On 22 February, Christchurch, that most English of New Zealand cities, behaved most un-Englishly. It did a shake, rattle and roll routine that left scores of people dead, and thousands homeless.
Here in Australia the horror was metaphorically and literally a bit close to home. Aussies and Kiwis, while we poke fun at each other all the time when things are going well, are really pretty close. Some of us, like me, even have family over there on the other side of the Tasman Sea.
Even though, like me, he’s a Pommie by birth, my dad, who’s in his 70s now, has spent more of his life in Christchurch than anywhere else on earth. He’s officially a Kiwi citizen, a Cantabrian, and a resident of that grand old lady city, Christchurch – she who has so recently been brought to her knees by the greater power of Mother Earth (and that’s been one helluva mother-daughter stoush, I have to say!)
I’ve avoided blogging the whole Christchurch earthquake thing, probably because I have felt it from such a personal angle, despite being across the Tasman. Besides, I’ve been part of the chain that’s been busily passing messages between family members here and in the UK.
But now it’s time. Over the last few weeks I’ve made many phone calls to my dad. He and Diana were rendered ‘earthquake refugees’, without power or water, not knowing whether their home would stand, be condemned-but-habitable, or condemned-and-get-out-now-coz-it’s-unsafe. They still don’t know. At the height of the awfulness, they had to abandon their home - and their traumatised cats - for a while. They’ve stayed with my youngest brother and his lovely wife in another part of town, and also with Diana’s family in faraway Nelson (which sounds like a lovely spot) but are now back home and sleeping in their own bed , despite continuing aftershocks, while they await the engineers’ pronouncement upon the stability and habitability of their home.
“Come back to Oz, Dad,” I’ve said, more than once since the first very nasty Chch earthquake back in September 2010, and about a hundred times since the latest shake-up. “You have family here – and no earthquakes.” His response?
"Canberra? Bah! Too many bushfires! Brisbane? Floods! And then there are snakes and poisonous spiders! No way, Australia’s too bloody dangerous!"
Ah, Kiwis – shaken but not stirred.
There have been some amazingly heartening developments in amongst all the doom and gloom. Armies of uni student cleaner-uppers have been working around Christchurch, digging tonnes and tonnes of silt from people’s homes, gardens, streets etc. Random people from all over the place have converged on Christchurch, shovels in hand, keen to help wherever they can (many many thanks to the wonderful-but-anonymous people who, out of the blue, helped my brother and a mate of his clear the liquefaction damage from Dad & Diana’s house).
New Zealand is an amazing place. It has a disproportionately massive heart, perhaps because it’s really so small in international, as well as geographical terms. It still has an enviable 'community' feel.
Despite Christchurch’s own straitened circumstances, New Zealand was one of the first countries to offer help to Japan after the devastating earthquake & tsunami that hit Japan's east coast on Friday. That selfless response made me a bit teary.
You see, I have a Japanese connection, too. I spent 1977 living and going to high school in Mito-shi – in Ibaraki Prefecture – as an exchange student. My host families and old school friends are all there, in a place that copped a hiding on Friday from that bloody tsunami. As I have gradually and foolishly managed to lose touch with my Japanese friends and families over the last 30-odd years, I have no way of contacting them, or knowing whether (or how badly) any of them were affected by Friday’s unimaginably awful disaster. It’s a feeling that niggles at me and makes me feel uneasy, unsettled – guilty, even, because of the lack of contact.
Something in particular that’s stuck in my craw, though, since then, is this:
Only two days after the Japanese quake disaster (and OMG, that news footage is bloody terrifying) I am getting streams of jokes about it on my mobile phone. I’ve yet to get one about the Chch quake. I’m still trying to think it all through – why do people feel that it’s ok to make jokes about the Japanese situation, but not the Christchurch one? If, as so many people say, humour is such wonderful medicine, why are we leaving our Christchurch cousins out of these bleak, 'healing' earthquake jokes, hmmm?
Oh, maybe that sort of humour isn’t quite so funny after all, when you’re talking about something close to home. Maybe it’s only jokeworthy when it happens to people who don’t look like us; to people who don’t speak our language; to people who were our enemy in a fucking war that finished a couple of generations ago.
Oh dear, I’m having a rant, aren’t I? Maybe I'm being oversensitive about it, I don't know. Am I? The more I think about it, the crankier I get *sigh*.
Japan, my thoughts are with you.