22 March 2013

24 hours and 17 seconds

Plane window photos...can never get enough  of  Mother Nature....

Last Wednesday I went overseas for 24 hours and I have to tell you that I  thought I was pretty clever trying to fit everything into 86,400 seconds.

Well, that was my thinking until I landed anyway. 

And then the smugness was pretty much wiped off my face when I saw first hand how much Mother Nature can pack into 17 seconds.

As I left the Airport Arrivals Hall I was relieved to find there was one last cab on the rank.  The driver opened the door and in that unmistakable Kiwi accent, said, “Welcome to Christchurch love, where are you off to then?”

“Bealey Avenue", I said as I fastened my seat belt.
As we manoeuvred through the congested airport traffic, I looked for his ID on the dashboard. It's a habit I've gotten into since getting into an unauthorised cab in NYC once but that's a story for another time.

This cab driver's name was Hohepa. "It's a Maori version for the name Joseph" he later told me.  

He asked me what had bought me to Christchurch.  “Work, just work.” I said.

Of course what I didn't tell him was that I was also very curious about how the City was recovering from the big Earthquakes, the last one back in 2011.
As I looked out the window at the passing urban landscape it was not hard to see the impact that a 6.3 magnitude earthquake can have. The scars were still fresh. There were empty blocks of land where houses once proudly stood, intricate scaffolding holding up homes and kilometers of high wire fences displaying danger signs to keep nosey visitors out.
As we passed the shell of this Church, I asked Hohepa how everyone was doing two years on.

 
“We’re getting there”, he said, “but it's so ridiculously slow and frustrating. The CBD is like a ghost town. It is eerie. We have lost our heart and soul."

Hohepa told me that the CBD is fenced off and all the remaining buildings are  being slowly demolished. He said that this damage was nothing compared to the hundreds of uninhabitable homes to the east of the City which are on land which can never be built on again.
He looked at me in his rear vision mirror and said, “You know it only lasted 17 seconds don’t you? 17 horrific seconds.”

I asked him what he was doing when the quake hit and he told me that he was driving a passenger from the Airport and the car started rocking violently from side to side. 

"In seconds, the roads were ripped open with all this thick silty sludge seeping through", he said, shaking his head from side to side.  "Buildings had fallen on buses and cars and you could see bodies under the rubble. It was a war zone and the noise was unbelievable."
We travelled in silence for a couple of minutes and, not wanting to cause any distress, I changed the subject and asked about the unusually warm, balmy weather.

However, it seemed Hohepa was having none of that. He wanted to stay on topic and tell me about the darkest day of his life.

He told me that he waited in his car for what seemed like hours and eventually made it home. The house was so badly damaged he sat outside on the footpath waiting for his wife to come home.  She had texted him earlier in the day to say that she would be home around 6pm.

Six o’clock came, nothing. Seven o’clock came, nothing.

I started to move uncomfortably in my seat hoping like hell that he was going to say she made it home at 8 o’clock.
He didn’t, because she didn't.

She died in the CCTV building in the CBD along with over 100 other people.

As we circled the city centre, he pointed out the empty block of land where her office building once stood. And where she lost her life.

All gone, no sign of life or a building that once was
 
 “I am so sorry, I really am.” I said. Somehow, there were no right words. 

I wondered, perhaps out loud, how he managed to drive visitors around every day when questions about the earthquakes were never far from anyone's lips.  
He said he was used to it as his passengers talk about 'it'.  Even the locals. He told me about a conversation he had had with a passenger two weeks earlier. He picked up a guy from the Airport and, as expected, the conversation quickly turned to the earthquake and its aftermath. The passenger asked him if he knew anyone who died in the city building collapses. He said, yes he did and the passenger asked him their name. He gave him the name without revealing it was his wife. The passenger said, “Oh yes, she was the sixth last body I identified in that building”.
Confronting stuff.

Hohepa dropped me off at my Hotel and I wished him well. I really hoped our conversation had not caused him yet another restless night. 

Later that night, as I sat relaxing on a couch watching the news, I felt a slight rumble and the building move. I held my breath. I read that Christchurch has had more than 11,200 aftershocks since the earthquake 2 years ago. I am guessing that figure is now 11,201. 
The next day I got the chance to walk around the high wire fences surrounding the CBD. It is a shock. I tried to imagine what the city centre looked like when I visited 12 years ago - something like this picture below. I remember the iconic Cathedral in the heart of the city very well.
 
Now the CBD looks like one large demolition site. It is deserted apart from unstable buildings, rubble, large pieces of machinery and a myriad of workers in orange jackets and hard hats. 

And that iconic Cathedral? It's not so grand anymore without its steeple. 
Click on the image to make it larger

When disasters hit, we see the live images on TV, we feel for the people involved, we donate money to appeals and then we somehow... forget. One disaster is replaced by another. And Life goes on.

Except, of course, for those who still live with the destruction day in day out.
BUT, and its a BIG BEAUTIFUL BUT, against that grey dusty rubble stained backdrop the signposts of renewal are emerging too. 
There are brightly coloured pots with blooming flowers strategically placed along the edge of the wire framed CBD. They make you smile. And more incredibly, there is a temporary mall called RE:START at the edge of the city centre with 40 stores housed in old shipping containers (there is a picture of these containers in the previous mosaic photo stacked up outside a building). The containers have been painted bright colours and configured in architecturally interesting ways. So very, very clever.
It's hard to imagine these temporary buildings are made out of old shipping containers...clever!

And while it must be hard for locals to look for, let alone see any silver lining quite yet, I am sure that every visitor to the City clearly sees the sprouting seeds of hope. 

I am also sure that on those return taxi rides to the Airport the conversation is all about the fantastic progress being made. I certainly know that was the conversation I had with my taxi driver.

I just really, really hoped that the taxi driver I was having the conversation with had been Hohepa.

I salute you Christchurch and all that call you home. You are incredibly brave and resilient. Better days will return.

And next time, I will stay longer than one day. Time has no meaning after all unless we choose to give it significance.
 

39 comments:

  1. You are so right about one disaster replacing another. We hear about disasters from around the world more now in our connected world. I wonder if near constant disaster (natural and man-made) reporting has dulled our feelings about them. I can't help but compare them when I hear about them. I know there is no sensible comparison when the tragedy involves your own family. It's interesting that a random taxi ride can provide you such an inside story. You are a good observer.

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    1. I know Bill, I just watched the news last night and there was a tornado here in one of our States and the images looked worse than Christchurch. Are there more natural disasters or, as you say, are we just hearing about them quicker and being able to see the events live as it were.

      I would quite fancy travelling in taxis all over the world getting drivers stories. I think people are just plain fascinating. Can you imagine, what stories we would learn about people. I may make it my taxi driver series, ha ha.

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    2. Taxi driver series - great idea. Really any occupation that puts you out interacting with the masses. ER nurses would be good too.

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    3. Great idea. I still would like to do some kind of series where different bloggers from around the world take the same topic and discuss it from their perspective. I am fascinated how much we all still think alike even though we come from all corners of the world. Up for it?

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    4. That is sorta like those list of questions memes that get passed and linked around. I suspect you want something with more depth. Most of the question ones I see are very female orientated and don't create much discussion. I like have a bit of choice in these memes. Suggest you do one with three thinking type questions and the blogger would pick one to write about. What type of topics did you have in mind?

      Oh if you get a chance check out this fun post I did the other day.
      http://afcsoac.blogspot.com/2013/03/this-lady-would-be-fun-to-go-out-with.html

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    5. Just a topic I was thinking like crime or television or media or some broad topic so that we could talk about it from the perspective of our own countries. I shall be over to have a look at your blog Bill - have loads of posts to catch up on.

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  2. It is always something to see these things first hand, I too was hoping you would have the same driver going back to the Airport.....How really terrible to be waiting for your loved one to come home---and they don't! Poor dear man.....And all that damage in 17 seconds. Frightening.

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    1. Yes Naomi it is hard to get your head around the fact that this all happened in 17 seconds. I cant achieve much in 17 seconds when I think about it. Mother Nature, she is one fierce being.

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  3. Can't take life for granted, cherish every moment and treasure every second...

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    1. True, easier said than done though for some bizarre reason don't you think? We get caught up in everything that is meaningless instead.

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  4. We don't hear much about Christchurch these days, nice to have the update, Lilly. Sad to hear the tragic news from the taxi driver.

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    1. Thanks Christine. Maybe I will get to go to Canada one of these days. I only ever got to Niagara Falls which is not really a real visit to Canada is it?

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  5. What a beautiful post Lilly. When I hear such bad news from the lips of a stranger or friend, I try to do what you did, bear witness. If they can live through it, I can listen. Devastation and resurrection. Thanks so much for sharing Hohepa's story and for showing hope in the mall made of shipping containers.

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    1. Thank you Can Can. I always love your comments and your take on my posts. And you express what I was trying to say in one paragraph. I so need to be more succinct instead of waffling, lol.

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  6. Lilly, I am so glad you wrote this post. There is so much to learn from how an individual learns to cope after a loss, which was of nature's making. I hope you get to meet this particular Taxidriver on your next trip.

    You can rebuild buildings . How do you rebuild lives ? ( The court case pertaining to the 92-93 terrorist explosions across Mumbai, all within 2 hours, just got over yesterday, and while fellows will be punished etc, those who lost loved ones still dont have a sense of justice or closure. )

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    1. I would really like to read some more about the Mumbai bombings Ugich and also hear your views on the rape crimes in India. I regularly read your blog too although don't really comment (shy thing that I am). You have such an interesting take on everything.

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    2. True Ugich. Buildings are just that. Human life is something again. And Mother Nature is one thing and humans causing chaos and destruction something completely different. I must catch up with the court case and what happened there as that truly shocked the World. So many do not get that sense of justice but have to go through the legal system and get spat out the other side.

      I agree with Sarah too, I would be interested to hear your take on what else has been in the news over your way. Mind you it is no different to what is happening everywhere, in all countries. I am so proud that people stood up for justice of the victims and demonstrated until action was taken. We could all learn from this.

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  7. Oh that is so sad. It is unbelievable that it took only 17 seconds to do that kind of damage. People's lives changed forever. I am shocked to see those pictures too. For some reason I just thought that the buildings would be rebuilt quickly. I have a friend that used to live in Christchurch and she has terrible stories too. She told me how she picked up her kids and got them out of the house after the earthquake and just walked and walked. At some point her 3 year old boy said to her, Mummy I have holes. She didn't understand what he was saying and looked down and realised that she left so quickly that she hadn't noticed that her son had no shoes on his feet. She had made him walk 6 blocks in just his socks, poor little mite. Aussies need to go for trips there and inject some money back into the economy to help them get back on their feet. Those shipping containers look fab - I think people have been living in them too haven't they? Those after shocks are also unbelievable. Poor buggers. I wonder how many have tried to sell up and get out of there. Interesting post indeed, What a brave City.

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    1. That is sad, poor little boy in his holey socks. The stories would be amazing Sar that is for sure. I was just surprised as I had never seen anything like it. I was in bushfires and my whole suburb got destroyed almost but a city centre with all those big buildings - never seen anything like it. It sort of ripped the heart out of the City and will take a long time to get it back. People are amazing what they can deal with though. The human spirit never ceases to amaze me.

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  8. What a sad and uplifting post at the same time. I can imagine your thoughts when you were with the driver and he was telling you about his wife – how painful for him. I heard New Zealand is a beautiful country and always wished to go there. I hope they won’t have another earthquake. I lived in San Francisco for 10 years so I know the feeling when the earth moved a bit – you can’t stop wondering if this will be the “big one.”

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    1. I know Vagabond, I was cringing because I started the conversation and the poor guy. He must be still traumatised beyond belief. Yes, San Francisco is the same, I have forgotten about that. Such a beautiful place too. I guess it is the risks people take and I imagine that you never really expect it will happen to your City or you. Thanks for stopping by, I will come and visit your blog.

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  9. Glad to hear you were able to visit Christchurch Lilly, even though it was such a short stay.
    I have been back 4 times since the 2011 earthquake and am very impressed by the resilience of the citizens of Christchurch. I now call Christchurch my second home.
    In my last blog post I included a photo of two of my friends from Christchurch and a special song about the city.

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    1. Thanks Peggy, I finally got around to replying. I hope you had a wonderful Easter break. you probably mentioned it was Christchurch you visited often but wow they really are resilient. Such a pretty place and the weather was so beautiful for the day I was there. I shall be over to check out your blog. xx

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  10. Your cab drivers story made me cry. Perhaps him sharing the story about his wife is his way of keeping her memory safe and honoring her. My prayers go to him and so many affected and trying to recover. 17 seconds... Each one in life is precious.

    Thank you for sharing your travel, pictures and experiences.

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    1. Hello Mother, thanks for taking the time out to come and say hello given you must be run off your feet. True, each second is precious, sometimes we need reminding over and over again.

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  11. How heartbreaking. I can't imagine what your cab driver must feel like-- it's all so sad.

    Earthquakes stink-- 100% totally and completely stink! We had a big on 20 years ago and I still have nightmares from it. There is a strange sense of always waiting for another one that's creepy and scary.

    And rebuilding-- that's the hardest part. Seeing the remains of the earthquake for so long is depressing but it's good to see progress and the beautiful flowers help cheer things up.

    Sending extra prayers to that part of the world.

    xoxo jj

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    1. I completely forgot Los Angeles is an earthquake zone too. And is San Francisco one too? I must go and Google that. Thanks for stopping by.

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  12. This is so awfully sad and tragic. We spent a little over two weeks traveling through NZ and loved the people and country. We spent time in Christchurch also and was staggered to hear what happened only a few years later.

    Sendai was awful, but when we stood in the middle of the devastated area a year later, I was unbelievable. It's hard to get the scope of it until you hear the personal stories.

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    1. Yes it is a beautiful country isn't it Kay. I would love to spend some months there I think because it is easy to get around and so very diverse.

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  14. Very sad, and you told about the cabdriver's wife's death so movingly.
    It is amazing how fats someone's life can change - or end, with a natural disaster or a man-made tragedy.
    Rebuilding gives people hope, but the sadness remains forever for some even when they see what is new to replace what was torn. A life can't be rebuilt like a building can, it reminds us all how precious our loved ones are and to cherish them in the present.

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    1. It just goes to show that we have to live every second as we never know what is around the corner. Thanks for your lovely comment Mary.

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  15. Such a beautiful country and Christchurch is lovely too. I didn't realize how bad it all still was. I wonder how many people have packed up and gone. They all must wonder about the next big one. I love the restart project. We should all be recycling far more. And poor taxi driver it all must still be so surreal.

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    1. Surreal is actually the perfect word for it Anton. Live goes on but it must be incredibly surreal living through it all.

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  16. Thank you LIly,your post brought home the reality and awfulness on the disaster. So much suffering

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    1. Hello gorgeous Barbara, lovely to see you blogging again and stopping by. This must mean that you posted on your blog again. I will be rushing right over to check, he he. Could do with a laugh after this post.....

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  17. What a sad story, Lilly - but passed on beautifully. Hope you are well, my friend.

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    1. I am Mike. And you? When are you coming back to blogging...hope you are happy and healthy over there in Tartanland.

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  18. Wow , I don't know what to say - so much destruction and sadness but also hope on the horizon. I didn't realise the extent of the earthquake.

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Thanks for your comments. I love reading what you have to say.