hold on the ground. I woke up in the tightest little ball today that hurt all over when I tried to straighten out and stand up out of bed. At 12:24 we had been woken from a deep sleep by rumbling and concrete knocking. It was only our neighbour coming in down the driveway past our bedroom window. But from a deep sleep to that point of sitting up we had to calm each other down so that we could eventually go back to sleep, worried about heart attacks from the racing within our chests. Normal life experience does not make you react like this.
My husband and I were also deep asleep when at 2am on Boxing Day in December 2010 we were woken by the earth rumbling beneath us in our tent in Christchurch. It was a big aftershock and one that did further damage to the buildings in Christchurch. We drove into the city in search of breakfast and were diverted when we saw bricks and mortar lying in the road in front of us. The epicentre had been right under us while we sat in the car watching shop window glass move like water, hoping for it to stop. Shaken and upset, we were happy to be leaving on our pre-booked flight the next day. So lucky we could fly to our home in Auckland.
In 2007, my husband and I were in our first floor (US second floor) flat in Niigataken, Japan when the rumbling began. We’d felt many in Japan, but they usually stop within seconds. This one did not stop. In fact, the entire flat began to twist out of shape, creak and dump things off the shelves. We crouched down in the genkan (small entryway where you take off your shoes) and grabbed our “earthquake bags” that we kept there with water, snacks, a torch and a few other items. We were making plans about at what point we would run outside. Japan is so built up that they tell you it is far safer inside than outside and never to run outside. All of this was running through my head, as we rode out the waves. A bigger one came and we really thought this was it. The flat was like a fairground ride. Our minds were having a hard time making sense of what our eyes were seeing as the straight lines of the rooms twisted bizarrely*. Unlike all the smaller tremours we’d felt in Tokyo, Osaka, and Los Angeles, these were the ones that began our real fears. These were the ones that helped us to understand our mortality and we’ve never been the same since.
Long after we’d left Japan and returned to the relative safety of Auckland we’d still jump and look at each other in fear whenever a big truck would rumble past or waves would show up in a glass of water on the table because someone had accidentally kicked it. Slowly we began to calm down and only occasionally would we have these episodes. But, the experience in the tent in Christchurch brought it all back. We felt terrible for the people of Christchurch who have been living with this since September 2010. By the time we visited in December people were still shaken but perhaps beginning to accept that the worst may possibly be over. People were focussed on getting their properties repaired. The people seemed optimistic, even, and perhaps a little stronger after each small aftershock** that life was still good and things were going to get better and better. People seem to be resiliant in this way.
But then, of course, the worst had happened and the world is looking on helplessly and with heavy hearts.
I wanted to tell my earthquake stories, not because any of this is about me because it’s absolutely not, nor to trivialise anything that has happened to Cantabrians, but to let others know what it is like to have experienced any of this and the lasting effects. The main event is horrifying and terrible and uncomprehensible. But for survivors, the psychological damage will last a long time. After a life-threatening event, I think the survival instinct in you says that you have had your close call, and now you can go on and live your life to the full. That is the only way your mind can begin to move on. In this instance, it did not work that way and it will be very hard for Cantabrians to move on.
People will need to tell their stories and they deserve to be heard as each time the story is told, even though there is no sense to be made of it, the act of going through the events can remind the person that they are now just telling the story and no longer living it. People need love, patience and understanding. I don’t think there is a logical end point at which people should be expected to be ‘over it’. And people need financial support to rebuild their homes and lives. If you can, please give something to one of the organisations listed at the end of this post.
*We were very lucky. Most of the damage was a few kilometres further north where many of my students and their families lived. Not all of them were lucky.
**There have been over 5,500 since September 2010.
Air New Zealand has said today that they will extend the $50 to/from Christchurch domestic fares to include all flights within New Zealand until midnight on the 27th of February. The also have some compassionate international fares.
They have put on a number of extra flights into and out of Christchurch equivalent in capacity to 19 additional 737 flights today.
This list of information is meant to update those outside of New Zealand as to what has been going on since the earthquake hit Canterbury at 12.50 yesterday, 22 February, New Zealand time. I will say that I do not have first-hand knowledge from any one source but that I realise the ongoing news coverage may give us, here in New Zealand, more detailed information before it hits the internet or news reports in other countries. Therefore I hope this information can help someone out there who is looking for details.
To clarify for those who do not know the geography of New Zealand, the earthquake occurred in the South Island. Canterbury is the name of the wider area, akin to a county in some other countries. The epicenter was in a small town/ area of Christchurch known as Lyttleton which is just a few kilometers southeast of the city. The September earthquake was centred at Darfield, which is west of the city. Auckland, Wellington, Rotorua and Hamilton are located in the North Island which were not affected, so if you know anyone in those areas, there is no need to worry.
There have been many aftershocks since the main event yesterday including half a dozen or so over magnitude 5 and some over 6. This is making already unstable buildings in the CBD (Central business district) very dangerous and the city has been cordoned off. Those outside of the city are being asked to stay at home and not try to come into the city even if they are missing someone there. Those at home are also being asked to check on their neighbours and band together for support. All schools and business are closed although if someone feels their business could add something to the effort, they can open if they see fit. This would be things such as a Dairy (corner shop) which could provide needed supplies.
It is a category 3 disaster and will remain on that level for 5 days before reassessment. Although it was not unexpected that there would be a large aftershock from the September 2010 earthquake, the timing and location of this earthquake could not have been worse. The epicenter was near Lyttleton at a shallow depth of 5 kilometres. It happened at a time when the CBD was full of businesspeople, tourists, students and people having lunch in the restaurants and cafes. Many structures were already weakened from the first earthquake in September and the trend of aftershocks that have been happening since then.
6 schools will be used for water distribution but there is a worry that there will not be enough water to go round for very long.
Search and Rescue
All efforts are currently focused on rescue of the living. There are 6 major sites of collapse that have been identified although it is believed that there will be many more smaller sites. 55 people have been confirmed dead and just over 20 unidentified. Around 300 people are reported as missing. It is possible that some are OK, but communications are difficult and so simply may not be able to get in touch.
The airport was closed until a few hours ago and now is very busy with flights of people wanting to exit the city. Special fares have been offered to those directly affected. Fares seem to be $50 domestic and possibly some international flights at $400.
Survivors have remarked on how well organized and helpful everyone has been. The Red cross and the Salvation Army are running shelters and there have been individuals who have arrived on the scene with random offerings such as a man cooking sausages who came up from Dunedin. New Zealand search and rescue people have arrived very quickly on the scene and Australian teams have arrived in the past couple of hours. Offers have also come in from The U.K., the U.S., Japan and Taiwan.
There was a large group of Australians in Christchurch for a urology conference and all participants are OK and either in local shelters or have been airlifted to Wellington. There was a Canadian couple who miraculously escaped from Christchurch Cathedral. There was also another report of a group of foreigners who were airlifted to Wellington.
If you are in new Zealand and worried about people in Christchurch you can ring
0800 REDCROSS (0800 733 276).
For those outside of the country, you can ring +64 7 850 2199.
The Prime Minister and financial experts have noted that the cost of this earthquake will run into the billions in a country that has already been trying to keep its head above water in the economic downturn. Many people will be homeless and rescue efforts also come at a cost. Any donations received would be greatly appreciated. Donations can be sent via internet banking.
Donations to bank account number 01-1839-0188939-00
National Bank Appeal
Donations to bank account number 06-0869-0548507-00
Westpac (bank) and the Salvation Army
Donations to bank account number 03-0207-0617331-00
Donations to bank account number 12-3205-0146808-00
BNZ (bank) Red cross Canterbury Earthquake Appeal
Donations to bank account number 02-0500-0982004-000
Pike River Disaster Relief Trust chairman and Greymouth mayor Tony Kokshoorn has stated that they are no longer receiving donations and would encourage people to instead send donations to the Canterbury Earthquake Appeals.
If anyone has other questions, please ask in the comments or send me a tweet on @Shantiwallah and I will try to find out as much as possible. The best source of information is the Twitter hashtag #eqnz .
Note: In a nice turn of events, this post has been picked up and republished on Matador Change. The payment has been donated to the Red Cross relief efforts.