Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What I can do

This post is not about the new zoning of land in Christchurch. We are green, as expected, but this is Christchurch. Everyone has friends or family in the red residential zone. It is so emotional, so complicated - with the options and what insurance companies are prepared to do - and I haven't yet got a proper perspective on it.
So here is my list of what I can do.
I know it is irrational and it is in no way indicative of anyone else but me in Christchurch. With the February and now the June big aftershocks, while our experiences are all similar they are also all different, depending on where you were. I have friends with other lists that to me seem as irrational as the following will to you. Of course many others here have no such hang ups!

Things I can do:
1. I can go and do a grocery shop at the supermarket with the kids. Admittedly the first time I went back to a supermarket after getting caught in one TWICE, on June 13th, I went alone and only for a couple of essential items. I almost cried when I entered the first aisle but now I can do a proper shop as I used to (though maybe still a bit faster).
2. I can go to a mall to go to a particular shop, that I can't find outside of a mall, to get a particular item.
3. I can park on the roof of the mall carpark.
4. I can enjoy going to a cafe for a coffee or a meal.
5. I went to the Ballantynes sale at the CBS Arena when the crowds were gone and I could get in, choose items and out in fifteen minutes.
6. I can park beside a concrete or brick wall - if that is the only option left.
7. I like shopping in places on the edge of the city cordon. Parking is currently quite easy!
8. I made a list of all our crockery and glassware in case a large aftershock finally shook that cupboard open. (I have already had to change it as we broke two glasses in the weekend - probably both times due to tiredness from aftershock interrupted sleep.

Things I am currently avoiding:
1. Going to malls to wander around and browse.
2. Eating at a cafe or food court inside a mall or building that I can't easily get to the entrance.
3. Large groups of people where I don't have enough personal space to get under something. (The photo of the first day of Ballantynes sale with all the crowds, amazed me.)
4. Parking on any floor but the roof at the mall.
5. Going back to the supermarket I was caught in on June 13.
6. Driving on the Port Hills.

Things that make me slightly nervous:
1. Ceiling tiles in commercial buildings. The other day I was visiting a place that was now missing some tiles following the sharp shock of June 21. I knew the likelihood of any falling on me right then was unlikely, but I found another part of my mind had wandered off and worked out I could fit at least my head under the overhang of the desk.
2. Glass bottles and wine close to the edges of shelves. At friend's place I saw a glass olive oil bottle in the pantry at the front, close to the edge. (really it isn't you - it is me! I think that feeling was from February, and all the bottles crashing and smashing around me).
3. Getting stuck in a line of cars on the off ramp of the carpark, especially under the concrete roof.

In the future, I will look back at this list and be surprised. That is another thing this whole experience has taught me, humans are so adaptable.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Oh what a night!

I was going to call this post - what a week, but that was before last night when an aftershock hit with force - short and sharp. We didn't get up until it had finished. Tristan was still asleep, Lucy had all the duvets on her head. It didn't stop though, constant tiny aftershocks and larger ones throughout the night. Lucy slept on a mattress in our room for the rest of the night but it was interrupted sleep. Morning came far too quickly.
A few things fell over, the big breasted, pottery, Brazilian lady fell over again into her pottery Brazilian sheep. She hasn't broken so far but she has now been put in a box, I don't want to lose her after making it this far but she is rather top heavy. At least her head wasn't stuck in the Egyptian candleholder - I had already put that down in the box after Monday.
This week there has been a lot talk around the town of staying or going. It is irritating to hear outsiders saying we all should leave. The talk, which seems to be fast becoming fact, of abandoning 12,000 homes is about 8% of Christchurch homes. Only some of Christchurch is deep in liquefaction. I cannot even begin to know how those people feel and what it does do your state of being to have liquefaction pouring in through your power sockets and I live here.
That is what's so strange about being here.
The city is far from dead. It will never be the same again but much of life and work in this city keeps going despite everything. I visited a business on Monday with two huge containers in their carpark and more on the way. The port was shut last week and they are working hard this week to get through all the containers that were held up. Their old reception area downstairs has a crack in the floor and the dust of old, tidied up liquefaction. Their new reception is upstairs - clean and tidy and bright as always - though the floor moved more than I expected. On the street there are small piles of liquefaction but the work goes on.
Yesterday we had a wee walk in the gardens and came across the peace bell red stickered, (the picture above). It made us laugh. Can a bell be red-stickered? Or was it a symbol of the current state of world peace? We are not the only ones having a rough time. The gardens were still looking lovely despite the grey and the lack of people, but it was a freezing day.
A year ago I was having counselling to deal with my anxiety. One of the things I was struggling with was fear with what I thought would happen into the future. The counsellor kept saying to me - your picture of the future is just one scenario and noone knows the future. It felt so real to me, I really struggled to think that the future could be different. Now after so many quakes and aftershocks, (none of which I had pictured in my future scenario), I am much better at living in the here and now. Waiting on EQC, it is not even worth thinking too far into the future and Monday last week was testament to how quickly things can change here - anything you get done on any given day, is a bonus.
It is hard here and for some they have lost too much or been pushed too far but don't tell us all to leave - we can decide that each for ourselves. These quakes come out of nowhere and with no warning. If we move, we will not be any more immune to random bad events - it will just be a different place. On Monday night I was reading a novel about World War II and the lady wrote in 1946 from London "Everything is so broken, Sophie: the roads, the buildings, the people. Especially the people." She could have been talking about Christchurch.
I love London now and Christchurch will be fine - when the land goes back to sleep.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Christchurch keeps on

When I reach school after the 6.3, Lucy runs across the grounds crying, "Why did you go?" - a good question I have been asking myself! After hugging others and wishing them all the best for the night, we head for home.
It is a funny feeling to approach our house and wonder what services we will have. I walk in. Is that the freezer in the garage I hear? I flick the lightswitch by the door. We have power! The relief is wonderful. No cold, dark night for us this time and we have the Internet! I check the tap - a dribble, then nothing. No water means no toilet. This is a little trickier this time. It is cold outside. We find gumboots for the kids. Luckily weeing in the garden is great fun, as far as they are concerned.
The aftershocks continue but are mostly small. The kids are relaxed enough with it all to even go to bed in their own beds. We have water back by then so in our house things are almost normal and definitely normal for life post Sept 2010.
We are woken in the night by another large aftershock. We are back to this - broken sleep, though the kids sleep through it.
Very little has fallen in our house. Nothing appears to be broken. The precarious stack of board games has fallen down in the cupboard but I leave them for later.
Tuesday is much like after September 4th. The western side of the city is operating as normal. The picture at the top is our street after 25 quakes larger than 5.0. The latest popular item for businesses are massive "open" flags - as big and bright as possible. I know in parts of the city people are busily shovelling but how much help can I be with two little kids in tow?
The kids are pretty grumpy and I feel like I have had a big night out, but I haven't - didn't even get around to having any alcohol on Monday night. I think it is the fallout from the shock and the adrenaline.
The big stockpot is back on the stove to boil the water.
We go to a smaller suburban mall to get the things for Tristan's birthday cake I hadn't managed to get on Monday. I don't want to go in but the other little shops we visit don't have what we want. Inside it is okay. Everything looks normal. I feel better.
In the shop an area is roped off. I look up and some of the ceiling tiles are missing. Others are half hanging - the metal frames that held them bent and twisted. My stomach sinks. We grab something that is sort of what we want and leave as fast as possible for home.
I can't help think of Haiti. They have been through this too but without the fixing and clean up we have between the biggies. According to the wonderful website of geologist Mark Quigley, Haiti had 16 aftershocks greater than 5.0. Admittedly according to geonet, we've had 25 above 5.0 but I still feel very fortunate to live in Christchurch.
When I think about leaving, I find my biggest fear would be to go through this again from September. At least we are surely further through this natural disaster sequence and are closer to the end than the beginning. Today Lucy said "I am going to take a picture of that building that is totally fine so I remember lots of buildings were okay."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tell me why I don't like Mondays

We were up early to watch the Canadian Grand Prix. It was a very exciting race. Heavy rain meant it went a lot longer than usual so we were on the verge of being late but we decided to watch it to the end and what a finish! On the last lap Button passed reigning champion, Vettel for the win. We actually cheered and then raced for the door.
Last week I got a little sick of all the moaning in this city. Things are really hard for some people but it felt like everyday there were stories of someone being wronged. Were these really issues or one off strange situations? How many tradesmen were really ripping off EQC? How many people were going to be cold this winter? Had the big copper dome really been stolen? Hadn't it been in a picture on a truck of debri early on? I was finding it frustrating reading these half written stories. It spurred me to do my own helping to fix things I had been moaning about. On the Monday morning while working through my big list of jobs, I got an email back from a Community Board Chairman about collapsed building rubble that was still lying in the cycle lane on Lincoln Road.
I sent an email to councillors who had been taking up car parks all day at the local library because they were using a meeting room regularly with the council building still not in use. They replied within minutes thanking me and agreeing they could easily park somewhere else and free up the parks for preschool parents and the elderly.
I went to pick up Tristan from preschool at lunchtime, having got all the other morning jobs out of the way and feeling quite pleased with my responses from council people. I thought to save petrol and time, we could do the grocery shopping at Barrington Mall. It wasn't our usual supermarket but I only had a few things on the list and we needed to go to a couple of the other shops to get some things too. It would all work out well and I could tick a lot of the jobs off the list in my head.
The day was going so well.
Tristan asked to sit in the trolley which he hasn't done in ages but it certainly made the shopping quicker. We had only one more item to tick off our list.
The ground was moving and the wine bottles at the end of the aisle were crashing onto the floor. I stood, my arms over Tristan to protect him from stock falling. I realized we were next to some free standing shelves. Worried they might fall, I pushed the trolley forward past them. I swore and cried as everything kept shaking and I stared at the lady with her trolley facing me. I was not dealing with this!
Finally it stopped. A meadow fresh person, who had been filling the fridge, came over and put her arm around us.
"You okay?"
Then a supermarket staff member was there telling us calmly to leave our trollies and we needed to go outside. Outside everyone was on their phones. So was I. We decided I had better go get Lucy so off we went, feeling another shake just as I was getting into the car.
The roads were not too busy but then I met a line of traffic coming out of the city. I got to school and Lucy was fine.
"Why are you here?" she asked.
I tried to keep it casual about the aftershock. We knew now it was a 5.5. She wanted to stay and they were going to make noodles. I thought perhaps I could get my shopping after all. I decided to go back to the mall hoping to get my other shop visits out of the way at the same time. We Christchurch people know. that if you have a big one, that is it for the rest of the day, any future ones are much smaller than the big one. I pulled back into the mall car park, cursing the aftershock for messing up my plans and causing me to use up even more petrol. I found a staff member with our trolley. We got the last few things and made it to the checkout. Everything was loaded on the conveyor. The guy in front was on his phone and the cards he bought wouldn't scan. I tried to not be too impatient. I tried to look at the positive, there were no extra things this time. I had put a few non list items in last time but they had already been put back and I couldn't be bothered going back for them.
This time I was laughing. No way, it couldn't be happening again. I grabbed Tristan and ran through the checkout to crouch by the wall, away from any stock. With Tristan under me I watched lights in the roof swinging violently. I realized we were under a plasma screen and worried it might fall off, I shuffled along out of it's way - the building lurching under us. Finally the shaking stopped. That one was worse. A staff member calmly told us we needed to leave the building. I couldn't believe it had happened twice. We went to the car to go to Lucy. This time I wasn't going to leave her. But everyone was trying to leave and I was trapped. We sat in the car and it kept rocking.
"Are you doing that Tristan?"
"No Mummy, it is the ground!"
We watched the ground leaking out of the ashphalt.
I was shaking with shock and adrenaline. Watching the Grand Prix seemed so long ago now and no longer relevant. My list of jobs was knackered. Now all I wanted was to get Lucy.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why Leave Now?

The only thing worse than aftershocks, is not having any for awhile. The last I felt was a couple of smallish ones on Tuesday night last week and then an even smaller one on Sunday morning. No decent ones for awhile could only mean one thing, a biggish one was coming soon. The Press ran a large headline of our chances of another sizable shake to cries of scaremongering. I don't think so. These guys were in the Square, in a building now listed for demolition and if I was thinking the aftershocks had died down to early February levels, I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking about what happened in later February. These days we don't have quite the security we did after September of dodging the worst of it. The worst happened and just when we thought it wouldn't.
We still have a box of things off the book case that sits under the table in the office. I put the full bottles of wine on the pantry floor and we put string across the shelves in the garage. We are thinking whether to put a kiddie lock on our tall cupboard with all our glasses and crockery. It hasn't opened in any of the quakes so far and we haven't lost anything out of it but what if we get a large, shallow, close aftershock?
Queens Birthday Monday morning - it started slow, built up and just as we started to wonder.... it died down to a gentle rocking. Flowers in a vase swayed and the kids ran and sat in the corner where the table used to be (old quake habits die hard), and finally the ground stopped rocking - it was a bit of a long one. It was the sixth largest but I've decided that doesn't mean a thing. Nothing compares to Sept 4th, the immediate aftershocks, Feb 22nd and that awful night. A 5.5 followed by calm is fine - we didn't lose power or water either.
We decided to go to the beach to wear the kids out before they drove us mad since they had the post, large aftershock, adrenaline rush. We had a bit of a discussion about going to Sumner. We hadn't been since a couple of weekends before February 22nd. Was it wise to go there these days?
We decided to go and I'm glad we did. The news shows all the devastation but it isn't like that everywhere, even in the badly hit suburbs. There were very badly damaged homes in Sumner and on the way - a house that looked normal until you saw the end of it had dropped off - but many houses looked totally fine from the outside. They probably have what is known here as; "the usual quake damage". The cliffs have completely changed in places and seeing Shag Rock (Rapanui) was pretty heart wrenching. But the kids played on the beach and made sand castles - this is their new future. Our past was a different looking place that has gone now but that doesn't make the future bleak.
That is the thing with Christchurch, it is crazy to say lets all up and leave. Where in New Zealand is safer from earthquakes? Apparently now Christchurch's chance of another biggie is equal to Wellington and the Hawke's Bay but I don't see too many moving from there in a hurry. We have our house here (admittedly with "minor structural damage" but quite livable until insurance fixes it), we have our business here, we have jobs and schools here.
Currently it is more stressful and not a day goes by that I don't think about the February quake - whether because a business I go to visit is no longer there or an aftershock hits or one of a million other things that have changed since February but many other things each day are completely normal.
Before the big quakes in September and February there was no warning - they hit out of seemingly nowhere, our cat didn't even get any animal intuition. I know now, my thoughts of what the future may hold can be completely wrong and I can't run and hide. There are forces out there much bigger than little ol' me and nowhere is completely safe so I have to make the best of it and luckily for us at the moment, that it is not too bad. (And my ipod of podcasts is still under my pillow, if I get woken in the night by a shake.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How to build a temporary school

Last week I was amazed at just what can be done in about six weeks. A temporary school has been built to house Lucy's school since their old building is right in the middle of the red zone. They brought prefabs down from the North Island and a big ashphalt pad has been poured in the middle. Decks have been built connecting all the rooms, a toilet block plumbed in, paths, grass and a driveway. No portaloos was one of the requests from the students so they are very happy with the toilets. It is fantastic. There are still finishing touches going on like shade cloth being put up over the decking and sometimes there are issues still to be ironed out, like power was lost to one room on the first day and heating in one classroom didn't work as planned but considering the monumental task that has been done in such a short time - it is incredible. We met one of the local residents who also had watched in disbelief at the speed of assembly.
In one of the rooms, the blackboard has a massive "Kia Kaha" written in chalk, messages of support from theschool it came from and all the names from kids at that school. It was cool to see and had far more heart I think than the free little Toy Story army sets, Lego sent the school kids because of the loss of their school.
Furniture from the school came out of the old school in the CBD - which was very exciting and also a little weird. Lucy's little tote tray with the sign she had made only a few weeks before the February quake. In her tote tray was her books and her pencil case. We also got her bag back with her rain jacket and her drink bottle. There was a card, another girl in her class had made for her that day, before the quake hit. Seeing these things nearly made me cry. I think, it was, as my friend Rose said, they were from a different time. It is a time we can never go back to and we are different people now. It was so nice to get them back and life has felt more normal since - packing Lucy's own bag and going to her own school - not sharing with another.
There are ramifications though. The temporary school is leased land and it is definitely until the end of the year but I am not sure after that. A permanent school has been talked about on the outskirts of the CBD but I can imagine building a permanent place will take quite a while longer than six weeks.
The school they were at last term is for low intelligent kids with loads of support to help make their lives successful. The high school is still sharing this site so only a few of those kids could come back to their school. I asked the principal what happened to the rest and they have been mainstreamed with support - a far cry I would have thought from the residential school that they had been used to a term ago. They come from families all over New Zealand. I don't know that it is fair that these kids, already disadvantaged are having their lives so affected by this earthquake, when their school was essentially fine. Earthquakes are very far from fair.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.