Saturday, March 26, 2011


Tonight, the night of Earth Hour incidentally, i wanted to revert to talking about my trip to Vanuatu. i need a break from the earthquakes.

i flew from Efate to Tanna and noticed the difference immediately. People are materially poorer. Travel is mostly on foot, horseback or 4WD. The air is cooler and dryer. i stayed in a resort where power comes from the generator only. They managed hot water and excellent food. Their employees were all local, and the wages went back to the village to be distributed by the chief. i attempted snorkelling. i spent hours watching fish dance among the coral. i sat at night on the porch of the bure and watched the wildfire. At last, proper rain and a real thunderstorm. Storms on Efate were very polite, or maybe just too chilled out. In the tropics i expect to be drenched, gasping, my high tech raincoat a soggy mess, and to see lightning sear the air.

My main purpose in going to Vanuatu was to see Mt Yasur, the world's most accessible volcano. i set off mid afternoon with the driver and two men to pull the Landcruiser out of the mud. i now have a new respect for Landcruisers. The two men were never needed. We drove for hours up rutted tracks, and every few clicks there was a village, with pigs and chickens and horses (there are wild horses), and people waving and calling to us. And in every village there was sign saying Digicell. Hours away from electicity and shops, you can buy a top up for your mobile. There are three telcos in Vanauatu and they market very aggressively. There was also a Baptist church and schools, one for every few villages. On Tanna, people live all the way up into the inland hilly regions. They even live on the black ash plains.

The black ash plains herald volcano country. Suddenly, we went from jungle to black desert, with actual dunes. Scrub clung to the tops of sand blown ridges. i found some to go for a half-hidden pee, and as i finished a family wandered past. Nearby, the volcano. Smoke wreathed it and wisped into clouds, and every few minutes it would roar. And, impossibly, a river, skirting the bottom of the mountain. Back in the awesome Landcruiser, we began to climb. And as we trudged through the blasted land towards Mount Doom, our thoughts turned to Aragorn and Legolas and ... oh hang on, wrong script. It was, however, totally Mordor. i was amazed.

There is a fairly easy walk up to the top of the crater and thence to a rather narrow ridge where we could look right into the double caldera. The ground would shake and the volcano would spew glowing fiery magma into the air, and the magma would land on the sides, and smoke, and cool, and new rocks were thus born The sun set. Down in the valleys we could see the jungle, and the cooking fires. Up where we were, the volcano was everything. i am very lucky to have seen such a thing.

i also attended a John Frum worship service. The John Frum sect is described in two ways (at least). One is that some Tannese responded to the more brutal aspects of missionary Christianity by developing a prophetic faith that really caught on when the Americans came during World War Two. Tannese saw black American soldiers who appeared to have the full benefit of this new, materially sophisticated society. They formed the idea that John Frum (from America) would return with blessings and material goods. The other description of the John Frum sect is that it is a real cargo cult, where people pray for specific items eg a fridge (so i was told). Regardless, the sect is popular and its members are represented in Parliament.

i went to a village on a rainy night. Services are on Fridays. i sat in a hut with no walls while the men sang accompanied by guitars, a hand held drum, coughing and the sound of the rain. The scene was lit by their cell phones and the lights of Landcruisers. (i so love Landcruisers now!) Gradually the women came, sat around the edges, clapped and sang the 'choruses'. The songs were in a minor key and closely harmonised. What else can i say? There was little speech and all of it in Bislama. i did not feel capable of a theological or even an anthropolgical discussion. It was one time in my life where i really had no idea what was going on.

Back to Efate, which seemed slick and urbane in comparison. Roads, cars, shops, clean clothes, TV, lights. And then home.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

An unobstructed view of the rising moon

Now that my house has burned to the ground

I have an unobstructed view of the rising moon.

This is one of my favourite poems and i read it without sentiment, as written by someone who has learned not to privilege one psychological state over another, as a statement of fact. It is not 'postive thinking'.

Ah, Linwood, my neighbourhood. i came home once complaining that i could buy drugs in three locations within a ten mminute walk, but i could not buy a tomato. (Er, yeah, i was wanting to buy a tomato!)

Motto of Linwood: 87% of residents prefer it to prison.

Alternative motto of Linwood: You're never bored in Linwood (voiceover accompanied by background sounds of screaming and breaking glass).

Here i tell stories of my neighbourhood, with photos all taken within a 15 minute walk.

The photo above is of a house unusual for the neighbourhood. It is larger than most and reminds me of an English farmhouse. Handwritten on the boarded up front is the legend 'We will try to save this house'.

Above, is an an old malt house which for a long time has been a boxing and martial arts gym. i was a bit late for the photo - if i had got there earlier i would have photographed some fine can
navbis plants growing out of the ceiling, a charming splash of green in a devastated landscape. i like how places have been turned inside out now. Here you can see a sign 'gladiators' and a poster of a handsome boxer flaps in the breeze.

This house on Woodham road has become a photographic favourite. The design is similar to my own house, for added poignancy. It was geiven a green sticker after the earthquake of 4 September, and a red one this time around. The stickers sit together on the door, the whole four months expressed in two bits of paper.

The new age metaphysical shop used to be here...

Then they moved it across the road. USAR staff were visiting at the time this photo was taken and the digger moved in later that day.

Nat, who ran the fish shop, was killed in the earthquake, along with a customer. The owner of the gunshop sat with his shop and refused to be removed by police. He did not want his stock left unattended. The army came and removed it, lock stock and barrel so to speak, in their LAV. The owner of the pizza place went survivalist, living in the wrecked yard with the pizza oven, a baseball bat and a police cellphone number. He saved what was left of his possessions and alerted the police to looters. Kind people fed him. The chemist relocated, taking with it the small army of methadone customers who used to line up at opening time each day. These are such local people, local stories.

This was the earliest Anglican church in Christchurch, the Church of the Most Holy Trinity. It sat among rose gardens and a traditional cemetery. It did well in the 4 September quake but 22 February did for it. Now it too is inside out. You can see the fine wood work, and glimpse the blues and reds of the beautiful stained glass windows. i liked the sturdy green ecclesiastical looking door that now leads nowhere. The ground is really chopped up around it and the car park is a mess of liquefaction. But the grass is green and the roses bend with sweet grace in the wind, and if anything it feels more peaceful and sacred now.

i have one more story, without illlustration. One of the USAR sniffer dogs was given the job of searching for survivors in a building containing a well known bakery. He did his usual fine job, and when he finished he was left on his lead for a while on his own. When his people returned, they found he had chewed through his lead. He had gone missing. They found him soon enough, however, crawling shamefacedly out of the bakery. He had eaten all the food!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The earthquake shrunk my clothes

i want to write about the lighter side of earthquake survival. i am painfully aware that i am better off than most of the people around me, and i may be writing something different if i had lost someone close, or been seriously frightened or hurt. but there is always a lighter side and a good expression of this is the facebook page You know you're from Christchurch when... which compiles earthquake jokes.

My first issue is the physics of cleaning up. What the hell is Horlicks and why is it all over my floor? And what fascinating algorythm governs the phenomenon where every item in my food cupboard finds a specific trajectory, no matter where in the cupboard it orginated, that means it lands in the butter before it finds its final resting place on the floor? A tablespoon of butter in a dish goes a long way as it travels on every other item. Ditto a quarter of a cup of loose leaf tea, which is somehow enough to wreck four CD's and a pile of documents. Cleaning up without water meant trying to get to it all before the dog started on it and cut his tongue on the embedded glass (don't start me on the physics of shards of glass). The Horlicks (how come i had Horlicks?) turned into a third world building material as it met the jam on the floor. Cheap, durable, environmentally friendly, and edible in times of famine. Impossible to shift with loo paper and a knife, in other words.

Also part of the cleanup was the big stuff. Suddenly hip deep in random furniture, we cut channels in it for easy escape but otherwise have left it on the floor where it could fall no further. We have bricks and planks for book cases (we never got past the student flat look) and now we just have bricks and planks and books. We look like we have a hoarding problem.

Then there is the small stuff. My husband the Archduke Piccolo wargames and there must be literally thousands of items on the floor or spilt in some way - soldiers, terrain, vehicles, stuff to make soldiers and terrain and vehicles...

Then there is the daughter's bedroom. It has always looked like it had just been robbed. i used to poke my head in and shout Oh my God! We've been burgled! The September earthquake deposited another layer on the floor. This last one leaves the room even deeper in weird teenage stuff, and more randome furniture. She has tried to deal with it. She removed her laptop, some clothes and her bass guitar and will be back some time. *

Then there is the title of this post, for which i am indebted to Rachel who first noticed that the earthquake had shrunk her clothes too. We are among the privileged, doing the work we do we are getting free meals and goodies arrive from wellwishers all over New Zealand. And we eat them. And the thoughts are as lovely as the goodies. Thank you, to my work equivalents elsewhere and to all the people who pray for us and think of us and want to help. `

* Her bass guitar and amp were a Christmas present from her guy. He clearly has more love than money and more money than sense. We all fell in love with it when it came out of its bag. It is blue - blue, blue, electric blue, and when you hold it, as we all did, reverently, it glints in the light and whispers rock and roll....And the amp goes up to 12, which is one better than Nigel's in Spinal Tap. And as we hook it up and feel the first hum, a collective hallucination passes through the air, like the hologram of Princess Leia in Star Wars. Briefly we experience... clenched fists punch the air...a line of coke is chopped on a mirror...the smell of sweat and hair and other substances up real close in the mosh pit....Katy Perry arches her back...WTF! KATY GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY ROCK AND ROLL HALLUCINATION! Rock! Yeah!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The drive to connect

Today, at 12.57, the town of Christchurch observed two minutes' silence, one week to the minute from the eathquake that ravaged our lives. i was in a park with a friend and everyone around us stood in their groups, and some held hands, or embraced, and there really was a silence.

When the earthquake happened i was at home, putting lunch on the table. i dived under the table, saw the dog lurch past and grabbed him and shoved him in front of me. My husband was at the computer and he watched as everything in the room hit the floor. My poor dog has a very enlarged heart and i could feel it against me, like a butterfly beating against cupped hands.

The power was out. The water was out. The neighbour next door was screaming; she is young and pregnant, and her mother was shouting at her. Water and silt began flooding from under their house. Within an hour there was a traffic jam outside our house; people were trying to get out, get home, get anywhere, get to loved ones. We dug a toilet. A hole of problematical depth formed on the street corner, with the power pole still teetering in it. Being a girly swot i had 30 litres of water, candles, a radio and batteries, three sources of cooking, and enough hand sanitiser to drink if i decided to turn to alcoholism. We checked the neighbours. i texted my daughter and once she responded i knew i would be OK.

Christchurch is the most class conscious city i know. What school you go to can make or break your career, if you care for such things. Very, very roughly the east side of Christchurch is the poor side. Most of the people around me are worse off financially, and the area is fairly transient. i thought there were two main ways of coping with the crisis as it emerged. Our way was to hunker down, work out what we had and conserve it, and share what we could. Of our neighbours, another way was to head out and get stuff. The east side turned into a grand food bank. i went down to the marae because i had heard you could do laundry there, and everywhere there were charities giving out cans of cola and beans and water in bottles. No laundry, though. There were rumours and rumours of rumours, about what was open and what was available, and how to get there. i spent an hour and a half driving with my neighbour to get water. That was how long it took to get about 10 kms, with the roads broken and the traffic jammed. We lent out a camp stove and a shovel and had barbecues and people who were on their own came and helped us empty the freezer by eating our food. i fear for the state of Christchurch's oral health. For days we lived on soda and juice as water was so scarce!

Many people have left Christchurch. i suspect they are often the people who are best resourced to do so. i was amused to hear that schools in Wanaka and Queenstown have had a wave of Christchurch children enrol, the news report stating blandly that many Christchurch residents have holdiday homes there. On my side of town, sometimes all we have is what you see. No holiday homes, no relatives offering respite, just people in their fractured homes hanging on through the aftershocks and reaching out in more or less functional ways to each other.

Why did people drive around so much? We were told to stay off the roads, to keep phone and cell traffic to a minimum and stay put. i think people drove to connect.

The founder of attachment theory should rightly be considered to be Darwin, who observed in The Voyage of the Beagle that within a species individuals that form relationships and connections do better than those that are solitary. Yes, we should have stayed put, but people got into their cars and queued for gas and drove and drove. One woman drove about 35 kms for a shower. My neighbours drove for hours to find missing friends and to get fish and chips. Comfort food! My young pregnant neighbour refused to shelter herself - she had to hear from her partner, and Che hadn't texted her, and CeeCee said she hadn't heard from Josh, and ... Get under the table Shaniqua! yelled her mum, You're fucking pregnant! but she sat on the bed and cried and texted and texted. Everyone had to be OK or she wouldn't be OK. My workmate hitched into work for company and water and a shower. Travel has been difficult on the east side. Bridges and roads are out, and there is mud and sand and holes and sudden irruptions in the road, as if someone has drilled a hole in the road from below. So people were really wanting to travel. As for me, after three days of being told by my sensible daughter not to visit her, that emergency vehicles were unable to save lives because they were getting stuck in traffic, i got in the damn car and visited her anyway. i knew she was OK, but i had to see her. We drive to connect.

i worked on the night shift the day of the quake. i drove in because i was slightly injured and also because we had already heard about looters. (i usually walk to work). i allowed three quarters of an hour to travel 2.5 kms. It was dark with no power, so i was never sure what was under my wheels. i managed the cordons by showing my ID but many of the roads were just plain blocked off with rubble and detritus. After that i did two more night shifts. i had my moment of weepiness after the third one. i left the hospital at 8.30 in the morning and stood outside, by the cordon with the LAV's and the soldiers, and heard a bellbird call, high and clear in the air, asking nothing of me, just alive and real and marvellous.