Christchurch New Zealand 30 May 2015

Recently I found some archival versions of emails I sent out into the wild blue yonder of cyberspace 4 years ago in the aftermath of the major Christchurch earthquake sequence.  Here it is:

Sometimes it seems like a long time ago – even another lifetime.  The aftershocks are very rare now, at least the ones we can feel.  I am a 3.3 man – anything under 3.3 doesn’t register with me.  There have been 14 tremors in the last week…weak and light apparently… I have missed them all.  I am glad of it!

Sometimes it is like it never happened.  The house works, the animals are relaxed, the phone rings and the person contacting me doesn’t talk about their earthquake issues.

But then, like at lunchtime today, there is a rumble outside and the noise of it makes me wonder if an aftershock is coming…I pause…waiting for the escalation and revelation.  It is a truck.  I move on barely registering that this is an odd way to behave.  In the past I could never have imagined that this would be the staging of a significant part of my life.  My new normal.

But it is not normal.

In the city the roads are still all over the place, especially off the main routes.  There are cranes everywhere flashing their aircraft warning lights all night.  A good sign of moving on, I guess, but the gaps between these building sites are enormous.  There is a long way to go.

One of my sons has moved into a flat out east.  He is a block away from the ‘red zone’ – the buffer zone on both sides of the Avon River now devoid of houses and eerily silent when you risk the pot holes and drive along the once proud neighbourhood roadways.

I did an early morning photo-shoot out at New Brighton at Easter and it seemed as if there had been absolutely no attention given to the primary access roads to this significant coastal suburb.  It felt like I was entering a third world country.  I live out west, I am pampered.  I feel guilty.  How come, four years on, it feels as if the earthquakes have just happened out there?!

I received a phone call on Friday – a woman thanking Anne and I for arranging some emergency food for her daughter.  I heard that another daughter is living in a house where she is paying $430 a week in rent and the house exterior is plugged with goo because the damage from the earthquakes has rendered it beyond repair, but some landlord is still making money from renting it to people too poor to be able to afford to move somewhere else to a house in better condition.

Christchurch is no picnic.

I love my work and the community of people I interact with – I really love what I do and who I do it with – but living here continues to test me.

And then Japan and Nepal, and the devastating earthquakes there and I know that comparably we have nothing to complain about.

Meanwhile, in our church community we are anticipating that we will build on out two sites this year.  The St Stephen’s Church building in Bryndwr was demolished a few years ago.  The St Giles Church building in Papanui was demolished earlier.  We have combined to form The Village Church.  It seems to be thriving enough despite this precarious season of struggling churches.  The building process is another challenge again – we are building community-facing buildings rather than buildings with pointy roofs that are disused most of the week – there seem to be plenty of them about so we don’t feel the need to add two more.  We see this as an opportunity to re-engage and re-connect with the community if they will let us.  It is very experimental and kind of fun.  I worry that we will not have enough money to build these spaces – the building costs have risen dramatically and the demands for structurally sound buildings are, quite rightly, high, but also expensive. The politics of working between peoples hopes, aspirations, frustrations and expectations is challenging.  But that is what it takes to live and work here…handling the politics.

Christchurch has become a city of energy, frustration, anger, hope, wonder, divides, despair, desperation, progress, regress, opportunity, exploitation, possibility, imagination, and degeneration.  We have a long way to go.