Well, the long-awaited trip to New Zealand is just about finished. I am in a hotel room in Los Angeles waiting for a dawn flight back to Pittsburgh. Incidentally, if anyone ever asks you what the best thing about several 12 hour flights on New Zealand Air is, you can say, categorically, that it gives one the chance to watch all 16 episodes of season 1 of “Hill Street Blues” with Belker, Washington, and Furrillo. What a great show.
Our last day in NZ (alas, no photos at this point due to computer issues) found us in city of Christchurch. You may remember that on 22 February 2011, New Zealand’s second-largest city was devastated by a 6.3 magnitude quake that killed 187 people. 16 months later, we were still winding our way through a maze of streets that are closed or blocked, and we passed by property after property that was simply vacant (the rubble had already been cleared) or fenced off and condemned. As we saw in Chile in 2010, the damage was sporadic. Some properties were fully functional and operational, and right next door was a pile of rubble.
All around town were signs of hope and resilience. The title of this blog posting, for instance, was scrawled across the face of a shop that, though damaged, was open for business. Countless other establishments bore signs indicating “Yes, we are open to serve you.” There were a lot of places that looked as though they had weathered something terrible, but had kept going.
And, of course, there were the scars from those places which were not really places anymore. Huge heaps of debris. Vacant lots. Boarded up buildings. But the most iconic image I have of the destruction is that of a vacant lot that had been home to a church. All that remained of the church was the small steeple and bell tower, complete with a bell inside – it stood perhaps 12 feet high, placed carefully on the clean ground. Next to it was a weathered set of marble or granite steps – 3 small steps that led to nowhere. It was a stirring, mute, testimony of the fact that a congregation had existed in that place, but had left its footprint and moved somewhere else.
But what struck me most in Christchurch and indeed thoughout this tiny nation (the population of just over 4.4 million for the nation is just about twice that of metro Pittsburgh’s 2.3 million) was the incredible friendliness and generosity of spirit amongst those with whom we had dealings. From Dave, the shop owner who gave us venison, to the fisherman who lavished us with a giant lobster/crayfish, to the dozens of people who took time out of their day to explain something to us, to invite us into their homes, or to simply pass the time of day…it is a magnificently friendly culture.
Kia Ora means “welcome”. It can also mean “thank you” or “I wish you well”. So to all those who bid us Kia Ora, I would like to now return the comment. My prayers go out with joy for those who have recovered, and with hope for those who are in the midst. Kia Ora, my kiwi friends!