Mum and I were flying down to Christchurch for two nights, to surprise my niece for her 5th birthday. I hadn’t been to Christchurch in nearly 5 years. It seems like a lifetime ago; back when I was living in Wellington and newlywed, back when the city stood tall and complete. A lot has happened in that half decade….. living abroad, travelling, losing Mr T, moving home, career changes, life changes, world changes… a city moves.
The airport was a comedy of errors. After boarding the plane and buckling in, we were informed that due to routine maintenance we’d all have to exit and wait for another plane. “Your f@#%ing joking!” came from my left. I laughed with Mum, a flight delay was probably better than cruising on an un-serviced airplane. The rest of the passengers appeared generally calm in our hour wait, as the interruption was excused by the airline’s general lack of competence.
The goose down puffer jacket came in extremely handy when walking from the warmth of Christchurch airport into the grasp of the southern night air. Our hotel had a shuttle come and collect us. The hotelier drove us toward Riccarton; her demeanor was happy and informatively chatty. She was kind enough to have the heater going for when we arrived and pointed us in the direction of restaurants just down the road.
Mum wanted a good old fashioned meal that warmed you right to the bones, so we stopped by the Lone Star. Our waitress was bubbly and attentive, something that can be hard to come by. I couldn’t help but mentally compare it to the slow service I had received the night before at a bar in my home town. The next morning we stopped by a café for some breakfast before the party. We were served with a large smile, upbeat conversation and genuine interest in our plans for the day.
Walking to the birthday party with presents in hand and brown paper rolls to wrap ourselves in for the surprise, I took in the scene that was now Christchurch. Even though we were traipsing the outskirts of the epicentre under the guidance of late autumn leaves, the earthquake damage wearily paved our way. A mall’s floors were disjointed and pieced together with duct tape, the sidewalk prematurely aged and an old stone church stood praying in tarpaulin for structural repair. Silence was appropriate; it is hard to express one’s sorrow when one cannot comprehend the extent of the damage.
Having met and conversed with some of the locals, you wouldn’t suspect that there had been several sizeable earthquakes including a major earthquake killing 176 people, extensive aftershocks and continual tectonic shifts. Mother Nature had not been so maternal and inflicted a massive loss of lives, loss of homes and loss of buildings.
The resilience revealed in the undoubted positivity of the people I had barely met exposed a strength in spirit and character that is nothing short of admirable. It was hard to believe that these people had been through so much but expressed gratitude in their day to day lives by being a picture of happiness. Something I that I wish I could bottle and distribute at will.
I left Christchurch full of cheerios, cake, great birthday memories and appreciation. Christchurch, I will endeavour to respectfully take a leaf out of your book and spread the word. Even though I have barely skimmed the surface, you my friend have made an impression.