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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Blog - Life's a Beach (Moata)

Life's a beach

Last updated 08:21 01/03/2011
Over the last few days many people have remarked at how extraordinary it is that I'm continuing to write blog posts amid the devastation that Christchurch and its people are experiencing. For me, it's not really extraordinary at all - on the contrary, it's completely mundane and ordinary. I would usually blog, in the same way that I would usually brush my teeth, or have cereal for breakfast. There are so many things that I would usually do that I can't at the moment (walk into town at lunchtime and ogle shoes in shop windows, go to work, sleep in my own bed, shower) that I'm more than happy to carry on doing those things that are possible given the current situation.

Another reason to write at the moment is simply that every day something extraordinary or unusual happens. Put simply, there's a lot to write about. And more than that, there's a lot to remember. So much has happened during such a short time and we're all so tired, that I know if I don't get it all down I will have forgotten it next week. If I don't document all the little things, the details, then they will most certainly be lost in the scale of this event.

When last I posted, I had been crapped in a hole of my own digging (that sounds like some kind of metaphor that should be applied to my life in general, but I'm not sure exactly what that might mean).

Thursday, afternoon

After suffering the indignity of completely unnecessary garden-based toileting, I decide to head on bike back to my mum's house about 10 minutes away. When I get there I find that the power is back on. I give mum a ring at my aunt's house and inform her that we don't have to be Amish any more. So having decamped once to my aunt's house, we now up sticks (or mattress) and shift back to mum's house. That night the Silver Fox and I sleep in the lounge. I wake up several times in the night because of aftershocks, but all things considered we mangage to get a fairly decent sleep.

I spend Friday morning writing that day's blog post while SF goes back to his mum's house 10 minutes' walk away. By midday mum and I are sick of being cooped up and go for a walk. We do a circuit around Eastgate Mall. Massive slabs of concrete have fallen off in a couple of places and the whole thing has been fenced off while ubiquitous hardhat/fluoro vest people work on it. We can see inside to The Warehouse. We are looking directly at racks of buckets and laundry baskets because a portion of the external wall has fallen away.

We then have a look at the older shops around the corner in Linwood Ave. The corner dairy where I used to get 20 cent mixtures and sometimes mum's smokes (you could do that back then if your mum had written a note) is totalled. I'm appalled. The entire row of shops looks completely unstable. Not so the stores on the opposite side of the road, where (cue choirs of angels and heavenly trumpets) the fish and chip shop is OPEN. There may not be a dairy or a supermarket open but you can't, it seems, keep a good fish and chippy down. It's the best scoop, fish and paua pattie combo I've ever had. SF meets us and we sit outside and eat our gorgeous, fatty lunch next to a massive pile of sand. It's like having fish and chips at the beach...if the beach were inland and made of potentially sewage-contaminated silt.

Having been fortified by this meal of champions, I decide I'm feeling brave enough to go back to my house so SF and I "hike" into town towards the four aves cordoned area. On the way we take a detour to see if Richmond New World is open, though the roads around there are in a pretty bad condition with cracks and bits of road that have slumped. Fine sandy silt is flicked up into the air with every car that drives over it, creating a sort of haze that I would normally associate with a windy day in New Brighton or Sumner. Again, it's a little bit beachy...but not.

Adding to this, en route a Walls refrigerated truck pulls up and a woman in the passenger seat holds two Magnums out the window and asks us if we want an icecream, which we do. They must be handing them out to whomever they come across. It's nice, but again I'm drawing completely unwarranted beach parallels.

Eventually we get to the cordon checkpoint nearest my house. I've heard it's really hard to get through, even if you live inside it, but in a stroke of luck one of the bags I packed on Tuesday already had an old telephone bill and my passport in it. This proof of address and identity is what allows me and SF through to my flat.

We focus our efforts in the kitchen, where we triage the food supplies and put them to one side while also gingerly cataloguing the broken items. My much beloved Star Wars tumblers have their casualties, including Han Solo. Before we clean up too much, I decide to take a video which I later upload to YouTube.

We're there for about an hour, during which time another aftershock rattles through. The SF suggests I might want to gather up anything that I can't live without and to do it quickly. I grab my degrees, insurance info, my bottle of Chanel No. 5, one beautiful pair of shoes that I bought in the UK and have never worn, the food, some clothes, SF's love notes, my photos and a particularly poignant bottle of wine which was a birthday gift last year. We take it outside and load it into our packs. It's all pretty heavy and it will be a long, slow walk home.

We've gone a few blocks when a silver van pulls up and the driver asks if we need a lift. I'd not usually accept a lift from a stranger but things have changed and people are helping each other a lot these days so we accept.

We chuck the packs in the back, SF gets in the passenger seat and I take one of the rear seats. Van guy has to move some stuff out of the way as he's kind of living in his van at the moment. Our good samaritan says that he can take us about halfway to Linwood but we're grateful to have our journey shortened. Getting any kind of lift is great.

He's a really talkative guy, balding, in his 50s or 60s and to start with he chats amiably about when he was younger and how difficult it was to hitch in the States (he's a Kiwi though) because he had long hair and people thought he was a "hippie". He sounds like an interesting guy. And then he mentions how his daughter his safe. His son is safe. His mother is...dead.

Oh God. Did he just say he'd lost his mother in the earthquake? Yes, he did and he goes on to explain how she bled to death at her nursing home. That they didn't have the medical facilities to save her. That there was nothing that could be done. That they called for an ambulance but none came. That he understands that an old lady in her 80s isn't a high priority for emergency services but that it's still hard. He talks about cleaning up his mother's blood off the floor with a towel. It's horribly selfish but I'm relieved to be sitting in the back seat and not right next to him. I'm not sure I could take looking at his face as he's telling us this stuff.

Oh, and his house is a foot deep in silt.

To say that I felt bad for him is a gross understatement. "Bad" is not an accurate word. "Horrified" might be closer. I felt a strong urge to cry for him but I couldn't. I still can't. Even as I'm writing this I'm almost crying but not quite. It'll come one day, and soon but not just yet. It's like if I start crying over one person then I'll have to feel the grief for all of it and it's too big. I can't.

In the end, I think our generous driver got some benefit from talking to us, two strangers he picked up off the side of the road. I think this because he didn't take us halfway. He went out of his way and dropped us off where we needed to go. When we got out of the van I asked him what his name was, shook his hand, and wished him all the best and to "stay safe" (which is something I've been saying to people a lot the last few days). So thank you Eric. You saved us an hour of walking but you also showed us how generous people can be even as they themselves are in pain. I hope that talking about your problems with us helped a little bit. I wish that there were some other way to help you and everyone else who is suffering like you are.

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