I’ve just arrived back from visiting with friends in Christchurch, New Zealand, where I went for a tour around the worst earthquake hit areas. It was a truly shocking and emotional journey.
Where once tall buildings stood now there are car parks and rubble. There is a clear view across the city to the hills beyond. Only a few tall buildings still stand, like drunken sentinels, awaiting their inevitable fate.
I walked along the road I used to walk down every morning on my way to work. There is nothing of that time left, no beautiful stone church I used to admire. No Occidental Hotel where I had the best Baked Alaska ever and where we used to call in at night to see Dwayne Franks strut his comedic stuff. No beauty salon where I used to use the tanning beds. No gym where I used to work at trying to keep the weight off. All those memory-containing-buildings were obliterated, destroyed, wiped out. I can’t even tell where they used to stand. The memories remain but for how long without the landmarks to remind us?
I went shopping. Not in shops built of bricks and mortar but in shipping containers. There were cafes with upstairs balconies, designer boutiques, coffee bars and even a trendy grocery store, all doing a roaring trade.
It seems out of the chaos, and confusion comes amazing thought and ingenuity. These are places that won’t crack or fall down. They feel safe, solid and yet somehow manage to project permanence and sincerity.
Once a city where I knew exactly where I was going and how to get there, now I feel disoriented and lost.
We walked past an art installation. It was 185 white chairs, each one a different design each one symbolising a life lost in the quakes.
Before returning to Christchurch I was feeling disconnected from my home city, as though I no longer belonged. My time there has renewed my connection, I don’t bear the scars of those dreadful days, and I haven’t lost friends, family or my home. I have friends and family who have been to hell and back and there is a sense of loss for me.
The buildings that held special memories for me are gone and in their place will be new buildings that I have no connection too, but they are in a city I will always hold in my heart.