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Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Call

(The Stilettos in the Solomons blog took a six week break while I flew home to Christchurch to assist with the earthquake.  Sorry I was rather busy at that time; too busy to blog!  However, the following three blogs are about my experience there and will be posted in rapid succession.  I decided to post in three separate blogs because it was just too lengthy as one blog!) 

On a hot, sunny day I arrive back from lunch to my desk, typing up a farewell letter to my old boss, John.  Johnis retiring on Friday and I want to write him a blatantly honest, funny and kind letter of farewell.   As I write, small tears come to my eyes as I think of John with such fondness and wonder to myself when I would see him next.  I press send.

It is 22 February, 2011.  I arrived here in the Solomon Islands exactly four months ago to the day, wide eyed; travel worn and ready for a new adventure.  The Solomon Islands had not disappointed; I had a new life with a new home, new friends, sexy stuff was going on in my personal life and a new job.  I was rocking on in my real life.

The happy little life that had bloomed around me was about to change. 

A text message comes through on my phone.  It is from Peter, the volunteer wrangler.  Christchurch has had a big earthquake, fatalities reported, widespread damage throughout the city.  I’m in shock; of course this happened before but I don’t want to believe it.  I go online, see the damage.  The cathedral in rubble, people gathered in Hagley Park.  I feel, as I did last time, powerless to do anything to help.

I watch the news. I don’t sleep much that night, wondering if I should go home.

The next day I can barely concentrate on work.  I snap at a coworker. All my friends are accounted for, except some colleagues at CTV and one acquaintance at the Christchurch City Council had been killed, but I feel like I need to do something. Emergency management in Canterbury was what I did for so many years; I felt like such a waste by not going.

I stay at a friend’s house that night.  We talk till late, considering all the options.  Finally, I call it a night and say to myself that by the next morning, I will know what to do. 

I wake up and the first sentence that pops into my head is:

“I’m going back to Christchurch and I need to be there by Tuesday morning.”

With the decision made, I promptly go to my office and tell my bosses.  They agree.  I book my ticket.  I feel a bid mad; I haven’t been asked to go back and I wonder if I am really needed.  But the decision has been made.  I will be flying out on Sunday, it is Thursday evening.

My mobile rings and John is on the other line. 

“Come on, then.  I know you want to come back.  But you need to be here by Tuesday morning.”

I smile.

“John, I already knew you were going to say that.”

I could hear him laugh on the other end, slightly confused. I tell him goodbye and that I will see him on Tuesday. I hang up the phone.    

It’s strange what your mind focuses on in times like this.  For instance, on Friday I look at my volunteer wear, knowing that it won’t cut the mustard even in a disaster.  Christchurch will be significantly cooler than the Solomons and I would need to get clothes from storage.

I text my friend Daphne, explaining what is going on.  She agrees to meet me that afternoon.  We head to XJ6, perhaps the best place to shop for clothes in the Solomons.  We buy a selection of business type clothes quickly.  The Solomon Islanders look bemused at us as we try to search out the warmest clothes.   I am still amazed at the designer wear you can find at the second hand shops here. I leave with a Witchery dress, sass and bide, and a little Trealise Cooper number. Afterwards, we stop by the Lime Lounge for a lovely lunch. 
The Lime Lounge and Bamboo Bar are the only places that resemble a proper café back home, which is why it is popular with expats.  I look around the restaurant with envy at the aussies and other expats; their homes weren’t lying in rubble. 

For months I had been fantasizing about my return to Christchurch.  I longed for a cocktail at Fat Eddy’s on open mic night or to go climbing at the YMCA with my friends.  I wanted to go to the Knox Church on Sunday and have Eggs Benedict at Vic’s Café on Sunday, chatting away with my best mate, Helen.  I wanted to buy Epoisse at the Cheese Mongers and jog through Hagley Park in the morning.  In the Solomons, there are only a handful of eateries and bars that are acceptable for me to go to.  I dreamed of my home, knowing that the places I loved were either gone or going to take a long time to rebuild.

On Friday night, Tessa throws me a farewell dinner.  I look around the table at my nine good friends, all beautiful and interesting people.  All people I care about.  All people I didn’t know until three months ago.  Now I wonder how I could go this long without knowing them.  I don’t know how long I will be away or what it will be like when I return.

Life isn’t without irony as on Saturday morning, my things finally arrive from Christchurch.  Peter comes early 
to Casa Turchese, large boxes in tow. My Korg piano, my clothes, my books…my things.  I look at the boxes and it seems like a mad person packed them, just sticking all kinds of stuff inside the box.  The knot in my stomach tenses up; what if I feel the same when I return?  I paid for the tickets, I had to go.  And I felt I was needed.  It was time to return to the city and face what I had been running from. 

We go to the beach on Saturday; I take one final snorkel around, enjoying the warmth and the beautiful marine life.  I sit on the white sandy beach, soaking in the sun.

At the airport, I spot Stan, who has just returned from Perth.  We exchange a quick hug before I board the plane.

I stop over in Brisbane for one night.  The experience was jarring; the streets were clean and no one was walking anywhere.  There wasn’t piles of rubbish around.  No birth defects that hadn’t been cured; in fact I would be pressed to find one person without a hair perfectly in place.    

My lovely host drives me to the nearest mall to pick up a pair of boots, a new purse and some stockings. The couple I stay with are lovely; he is a brother of a friend, who was kind enough to take a wayward, anti establishment, environmentalist, raving volunteer hippy like myself in.  Of course I spent hours boring them with talk of western materialism and how silly people in developed countries are, caring only about their flat screen televisions, xboxes, sport and other things that typically don't matter in comparison to family, protected environments and wontok. I felt we had become a society based on entertainment; all the other stuff like access to healthcare, food, electricity, education, and infrastructure were already taken care of, so life could just be about entertainment and the pursuit of personal happiness at the expense of everything else.

Yep, probably should have just kept my mouth shut on that one; it probably made me sound supremely ungrateful.  Which I wasn’t.  (And it makes me sound supremely up myself and thinking that I'm better than everyone else.  Which I'm not.  Okay, well maybe a little; hey I got an ego just like everybody else! I'm not perfect!!!)

I jetted off easily to Christchurch the next morning, not sure what to expect.   When I arrived off the plane, I found a much changed city.

(To be continued...)