Saturday, March 19, 2011

KIA KAHA, CHRISTCHURCH

It is tempting to write a blog about the earthquake in Christchurch on 22 February, 2011. There are probably half a million stories that could be told by the people who were here on that day, and some of those stories have already been told. Mine is unexceptional by comparison, and I don’t propose to tell it here.

However, to write a blog about anything else seems bizarre. Trivial. Everything has changed. There is a sense of “before and after” when life as we knew it has shifted into another dimension. Our perspectives have changed in so many ways, both subtle and not so subtle. What was important before no longer matters. What is important now has been reduced to a handful of personally essential elements, once the basics of water, food, shelter and medical attention have been met.

The pioneer spirit has come to the surface. Instead of spending idle hours reading a book or watching television an instinct for survival and preservation has kicked in. There is an urge to go out and shovel silt, or salt down some beef, boil water, bottle fruit, dig a latrine. Neighbours have become friends, communities are pulling together. News is passed around by word of mouth about a local supermarket re-opening, roads and bridges becoming accessible, the arrival of a portaloo.

Practical safety measures are now routinely taken. Ornaments, important enough to care about and not already smashed, are displayed in safer places, blu-tacked to shelves, or wrapped up and put away in drawers. Bottles are now stored on the floor of the pantry. A bag of freshly picked peaches, left on the bench temporarily, is tied so that when another shake happens (and they happen several times per day) the fruit – touch wood – won’t spill out over the carpet. These are the sort of everyday, just-in-case things that we now do, if we can, that we didn’t think to do before.

What is precious to each and every one instantly becomes clear in an emergency. Those they love, obviously – and that often includes pets. Then come the photographs. So often people are seen after a disaster mourning the loss of the photographs, the record of their lives. Next, the box of valuables and family documents – birth, marriage and death certificates, passports, Wills. After that, nearly everything else is meaningless when deciding, if there is time, what to save and what to leave behind. The small handful of essentials is all that really matters.

Here in New Zealand we have adopted a short and simple phrase from the Maori language meaning “be strong”. Kia kaha, Christchurch.

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