In the last month, there have been 331 earthquakes in the Canterbury region. No worries — most of them aren’t noticeable. Much like California, the threat of earthquakes are a reality one must accept throughout New Zealand. But since I arrived in January, I easily recall four pretty strong ones. The latest – a 4.3 with only a 5 km depth (the shallower it is the more you feel it) – woke up the whole city at 3:30 in the morning this past Sunday…not the best start to the work week. This past Valentine’s Day I was sitting at my desk writing a paper when a 5.7 quaker rumbled through for several seconds. So much for drop, cover, and hold. I just kind of froze, glued to the spot as my mind processed what was happening.
Okay. This is an earthquake. The ground is shaking beneath me, but I am not moving. I am going to be alright.
Other than getting kicked out of my flat for the rest of the day for university policy structural inspections, all has been fine. But they are a bit unsettling. A lot of locals don’t handle them quite as well. They are still dealing with the trauma of the massive February 2011 earthquake that decimated the city, killing 185 people and injuring thousands more.
After the big one, it was common for several aftershocks a day to occur. While some became numb to these daily rumbles, others’ sensitivity understandably increased. From my conversations with those that have lived amidst those smaller quakes, their alarm is usually greater.
Oh shit! Another earthquake. How long is it going to go for? Will there be more damage this time?
Locals also tend to be hyper-sensitive to big noises – zooming, trains going by, construction… I’ve only experienced a few shakes, and even I have become a little more on edge to such triggers. I can only imagine how deeply others are affected.
The city is definitely still in recovery mode, too. For the first two years after the quake, the whole city centre was gated off as inspectors assessed damage. Now, everything has opened back up, but if you’re an engineer or construction worker, there are still jobs aplenty. Everywhere there is a gravel lot in the city centre, there used to be a building. And there are a lot of gravel lots. Streets are semi-navigable; as construction continues, it’s normal for traffic to be riddled with cones and redirection signs.
Visionaries have finally drawn plans for a forward-thinking, active, sustainable city, but it’ll be at least another decade before the new Christchurch has the same vitality it once boasted. In the meantime, people have gotten really creative. There is a chic Re:Start Mall composed entirely of cargo containers. Food and coffee trucks abound, an innovative children’s park just opened, and a plethora of art murals liven up exposed walls and buildings.
I have been pondering lately how my life is much like the earthquakes that have rumbled through in the last month and a half. On the surface, nothing is wrong; I really do like it here, and everything has been good. At face value, I am still living in a western, English-speaking city. But this is not a passing through. This is my life now, and as I try to set down my initial roots, there are all these undercurrents shaking me up.
I only had one intensive class over the summer. Right alongside that February quake, I was dealing with my own metaphorical one. As Term 1 kicked off and students returned, campus gained a lot more life. My four flatmates moved in. I started over with a whole set of new courses and expectations, and then weekly school observations began. Come Friday, I don’t cut myself a break, because every weekend I have tried to go somewhere and explore a new pocket of NZ. I’m plugging into clubs (UCanDance, tramping, service, Christian Union) and flirting with new ones (kayaking, skiing) since I have one more shot at making the most of university. Soon I’ll be student-teaching full time, which is an intimidating, exciting earthquake of its own.
So on top of moving halfway across the world, nothing here has even begun to resemble routine. Perpetual inconsistency is taking its toll.
Deep parts of my being long for familiarity. For community, roots, and comfort; for being known. But I am also confident that this is where I am supposed to be. That I am not missing out on anything state-side right now, and that the times that shake me up are prime opportunities to grow. Just as the big Christchurch earthquake provided an opportunity for revitalization and the creation of an even better city, these small internal quakes make me reassess and become more self-aware. They push me to become a more understanding, culturally accepting individual. They make me willing to confront and deal with lots of change. They are shaping me and my future in ways I cannot even anticipate. I’ll let the rumbles keep coming.