Monday, August 22, 2011

Lucy's crazy school year

The snow shutting schools last week, I got to thinking over Lucy's school year so far.
Right from the beginning, things were a bit messy. Her school was on three floors above shops and a food court in the central city. The boxing day quake, that was centred very close to the central city, damaged the stairwell that is in the building attached to their school. This meant they had to build a temporary fire escape for the top two floors in order for them to use them. Lucy's home base (class) meets on the second floor, so plans were made to house them on the bottom floor until the right people had signed off the fire escape. I can't remember these days too clearly. The kids went swimming at Centennial pool and then on the Friday the whole school met in the gardens for the day. It was the first week of February. The next week school got underway properly, with everyone in the proper places and the fire drill using the new scaffold fire escape completed.
Then only a few weeks later it was Tuesday February 22nd. The rest of that week we were in Nelson, no school at all for Lucy. The following week she went to Tahunanui School in Nelson. By the end of the week we had power and water at home and we had the kids bought back by some wonderful friends. I thought if they stayed away any longer, they may have never wanted to return.
The following week we did home schooling with a meeting on the Wednesday at the new, temporary location at Halswell Residential. This was a welcome surprise for us as talk up until that week had been of a temporary location in the northwest part of the city.
The next week was more homeschooling while the staff worked quickly to set up rooms with the minimal resources they had (all the school's resources were still in town). Thursday 17th March, (four weeks after Feb 22), Lucy was back with her classmates that were still in Christchurch.
In the second term, they were moving to a new, more permanent, temporary site. She had a day off on May 23rd while again the staff set up a new school. This time at least they had most of their stuff from out of the city and the kids got their bags back. I remember at a parent's meeting about the new temporary school, someone asked about the safety of the prefabs in a large aftershock. I remember thinking, we'd had two, what were the chances of another large one? This was before June.
A few weeks later there was another day off on June 8th to allow all the staff to go in and get out more of their resources. A couple of weeks ago I saw the photos Lucy's learning advisor (teacher) took on this trip. The building was in relatively good shape but it was a mess. Bookcases, the kids had played next to, were lying on the ground and everything had been flung across the floor. The stairwell and lift shaft entrance was now badly damaged. There were holes in the walls and she had a photo of a gap between the school building and this stairwell. We used to walk in through this entrance every day.
Then came the June 13 quakes and school was shut for another two days while buildings were checked and signed off.
This term it has not been quakes but snow, with the three days off last week.
On Friday morning when I dropped Lucy off she said. "I'm scared Mummy we haven't felt an aftershock for ages." At six she may have missed a lot of school this year, but she knows the patterns of Christchurch aftershocks and if we haven't a decent one in awhile, it must be coming soon.
The aftershocks are back. Last week wasn't the new quiet normal, it was abnormal according to the experts. Since Saturday there have been three fairly sizable shakes (in the fours on the richter scale). The one on Saturday night was horrible. It kept building and I was watching the little electronic weather station on top of the television wobble. I could feel the fingers of dread start creeping into the pit of my stomach and then it stopped. I could relax. I could push back all those feelings that come from September, February and June. I went to check on the kids and tell Lucy she didn't need to be scared anymore her aftershock had arrived.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Another Unusual Week

The snow has been a fun distraction here and I haven't felt an aftershock all week. Is it really over now?
We stocked up in the weekend on food. The fruit and veggie shop was busy, Couplands the bakery was busy and the supermarket was crazy. It was like Christmas but people were not stressed and still friendly. We know how to handle these sorts of things now.
With the snow warnings, I knew we had ways to cook and stay warm, should the power go off. I don't totally trust our basic amenities anymore. But it has been fine - we haven't lost power at all.
We appreciated that on our side of town we have a sewerage system and don't have to venture out to use a portaloo or empty a chemical toilet. We're also still hooked into the stormwater drains, so as the snow melted it was just went away. In other parts of the city, with drains still blocked, it was a battle against the rising melt.
I've been thinking this week how the past year has changed me. Lucy goes across town for one day as part of her class activities and I find it a little difficult. I worry what if we get another large quake? I don't want to drive into liquefaction territory to get her back. It is a small risk and I let her go, but it still crosses my mind.
Talking to another mum, these days she has an adult babysitter rather than a teenager - she wants to make sure there is someone who will be calm should something happen.
I started this blog earlier in the week and yesterday, while sitting on the couch reading stories, we had an aftershock. It was only a 3.6 but it was centred not far from us and it made the pantry doors rattle. For a few seconds the heart rate increased as we tensed, waiting to see if it was going to ease again or whether the slow build up would continue. It stopped, Lucy moved closer and we kept reading.
The new city plan was released this week too and it was exciting to see plans for a great looking CBD. The time frames were sobering though.
Most days now we sail along with normal life but then I talk to someone from a more damaged area or see an empty space where a building used to be - my stomach tightens and my heart becomes heavy. This was a big thing and it is going to be a long time before we return to a time like February 21.
But despite those moments, through everything, I keep admiring how fantastic we humans are at adapting and getting on with living. We keep getting up and carrying on. People really are amazing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Build Christchurch Beautiful

It feels like it is a roller coaster ride in Christchurch at the moment. I hear exciting news like an art gallery opening up down the road so we can enjoy visiting a gallery again in this city, that the owners of the Dux are looking at opening up a new place for local bands to play at, also just down the road and the cardboard cathedral idea, I mentioned in the last blog post. Then there is the down news, more buildings being slated for demolition, people being very negative about the cardboard cathedral idea, and seeing photograghs of inside the CBD red zone with whole blocks just gone.
Tristan and I watched, with a small group of tourists and workers on lunch breaks, the wrecking ball smacking into the last of a multi-storey building at the end of Cashel mall. Next to it there is a big gap where other buildings used to be, including the pub we went to for dinner on the night I went into labour with Lucy. What is going to fill these empty spaces?
When we were in Melbourne we were talking with our friend, an ex Christchurch resident, who is looking to come back - but not to a boring city. I said, trying to be positive, they rebuilt Beirut three times and it is beautiful. Seven times she corrected me and then made a very wise point that I have been thinking about ever since. She said the Lebanese care for beauty and asthetics, while Kiwis are very practical. The more I have thought about that, the more it seems to be true and it worries me. As the aftershocks continue to only be small and relatively infrequent (I have felt only about three in the last week), I think about what will built in all those empty spaces.
If you don't think there is a problem being just practical you really need to listen to this talk by Grant Ryan on "The economic cost of being boring" from TedxEQCHCH.
I understand why people said they wanted working sewers and flat roads before they wanted a cardboard cathedral. But doing these ideas has no effect on sewers and roads being fixed any faster. It is a completely separate issue but it has a profound effect on the future of this city, my city, (listen to Grant Ryan - really if you haven't yet, you should). The cardboard cathedral, for example, is also to be used as public space and with the Town Hall and other usual venues still out of action we are going to need a venue in the city if we want to help support local bars, restaurants and cafes with reopening in our CBD.
I don't own any central city real estate and I keep wondering how as a resident I can encourage building owners to build Christchurch beautiful. I think we need to think carefully about support.
I have already decided we are going to dinner when Cafe Valentino is rebuilt because the owner said he intends the building to look 100 years old, the day it opens. He is doing something interesting. I think we really do need to strategically support these people - not just sit back and then be cross when we end up with a city that is practical but dull so visitors move quickly on and newcomers choose another place to live.
One thing Kiwis are good at is doing amazing things on small budgets. I don't think beautiful always has to be expensive, we need to be clever. Here are two examples of artworks that help make Melbourne the interesting place that it is - can we use ideas like this in our new buildings? Together - surely we can do it, if we don't give up because it is too hard, we're too busy trying to deal with EQC on getting our houses fixed or because we feel we have no voice. I think we all need to keep the pressure on those that do have the power either because they own the buildings or because we elected them to the council. Please Build Christchurch Beautiful, don't make me regret staying.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A New Perspective

It is great what a little time away from this city can do for the soul. Loads of people I know are taking trips away this year. Partly to get just get away, partly to have something to look forward to and partly I think because having gone through everything here, you start to get an attitude of just do it - who knows what tomorrow will bring.
Before we left, on the last day of school, Lucy saw the book belonging to the friend she was drawing with at the time the big quake struck on Feb 22. She started to cry, the friend has moved away now and everything is different. Some tilt slab concrete buildings(see above) are starting to go up already. We began getting depressed about whether our worst fears of an ugly city might come true.
Then we went away to Melbourne. On the first night as I got into bed, a wee thought popped into my head - I could relax, I was going to get a good nights sleep, (no aftershocks to wake me). I hadn't realized I even thought this back in Christchurch.
We loved looking at all the old buildings and admiring their twiddly bits, most have fallen off our buildings here. It was great to hang out in a CBD and go to art galleries.
If people asked where we were from, they then asked about the quakes. It was hard to explain that the city was carrying on but the possibility of the next aftershock was a thing we lived with now everyday. It isn't like other natural disasters that come and then are gone, leaving the clean up.
We came home to snow - which was quite pretty and to hear good news. Exciting interesting things are happening like the cluster of high tech companies in town and the temporary cardboard cathedral. I noticed the buildings that are still here and there are some good ones left or at least ones they are going to fix. Other buildings, I now notice, that have previously been neglected. I wonder if we will start to value them and do them up.
The demolitions appear to be happening much quicker now. Once the buildings are gone, the gap is easier to look at than the broken building, it suggests something new, rather than a reminder of the past year's events.
Aftershocks are also staying minor. Last night I did wake up and wonder at the stillness, that was then interrupted by a shake. But it was just a shaking, nothing fell. It definitely feels like the city is moving forward. In June people began to voice fears that it would never stop but the despair has gone. While it continues to be calm, we can stand strong.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.