I’ve been back a few times since then, and the beauty of the country is always breathtaking. This time though, it was also a little heart-breaking. The city of Christchurch where I lived and went to school, with its meandering Avon river and English feel, had been totally transformed in 24 seconds (the most devastating of its series of earthquakes) 16 months ago. The cathedral at the main square, once majestic and proud is now a crumbled site no longer accessible to neither the faithful nor tourists.
A large part of the city is blocked off, designated ‘red zone’. Empty plots of land are dotted everywhere, like missing pieces of a puzzle. Some shops remain with products on the shelves but locks on the door; some shops are totally emptied out. People seem to speak in hushed tones, as though it was disrespectful to talk too loudly or to laugh.
Some houses are propped up, some patched with plastic coverings over what must have been glass panes. My NZ mum’s house is slightly crooked, there are cracks and holes here and there, doors no longer closing completely, floors suddenly dipping.
I hear stories of tragedy, paranoia, unity, courage, selflessness. But imagination and strength of the human spirit prevails.
A temporary container city has sprouted up. Banks, cafes, boutiques have given shipping containers a new life. It may well mean the start of a new life too for the city of Christchurch and its residents. They will laugh again, as sure as the trees of Hagley Park in their aged splendor change colours , shed their leaves and sprout new ones.