Sunday, February 27, 2011


Let's talk about what living in a state of emergency is doing to our minds. The people of Christchurch, myself and The Programmer included, have been through more than a person is usually raised to cope with. The experience of a large and devastating earthquake, followed quite closely by an even more destructive one, is very difficult to process. Basically, everyone in Christchurch is currently functioning at some point on the continuum of 'moderately stressed' to 'completely mental'.

The news sites are reporting a dramatic rise in domestic violence. I am not surprised. If The Programmer and I were prone to hitting each other when stressed, I'd say that the morning of the 23rd (the day after Quake#2) would have seen a serious punch up in casa Saraprogrammer. Generally we don't fight, ever, but on that morning we had a 'tense disagreement'. It was about the water. As you know, I tend toward pessimism when it comes to emergencies. I was of the mind that we had little water, didn't know when or where we could get more and should conserve every drop. The Programmer thought we had more than enough, insisted that the council would organise something soon and that we should use some of our supply to clean the dishes, because of the hygiene risk. Then I accidentally put the sugar pot down on a plate that had something sticky on it and things just somehow deteriorated. Although I was absolutely in the mood for a fight, I decided to just let it go, which was big of me, considering I was clearly in the right at the time.... even though he turned out to be right, you know, eventually. We agreed to make an extra effort to be nice to each other. Everyones nerves are on edge.

That having been said, I seem to be handling this earthquake far better than Quake#1, and in gassbagging with others, this appears to be the case for many of them - the obvious exceptions being people that have lost loved ones or their homes this time. To be honest, I don't think we ever really 'moved on' from Quake#1, considering the aftershocks never completely stopped, and for most people this is just more of the same. Quake#1 came out of nowhere and we were wide-eyed, confused newbies. The continued aftershocks were unbelievably draining because who knew that they would continue for weeks, let alone months, or could be so big?. We learned something that was not common knowledge - an "aftershock" is an earthquake; it's not a mild jiggle, it's a real earthquake, and so far we have had thousands of them. I was terrified for weeks that a bigger shock might cause my house to collapse. I developed the habit of drinking too much wine on a daily basis, couldn't sleep and generally turned into a jumpy, nervous wreck. We had no idea how the emergency response worked in terms of water, power, food, welfare centres or building inspections and people panicked and wondered if the council and the government could handle it.

This time we are less worried about all of that because, although it's not perfect, it all works and nobody is completely lacking food, water or shelter. We had confidence that the power would be restored within days and knew where to look for updates and information. Also, those of us that still have a solid house are now more firmly convinced that our homes aren't going to come down if, god forbid, we do have another biggie. Personally, I am making a point to limit vino consumption and endeavoring not to live on espresso. All of this is helping me to not lose it. I hope.

When I ventured to the supermarket, I expected the chaos of stressed out shoppers, mess and empty shelves that I had seen in September. Although there was evidence of some panic buying it was at a much reduced level and people seemed calmer. I think, also, that the supermarkets must have put measures in place to protect their product because they are more well stocked this time, and the few that are open show fewer signs of having experienced a wine and pasta sauce tsunami. Certain shelves were empty or severely depleted - paper towels, hand sanitiser, instant meals (2-minute noodles etc.), wet wipes, bread, milk, painkillers, frozen veges, processed meats, muesli bars and of course, the water aisle was devoid of all still water. Note that apart from the hand-sanitiser, none of the above are things I buy regularly. There are still decent supplies of fresh fruit, veg, meat, eggs & fizzy water but if you want a loaf of white bread, you may have to punch someone that has 20 loaves in their trolley. We are being constantly reassured by the media that there are no food supply issues and to avoid panic buying, as it creates a problem that isn't otherwise there. Most people were basket shopping, but there was also a massive queue of trolleys, that extended down the dairy aisle, manned by people that were obviously planning for the apocalypse - or perhaps have their extended family living in their lounge.

If there is a silver lining to this present dark cloud, it is that a shared disaster has a way of breaking down social barriers and bringing the community together. Sure there are those that show their disdain for humanity by looting or profiteering, but mostly, people pull together and in the same direction. This is what gives me hope for the Christchurch of the future. Neighbours that were mere acquaintances are suddenly checking in on each other, sharing food and water, offering a hug, or a house key so that someone without water can take a much appreciated shower. Friends and relatives call just to let you know they care and that they always have a spare bed that doesn't shake. In the supermarket, people talk to each other while waiting in queue, perfect strangers asking each other if their families are ok and if they still have a house. It's beautiful to see this side of human nature, even if it takes regrettable circumstances to let it show.

I am getting emails and facebook messages asking how people can help. As a small country, you can understand that a massively expensive disaster (or two) can severely strain the coffers. The government has today launched a global appeal and I think that this, or the Red Cross, would be the best place to send your donations. Please also be aware that there are several supposed fundraising sites out there that are actually scams run by so-called humans - the sort that deserve to be put at the top of the currently leaning Chancellor Hotel and made to take their chances with the aftershocks. That's what I'd do to them. Please donate only to a source that you are 100% sure is the real deal.


  1. See, this was why I was so desperate to talk to you... being physically fine is one thing, but post-traumatic stress is a nasty beast.

    After speaking with you the other day, I'm completely reassured that you're no more mental than usual.



    P.S. I'll share the fundraising appeal link in as many places as I possibly can.

  2. Well.. I guess that's ok then...?


  3. Hey Sara,
    The whole thing sucks. I'm really familar with the Arts area of Christchurch and the cathedral. Just cannot believe it.


  4. Hey Sara

    I can imagine there are so many facets to a disaster like this that noone will ever think of until you are living and breathing it.

    thinking of you and those in Christchurch


  5. I'm so sorry about everything that's going on. I can only imagine how scary it is...having to live in a constant state of worry is utterly exhausting. Thanks for sharing.


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