Local Heart, Global Soul

February 22, 2012

Reflections on Then and Now, Pausing to Pay Our Respects…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

It’s strange how life can be completely normal one moment and then suddenly everything can change in seconds: damage inflicted in less than a minute can be fatal, irreparable, profound.

It’s as if you are in the depths of a horrible nightmare:  if you woke up sweating and shaking to find that it wasn’t real it would be a welcome relief, a weight off your shoulders and the pain in your heart would heal and you’d be whole again.

This senerio happens in life on a daily basis… to somone, somewhere in the world all the time, ….maybe as the result of a road accident, death or near death of a loved one or the worst possible medical disgnosis.

When it happens on an individual level, it’s like life slows down and things start to happen in slow motion but moves at normal place for everyone else.

They don’t feel your pain, they don’t understand your limbo, your sense of time being suspended and your uncertainlty as events bigger than you can handle envelope you. So many questions, so few answers, how do you find the strength to go on?

In your heightened state of emotion, fear, resolution and pain, you start relying on auto-pilot to help you go through the necessary motions back to normal life.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Its like skiddling unexpectedly off the road and finding yourself dazed and bruised in the gravel, you need time to heal, recover , repair and return to where you left off. ‘

Hopefully someone will extend a helpful hand for you to hold, a shoulder to cry on and a strong arm to wrap you in when the darkest moments of recovery are upon you.

When this sudden spiral out of  “normal life”  happens on a collective level rather than on an individual level, as in the case of a natural disaster, things take an altogether different turn.

In this case less than a single minute of shaking turned a city upside down, it took lives, limbs, annihilated  life plans, jobs, possessions, dreams.

You hope that it’s a bad dream you can wake up from but each morning you are reminded that this IS the new reality that you are going to learn to live with.

Some people rise to this new situation, they find inside themselves an almost super-human strength that they never knew they had: on February 22nd they took charge, got to work, stood strong, gave comfort, fed or took in strangers, became leaders, carers and beaons of hope.

Others were not so strong: damage, berievement, age, loss, fear, nerves, character, shock… whatever the reason, they were in position where they needed more help than they could offer and, as is probably statistically usual when counting large numbers in a collective group, some tried to help themselves more than others too.

(photograph ©Thank you Google Street view)

(photograph © Thank you Google Street view)

(photograph © Thank you Google Street view)

Everyone has a different reaction to situations of deep and dire stress, when events over-run us on a personal level there is usually someone on the ‘outside’ when can reach in and lend a steadying hand.

When everyone else around you is also in this deep level of stress it can be so much harder to see where to go next, what’s possible, which way is up, how to battle the tears and emotions.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Christchurch City was trust into a crisis where as the enormity of the situation unfolded was akin like one shock wave hitting after another… there’s been a massive earthquake, buildings are down, people are trapped, people have died, whole neighbourhoods are damaged, hillsides and cliffs have fallen, houses beyond repair… and the sickening sense that gathers in your stomach as each piece of information comes in,  is a feeling I never want to ever feel again.

The minutes spent dialing telephome numbers of loved ones with quivering hands and the seeming eternity it takes between each dial tone are some of the longest minutes of your life… you know that large parts of the phone network is down but you try anyway.

Eventually someone of the other end of the line answers as the connection is finially successful, and together in shaking voices and tears the relief is audible, tangible, enveloping.

We quickly discover that even with some 14 attempts per call, that my chances of getting though to Christchurch from the Netherlands are still higher than their local calls across the city, so I try and phone as many people as possible, passing on messages and relaying information that loved ones are safe.

Some, try as we might, we can’t contact and the heavy sick feeling remains until we finially make contact.

(photograph ©Thank you Google Street view)

We are glued to the television as footage unfolds and the internet for as many live updates as we can get our hands on.

News crews from around the world flock to the scene as fast as resucue services from abroad, some are factual, some are sensationalistic, some have facts and more have more speculation than facts.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

After a few days once it’s been determined that no more survivors will be found or, if a bigger more urgent crisis is unfolding somewhere else around the world, attention is diverted and the news teams pack up their gear and move on.

Christchurch evaporates from the spotlight on the world stage and is left to start the long road of recovery alone.

But it is not completely alone, New Zealanders far and wide rally together, bonds of solidarity are formed, fundraising and support services are started, friends, relatives, neighbours, complete strangers are welcomed into homes inside Christchurch, from within the region and nationwide.

Busses and trucks arrive with food, clothes, home baking for people who are without electricy and who have had to evaculate their homes in only the clothes they stood up in.

Stories emerge that show people from one extreme to the other, from utter selflessnessness, selfishness and everything inbetween… but more often than not people rise above their own needs and wants and heartwarming accounts of “heros” in every shape, form and age come to light time and time again. Faith in human nature is restored as you hear account after account of people who waste no opportunity to give…  and wow, they gave.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Some people are steadfast that they will never leave the city, some do leave and some wish they could, everyone makes the best of the new reality that means closed or broken roads, damages houses, liquafaction, closed businesses and workplaces or tempory premises and work-around situations that are often less than ideal.

Today is one year to the day that Christchurch city had it’s heart torn open… the wounds are still raw, the recovery process is steady but slow, the pain is still close to the surface whenever certain emotional buttons are pushed.

For some this day is especially dark, in an instant they lost loved ones in terrible circumstances and their journey back to normalicy of any sort, is a road that we hope we ourselves will never have the misfortune to travel.

One thing is clear, and to which I can also attest to on Dec 23rd 2011, is when the ground is moving and everything around you is shaking, not one non-fration of your mind is busy thinking about possessions we own, we think only of the living breathing treasures that are irreplaceable, our children, spouses, friends, people we love.

The Christchurch earthquakes have helped people redefine who they are and what they want from life, February 22nd 2011 was a wake-up-call of the worst kind… a searing reminder that you only have today, time is limited, use it well, loved ones are the most precious thing you have, and this life is not the practice run.

(photograph © Thank you Google Street view)

(photograph ©Thank you Google Street view)

Christchurch and many of it’s inhabitants will spend today, along with all New Zealanders both at home and abroad, pausing at 12.51 pm and reflecting on this day, one year ago and one year on…

I may well live far away, but my heart and thoughts are today firmly “at home” in Christchurch.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Thank you Google Street view)

(photograph © Thank you Google Street view)

(photograph © Thank you Google Street view)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Thank you Google Street view)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Victims that the quake took came not only from New Zealand but also from abroad, my thoughts are with all the families of those who have had their lives forever changed by their loss or their injuries, both near and far.

I love and mourn the loss of my city, but that is nothing compared with the loss or injuries these people are still coming to terms with one year on.
I can only wish us all strength together for the long road ahead…

February 24, 2011

Quakes, Christchurch and a Cookbook…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Since I’m at home and not mobile and my foot needs to be kept raised,  my  revised morning routine of recent months is to check email on the laptop,  sit and chop veggies for dinner on a board on the bed and of late, do the exercises my physiotherapist has given me to do.

Depending on sleep (or lack of it) and pain relief  required I usually  catch a nap and later settle down to catch up on my favourite bloggers blog posts.

Since the Christchurch earthquake though, I have been totally focused on Christchurch, I can log into live-streaming news , look at the bigger Newspapers  for on-line reports and have been making calls and emails  to friends and relatives that I couldn’t get hold of yesterday.

House damage amongst them ranges from minimal to total write-off… the magnitude of what has happened is still to set in, the aftershocks, some as big as 5 on the Richter Scale are deeply unnerving.

Some are lucky enough to still have electricity and water and because of this are cramming friends, workmates and family into their homes, since whole swathes of the city are without power, water or sewerage lines.

Many are packing up and leaving town, they can’t sleep,  the aftershocks in the dark are even more terrifying than the ones in daytime, their kids are traumatized and young and old alike are shaken more than just physically after every aftershock.

The effect of these can not be underestimated… the New Zealand News at 6.30 am local time  told me that there had been 15 large aftershocks since midnight … …little wonder that  people don’t get much sleep.

Air New Zealand is laying on $50 flights out of the city to the North Island, embassies are helping tourists replace travel documents lost in buildings collapsed or too unsafe to return to, businesses everywhere are helping if they can.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Hospitals in Christchurch have treated more than 1500 people with more minor injuries, and the central hospital alone has about 200 more seriously injured, plus those in intensive care…

But one message from family and friends is clear,  locals are rising to the occasion and gladly stepping up to help.

My cousin, trained in rescue and with medic experience was packing his gear and heading into the city centre to offer to assistance in spite of  reaching his own home for the first time after the quake only two hours before.

The university students have risen up just as they did after the September 4th Quake and are being directed by Civil Defense in residential neighbourhoods, helping elderly residents with heavy lifting of fallen cupboards, wardrobes, shelves etc and armed with shovels, digging out the mud and silt from houses and roads of both friends and strangers inundated by  liquefaction.

Liquefaction is where the quake pushes the water- table upwards though the deep layers of sand and silt…   the force makes it erupt through grass and even tarmac via miniature volcano-like structures ( approximately 6cm / 2 inches across) .

Last time my Uncle and Aunt had more of these tiny tell-tale cones in their back yard than they could count. Each of them spewed out large volumes of watery mud and silt, which first floods and then leaves a muddy residue that dries out leaving a mass that sets  like concrete.  In the September quake it was deep enough to flow through their house, it blankets streets, blocks drains,  imprisons vehicles.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

The students came  last time with shovels and wheelbarrows and started digging and clearing…  this time the numbers of students are swelling again to match the 10, 000 strong that came out to help in the last quake.  I know that the manager of the Hanmer Holiday Homes is in the local fire brigade…they were in Christchurch yesterday and took a shift with the rescue workers in the Pyne Gould building. They pulled out survivors and also recovered some who sadly did not survive.

The Singaporean soldiers who were already in the South Island on joint military exercises are now helping with the central city security cordon. more than 600 specialist  workers have arrived or are arriving from Australia, USA, Taiwan, Japan, UK and elsewhere … and Kiwi’s will welcome their help with open arms and heartfelt gratitude.

So… why is there a cookbook in today’s post? Well, yesterday I mentioned the old Edmond’s Building, iconic not only in Christchurch but also throughout New Zealand.

The Edmond’s Company used to make just Baking Powder but these days make more products too.

Edmond’s also made a cookbook and it’s estimated that there’s a copy in every New Zealand household. My mother told me once that in the ’50s or ’60’s Edmond’s gave away free copies to couples when notice of their marriages or engagements appeared in the newspapers,  I’m not sure or not  if indeed she got her copy that way.

I watched the Edmond’s building be demolished with great emotion, just as now I watch my home-city fallen with even greater emotion.. but one thing we have in common is that the Edmond’s cookbook lives on even though the building is gone… strong in spirit, and with it’s well known “Sure to Rise” motto.

Christchurch has been hit by natures wrecking ball, the painful process of facing up to the catastrophic damage is only just beginning to dawn on shocked faces and broken hearts as they stare at the long long hard haul of recovery.

Just as I know in my heart that no one can ever rebuild the iconic Edmond’s building, I am realistic enough to also know that the rebuilt Christchurch will never be the same face of the city to my children as the one I fondly grew up with.

There are only 4 million people in New Zealand but take a look at volume of the print runs of the Edmond’s cookbook…  popularity comes in the strangest places and love for our treasures endures…

One thing I can be sure of though, The people of Christchurch, of Canterbury and of New Zealand will do what it takes to live up to the iconic spirit of the Edmond’s  motto…    Somehow no matter what it takes, with a little (or in this case, a lot) of help from their friends, they too will be  …”Sure to Rise“.

February 23, 2011

When Your Whole World is Shaken…

(photographed from news media sources)

My ‘home- town” is Christchurch, New Zealand.

Christchurch the principle city of New Zealand’s South Island, has more than 90 historic buildings that celebrate it’s almost 150 year history.

Some are wooden, many are brick and stone, I remember as a kid, after we moved to the city from the country, looking in awe at the beautiful stone masonry and historic buildings.

I fondly remember many of the Sydenham shops (and some amazing second hand shops which I visited often as I built up furnishings for my first flat) many of them had large decorative stone ornaments on their facades.  I was sad when they were removed but understood that it was done  because they “were an earthquake risk”.

I was even sadder but understood too when one of the most iconic buildings in all New Zealand (The “Edmonds, Sure to Rise” building) was completely demolished  because it was beyond making earthquake safe.

I was part of a crowd that watched the wrecking ball do it’s work and like many present, I cried.

(photographed from news media sources)

The Edmond’s Building lives on in the hearts of New Zealanders on the cover of the similarly iconic cookbook that Kiwi Mamas tuck  into the bags of almost every Kiwi Kid as they leave the nest… it’s the book we all grew up with and adore, even my Kiwidutch kids are used to thumbing through my copy.

Many more beloved buildings were slowly but surely put on trial under ever stricter building code requirements and failed to pass the grade… if they could not be sufficiently strengthened, they were razed.

Even though I adored many of them, deep in my heart I understood.

On September 4th 2010,  the earth moved violently under the New Zealand South Island province of Canterbury. It was 4:30 am in the night, the populous slept and they were jolted awake in the dark to falling chimneys, crashing glass and flying objects.

Electricity  gone, phones down, but by a miracle  of  strong building codes and luck that people were still in bed, the 7.1 magnitude earthquake passed without a single loss of life.

(photographed from news media sources)

My remaining beautiful buildings were not so lucky, many facades were deposited abruptly onto the pavements below, many were catastrophically damaged,  but all Kiwi’s breathed a sigh of relief that no one was under the rubble and began immediately tearing down the buildings that structural engineers issued a swift  death warrant to.

Early yesterday morning the News came that Christchurch had taken a fresh hit… a “lesser” earthquake in scientific terms at 6.3 on the Richter Scale, it was therefore almost 10 times smaller than last September’s shock.

But that is only half the equation, the other half is how deep underground the epicenter is… the first 20-30 kms deep, yesterday’s a mere 5.

Shallow earthquakes produce greater shaking, and this one was bad. “BAD” in upper case letters sort of “bad” … I follow on-line news so I know that the aftershocks still hadn’t finished from the last quake… not little aftershocks either, big ones.

(photographed from news media sources)

This new Quake took place just before 1.00 pm in the afternoon, people were shopping in the city centre, on lunch breaks, in offices…

This morning I didn’t give the beautiful buildings a second thought…   I could only think frantically of friends and relatives and start calling for news.

I shook as I dialed their phone numbers,  and and since lines are blocked it took most of the morning to finally get though. When they answered that they were ok,  I cried with relief.

One of my cousin’s young sons was known to be ok directly after the quake: at school in the central city, he was missing later as the phone network crashed but thought to be safe and well with other kids and teachers assembled at one of the big evacuation points.

Other relatives and friends describe terror as they struggled to hold on to walls, anything that wasn’t moving… but everything was moving and they all emerged shaken, trembling,  in tears and worried sick about husbands, wives, children, parents and friends elsewhere in the city. Everyone reports that damage inside homes and businesses “has to be seen to be believed” water mains burst, cupboards overturned, glass everywhere, almost everything breakable broken.

(photographed from news media sources)

They tell of  Crock-pots flung out of closed cupboards and smashed… entire bookcases, cabinets, anything on walls on the floor, in some houses ceilings down, liquefaction producing a thick layer of mud and silt  over roads, through gardens, into houses.

But they all breathe a huge sigh of relief… they can still hug their frightened children, their spouses and friends.

Many in Christchurch yesterday were not so lucky,  the death toll is currently 65 and will probably rise, rescue teams are working frantically though the night  to find survivors in collapsed buildings,  specialist assistance is arriving from around the country, and from around the world.

Rescue teams are digging people out from rubble and I can only pray that those trapped can hold onto life and hope until rescue comes.

Everyone I spoke to yesterday repeated a single phrase ” it’s only stuff, we have our lives and those of our families and we are incredibly grateful“.

I find myself feeling guilty that I was relieved that it was “someone else’s family” that suffered loss and not mine.

(photographed from news media sources)

But my heart also goes out to those who are not saying “lucky near-miss” today and who are instead gathering with family to bear the  catastrophic weight of the worst of news together.

Their world is especially dark right now and every reminder of rebuilding, rubble and every aftershock will bring the stark reminder that someone they love is didn’t make it to hug tightly afterwards.

I Thank those of you who emailed or sent a comment to me to ask if my friends and loved ones were ok…   I’m one of the lucky ones,  my tears have been those of relief, and friends and family can pick up the pieces of damaged homes, as can we from the house we own in the city.

But some people’s hearts have yesterday, been forever broken, and I don’t know where to start to express my sadness for their loss.

Building may be beautiful but they are only structures, people are irreplaceable and you know instantly where your priorities are when something like this happens.

Yesterday was an exceptional day:   …awful  … fear ….grateful …relief  …sadness ….hope.

Cantabrians, be strong… our thoughts are with you.

(photographed from news media sources)

(photographed from news media sources)

Rescue Teams are digging survivors out of this building…

(photographed from news media sources)

(photographed from news media sources)

(photographed from news media sources)

(photographed from news media sources)

(photographed from news media sources)

(photographed from news media sources)

(photographed from news media sources)

(photographed from news media sources)

(photographed from news media sources)

.. and the Quake also carved off this ice-burg from the galcier that fell into Tasman Lake in the Alps…

(photographed from news media sources)

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