The phone rang. It was my manager asking if I might help out in Christchurch for two weeks.
“They are struggling down there,” she said. I considered how Plunket staff, through the quakes and aftershocks and recent bad weather had continued to deliver a service under very difficult circumstances. My own situation in Auckland was relatively easy.
“Yes,” I said, “I’ll go, next week.”
After the call I felt relieved because for months I had been thinking about Christchurch. When the rain splashed down ferociously I was glad I did not have to trudge outside to use a portaloo or have to empty a chemical toilet. When enjoying a hot shower I was aware that this luxury was not available to many in the quake ravaged city. Looking out on my garden there were no deep fissures in my lawn and spring had already announced its presence with the arrival of freesias and daffodils.
I had watched the media coverage and wanted to do something more than make a modest donation via the credit card. There was no real sacrifice in that. I had put my name down on a web page offering accommodation to anyone who might want a break from portaloos, cold showers and liquefaction but nobody had taken up my offer.
Before departing I commented to my partner that the weather looked ominous but on arrival at Christchurch airport the air was clear and crisp. During the night the snow arrived, lots of it. Marooned in my motel room I ventured out briefly to get supplies and remained in hibernation for two days. When the weather began to clear I drove off in my little red car and presented myself at Plunket’s new area office. The previous building was in the red-zoned central city.
When asked to conduct wellness checks on babies and children in their homes I felt, momentarily, nervous. Driving to the different addresses my car struggled in the grey slippery slush. ‘This is what you wanted, the hard stuff,’ said my wee internal voice.
I drove past stickered buildings, rutted roads and abandoned streets. One day I found myself on the edges of the central city, looking through mesh fences and felt I was looking into a movie set of a war zone.
I met Cantabrians who amazed me with their matter of fact, pragmatic approach. I heard their stories and simply listened.