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.