The kitchen felt like a boat swaying in a bay on the wake of a larger boat that had just passed by. In fact, that is not too far from the truth. But it was not just the kitchen, house, or even Christchurch itself but a much larger area.
Aotearoa New Zealand, or as the neighbouring countries refer to it, the “shaky islands,” is pushed up from the ocean between the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates – very quickly in geological time (but slowly compared to a human’s lifetime.)
Once I gained my sea legs, I stepped under the swinging lamps, out of the swaying house into the street, not knowing what to expect. Was the street cracking open, cars collapsing into the crevice? No, just smiling neighbours gathered in excitement.
The epicentre of the seismic activity had substantial damage a 2.5 hour drive from Christchurch. The verdict has been to push all of the debris into the ocean to open up the most direct transport route to the south end of the country, though it will be a disaster to the ecosystem. There were only two human deaths. One was due to direct trauma and the other due to inaccessibility to the hospital.
In Christchurch, I only saw one broken window from something that fell and hit it. Anything else that could have been damaged was in 2010 and 2011. The latter of which, was claimed by locals to be the “most expensive earthquake in history” to date. Costs add up when first world countries like New Zealand build many buildings and take out insurance on them. According to locals, the insurance companies paid out and the receivers have been collecting lots of interest, cash in the bank.
Having spent 3 months in Christchurch, making my way through the maze of closed-off streets, empty lots and reinforced ruins, I realise there isn’t a huge rush for the city to be returned to what it was. Not that anything ever can.
I had only ever experienced light tremors in the last year while in Tokyo, Japan.
One month after the 2011 disaster in Christchurch, there was another earthquake and tsunami on the East coast of Japan. When I was there, the locals were very happy to see tourists in the area. The locals who survived and decided to stay have rebuilt their lives that were physically destroyed. The cities and towns along the East coast are erecting huge concrete walls shutting themselves off from the ocean. Mountain hikers in the area found rocks with warnings carved into them: “do not live below this line.”
Sometimes the histories we have access to do not account for all that we should know. Some of the old lost wisdom is definitely worth remembering.
I will never feel quite the same about the seemingly solid ground on the planet earth we humans walk on. Even solids are flowing through time and space.