After a lifetime of moves across the world, touching on all five continents - “history-enforced peregrinations” as Kapka Kassabova aptly described them in her review of my autobiography My innocent Absence - I was back in Christchurch recently.
Christchurch was where I launched into a new life, aged eleven, after my childhood years in Spain, France and Mexico. My mother brought me here to join her sister, my aunt Lotte, who had arrived in New Zealand nine years earlier from Germany, Italy and Palestine. Christchurch was where I learnt to speak English and adapt to Kiwi ways and where, in spite of profound differences in background and experiences, I was readily welcomed by my new classmates in Elmwood School followed by Christchurch Girls High School.
I enjoyed our conversations, the sport, the study… and yet I found myself alone and isolated, a chasm of an unshared past separating us. I had not lived through the stability and continuity that formed the comparatively rock solid, buttressed background of my schoolmates, and they in turn were barely, if at all, aware of the collective, genocidal, life threatening dangers and enforced nomadic existence that had shaped mine. It was a reflection on my new Antipodean friends’ good nature that this great difference did not touch on or interfere with our everyday interactions.
Now, a lifetime later, I returned to Christchurch on a reading circuit. Several of my old classmates had already read my book, one, Leona, had read it twice. We had no idea about your life before you came to New Zealand, my friends exclaimed. Over a gourmet pub lunch with Leona, Judith and Jill I found they were my same old friends. Their warmth delighted me. We had hugged on meeting, in stark contrast to that no-touch lifestyle of my earlier period in New Zealand, where to my surprise people didn’t even hand-shake.
The intervening years and the earthquake had changed history. I witnessed extraordinary strength and spirit surrounding the recovery and rebuilding. But what stirred and impressed me most in my re-found friendships was the human connection which had always been there for the looking and finding, buried under all those layers of different experience, tradition and ways of life, the underlying human connectedness that, in the end, exists between us all.
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